A Margin of Error: Bildersprache and its Critique in Otto Neurath, Adorno, K.P. Brehmer

McAuliffe, Sam. 2015. 'A Margin of Error: Bildersprache and its Critique in Otto Neurath, Adorno, K.P. Brehmer'. In: London Conference in Critical Thought. UCL, United Kingdom. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

For Adorno the image character of “totally administered society” is not a secondary, accidental attribute of the latter but the expression of a determinate historical tendency, the driving force of which is the dialectic of enlightenment. The progressive rationalization of thinking is founded upon the image’s negation, it renounces the image as an impediment to thought, as mythic remnant; and yet, inasmuch as this process is subject to a dialectic, negation here does not occur without at the same time paving the way for the image’s return, the relapse of reason into myth once more. This thesis is considered in ‘Picture-book without Pictures,’ a key fragment found within Minima Moralia (1951). “The objective tendency of the Enlightenment, to wipe out the power of images over man, is not matched by any subjective progress on the part of enlightened thinking towards freedom from images.” As such, the form of thought “unleashed” by the Enlightenment culminates in an epochal “second figurativeness” [zweite Bildlichkeit]”, an image-world that spans “the little silhouettes of men or houses that pervade statistics like hieroglyphics… countless advertisements, newspaper stereotypes, [and] toys.”

This paper seeks to examine the historic ground of this specific regime of images, its structure and substance, as it emerges in two distinct, yet theoretically related, configurations: firstly, Otto Neurath’s Isotope system (1936), a positivist “picture language” (Bildersprache) that considers the image a transparent and universally intelligible means of pedagogical communication; secondly, the graphic practice of K.P. Brehmer (1971), whose critical interrogation of the visual forms of late capitalist production lays bare the tensions that punctuate this image-world.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Theodor W. Adorno, Otto Neurath, K.P. Brehmer, Image, Administered society

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


26 June 2015Accepted
27 June 2015Published

Event Location:

UCL, United Kingdom

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

09 Nov 2018 13:13

Last Modified:

09 Nov 2018 13:13



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