Bilderverbot: Adorno and the Ban on Images

Truskolaski, Sebastian. 2016. Bilderverbot: Adorno and the Ban on Images. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

Text (Bilderverbot: Adorno and the Ban on Images)
VIS_thesis_TruskolaskiS_2016.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (1MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

My thesis examines the significance of Theodor W. Adorno’s recurrent reference to the Old Testament ban on making images of God: the ‘Bilderverbot’. In particular I focus on three facets of this figure that occur at prominent junctures of Adorno’s work: his ‘imageless materialism’ (Chapter One), his ‘inverse theology’ (Chapter Two) and his ‘negative aesthetics’ (Chapter Three). In each case I argue that Adorno strips the image ban of its religious associations and enlists it in the service of a broadly Marxian critique of capitalist modernity. The ban on picturing the absolute is rendered as a ban on pre-determining a future in which all historical antagonisms are reconciled. As Adorno argues, only an unflinching criticism of the present can throw into relief the contours of an ‘imageless’ Utopia. I approach Adorno’s writings with a view to his sources, many of which contain notable references to the image ban that span the history of modern German thought. They include: Marx and Lukács, Benjamin and Bloch, Kant and Hegel, as well as Hölderlin, Kafka and Schoenberg. By emphasising these elective affinities, I aim to shed light on Adorno’s singular application of the figure of the image ban to his critical project. In this regard, I hope to dispense with certain prevalent characterisations of Adorno as a quietistic aesthete advanced by critics such as Habermas, Taubes and Agamben. Far from designating a merely historical curio, I argue that Adorno’s singular appropriation of the image ban serves as a potent model for thinking an aesthetics of resistance in the present.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Adorno, Frankfurt School, Critical Theory, Aesthetics

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


31 May 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

06 Jun 2016 11:23

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 15:24


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)