Theodor Adorno 1903-1969
(Full name Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno) German philosopher, sociologist, musicologist, and critic.
Adorno is widely considered to have been the most brilliant member of the Frankfurt School, a group of sociologists and psychologists organized formally as the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, a privately endowed center for Marxist studies that was founded after the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s.
Adorno was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1903. His father, Oscar Wiesengrund, was a wealthy wine merchant of Jewish descent, and his mother, Maria Calvelli-Adorno, was a well-known professional singer of German-French-Genoese parentage. As a child Adorno was quiet and intensely intellectual. He was strongly influenced by the many singers and musicians who frequented his parents' house and hoped to become a composer. At the University of Frankfurt, however, Adorno studied philosophy, psychology, and sociology as well as musicology. After earning his doctorate in philosophy in 1925, he moved to Vienna to study musical composition, but he was bitterly disappointed to find that he lacked the talent to succeed. However, while in Vienna, Adorno began to contribute essays and reviews to various Viennese journals, and he soon established himself as a knowledgeable, original, and perceptive critic and philosopher of music, as well as a champion of avant-garde composers. The range of his critical writings soon widened to include literature, aesthetics, and culture in general, while his approach to the arts, under the influence of his friend Walter Benjamin, became increasingly sociological and political. In 1928 Adorno returned to Frankfurt and the University. A few years later he began his long friendship with Max Horkheimer, who was director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research from 1930 to 1958. Adorno did not at first become a member of the Institute, which moved first to Geneva and then to the United States after Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Instead, Adorno went to Merton College, Oxford, to study philosophy and then to Princeton University in the United States. In 1938 he became head of music studies at the Institute's Office of Radio Research at Princeton. In 1941, when Horkheimer moved to California because of ill health, Adorno followed, becoming part of a brilliant expatriate community that included Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Alfred Doeblin. Adorno served as co-director and theoretician of the most famous of the Institute's American projects, the Research Project on Social Discrimination, from 1944 to 1949. That year the Institute moved back to Frankfurt, and nine years later Adorno succeeded Horkheimer as director. At the same time he became professor of philosophy and sociology at the University of Frankfurt, into which the Institute was incorporated. The Frankfurt School had by that time ended its connections with orthodox Marxism, and was disillusioned with both the Soviet Union and the industrial working class. In the postwar years it functioned primarily as a center of academic sociology, where Adorno and Horkheimer passed on to their students what they had learned of empirical social science in the United States. Through the 1950s and 1960s Adorno published widely on a variety of topics, including music, philosophy, literature, and popular culture. In the late 1960s the Institute's offices were frequently invaded by students protesting its misperceived conservatism. In April of that year three politically radical female students entered Adorno's classroom, bared their breasts, mocked him with flowers and kisses, and finally declared him dead as an institution. Adorno was horrified by the outburst and, according to some, never recovered. He died of a heart attack later that year.
Adorno's writings strongly reflect his Marxist, anti-fascist, beliefs. From 1942 to 1944 Adorno collaborated with Horkheimer on writing Philosophische Fragmente (Philosophical Fragments; 1944), later translated as Dialectic of Enlightenment. In this work Adorno and Horkheimer argued that the European masses had allowed themselves to be exploited by their leaders, who had substituted the pursuit of power for the pursuit of happiness during the period of fascist power in Europe. In 1950 Adorno published the results of the Institute's Research Project on Social Discrimination under the title The Authoritarian Personality. In the study, about two thousand American citizens were interviewed to establish personality traits and family backgrounds that characterize people who develop racist and anti-democratic views. Adorno also published extensively on music, both books and essays, generally focusing on the social aspects of the art form. In The Philosophy of Modern Music (1949) Adorno contrasted Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky as the positive and negative poles of the new music. In Versuch über Wagner (1952) Adorno argued that the music of Richard Wagner helped to inspire the beginnings of National Socialism, which developed into Nazism in Germany. Many of Adorno's essays on music demonstrate his hostility to jazz and other forms of popular music as being a drug employed by the establishment to pacify the exploited masses. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (1951) is a more personal collection of aphorisms criticizing fascist tendencies in the twentieth century and the materialism of modern industrial civilization. Two major philosophical works of Adorno's later career stand out. In Negative Dialectics (1966) Adorno discussed Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger and their textual reproductions of reality. In his Ästhetische Theorie (1970), which was left unfinished at his death, Adorno argued in favor of a theory of the autonomy of artistic works and explored the connection between art and society.
