Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment Essay

3209 Words 13 Pages
Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment

'Myth is already enlightenment; and enlightenment reverts to mythology'
(Dialectic of Enlightenment XVI)

Adorno and Horkheimer's obscure and nihilistic text Dialectic of Enlightenment (DoE) is an attempt to answer the question 'why mankind, instead of entering a truly human condition, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism' (DoE, p.xi). The result is a totalising critique of modernity; a diagnosis of why the Enlightenment project failed with no attempt to prescribe a cure. This is achieved by a historical-philosophical study of the mythic world-view of animism and anthropomorphism and the Enlightenment attempt to dissolve myth through objectification and instrumental reason.
…show more content…
Stalinist Russia, the Fascist threat in Europe and American capitalism are equal indications of the regressive process of Enlightenment, and all fall under the jurisdiction of their critique. We will see the extent of this influence when class domination is considered, but what is already clear is that Adorno and Horkheimer find the Marxist ideology untenable. From myth to enlightenment: the substitution of domination for mimesis.
The motivation for enlightenment was already present in myth, it 'originates in human fear, the expression of which is explanation, … man imagines himself free from fear when there is no longer anything unknown'# (p.15-16). However, the mythic reaction to this fear differs from that found in enlightenment. Myth attempts to make the unknown known through animism and anthropomorphism, that is, it attributes a human explanation to the unknown forces of nature#. In myth the subjective is not confined to man but is extended to the world and the objective and purely independent is not yet realized#. The magician and shaman use ritual magic to influence nature but never to dominate it. The tool of the shaman is mimesis (imitation in an attempt to influence) and sacrifice. 'The magician imitates demons; in order to frighten them or appease them, he behaves frighteningly or makes gestures of appeasement' (p.9) but neither this nor sacrifices are attempts to control nature but are pleas to animistic forces
Open Document