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- Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno
He is widely regarded as one of the 20th century's foremost thinkers on aesthetics and philosophy, as well as one of its preeminent essayists. As a critic of both fascism and what he called the culture industry , his writings—such as Dialectic of Enlightenment , Minima Moralia and Negative Dialectics —strongly influenced the European New Left. Amidst the vogue enjoyed by existentialism and positivism in early 20th-century Europe, Adorno advanced a dialectical conception of natural history that critiqued the twin temptations of ontology and empiricism through studies of Kierkegaard and Husserl.
As a classically trained pianist whose sympathies with the twelve-tone technique of Arnold Schoenberg resulted in his studying composition with Alban Berg of the Second Viennese School , Adorno's commitment to avant-garde music formed the backdrop of his subsequent writings and led to his collaboration with Thomas Mann on the latter's novel Doctor Faustus , while the two men lived in California as exiles during the Second World War. The reputation of his work on music, however, has sharply declined over time. Working for the newly relocated Institute for Social Research , Adorno collaborated on influential studies of authoritarianism , antisemitism and propaganda that would later serve as models for sociological studies the Institute carried out in post-war Germany.
Upon his return to Frankfurt, Adorno was involved with the reconstitution of German intellectual life through debates with Karl Popper on the limitations of positivist science, critiques of Heidegger 's language of authenticity, writings on German responsibility for the Holocaust , and continued interventions into matters of public policy. As a writer of polemics in the tradition of Nietzsche and Karl Kraus , Adorno delivered scathing critiques of contemporary Western culture. Adorno's posthumously published Aesthetic Theory , which he planned to dedicate to Samuel Beckett , is the culmination of a lifelong commitment to modern art which attempts to revoke the "fatal separation" of feeling and understanding long demanded by the history of philosophy and explode the privilege aesthetics accords to content over form and contemplation over immersion.
His mother, a devout Catholic from Corsica , was once a professional singer, while his father, an assimilated Jew who had converted to Protestantism , ran a successful wine-export business. Proud of her origins, Maria wanted her son's paternal surname to be supplemented by the addition of her own name: Adorno. Thus his earliest publications carried the name Theodor Wiesengrund-Adorno; upon his application for US citizenship , his name was modified to Theodor W. His childhood was marked by the musical life provided by his mother and aunt: Maria was a singer who could boast of having performed in Vienna at the Imperial Court, while her sister, Agathe, who lived with them, had made a name for herself as both a singer and pianist.
He was not only a precocious child but, as he recalled later in life, a child prodigy who could play pieces by Beethoven on the piano by the time he was twelve. At the age of six, he attended the Deutschherren middle school, before transferring to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gymnasium , where he studied from to Bloch's was a philosophy that could hold its head high before the most advanced literature; a philosophy that was not calibrated to the abominable resignation of methodology I took this motif so much as my own that I do not believe I have ever written anything without reference to it, either implicit or explicit.
Yet Adorno's intellectual nonconformism was no less shaped by the repugnance he felt towards the nationalism which swept through the Reich during the First World War. Along with future collaborators like Walter Benjamin , Max Horkheimer , and Ernst Bloch, Adorno was profoundly disillusioned by the ease with which Germany's intellectual and spiritual leaders—among them Max Weber , Max Scheler , Georg Simmel , as well as his friend Siegfried Kracauer —came out in support of the war. The younger generation's distrust for traditional knowledge arose from the way in which this tradition had discredited itself.
The eldest daughter of the Karplus family, Margarete, or Gretel, moved in the intellectual circles of Berlin, where she was acquainted with Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht and Ernst Bloch, each of whom Adorno would become familiar with during the mids; after fourteen years, Gretel and Theodor were married in At around the same time, he befriended Siegfried Kracauer, the Frankfurter Zeitung ' s literary editor, of whom he would later write:. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I owe more to this reading than to my academic teachers Under his guidance I experienced the work from the beginning not as mere epistemology, not as an analysis of the conditions of scientifically valid judgments, but as a kind of coded text from which the historical situation of spirit could be read, with the vague expectation that in doing so one could acquire something of truth itself.