While Adorno's writing is considered difficult and at times almost abstract, his ideas on aesthetics, sociology, music, and popular culture have been both admired and excoriated. Many music critics, for example, admit the brilliance of Adorno's observations on classical music but find his work on popular music—in particular jazz—unenlightened and ignorant. Other critics, however, believe that Adorno's writings on jazz and other popular music have been long misinterpreted. Despite his lifelong stance as a vigorous anti-fascist and his strong influence on modern European democratic thought, Adorno came under fire later in his life because of his refusal to take radical political action and because some of his writings on aesthetics and culture were interpreted as overly conservative. European university students frequently protested and stormed the offices of the Frankfort Institute. More recently, Adorno has been restored to his respected place in modern philosophy and sociology, with some critics maintaining that his works are some of the most important of the twentieth century.
Kierkegaard: Konstruktion des ästhetischen [Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic] (philosophy) 1933
Memorandum: Music in Radio (musicology) 1938
Philosophische Fragmente [with Max Horkheimer] (philosophy) 1944; revised edition published as Dialektik der Aufklärung: Philosophische Fragmente 1947; published as Dialectic of Enlightenment 1972
Philosophie der neuen Musik [Philosophy of Modern Music] (philosophy) 1949
The Authoritarian Personality (sociology) 1950
Minima Moralia: Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben [Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life] (philosophy) 1951
Versuch über Wagner [In Search of Wagner] (philosophy) 1952
Die gegängelte Musik: Bemerkungen über die Musikpolitik der Ostblockstaaten (musicology) 1954
Dissonanzen: Musik in der verwalteten Welt (musicology) 1956
Zur Metakritik der Erkenntnistheorie: Studien über Husserl und die phänomenologischen Antinomien [Against Epistemology: A Metacritique] (philosophy) 1956
Aspekte der Hegelschen Philosophie (philosophy) 1957
Die Funktion des Kontrapunkts in der neuen Musik (musicology) 1957
Prismen: Kulturkritik und...
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SOURCE: “On Happiness and the Damaged Life,” in On Critical Theory, edited by John O'Neill, The Seabury Press, 1976, pp. 12-33.
[In the following essay, Agger explains Adorno's place in critical theory.]
Critical theory chances to be either a museum-piece in the hands of its modern inheritors or a living medium of political self-expression. My argument is that critical theory can only be renewed—as Marx would have hoped—by refusing to concentrate on its philosophical inheritance and instead by writing the theory in a direct and unmediated way. The old saw that to be a Marxist is to surpass Marx is just as true for critical theory: Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse blazed the trail for a theory of late capitalism, yet now they can only be suitably remembered by new formulations of theory responsive to the altered nature of the socio-cultural world.
The central motif in this task of reinvigoration is that of language. Critical theory employs a vocabulary of hope and defeat. Marx's great contribution was his notion of theory as a stimulant to political action, if not as action's mere reflection. The rhetoric of critical theory emerges from the theorist's sense of the possibility of social change and itself contributes to fostering or deflecting emancipatory activity.
In this sense, Adorno's nearly unmitigated pessimism contrasts with Marcuse's guarded and...
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SOURCE: “Dr. Adorno's Bag of Tricks,” in Encounter, Vol. 47, No. 4, October, 1976, pp. 67-76.
[In the following essay, Martin reviews Minima Moralia, finding the book intriguing even though he disagrees with many of Adorno's assertions.]
Our society distributes itself into Barbarians, Philistines and Populace.
