August 17, 2020

Critical Theory and Climate Change 2 My remarks today are oriented around reading the first chapter of The Dialectic of Enlightenment, "The Concept of Enlightenment." As with the introduction, the opening of the chapter resonates with Rousseau in it's articulation of a paradox: the aim of Enlightenment is the elimination of fear and the establishment of sovereignty (men's sovereignty). Enlightenment overcomes superstition and nature becomes disenchanted. And yet "the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant" (3). Why? This is the puzzle of the chapter. The version of Enlightenment Horkheimer and Adorno investigate comes from Francis Bacon. For them, he is exemplary of the scientific attitude that replaces enchanted nature with usable nature, a nature that men can dominate (along with dominating other men). Man's knowledge is the ground of his power and power is associated with technology: "Technology is the essence of this knowledge. It does not work by concepts and images, by the fortunate insight, but refers to method, the exploitation of other's work, and capital" (4). Horkheimer and Adorno argue that this kind of technological or instrumental thinking is "ultimately self-destructive": it eliminates "any trace of its own self-consciousness." Mystery and the "wish to reveal mystery" are extinguished. It's worth pointing out that this is an odd claim. One need but recall the Freemasons who brought together both instrumental reason and cultic mode of association based in ritual and mystery. But this is not their concern. Rather, they are occupied with the separating out of science from philosophy, the emergence of a science that...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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