In these articles Adorno championed avant-garde music at the same time as he critiqued the failings of musical modernity, as in the case of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale , which in he called a "dismal Bohemian prank. Before his graduation Adorno had already met his most important intellectual collaborators, Max Horkheimer and Walter Benjamin. Through Cornelius's seminars, Adorno met Horkheimer, through whom he was then introduced to Friedrich Pollock. Upon moving to Vienna in February , Adorno immersed himself in the musical culture that had grown up around Schoenberg: in addition to his twice-weekly sessions with Berg, Adorno continued his studies on piano with Eduard Steuermann and befriended the violinist Rudolf Kolisch.
Berg, whom Adorno called "my master and teacher", was among the most prescient of his young pupil's early friends:. After leaving Vienna, Adorno traveled through Italy, where he met with Kracauer, Benjamin, and the economist Alfred Sohn-Rethel , with whom he developed a lasting friendship, before returning to Frankfurt.
After writing the "Piano Pieces in strict twelve-tone technique", as well as songs later integrated into the Six Bagatelles for Voice and Piano , op. Cornelius advised Adorno to withdraw his application on the grounds that the manuscript was too close to his own way of thinking. In the manuscript Adorno attempted to underline the epistemological status of the unconscious as it emerged from Freud 's early writings. Against the function of the unconscious in both Nietzsche and Spengler , Adorno argued that Freud's notion of the unconscious serves as a "sharp weapon In addition to publishing numerous reviews of opera performances and concerts, Adorno's "Four Songs for Medium Voice and Piano", op.
In a proposal for transforming the journal, he sought to use Anbruch for championing radical modern music against what he called the "stabilized music" of Pfitzner , the later Richard Strauss , as well as the neoclassicism of Stravinsky and Hindemith. Yet his reservations about twelve-tone orthodoxy became steadily more pronounced. According to Adorno, twelve-tone technique 's use of atonality can no more be regarded as an authoritative canon than can tonality be relied on to provide instructions for the composer. At this time Adorno struck up a correspondence with the composer Ernst Krenek , discussing problems of atonality and twelve-tone technique.
In a letter he sounded a related criticism of Schoenberg:. Twelve-tone technique alone is nothing but the principle of motivic elaboration and variation, as developed in the sonata, but elevated now to a comprehensive principle of construction, namely transformed into an a priori form and, by that token, detached from the surface of the composition. At this point Adorno reversed his earlier priorities: now his musical activities came second to the development of a philosophical theory of aesthetics. Thus, in the middle of he accepted Paul Tillich 's offer to present an habilitation on Kierkegaard , which Adorno eventually submitted under the title The Construction of the Aesthetic.
At the time, Kierkegaard 's philosophy exerted a strong influence, chiefly through its claim to pose an alternative to Idealism and Hegel 's philosophy of history.
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Yet when Adorno turned his attention to Kierkegaard , watchwords like "anxiety," "inwardness" and "leap"—instructive for existentialist philosophy —were detached from their theological origins and posed, instead, as problems for aesthetics. Receiving favourable reports from Professors Tillich and Horkheimer, as well as Benjamin and Kracauer, the University conferred on Adorno the venia legendi in February ; on the very day his revised study was published, 23 March , Hitler seized dictatorial powers. Several months after qualifying as a lecturer in philosophy, Adorno delivered an inaugural lecture at the Institute for Social Research , an independent organization that had recently appointed Horkheimer as its director and, with the arrival of the literary scholar Leo Lowenthal , social psychologist Erich Fromm and philosopher Herbert Marcuse , sought to exploit recent theoretical and methodological advances in the social sciences.
His lecture, "The Actuality of Philosophy," created a scandal. In it Adorno not only deviated from the theoretical program Horkheimer had laid out a year earlier but challenged philosophy's very capacity for comprehending reality as such: "For the mind," Adorno announced, "is indeed not capable of producing or grasping the totality of the real, but it may be possible to penetrate the detail, to explode in miniature the mass of merely existing reality. In his new role as social theorist, Adorno's philosophical analysis of cultural phenomena heavily relied on the language of historical materialism , as concepts like reification , false consciousness and ideology came to play an ever more prominent role in his work.
At the same time, however, and owing to both the presence of another prominent sociologist at the Institute, Karl Mannheim , as well as the methodological problem posed by treating objects—like "musical material"—as ciphers of social contradictions, Adorno was compelled to abandon any notion of "value-free" sociology in favour of a form of ideology critique that held on to an idea of truth. Before his emigration in autumn , Adorno began work on a Singspiel based on Mark Twain 's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer titled The Treasure of Indian Joe , which he never completed; by the time he fled Hitler's Germany Adorno had already written over opera or concert reviews and 50 critiques of music composition.