Those qualified to judge are inclined to regard T. W. Adorno's Minima Moralia1 as the masterwork of the Frankfurt School. Certainly it illustrates one of that School's cardinal tenets: a rejection of over-arching system. An author who claims that “the whole is the untrue” probably represents his position best by collections of fragments. The Minima Moralia is fragmented in the way Pascal's Pensées is fragmented; and, as with Pascal, one suspects that a work which brought all the bits and pieces into a rounded system would result in distortion. Adorno's work is about multiple distortion, and you can only attack multiple distortion by continually criticising it from different angles and moving in from different starting points. If distortion of nature and man, science and culture is protean, then its negation must acquire a complementary variety of form. If the situation is as deeply distorting and pervasive as you claim, then any rounded system is both impossible...
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SOURCE: “Adorno and Film Music: Theoretical Notes on Composing for the Films,” in Yale French Studies, Vol. 60, 1980, pp. 157-82.
[In the following essay, Rosen discusses Adorno's little-known volume Composing for the Films.]
Important recent work on the ideological operations of cinema bases itself on a view of the history of the graphic arts deriving from studies by Francastel and a more or less Althusserian view of ideology.1 But cinema incorporates non-graphic elements which have their own histories and social roles “outside of” and “before” cinema, and ideological analysis must account for the integration into cinema of such elements. One such component of film is music. An important study of film music based on a distinctive view of music as an autonomous art form and with a concern for the ideological operations of film already exists in the often noted but rarely discussed 1947 book Composing for the Films.
At first signed only by the composer Hanns Eisler, this book was actually co-authored by the eminent social philosopher and aesthetician Theodor W. Adorno.2 What follows is no more than notations from a reading of Composing for the Films in the context of Adorno's theories of society, music, and culture. The purpose is not to become involved in a dispute over authorship or to downgrade the significance of Eisler's views...
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SOURCE: “Autonomy of Art: Looking Back at Adorno's Ästhetische Theorie,”1 in German Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 2, March, 1981, pp. 133-48.
[In the following essay, Hohendahl examines critical response to the publication of Adorno's Ästhetische Theorie.]
Theodor Adorno's major contribution to the philosophy of art, his Ästhetische Theorie, appeared in 1970.2 The work was almost completed when the author died in 1969. Adorno meant to rewrite the introduction, but otherwise the text needed only formal revisions, which were carried out by Rolf Tiedemann, Adorno's faithful disciple and editor. Tiedemann rightly felt that Ästhetische Theorie deserved immediate publication since it was the legacy of Critical Theory. Yet it was precisely this aspect which marred the reception of the book. Except for a few voices in the liberal and conservative camp, the response was surprisingly negative. One might have expected that the East German critics would denounce Adorno's theory as a typical example of Western ideology—which they did; more alarming was the unfriendly or at least cool reception among the West German Left. If the members of the Frankfurt Institute considered Ästhetische Theorie as Adorno's legacy, it turned out to be an Erbe which was clearly unwelcome. The charges varied, but there was almost a consensus among the critics of the left camp...
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SOURCE: “Adorno in Reverse: From Hollywood to Richard Wagner,” in After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism, Indiana University Press, 1986, pp. 16-43.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1983, Huyssen discusses the influence of Adorno's theory of the “culture industry.”]
Ever since the failure of the 1848 revolution, the culture of modernity has been characterized by the contentious relationship between high art and mass culture. The conflict first emerged in its typical modern form in the Second Empire under Napoleon III and in Bismarck's new German Reich. More often than not it has appeared in the guise of an irreconcilable opposition. At the same time, however, there has been a succession of attempts launched from either side to bridge the gap or at least to appropriate elements of the other. From Courbet's appropriation of popular iconography to Brecht's immersion in the vernacular of popular culture, from Madison Avenue's conscious exploitation of avantgardist pictorial strategies to postmodernism's uninhibited learning from Las Vegas there has been a plethora of strategic moves tending to destabilize the high/low opposition from within. Yet this opposition—usually described in terms of modernism vs. mass culture or avantgarde vs. culture industry—has proven to be amazingly resilient. Such resilience may lead one to conclude that perhaps neither of the...
