Ben Agger (essay date 1976)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 8351 words.)

David Martin (essay date 1976)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

—Matthew Arnold

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...

(The entire section is 5943 words.)

Philip Rosen (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 9217 words.)

Peter Uwe Hohendahl (essay date 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 7947 words.)

Andreas Huyssen (essay date 1983)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 13510 words.)

Martin Jay (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 11095 words.)

William P. Nye (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2024 words.)

Rainer Rochlitz (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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 entire section is 7822 words.)

Rüdiger Bubner (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 10945 words.)

Carol V. Hamilton (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3539 words.)

James M. Harding (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 9024 words.)

Richard Wolin (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 7641 words.)

Miriam Hansen (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 12887 words.)

Thomas Pepper (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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


(The entire section is 11626 words.)

James M. Harding (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 11254 words.)

Peter Uwe Hohendahl (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 10049 words.)

Kaspar Maase (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4920 words.)

Nico Israel (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.]


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...

(The entire section is 14072 words.)

Leonard Olschner (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3480 words.)

Michael Rothberg (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.”]


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,...

(The entire section is 15110 words.)

Noah Isenberg (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1574 words.)