Der Essay

On By In 1

"Beziehung ist alles. Und willst du sie näher bei Namen nennen, so ist ihr Name 'Zweideutigkeit.'"

Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus1

I

Adorno's study of the essay form, published in 1958 as the opening piece of the volume Noten zur Literatur, has long been considered one of the classic discussions of the genre.2 Yet to the earlier investigations of the essay form on which his text both builds and plays, Adorno appears to add little that could be considered truly new. His characterization of the essayistic endeavor borrows heavily and self-consciously from an established tradition of genre exploration that reaches back—despite [End Page 623] the prevalence of quotations from more immediate predecessors like Georg Lukács and Max Bense—to Montaigne's sixteenth-century reflections on method, and thus to the origins of the form itself. Nearly all the familiar topoi are here: the apparent spontaneity of presentation, the emphasis on rhetorical sophistication, the exaltation of the incomplete, the rejection of a purely deductive logic, the eschewal of heavy-handed profundity, the antipathy toward systematic dogmatism, the treatment of non-scientific, often unconventional subject matter, the central importance of play, the insistence on human fallibility, the image of a meandering, exploratory journey. Bordering as Adorno's text therefore does on the peculiar combination of superficial sophistication and philosophical banality he explicitly attributes only to the "schlechten Essay" (13), his apparent refusal to say anything new requires an explanation.3 Where, here, is "das Neue als Neues, nicht ins Alte der bestehenden Formen Zurückübersetzbares" (30), celebrated by his text as the only true object of the essay? Where is the insight he claims can emerge from an essayistic reorganization of traditional platitudes?4 It is tempting to avoid this quandary entirely by locating [End Page 624] the relevance of Adorno's text beyond the realm of the essay as literary form—by assuming that Adorno is really speaking about "something else," like the theory of negative dialectics. This approach, however, is a dangerous one. In the attempt to "decode" a description that refers almost exclusively to an entity labeled "the essay as form," the reader risks losing sight of the actual text. Deprived of any necessary relation to the title that binds its elements together, "Der Essay als Form" would disappear completely beneath a profusion of generalizable, translatable claims about Adornian philosophy. The apparent disjunction between title and text thus requires the reader to steer a precarious middle path between a treatment that would transform the study into a universally applicable "meta-text" and a facile understanding of the title that would measure the text parsimoniously against the genre of the "genre study," demanding of it an innovative recipe for essay production. The act of reading resolves itself into the interrogation of a form—the form of "Der Essay als Form"—within whose confines the essay as Adornian object must ultimately emerge.

II

Adorno's text dwells insistently on the essayistic relation to a negative truth, a relation established for him by way of the essay's anti-systematic form. The concern for such truth, to which the essay as form ostensibly provides limited but unique access, drives his analysis from the Lukács citation on the very first page—"Und weil [der Essay] [die Dinge] nur aufs neue ordnet, nicht aus dem Formlosen etwas Neues formt, ist er auch an sie gebunden, muß er immer 'die Wahrheit' über sie aussprechen. Ausdruck für ihr Wesen finden" (9, n. 2)—to the image of negative revelatory power with which the text closes.5 In a discussion that aims to uncover the cognitive stakes of Adorno's investigation of the essay form, it seems sensible to begin with an analysis of this posited, cognitive potential, the source of which could be said to lie in a peculiarly subversive approach to the norms of conceptual...

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Es­say, der oder das

Wortart: ℹSubstantiv, maskulin, oder Substantiv, Neutrum

Häufigkeit: ℹ▮▮▮▯▯

Rechtschreibung

Worttrennung: Es|say

Bedeutungsübersicht

Abhandlung, die eine literarische oder wissenschaftliche Frage in knapper und anspruchsvoller Form behandelt

Synonyme zu Essay

Abhandlung, Artikel, Aufsatz, Feuilleton, Traktat, Zeitungsartikel

Aussprache

Lautschrift: [ˈɛse] 🔉, auch, österreichisch nur: [ɛˈseː] 🔉

Herkunft

englisch essay < mittelfranzösisch essai = Probe, (literarischer) Versuch < lateinisch exagium = das Wägen

Grammatik

der oder das Essay; Genitiv: des Essays, Plural: die Essays

Typische Verbindungen Wie entstehen typische Verbindungen?

Blättern

Im Alphabet davor

Im Alphabet danach

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