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SOURCE: “Adorno in America,” in Permanent Exiles: Essays on the Intellectual Migration from Germany to America, Columbia University Press, 1985, pp. 120-37.
[In the following essay, Jay analyzes the theoretical, sociological, and aesthetic work Adorno did while living and working in the United States.]
The exemplary anecdotes are known to us all. Adorno arrives in America in 1938 to work on Paul Lazarsfeld's Princeton Radio Research Project. Lazarsfeld writes of his new acquaintance: “He looks as you would image a very absent-minded German professor, and he behaves so foreign that I feel like a member of the Mayflower society.”1 Adorno travels to the Project's offices in an abandoned brewery in Newark, New Jersey, through a tunnel under the Hudson River and admits “I felt a little as if I were in Kafka's Nature Theater of Oklahoma.”2 The attempt to adapt his ideas to the needs of the Project soon proves, not surprisingly, a failure, as Adorno's concept of fetishization resists all efforts to operationalize it. Lazarsfeld's hope to achieve what he later called “a convergence of European theory and American empiricism”3 is quickly abandoned with no small amount of embarrassment and bitter feelings on both sides.
A decade later, the Institute für Sozialforschung is invited back to Frankfurt, and Adorno, with no hesitation, joins Max...
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SOURCE: “Theodor Adorno on Jazz: A Critique of Critical Theory,” in Popular Music and Society, Vol. 12, No. 4, Winter, 1988, pp. 69-73.
[In the following essay, Nye examines the ways in which Adorno's opinions about American culture affected his criticism of jazz.]
The school of social thought called critical theory has two major branches. The younger is associated with the work of Jurgen Habermas and colleagues and has little relevance to the concerns of this paper. The focus here is on the other variety of critical theory which often goes by the name of the Frankfurt School, for it officially began with the establishment of the Institute of Social Research, in Frankfurt, in 1923. The Institute sought to synthesize aspects of the work of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Weber, Lukacs and Freud, among others, and attracted a diverse and discontented group of intellectuals. Erich Fromm, Friedrich Pollock, Franz Neumann, Leo Lowenthal, and Walter Benjamin were among those associated with the Frankfurt School at one time or another.
However, the primary architects of the emergent perspective of critical theory were Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno (Held, 1980: 14-16). All three were interested in the nature and function of the arts in modern societies but Adorno and Horkheimer collaborated on a systematic approach to the arts in their Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)....
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SOURCE: “Language for One, Language for All: Adorno and Modernism,” in Perspectives on Musical Aesthetics, edited by John Rahn, W. W. Norton & Company, 1994, pp. 21-39.
[In the following essay, originally published in French in 1988, Rochlitz locates Adorno's place in aesthetic modernity.]
Modernity can be assigned a minimalist as well as a maximalist definition. In the first case, one would go back to the birth of modern subjectivity, to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the French Revolution, and modernity would be understood as the perpetual re-questioning of the normative criteria on which a posttraditional society is founded, as a chronic tension between the demands of profitability, of efficaciousness, of maintenance, and the demands of validity, of the autonomous logics in the sciences, of norms, and of arts.1 From this perspective, the historical catastrophes of the nineteenth century do not justify the verdict which denounces modern reason as such. In the second case, modernity can be seen as the absolute radicality of the political and artistic avant-gardes and of their continuous bid for change, especially since the middle of the nineteenth century, a radicality which opposes to the apocalyptic negativity of modern societies a demand for rational reconciliation without compromise. In this latter case, after the successive defeats of the radical movements, there appears a...
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SOURCE: “Concerning the Central Idea of Adorno's Philosophy,” in The Semblance of Subjectivity: Essays in Adorno's Aesthetic Theory, edited by Tom Huhn and Lambert Zuidervaart, The MIT Press, 1997, pp. 147–75.
