Adorno anyone?

duy nguyen jislober at
Wed Jan 22 11:17:56 MST 2003

Got a question about Adorno, and in particular the notion of "identity
thinking."  So identity thinking is thinking in terms of concepts, abstract
generalities and so forth which reduce the innate "difference" or heterogeny
of particular objects with their particular qualities.  This notion of
identity thinking is often cited as a kind of point of contact between
Adorno's Marxism and postmodern thought, one of the primary differences
being that Adorno grounds abstract thinking in exchange.  For Adorno,
exchange seems to be something like the paradgmatic system for abstraction
as such, or perhaps an fundamental model for how abstraction works; a model
which is then taken up by thought and applied to various objects and
environments.  If this is the case, it would seem that to emphasize
difference, whether witin postmodern thought or hegelian marxism, would be
to fall into the trap of nominalism.  For difference is not some essential
particular reality whcih exist outside of the totalizing concept, but rather
some produced by relations, ultimately social and economic nature; as such
the particular, the heterogeneous or difference is implicated in a dialectic
with the universal concept, as well as the exchange relation whcih
structures it.  It follows that alterations to exchange system and the
concept would necessarily entail changes in the particular itself.  What
this means it is that it would be a mistake to think to simply think that
some escape from the totalizing concept and system exchage is possible
through merely insisting or emphasizing difference, valorizing it or
whatever you want to call it.

But another phenonmena that the notion of identity thinking would seem to
describe is the logic of the commodity; and in a sense, as many have pointed
out, the critique of the concept is little more than an elaboration of
bourgeois critiques of the modern culture they helped to spawn -- mass
culture.  Saying that identity thinking diminishes difference is essentially
the same as bitching about how cliche and stereotypical everything is.  And
here is my question: if this is all that the critique of identity thinking
amounts to, than how is to account for non-capitalist societies and
cultures.  For if anything that seeks to generalize or impose general forms
of thinking an behavior (which is to say culture as such) is to be attacked
as reproductive of the logic of the commodity, then are we to assume that
traditional societies with the uniform mores and norms and so forth are
merely earlier version of mass culture?

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