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PPW Todd Hedrick, “Fear of nature, fear of self, fear of society: the psychoanalytic underpinnings of Adorno’s culture industry”

When: Friday, October 11, 2019
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM  

Where: Kresge Hall, German Seminar room, Kresge 3354, 1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Graduate Students

Contact: Michael Schwarz  

Group: Northwestern Practical Philosophy Workshop

Category: Academic


Please note that PPW events are read-in-advance so we kindly ask you to email us for a copy of Prof. Hedrick’s paper if you plan to attend the workshop.  

Abstract: This paper argues that the diagnostic import of Adorno’s culture industry writings lie in the psychoanalytically-rooted claim that contemporary culture is losing its ability to negate and reconfigure experience, due to the modern subject’s instrumentalized relationship to culture. Adorno uses psychoanalytic ideas—namely, modified and historicized versions of Freud’s theory of the instincts, ego formation, the reality principle, and the superego—to show that changes in the social organization of the psyche, which track the transition from myth to enlightenment, put the ego in a precarious position, torn between a primal fear of nature that drives it to submit to society, and internalized fear of its own internal nature, as well as of losing itself in society. This helps explain how culture becomes a resource capable of being mobilized by the ego’s defense mechanisms to shore up its own sense of solidity, thereby negating culture’s potential for transcendence or transformation. The paper concludes with a coda that suggests that, while rejecting Adorno’s metacritique of reason is not sufficient grounds for rejecting the culture industry, critical theorists like Habermas and Honneth may have other tools in their arsenal for contesting its conclusions.

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