[In the following essay, originally published in German in 1989, Bubner interprets the major points of Adorno's philosophical system.]
“I do not want to decide whether my theory is grounded in a particular understanding of humanity and human existence. I deny, however, that it is necessary to have recourse to such an understanding.” This lapidary statement occurs at the end of the Aktualität der Philosophie, the inaugural lecture with which Theodor W. Adorno began his academic career in 1931.1 The lecture is important because it foreshadows many of the main ideas of his later philosophy. The statement itself reflects an orientation toward philosophy Adorno would maintain throughout his life.
Adorno's philosophical theses arise from certain fundamental assumptions, as do all meaningful propositions and especially those expressing pure theoretical insights. His intentional and emphatic refusal, however, to give an account of his premises is responsible for the form these assumptions take in the course of their theoretical development. Most assumptions that inform our everyday thinking and discussions about the world are so self-evident we pay no...
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SOURCE: “All That Jazz Again: Adorno's Sociology of Music,” in Popular Music and Society, Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall, 1991, pp. 31-40.
[In the following essay, Hamilton argues that Adorno's ideas about jazz, understood in their proper context, do have relevance as a part of his larger aesthetic theory.]
Theodor Adorno's “On Jazz” is as infamous in academic circles as it is misunderstood. In the Winter, 1988, issue of Popular Music and Society, William P. Nye renewed the attack on Adorno, dismissing not only his analysis of jazz, but his work in general, that of other Frankfurt School members, and the claims of critical theory to be a scholarly, oppositional means of understanding popular culture. The subtitle of Nye's article is “A Critique of Critical Theory,” and he quotes Zoltan Tar's damning one-sentence summary of the Frankfurt School: “Critical theory is the document of the disintegration of old Central European bourgeois society and the tragic fate of a group of intellectuals of that society.” While many of their positions have been absorbed, modified, and revised by the current generation of theorists, the ideas of Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse and other Frankfurt School members are still influential in current debates about aesthetics and politics.1 A 1990 book on Adorno, Fredric Jameson's Late Marxism: Adorno, or the Persistence of the Dialectic,...
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SOURCE: “Historical Dialectics and the Autonomy of Art in Adorno's Ästhetische Theorie,” in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 50, No. 3, Summer, 1992, pp. 183-95.
[In the following essay, Harding argues that Adorno's thesis in Ästhetische Theorie is based on a notion of historical dialectics.]
As Peter Hohendahl has noted, the posthumous publication of Adorno's Ästhetische Theorie in 1970 disappointed many who expected that it would provide a materialist aesthetic which would cultivate praxis.1 The Left, who dismissed the work “out of hand,” maintained that, though anti-capitalist, the text advocated an anachronistic cultural elitism.2 After Hohendahl (re)constructs the historical context in which Adorno's text was so negatively received, he suggests that the time has come (1981; 1991) to reassess the Ästhetische Theorie. Interestingly, while implying that the apparent flexibility of German society in the 1970s produced an inadequate analysis of Adorno's final work, Hohendahl's reappraisal still embraces the cornerstone of that analysis: like Peter Bürger, he posits the autonomy of art as the central thesis of the Ästhetische Theorie and then places the work squarely in the historical tradition of German idealism.
The brash rejection of the Ästhetische Theorie does call for a reassessment, but...
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SOURCE: “Mimesis, Utopia, and Reconciliation: A Redemptive Critique of Adorno's Aesthetic Theory,” in The Terms of Cultural Criticism: The Frankfurt School, Existentialism, Poststructuralism, Columbia University Press, pp. 62-79.
[In the following essay, Wolin examines the utopian elements of Adorno's aesthetics.]