As the Nazi party became the largest party in the Reichstag , Horkheimer's observation proved typical for his milieu: "Only one thing is certain", he wrote, "the irrationality of society has reached a point where only the gloomiest predictions have any plausibility. Adorno's house on Seeheimer Strasse was similarly searched in July and his application for membership in the Reich Chamber of Literature denied on the grounds that membership was limited to "persons who belong to the German nation by profound ties of character and blood.
As a non- Aryan ," he was informed, "you are unable to feel and appreciate such an obligation. After the possibility of transferring his habilitation to the University of Vienna came to nothing, Adorno considered relocating to Britain upon his father's suggestion.
During the next four years at Oxford, Adorno made repeated trips to Germany to see both his parents and Gretel, who was still working in Berlin. Under the direction of Gilbert Ryle , Adorno worked on a dialectical critique of Husserl 's epistemology. After months of strained relations, Horkheimer and Adorno reestablished their essential theoretical alliance during meetings in Paris. But Adorno's attempts to break out of the sociology of music were twice thwarted: neither the study of Mannheim he had been working on for years nor extracts from his study of Husserl were accepted by the Zeitschrift.
Impressed by Horkheimer's book of aphorisms, Dawn and Decline , Adorno began working on his own book of aphorisms, what later became Minima Moralia. To the end of his life, Adorno never abandoned the hope of completing Berg's unfinished opera Lulu. At this time Adorno was in intense correspondence with Walter Benjamin about the latter's Arcades Project. After receiving an invitation from Horkheimer to visit the Institute in New York, Adorno sailed for New York on June 9, , and stayed for two weeks.
While he was in New York, Horkheimer's essays "The Latest Attack on Metaphysics" and "Traditional and Critical Theory," which would soon become instructive for the Institute's self-understanding, were the subject of intense discussion. Soon after his return to Europe, Gretel moved to Britain, where she and Adorno were married on September 8, ; a little over a month later, Horkheimer telegrammed from New York with news of a position Adorno could take with the Princeton Radio Project , then under the directorship of the Austrian sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld.
Yet Adorno's work continued with studies of Beethoven and Richard Wagner published in as "Fragments on Wagner" , drafts of which he read to Benjamin during their final meeting, in December on the Italian Riviera.source url
Theodor W. Adorno
According to Benjamin, these drafts were astonishing for "the precision of their materialist deciphering" as well as the way in which "musical facts Adorno sailed for New York on February 16, Soon after settling into his new home on Riverside Drive, Adorno met with Lazarsfeld in Newark, New Jersey , to discuss the Project's plans for investigating the impact of broadcast music. Although he was expected to embed the Project's research within a wider theoretical context, it soon became apparent that the Project was primarily concerned with data collection to be used by administrators for establishing whether groups of listeners could be targeted by broadcasts specifically aimed at them.
Expected to make use of devices with which listeners could press a button to indicate whether they liked or disliked a particular piece of music, Adorno bristled with distaste and astonishment: "I reflected that culture was simply the condition that precluded a mentality that tried to measure it. Unsurprisingly, Adorno's studies found little resonance among members of the project. At the end of , when Lazarsfeld submitted a second application for funding, the musical section of the study was left out. Yet during the two years during which he worked on the Project, Adorno was prolific, publishing "The Radio Symphony", "A Social Critique of Radio Music", and "On Popular Music", texts that, along with the draft memorandum and other unpublished writings, are found in Robert Hullot-Kentor's translation, Current of Music.
In light of this situation, Horkheimer soon found a permanent post for Adorno at the Institute. In addition to helping with the Zeitschrift , Adorno was expected to be the Institute's liaison with Benjamin, who soon passed on to New York the study of Charles Baudelaire he hoped would serve as a model of the larger Arcades Project. In correspondence, the two men discussed the difference in their conceptions of the relationship between critique and artworks that had become manifest through Benjamin's " The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility ".
At around the same time Adorno and Horkheimer began planning for a joint work on "dialectical logic", which would later become Dialectic of Enlightenment. Alarmed by reports from Europe, where Adorno's parents suffered increasing discrimination and Benjamin was interned in Colombes , they entertained few delusions about their work's practical effects. After learning that his Spanish visa was invalid and fearing deportation back to France, Benjamin took an overdose of morphine tablets. In light of recent events, the Institute set about formulating a theory of antisemitism and fascism.
