Theodor W. Adorno: Fifty Years After His Death

November 29, 2019

Keynote: Shierry Weber Nicholsen

Friday, November 29, 9:30AM–8:00PM, World Art Centre, SFU Woodward's, 149 W. Hastings St.

Co-sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities, Department of Humanities, & Dean's Office for Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies 

Adorno Symposium

Today, fifty years after his untimely death, it is worth asking what, if anything, can Theodor W. Adorno, contribute to the understanding of the phenomena that have dominated the 21st century? Such phenomena include but are not limited to: the seemingly total nature of the baleful social, economic and psychological conditions of neo-liberal capitalism; the return of authoritarian forms of populism globally and what Adorno calls “great little men,” such as Donald J. Trump, Boris Johnson, and Narendra Modi; the capacity (or lack thereof) of liberal-democratic institutions and discourses to embody the ethico-political conditions of “critique”; the connections between social and ecological domination and suffering; the persistence of literary and art works, aesthetics, and criticism as deep and dialectical sources of hope, resistance, and negativity amidst the colonizing logic of capital. 

According to second and third generations of intellectuals associated with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, the aesthetic, ethico-political, and philosophical contributions of Theodor W. Adorno, who once declared “solidarity with metaphysics at the time of its fall,” have been rendered obsolete by “post-metaphysical” thinking. Yet, paradoxically, the philosopher and exemplary public intellectual who declared that Hitler had imposed nothing less than the task of articulating a new categorical imperative after Auschwitz, seems much better placed to address the grave challenges of our times, in particular, the renewed rise of authoritarianism in the context of a deepening ecological catastrophe, than his Frankfurt epigones. Nowhere is this made clearer than in the recent publication of his 1967 lecture “Aspekte des neuen Rechts-radikalismus” (Aspects of the New Radical Right) (Suhrkamp, 2019). 

In contrast with subsequent generations of Critical Theory, who have seemingly reconciled themselves to the apparent permanence of capitalist society, Adorno argued intransigently that genuine reconciliation and peace—including and especially with respect with non-human nature—entailed a social order no longer dominated by the exchange principle, which reduced all difference or otherness to equivalence or identity. This symposium will explore different aspects of Adorno’s philosophical and political legacy for the 21st century.


9:10–9:30am: Opening Remarks

9:30–11:30am: Student Panel
Caedyn Lennox, Stephanie Yu, & Ed Graham
Chair: Samir Gandesha

Lunch Break 

1:00–2:15pm: Willow Verkerk, “Adorno avec de Sade”
Chair: Jaleh Mansoor

2:30–3:45pm: Vladimir Safatle, ”Negative Dialectics and a Politics of Emergence”
Chair: Alessandra Capperdoni

4:00–5:30pm: Samir Gandesha, “A Composite of King Kong and a Suburban Barber: Adorno’s Critique of Authoritarian Populism”
Chair: Willow Verkerk

5:30–6:30pm: Reception

6:30–8:00pm: Shierry Weber Nicholsen, “Adorno's Minima Moralia: Malignant Normality and the Dilemmas of Resistance”
Chair: Hilda Fernandez