In 1980, Leo Lowenthal formulated a set of prescient insights about the future of Critical Theory in an interview entitled “The Utopian Motif is Suspended.”1 By “utopian motif,” Lowenthal was referring to the eschatological hopes for a better life in the here and now that inspired not only the enterprise of Critical Theory, but an entire generation of Central European Jewish thinkers who, like himself, came of age around the time of World War I and drew on utopian aspects of the Jewish tradition as a source of messianic inspiration.2 Among this generation, a decisive influence on the “inner circle” of Critical Theorists was exercised by the thought of Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukács, and Walter Benjamin.3
Prima facie, the claim epitomized in the title of the Lowenthal interview cannot help but seem a startling admission. For if we try to imagine the work of Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse stripped of this dimension of utopian longing, it seems divested of its most fundamental impulses. Moreover, Lowenthal's contention seems a...
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SOURCE: “Of Mice and Ducks: Benjamin and Adorno on Disney,” in South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 92, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 27-61.
[In the following essay, Hansen discusses differences in the way Disney was viewed by Adorno and Walter Benjamin, finding in their respective analyses important keys to their opinions on twentieth-century American mass culture.]
Walter Benjamin's reflections on film and mass culture repeatedly revolved around Disney, in particular early Mickey Mouse cartoons and Silly Symphonies.1 Theodor W. Adorno took issue with Benjamin's investment in Disney, both in direct correspondence and implicitly, in his writings on jazz and, after his friend's death, in the analysis of the culture industry in his and Max Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment. These scattered references to Disney encoded central questions concerning the politics of mass culture, the historical relations with technology and nature, the body and sexuality. They demonstrate, in an exemplary way, a mode of thinking that transformed observations on mass-cultural phenomena into a critical theory of culture and history.
In this essay, I reconstruct Benjamin's and Adorno's arguments on Disney as a debate on these larger questions. By doing so I do not intend to reiterate the familiar pattern of adjudicating between the two writers—dismissing one as mandarin and pessimistic while...
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SOURCE: “Guilt by (Un)Free Association: Adorno on Romance et al,” in MLN, Vol. 109, No. 5, December, 1994, pp. 913-37.
[In the following essay, Pepper analyzes the aphorisms in Minima Moralia.]
It follows from this that anybody who attempts to come out alive—and survival itself has something nonsensical about it, like dreams in which, having experienced the end of the world, one afterwards crawls from a basement—ought also to be prepared at each moment to end his life.1
But this is to condemn and to love in an abusive way.2
Minima Moralia is a hard book to read all at once, both because it is simply too delicious and at the same time because it is highly repetitious—I, for one, cannot eat chocolate all day—also because it is not quite repetitious enough, but demands a considerable amount of energy to keep alert so as to be able to follow the dialectical pattern of Adorno's sentences to their often startling and unexpected conclusions, thus to admit that his scorn and his despair are not necessarily one's own. Reading this book must be an experience that never spares the reader the constant need to examine his or her specific difference. Identification as a readerly strategy belongs to the New Old Right, which is why we don't have to throw out Adorno because...
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SOURCE: “Adorno, Ellison, and the Critique of Jazz,” in Cultural Critique, Vol. 31, Fall, 1995, pp. 129-58.
[In the following essay, Harding finds similarities between Adorno's ideas about jazz and those of Ralph Ellison's narrator in Invisible Man.]
All totaled, Theodor Adorno wrote seven essays on jazz: three in the thirties, two in the forties, and two in the early fifties. His portrait of jazz was never flattering and was highly idiosyncratic. In the thirties, Adorno's criticisms of jazz functioned as the negative critical movement in what can be described as his dialectical embrace of Walter Benjamin's classic essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Arato and Gebhardt 270; Daniel 41-42). For while a polemic against technology endures throughout Adorno's subsequent writing on jazz, extending well into the sixties and framing his discussion of jazz in Dissonanzen (1962), Thomas Levin has recently noted that even as far back as the thirties, Adorno was simultaneously calling for a reading of popular music that was “sensitive to both its reified and its utopian dimensions,” and he began to acknowledge the didactic and “decidedly progressive” advantages offered by phonographs and radio programs (Schönherr 85; Adorno, Dissonanzen 6; Levin 28, 47). Despite this call, Adorno lingered on the “reified” and never ventured into the “utopian...
