The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities presents
The Intellectual and Literary History Public Seminar Series




Dr Henry Martyn LloydAgainst the Dialectic of Enlightenment; or, How Not to Read Kant avec Sade

No single work has been more influential in conditioning the Enlightenment’s legacy than Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947). With its brilliant and penetrating critique of contemporary modernity, the book continues to excite readers. It is hard to overestimate the extent to which the text has been responsible for the persistent anti-Enlightenment bias in “Continental” philosophy, critical theory, and cognate disciplines. Yet, the verdict of historians of the Enlightenment on the text has been utterly scathing: for Peter Gay the work is wholly “innocent of empirical material to support its conclusions.” The Dialectic’s reputation has survived in part because historians’ complaints have missed the point. Gay is wrong. In fact the major empirical material within the Dialectic is provided by extensive reference to the Marquis de Sade. It is the figure of Sade—and of Kant with Sade—that holds the text together. Gay’s dismissal of the text is predicated on his dismissal of Sade as not worthy of serious intellectual consideration. Following his lead, serious-minded historians of the Enlightenment have generally preferred to ignore Sade’s oeuvre. This has allowed the deployment of Sade by Horkheimer and Adorno to remain unchallenged. And many others, including such figures as Lacan and Žižek, have followed their elevating strategy and placed Sade in dialectical opposition to Kant thereby attempting to instantiate the “Dialectic of Enlightenment” in concrete historical form. This paper will critically examine the meaning of Sade in the Dialectic of Enlightenment. In doing so it will move against the idea that Sade can be thought of as the dialectical other to Kant. This paper will attack at its heart the idea that the Enlightenment has a dialectical structure and that Sade reveals the true meaning of Enlightenment.

Henry Martyn Lloyd is an intellectual historian and historian of philosophy with a particular interest in the French tradition, the Enlightenment, and in “Continental” Philosophy. He is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Queensland. Until recently a Junior Research Fellow in Enlightenment Studies at the University of Sydney, Martyn will soon take up a Fellowship for Enlightenment Studies at the University of Halle-Wittenberg. His book Sade’s Philosophical System in its Enlightenment Context is currently in press (Palgrave, 2018). With Geoff Boucher he has recently edited the collection Rethinking the Enlightenment: Between History, Philosophy, and Politics (Lexington, 2018). And he is the editor of The Discourse of Sensibility: The Knowing Body in the Enlightenment (Springer, 2013). In 2015 Martyn was awarded the Australasian Association of Philosophy Media Prize.



Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower (Building #1)