‘After Auschwitz’: Writing history after injustice in Adorno and Lyotard

Contemporary Political Theory 20 (4):815-835 (2021)
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Political philosophy in the last decades has turned away from universal narratives of progress, on grounds that these narratives produce exclusion and justify domination. However, the universal values that underlie emancipatory political projects seem to presuppose universal history, which explains its persistence in some contemporary political philosophers committed to such projects. In order to find a response to the paradox according to which universal history is inherently exclusionary and yet necessary to uphold universal values, I examine the contrast between Adorno’s and Lyotard’s perspectives on the problem of writing history ‘after Auschwitz’. For both philosophers, Auschwitz interrupts our fundamental normative and cognitive values, because any attempt to identify the meaning of the camps by means of these values misunderstands the suffering that took place in them. Yet this interruption produces a feeling that calls for the institution of new universal normative values. For Adorno, this value is a purely negative command to act in such a way that Auschwitz does not repeat itself. For Lyotard, by contrast, it is the demand to invent new idioms that make it possible to find meaning in Auschwitz.
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Archival date: 2022-03-18
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