The Process Between Kant and Schlegel. Dialectic in the Adorno-Benjamin Debate

Di Giovanni Zanotti

In: Critique: Hegel and Contemporary Critical Theory LII , No. 1 ( 2023 )

Sezione Saggi / Articles


This article argues that the problem of the dialectic and, specifically, of the role of the subject in the dialectical process, lies at the core of the philosophical divergence between Adorno and Benjamin. First (1), I examine the Benjamin-Adorno debate in the light of the polemic against Benjamin that is hidden in a passage from Adorno’s Hegel: Three Studies on the nature of the dialectic. Then (2) I illustrate Benjamin’s early aesthetic conception of «immanent critique» as developed in his 1920 doctoral dissertation on the Romantic concept of art criticism. I suggest that the ‘subjectless’ dialectic which, according to Benjamin, is inherent to Friedrich Schlegel’s and Novalis’s idea of «form», can be used as a key to his own later work and, in particular, to his divergence from Adorno, whose Hegelian subject-object dialectic presupposes the heritage of Kant’s subjective mediation. The distinction proposed by Habermas between Adorno’s and Benjamin’s conceptions of critique is, thus, theoretically grounded in a distinction between two different conceptions of the dialectic. Finally (3), I briefly show how, from Adorno’s perspective, Benjamin’s philosophy of immediacy threatens to reverse itself into the very subjectivism that it seeks to prevent, in a society dominated by the negative objectivity of the capitalist relations of production.