Robert Hullot-Kentor in Platypus Review #33

Recently, VCS faculty member Robert Hullot-Kentor had a conversation with Chris Mansour of The Platypus Affiliated Society, a group that explores ways in which earlier eras of Leftist thought can help inform contemporary political action. (You can read more about the Society at its online statement of purpose). An edited transcript of the interview has been published in Platypus Review #33, and can be found at this link on the Society’s web site.

As with other interviews with Hullot-Kentor that I’ve discussed on this blog (two examples can be found here and here), the current piece is the product of his ongoing work as both translator and interpreter of the writings of philosopher Theodor Adorno. The piece starts by considering the possible damage that’s being done to Adorno’s insights as part of their appropriation by contemporary intellectuals, and then expands into an extended discussion of the role that critical thought can (and can’t) play in the creation of knowledge. Along the way the discussion touches on the fundamental opposition Adorno’s work contains toward intellectual canon-building, the ways in which art naturally tries (and inevitably fails) to escape its own intentions and thereby make the unmakeable, Adorno’s use of parataxis as a means of evading the false authority of traditional syllogistic argumentation, and the obstacles that both time and language present when past philosophies are employed to make sense of the present.

As usual, I’m only scratching the surface of a rich and multivalent dialogue that deserves a close read. In lieu of a longer summary or a laundry list of details, I’ll leave off with an excerpt from one of Hullot-Kentor’s comments that struck me as residing very near the heart of the conversation:

…argumentation as modus operandi—the proudly hard-headed passion for “getting it” vs. “not getting it,” “right judgments” vs. “your wrong judgments”—is spuriously philosophical. It is an appeal to the authority of origin, not as the goal, but at the beginning of all things. It‘s not that logic is a matter of indifference, on the contrary, but its putative necessity is a strong-arm fraud, inextricable from the fraud of historical necessity. The problem of critical historical thought, by contrast, is—and I don’t think there is any other content to the whole of Adorno’s oeuvre—how to dissolve the illusion of this necessity we have woven for ourselves.

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