Re-reading Adorno: The 'after-Auschwitz' Aporia

  • Elaine Martin National University of Ireland, Maynooth


It is difficult to think of another area of literary discourse in which a critic has brought such a profound influence to bear, as Theodor W. Adorno has, in the area of literature concerning the Shoah. It is also difficult to think of another area of literary discourse in which a critic’s pronouncements have been misinterpreted so often and to such a degree as have Adorno’s reflections concerning the status of art after the Shoah. Reference here is of course being made to Adorno’s (supposed) ‘dictum’ concerning the barbarity of poetry after Auschwitz. The principle aims of this paper are to restore his reflections to their argumentative context and to restore the dialectical tension conferred on them in the original text. I will examine what I have termed the “after-Auschwitz” aporia, so evident in Adorno’s reflections on post-Shoah art and yet overlooked all too frequently in the research literature. Defined as an irresolvable impasse as a result of equally plausible yet inconsistent premises the term “aporia” succinctly captures the essence of Adorno’s deliberations on post-Shoah art: the imperative to represent the egregious crimes and the impossibility of doing so. I will demonstrate that Adorno’s pronouncements were never meant as silence-inducing taboos, but rather as concrete theoretical reflections upon the moral status of art in the aftermath of the Shoah and as warnings of the moral peril involved in the artistic rendering of mass extermination.
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