Barbarism: Notes on the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno

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Adorno’s use of the term “barbarism” has probably been most often referred to in the context of his much- cited dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (Adorno 1983: 34). While, nowadays, the term is usually and fortunately presented within the broader context of his works, his intended meaning was frequently misunderstood particularly after Adorno had articulated it for the first time. For clarity, the aforementioned dictum was not a verdict intended to silence poets or artists. It was rearticulated a few times by Adorno — specifically in response to Celan’s poetry — who calls for arts and culture to respond from within and in the face of an inescapable aporetic condition. Namely, to write poetry after Auschwitz means to write from within a differend—a radical chasm between the signifier and the signified that one neither ought nor could overcome via writing or aesthetic means in general. Yet, poetry (and also art and thinking, per se) as a form of active engagement with sociopolitical realities, has to respond to the ungraspable (i.e., the Holocaust); it cannot simply avoid doing so. It permanently has to speak whilst knowing that it will never reach the addressee; that it must fail in speaking.
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First archival date: 2017-06-17
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