Translation and hegemonic knowledge under advanced capitalism

Stefan Baumgarten

Translation occurs in a context of power asymmetries. Using two English translations of Adorno’s seminal Ästhetische Theorie as an example, this paper elaborates an eclectic phenomenology of power structured alongside three symbolic images: the street market, the assembly line, and a technological gadget. By aligning some key concepts of critical theory with the evolutionary stages of capitalism, it will be argued that recontextualisations of Adornian thought in English may reflect the well-known antagonism between Adorno’s philosophical thought and the dominant scientistic mindset of mid-20th century American social science. Ultimately, this paper contemplates the extent to which Adorno’s Anglophone mirror image has been refracted through a positivist and neoliberal order of discourse that is at odds with the ideological, or utopian, convictions of German critical theory.

Table of contents

In his bestseller The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Ray Kurzweil (2005, 9) makes the dazzling pronouncement that “by the end of this century, the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will be trillions of trillions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence.” Kurzweil is one of the most prominent proponents of technological utopianism. The intellectual hothouse of Kurzweil and associates is Singularity University, a place where some of the brightest minds of Silicon Valley gather to conceive the technologies of the future. The techno-scientific transformation of humanity into the condition of a ‘singularity’ constitutes Kurzweil’s ideological hobby-horse, a scientific endeavour that has come to be known as transhumanism, and which Slavoj Žižek recently branded as “techno-digital apocalypticism” (2013, 33).

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