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SOURCE: “The Philosopher in Exile,” in Prismatic Thought: Theodor W. Adorno, University of Nebraska Press, 1995, pp. 21-44.
[In the following essay, Hohendahl discusses works from Adorno's period living in the United States as well as Adorno's traumatic experience as an exile from his native Germany.]
It would be difficult to describe Theodor W. Adorno's connection to America—which for him meant the United States—as a happy or successful relationship. In fact, most commentators have rightly stressed its highly problematic nature, either by pointing out how unable and unwilling Adorno was to adjust to the American way of life or by emphasizing how the United States failed to receive and integrate the persona and work of the German-Jewish philosopher. Charges of cultural elitism and arrogance, common among American as well as foreign contemporary observers, were later reiterated by critics of Adorno or intellectual historians dealing with the generation of German intellectuals exiled from Germany after 1933.1 His defenders tend to foreground the incongruity between his European outlook and the intellectual atmosphere in the United States during the 1940s and early 1950s. By and large, foes and friends seem to agree that Adorno's complex and ambiguous attitude to America was rooted in his European and German Weltanschauung and his critical humanism, which motivated him to reject...
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SOURCE: “A Taste of Honey: Adorno's Reading of American Mass Culture,” in European Readings of American Popular Culture, edited by John Dean and Jean-Paul Gabilliet, Greenwood Press, 1996, pp. 201-11.
[In the following essay, Maase examines what he sees as misreadings of Adorno's theories on mass culture in America.]
During the 1950s, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, together with other European emigrants to the United States such as Hannah Arendt, Günter Anders, and Leo Löwenthal, became protagonists of the theoretical critique of contemporary mass culture.1 Their philosophical study on the “Dialectic of Enlightenment” was first published in German in the United States in a mimeographed version in 1944; slightly revised, it came out as a book in Amsterdam in 1947. Without a doubt, this essay has proved to be one of the most influential intellectual works in the second half of our century. The broad reception, however, inevitably implied that much of the complexity of thought was lost in favor of stereotyped judgments.
The book's chapter on the culture industry has shared the fate of being misread quite often. The authors, so it was perceived, absolutely condemned all manifestations of mass culture by applying the standards of autonomous art and of the good life in the decidedly moral sense of the term. “There can be no good life in the wrong”—Adorno's...
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SOURCE: “Damage Control: Adorno, Los Angeles, and the Dislocation of Culture,” in the Yale Journal of Criticism, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 85-113.
[In the following essay, Israel examines Minima Moralia for insights into Adorno's character and personality and the impact his exile in the United States had on his critical thought.]
1. FLYING T.W.A …
To begin with an ending of sorts: at the conclusion to his 1967 Foreword to the English edition of Prisms, Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno suggests, rather formally, that
[f]inally, the author could wish for nothing better than that the English version of Prisms might express something of the gratitude that he cherishes for England and for the United States—the countries which enabled him to survive the era of persecution and to which he has ever since felt himself deeply bound.1
“Gratitude,” “cherish,” and “deeply bound” are scarcely words that one would generally expect from, or associate with, Adorno, much less with his impressions of the United States, where he resided from 1938 until 1949, first in New York and then in Los Angeles, before returning to Frankfurt to help rebuild the Institute for Social Research. Yet they appear in this fashion in Prisms, and again shortly afterward, in slightly altered...
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SOURCE: “Chapter 100: 1951,” in Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture 1096-1996, edited by Sander. L. Gilman and Jack Zipes, Yale University Press, 1997, pp. 691-96.
[In the following essay, Olschner examines the relevance of Adorno's assertion that lyric poetry could not be written after the events of the Holocaust.]
A tenaciously recurring leitmotif accompanying, at least implicitly, much West German discourse and criticism on lyric poetry after about 1960 has been the veritable possibility or impossibility of writing poetry after Auschwitz. Why lyric poetry should be singled out rather than, say, prose fiction or drama, has partially to do with the aporetic problem of representing the Shoah at all, but perhaps more with traditional German understanding of this particular genre. The question is fundamental, not merely academic; whether it is in fact relevant requires explication.
