Adorno and Heidegger

In the first part of Negative Dialectics, Adorno takes issue with the fundamental ontology of Heidegger. Heidegger would have tried to create a new myth, a mythology or a religion of Being after secularization. Other authors have also stressed the crypto-religious dimension of Heidegger’s thought. More interesting, Adorno reproaches Heidegger for having regressed to a pre-dialectical, if not an archaic experience of Being as It gives itself directly to man, before any rational work. For Adorno, Heidegger leads us nowhere, with his delusive attempt to return to an absolutely simple Origin, “the night in which all cows are black” to use Hegel’s famous phrase. Being is less some numinous origin of thought than the poorest and most ambiguous concept.

Heidegger himself has stressed what separates him from Hegel. Hegel’s thought is oriented toward ever higher levels of complexity and differentiation where his own thought seeks the meditative simply of Being. In this struggle, Adorno definitively takes the side of Hegel. Adorno was probably right to raise the question of the final destination of Heidegger’s thought. Even Gadamer sometimes seems to suggest that Heidegger’s return to the pre-Socratic ended with a failure.

But Adorno’s inability to enter in a meaningful dialogue with Heidegger with whom he shares, beyond radically opposed political choices, a deep pessimism toward the future may also betray the limits, if not the blind spots of Adorno’s own criticism of modernity, “the dialectic of the Enlightenment”. If reason is threatened from within by its own negativity, if reason may give birth to the worst political nightmares and the worst tyranny, is it not the supremacy of representational/conceptual thinking as it began to emerge in Greece that would need to be called into question? Heidegger himself failed to overcome nihilism and his philosophy ended up with an ambiguous prophecy of the New God, as a final avatar of Nietzsche’s neo-pagan religion of Dionysus. Heidegger remained an individual secular thinker, not the founder of Tradition. But his radical questioning of the very foundations of western thought may take a new meaning in the light of “other great beginnings”. The real value of Heidegger’s thought may lie outside of itself, in that it prepares the ground for an encounter with the non-western philosophical traditions, at a level that transcends the simple history of ideas. For many of these traditions, the experience of thinking is also an experience of being, a truth that Heidegger did not overlook unlike most of his contemporaries.

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