In this paper Fruchtl attempts to investigate the question of reflection on modernity. His main thesis is that to reflect upon modernity is to reflect upon the self. This immediately launches the investigation into the realm of subjectivity. He begins by building a picturing of the current dynamic concerning the subject. He creates a dynamic between the perspectives of Hegel and Habermas. It is one of current thinkers returning to the ideas of Hegel to challenge the views of Habermas. The post-modern thinkers tend to follow the Hegelian route of reflection on the self to examine modernity rather than rely on the ideal of human self creation. What Habermas writes off to aesthetics and expression have been revealed to be much more important and complex and have been brought under renewed scrutiny by post-modern thinkers wishing to reconcile the creative dimension of the self with the rest of their ideas.
The basis of the concept of a study of modernity being a study of the self stretches back to Descartes, who originally declared that the only proper foundation of an understanding of modernity can be found in the subject. Here we find the importance of the self as the foundation of modernity itself. The problem with this, as Hegel described it, is the impossibility of the self to be grasped as a unity. The self in inherintly conflicted and divided. Habermas and Hegel deal with this in different ways, both creating dimensional systems to explain the fractured self. Hegel largely leaves the issue at a n agonistic or tragic end, the self is constantly in conflict with itself, while Habermas tries to neatly tie everything up in nice little categories, including one he describes as self-determination. Here the post-modernists begin to take issue.
Adorno largely leans towards Hegel’s perspective of conflict. He relies on an aesthetic of paradox and a theory of dialectic. This is where he begins, but unlike Hegel who inspired the Romantic tradition of irony out of the eternal self conflict, Adorno gives each conflicted force equal justification and importance, they can not be subsumed or eliminated in anyway, even by describing them as continually conflicting or paradoxical. But this negative perspective is useful for critically analyzing things, such as the self.
This view point brings Adorno to a multi-level description of the self. As a 20th century thinker, Adorno can not avoid the implications of transcendental consciousness. Adorno examines the self as a result of this transcendental consciousness. On a historio-sociological, politico-economic and psychological level Adorno attributes most of what Habermas summed up as self determination to transcendental consciousness. The result of all this is Adorno and Horkheimer’s thesis of the decline of the individual. This theory revolves around the idea of the individual inherently expressing his individualism through his or her autonomy, which results in the individual making himself and others into means rather than subjects. This immediately reveals that for one to achieve his or her own personal interests he is reliant on other subjects. Thus it is seen that in the process of individuation the individual further integrates himself into the transcendental consciousness he was trying to distance himself from. So Adorno leaves the question of the self on somewhat similar terms as Hegel, in constance paradox, yet declares a true guiding force in the transcendental consciousness.
On the other hand Heidegger reaches back to Nietzsche for an adequate description of the self. Heidegger thus focuses more on modernities lack of foundation. He seeks to solve the problem of modernity and the self by eliminating the need for society to be grounded in the subject in the first place. By invoking Nietzsche’s famous declaration that God is dead Heidegger seeks to find an adequate replacement. Heidegger expands on the Neitzschian idea of the Over-man, into a heroic self imbued with other-thinking. This would circumvent most of the conflictual issues by creating a passivity of thinking which is influenced by the Romantic tradition. Heidegger’s later work on art, poetry and truth reveal his idea of other-thinking as just another name for the originary phenomenological thinking he often attributes to the pre-platonic Greek thinkers.