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From constellations to autoprohibition: everything you wanted to know about Adorno's ethics (but were afraid to ask Zizek) Open Access


Other title
Second Commandment
Slavoj Zizek
Peter Brown
Janine Pierret
Holy Man
Jacques Lacan
Claudine Herzlich
Jean-Francois Lyotard
Duty to be Healthy
Image Prohibition
Dr. Faustus
Theodor Adorno
Thomas Mann
Public Health
Decaf Reality
Negative Dialectics
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Webb, Dan
Supervisor and department
Kellogg, Catherine (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Morin, Marie-Eve (Philosophy)
Biro, Andrew (Political Science)
Carmichael, Don (Political Science)
Adria, Marco (Faculty of Extension)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This project is centered on two primary concerns. First, to reformulate Adorno’s notion of ethical subjectivity in a way that allows for a clearer articulation of his normative position, and second, to make it more relevant to our contemporary social context and advances in social theory. My claim is that we can achieve this by rejecting Adorno’s philosophical method (negative dialectics and constellations) by reading his ethics through the lens of Žižek’s method which I am calling ‘autoprohibition.’ As I will show, autoprohibition is Žižek’s strategy for breaking the deadlock of the dialectic of enlightenment and its accompanying defeatist politics by developing a dialectical theory that neither rests on pure negation nor falls into the totalising and reifying trap of orthodox Marxism. It is in the context of autoprohibition that one can rearticulate Adorno’s normative imperatives (specifically, the imperative to end suffering, and to recognise the truth-content of the body) without these imperatives being negated by the totalising dictates of the dialectic of enlightenment. The best way to redeem the important normative components of Adorno’s formulation of ethical subjectivity is to reject its underlying philosophical method and resituate it in another. I frame this methodological shift as one from ‘constellations to autoprohibition,’ which allows for a more positive articulation of Adorno’s ethics; a plan for actively practising an ethical life vs. one premised on the rejection of participating in an unethical system (which Adorno’s ethics amounts to on my account).
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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