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Thoughts from Abroad: Theodor Adorno as Postcolonial Theorist

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This article shows that the work of the German Marxist philosopher Theodor W. Adorno offers a surprisingly rich resource for postcolonial theory. Adorno's work addresses the world outside Europe more often than one might expect. But it is not so much what Adorno thinks as how he thinks that makes him a postcolonialist. Adorno's philosophy of negative dialectics tracks particular phenomena to the totality of which they are a part. Everything, from the most innocuous details of everyday life to the Holocaust and imperialism, is linked to the world-encircling, thought-frustrating and violence-inducing system of capitalism. But Adorno's characteristic negativity also makes him sensitive to that system's fallibility and its vulnerability to alternatives. The article therefore touches on the normative dimensions of Adorno's moral philosophy. Adorno's work commands attention because of its dialectical style of thinking, its consequent focus on capitalism's intrinsic violence, its belief that effective political action presupposes introspection and a moral capacity for empathy with others' suffering, and its attractive conviction that these aptitudes can be enabled by aesthetic experience. Accordingly, the essay concludes with a reading of the South African writer J. M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace. This article seeks to show that an Adornian postcolonial criticism is as concerned with the gratuitous longevity of capitalism and imperialism as it is inspired by the prospect of erecting a more just and egalitarian social order.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 November 2010

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