The title to Robert Hullot Kentor’s essay in the Brooklyn Rail comes from an unfinished 1941 essay by Theodor Adorno. Hullot-Kentor, who is the author of Things Beyond Resemblance: Collected Essays on Theodor W. Adorno, argues that the “New Type of Human Being” Adorno wrote of more than half a century ago is still very much with us. The individual in modern society as Adorno views it has become immanent to the social structure and is ill-equipped or unable to critique it. Hullot-Kentor writes:
Adorno put it this way in the essay we’re discussing: the individual “seems to be on the way to a situation in which it can only survive by relinquishing its individuality, by blurring the boundary between itself and its surroundings, and sacrificing most of its independence and autonomy.” By this essentially chameleon labor, the self is thus prohibited from developing in critical opposition to society.
This lack of real critical opposition, Hullot-Kentor argues, persists despite the proliferation of journals and magazines which are ostensibly devoted to “critical theory,” but fail to enact a real challenge to our cultural and political realities. Read the entire essay here and you can also read an excerpt from Things Beyond Resemblance.
Image credit: portrait of Robert Hullot-Kentor. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.