A Precarious Happiness: Adorno and the Sources of Normativity (Hardcover)

A Precarious Happiness: Adorno and the Sources of Normativity By Peter E. Gordon Cover Image
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A strikingly original account of Theodor Adorno’s work as a critique animated by happiness.

"Gordon’s confidently gripping and persistently subtle interpretation brings a new tone to the debate about Adorno’s negativism."—Jürgen Habermas

Theodor Adorno is often portrayed as a totalizing negativist, a scowling contrarian who looked upon modern society with despair. Peter E. Gordon thinks we have this wrong: if Adorno is uncompromising in his critique, it is because he sees in modernity an unfulfilled possibility of human flourishing. In a damaged world, Gordon argues, all happiness is likewise damaged but not wholly absent. Through a comprehensive rereading of Adorno’s work, A Precarious Happiness recovers Adorno’s commitment to traces of happiness—fragments of the good amid the bad. Ultimately, Gordon argues that social criticism, while exposing falsehoods, must also cast a vision for an unrealized better world.

About the Author

Peter E. Gordon is the Amabel B. James Professor of History and faculty affiliate in philosophy at Harvard University. He is the author or editor of many books, most recently Migrants in the Profane: Critical Theory and the Question of Secularization.

Praise For…

“More than an erudite reconstruction of a philosophical debate—[A Precarious Happiness] offers a means of exorcizing ‘the spirit of cynicism’ from contemporary social critique. . . . Gordon paints a compelling picture of Adorno as a theorist of happiness and human flourishing.”
— Hedgehog Review

"Gordon’s confidently gripping and at the same time persistently subtle interpretation brings a new tone to the debate about Adorno’s negativism. Engaging with Adorno's lectures, Gordon shows how the negative dialectic, though eluding direct access to statements about the 'good life,' means to spell out the contours of a 'right' life. Within the enchanted bounds of a distorted whole, Adorno searches for traces of a failed happiness. From the despairing criticism of the world’s hopeless condition, the Hegelian nonetheless discerns a transcending impulse of hope that points far beyond the Kantian encouragement to use our rational freedom."
— Jürgen Habermas

“With a fine sensibility, Gordon shows how Adorno, like Kafka, gropes in the gloom for glimpses of a precarious happiness, its possibility animating his critique of society.”
— Maeve Cooke, University College Dublin

“Written in a captivating style, Gordon carefully analyzes the whole range of Adorno’s writings to demonstrate that the philosopher grounds his critique of contemporary societies in an idea of human flourishing that he takes as being accessible only in small, easily overlooked fragments within our damaged form of life. By this, Gordon manages something at which almost everyone else has failed so far: to give a coherent picture of the scattered pieces of Adorno’s idea of morality.”
— Axel Honneth, Columbia University

Product Details
ISBN: 9780226828572
ISBN-10: 0226828573
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2024
Pages: 320
Language: English