The Complete Correspondence, 1928-1940

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 286

This translation from the German of the correspondence between Theodor Adorno, one of the leading figures of the Frankfurt School of writers and intellectuals exiled by Hitler and resettled in England and New York during the turbulent years before World War II, and Walter Benjamin, considered by many to be the foremost literary critic of the twentieth century, is a welcome addition to the literary history of late modernism.

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Adorno admired Benjamin's genius but tried to control it by a strong editorial grip on the other man's work. The Arcades Project, a complex exploration of Paris as the “Queen” of the nineteenth century, took Benjamin through a variety of subjects—from Baudelaire's poetry to social observations of Parisian street life—in addition to related topics in modern psychology and politics. Adorno was more than capable of keeping up with Benjamin's repacious intellect; indeed, his own self-importance threw him against Benjamin's enigmatic personality in a competitive discourse.

Whereas Adorno was always ready to make suggestions for fundamental revisions, he also encouraged Benjamin and at times flattered him. Benjamin, cautious because he depended on Adorno's commissions and endorsement of his writing, managed to perry Adorno's thrusts without compromising his own integrity or ideas. Despite his dependency on Adorno, and his genuine respect for his mind, Benjamin did not allow Adorno to claim intellectual mastery over him.

Adorno was safe at Oxford for the bulk of the twelve years at issue while Benjamin was constantly under financial and political stress. Only one or two steps ahead of the Nazis, he eventually committed suicide rather than fall into their hands. Adorno tried to help him and arrange for the necessary papers to emigrate, but his efforts were of no avail.

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