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Fr. 401

September 27, 2013

Further reading yields still other possible ways of placing Adorno and Deleuze in dialogue, this time on the issue of Darstellung.

What is meant by this notion? For Adorno, Darstellung consists in philosophical presentation or representation or, as per Jameson, in “the very form of the laying out of philosophical conceptuality in the time of the text, as well as of the traditional genres of that form” (Late Marxism, p. 49). As examples of Darstellung, with Jameson, one could point to the Platonic dialogue, the Spinozist geometric method, the Cartesian proof, the Romantic fragment, the Nietzschean aphorism, etc. Moreover, at least at first glance, this notion does not seem leagues away from Deleuze’s own notion of style as Deleuze will himself propose a similar “stylistic history” of philosophy.

Insofar as Darstellung is linked to questions of presentation or style, one might naturally associate it by extension with the issue of methodology. That said, it should not be thought that methodological questions exhaust those linked to Darstellung, for this notion concerns not merely the content communicated or conveyed by the language, argument or method but, just as importantly, the argumentative work achieved by language itself qua performative. In other words, for Adorno, the quality of one’s language or expression carries equally as much weight as the content signified by that same language or expression. In the way of a final approximation, one might add that this quality of the language performs or carries out as much of the conceptual heavy lifting as the concept’s ideational matter.

Yet this description remains at the level of the abstract, and it remains to be seen precisely what is meant by the performativity of conceptual language in Adorno. As Jameson writes of Adorno, these considerations lead one to question “what else you can write  and the possibility of forms of writing and Darstellung that unexpectedly free you from the taboos and constraints of forms learnt by rote and assumed to be inscribed in the nature of things” (p. 52).  In short, reflecting on Darstellung in this way amounts to seeking out new ways of thinking in that new forms of language will inevitably be the vehicle for those new thoughts.

For Adorno, these new ways of thinking the identity of the concept manifest themselves in the specific form that his writing takes on when exposing the inner contradictions of those concepts and categories of which the thinking subject regularly makes use (e.g. freedom, history, art, etc.) and the concept’s strange evening out once these contradictions are made manifest. More specifically, these ways are secured by Adorno’s syntax, that of the “dialectical sentence”, which at once recognizes and distances itself from its forebear, the chiasmatic sentence structures characteristic of Marx. On this note, Jameson deems Karl Kraus a more likely, contemporary forebear or influence. Jameson specifies that Kraus’ writings  would have been for Adorno “the very paradigm of an expressive syntax, in which the actual machinery of sentence structure is itself pressed into service, in all its endless variety, and mobilized to convey meaning far beyond its immediate content as mere communication and denotation” (p. 64).

In light of this, one could see Adorno’s dialectical sentence as that which starts out from its initial point to its logical opposite and folds back over into itself as a contradiction in itself, the language doubling back on itself conveying this movement equally as well as the definition of any of the terms comprising that sentence. The tension of this movement as captured in the language itself is reflected in the uneasy pseudo-totality that sets in in the individual concept under consideration and the imperfect expression of totality that it thus contains. In this way becomes visible the “micro-work of the sentence on the isolated concept” (p. 68).

Despite the preceding considerations, this “micro-work” is not to be separated or distinguished so easily from the concept on which it works. The precise fall-out of this statement, as well as the parallels with Deleuze, requires further clarification.

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