In 1949, the same year he returned to West Germany to teach temporarily at the University of Frankfurt after having lived in exile in the United States since 1938, Adorno wrote his essay “Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft” (“Cultural criticism and society”). The essay first appeared in print in 1951 and then again, more visibly, in 1955 in Prismen (Prisms). Drawing on a Central European notion of Kultur with its various repertoires of articulation, while...
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SOURCE: “After Adorno: Culture in the Wake of Catastrophe,” in New German Critique, Vol. 72, Fall, 1997, pp. 45-81.
[In the following essay, Rothberg discusses the legacy and frequent misinterpretations of Adorno's assertion that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”]
I. INTRODUCTION: THE POLITICS OF COMMEMORATION
In January 1995 a controversy erupted in connection with the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Upset that the Polish government seemed to be slighting the specifically Jewish elements of the Nazi extermination at Auschwitz, Jewish leaders and spokespeople, including Elie Wiesel, threatened to boycott the ceremonies. In the end, many Jewish groups attended, but they also organized an alternative ceremony that took place while Polish President Lech Walesa was opening the official Government commemoration with a speech that made no specific mention of Jewish victims.1 This controversy constitutes one more episode in a half-century history of struggle over the meaning and memory of Auschwitz (and the Nazi genocide for which it has come to stand). From debates over the number of victims who died there, to the barely veiled anti-Semitism of Holocaust deniers who claim that no genocide took place, to the conflicts over the national, religious, or moral “ownership” of the site, Auschwitz has...
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SOURCE: “Critical Theory at the Barricades,” in Lingua Franca: The Review of Academic Life, Vol. 8, No. 8, November, 1998, pp. 19-22.
[In the following essay, Isenberg examines the student backlash against Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School in Germany in the 1960s.]
On April 22, 1969, shortly after beginning a lecture in his course on dialectical thought before an audience of nearly one thousand students at the University of Frankfurt, the eminent Frankfurt School sociologist and Marxist cultural critic Theodor W. Adorno found himself in an unusual situation. A student in one of the back rows interrupted him, demanding that he engage in “self-criticism.” Another student silently walked up to the blackboard and wrote the following words: “He who only allows dear Adorno to rule will uphold capitalism his entire life.” After Adorno told the class that they would have five minutes to decide if his lecture should continue, three female students dressed in leather jackets rushed the podium. They showered him with roses and tulips, exposed their breasts, and tried repeatedly to kiss him. Incensed and humiliated, Adorno stormed out of the lecture hall.
This incident, which came to be known as the Busenaktion (“breast action”), has never figured with much prominence in American studies of the Frankfurt School. Americans are far more apt to think of the...
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Dallmayr, Fred R. “Phenomenology and Critique: Adorno.” In Critical Encounters: Between Philosophy and Politics, pp. 39-72. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987.
Examines Adorno's place in the phenomenological movement.
Frow, John. “Mediation and Metaphor: Adorno and the Sociology of Art.” Clio 12, No. 1 (Fall 1982): 57-65.
Discusses Adorno's ideas about art and mass culture.
Gendron, Bernard. “Theodor Adorno Meets the Cadillacs.” In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, edited by Tania Modleski, pp. 18-36. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Explores Adorno's thoughts on popular music.
Jarvis, Simon. Adorno: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1998, 283 p.
Provides an overview of Adorno's writings.
Krukowski, Lucian. “Form and Protest in Atonal Music: A Meditation on Adorno.” In The Arts, Society, and Literature, edited by Harry R. Garvin, pp. 105-24. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1984.
Discusses Adorno's response to atonal, “radical” music.
Paddison, Max. “The Critique Criticised: Adorno and Popular Music.” Popular Music 2 (1982): 201-18....
(The entire section is 263 words.)