On one side were those who supported Franz Leopold Neumann 's thesis according to which National Socialism was a form of " monopoly capitalism "; on the other were those who supported Friedrich Pollock 's " state capitalist theory. Adorno arrived with a draft of his Philosophy of New Music , a dialectical critique of twelve-tone music that Adorno felt, while writing it, was a departure from the theory of art he had spent the previous decades elaborating. Horkheimer's reaction to the manuscript was wholly positive: "If I have ever in the whole of my life felt enthusiasm about anything, then I did on this occasion," he wrote after reading the manuscript.
First published in a small mimeographed edition in May as Philosophical Fragments , the text waited another three years before achieving book form when it was published with its definitive title, Dialectic of Enlightenment , by the Amsterdam publisher Querido Verlag. This "reflection on the destructive aspect of progress" proceeded through the chapters that treated rationality as both the liberation from and further domination of nature, interpretations of both Homer 's Odyssey and the Marquis de Sade , as well as analyses of the culture industry and antisemitism. With their joint work completed, the two turned their attention to studies on antisemitism and authoritarianism in collaboration with the Nevitt Sanford -led Public Opinion Study Group and the American Jewish Committee.
In line with these studies, Adorno produced an analysis of the Californian radio preacher Martin Luther Thomas.
Fascist propaganda of this sort, Adorno wrote, "simply takes people for what they are: genuine children of today's standardized mass culture who have been robbed to a great extent of their autonomy and spontaneity". In addition to the aphorisms that conclude Dialectic of Enlightenment , Adorno put together a collection of aphorisms in honor of Horkheimer's 50th birthday that were later published as Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. These fragmentary writings, inspired by a renewed reading of Nietzsche, treated issues like emigration , totalitarianism , and individuality , as well as everyday matters such as giving presents, dwelling and the impossibility of love.
Notes on individual and consciousness in Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno
In California Adorno made the acquaintance of Charlie Chaplin and became friends with Fritz Lang and Hanns Eisler , with whom he completed a study of film music in In this study the authors pushed for the greater usage of avant-garde music in film, urging that music be used to supplement, not simply accompany, films' visual aspect. Adorno also assisted Thomas Mann with his novel Doktor Faustus after the latter asked for his help. Upon his return, Adorno helped shape the political culture of West Germany. Until his death in , twenty years after his return, Adorno contributed to the intellectual foundations of the Federal Republic, as a professor at Frankfurt University , critic of the vogue enjoyed by Heideggerian philosophy, partisan of critical sociology, and teacher of music at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music.
Adorno resumed his teaching duties at the university soon after his arrival, [ when? Adorno's surprise at his students' passionate interest in intellectual matters did not, however, blind him to continuing problems within Germany: The literary climate was dominated by writers who had remained in Germany during Hitler's rule, the government re-employed people who had been active in the Nazi apparatus and people were generally loath to own up to their own collaboration or the guilt they thus incurred.
Instead, the ruined city of Frankfurt continued as if nothing had happened, [ citation needed ] holding on to ideas of the true, the beautiful, and the good despite the atrocities, hanging on to a culture that had itself been lost in rubble or killed off in the concentration camps. All the enthusiasm Adorno's students showed for intellectual matters could not erase the suspicion that, in the words of Max Frisch , culture had become an "alibi" for the absence of political consciousness.
Starting with his essay Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler ,  Adorno produced a series of influential works to describe psychological fascist traits. One of these works was The Authoritarian Personality ,  published as a contribution to the Studies in Prejudice performed by multiple research institutes in the US, and consisting of a ' qualitative interpretations ' that uncovered the authoritarian character of test persons through indirect questions.
In he continued on the topic with his essay Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda , in which he said that "Psychological dispositions do not actually cause fascism; rather, fascism defines a psychological area which can be successfully exploited by the forces which promote it for entirely non-psychological reasons of self-interest. In Adorno participated in a group experiment, revealing residual National Socialist attitudes among the recently democratized Germans.
He then published two influential essays, The Meaning of Working Through the Past , and Education after Auschwitz , in which he argued on the survival of the uneradicated National Socialism in the mind-sets and institutions of the post Germany, and that there is still a real risk that it could rise again. Here he emphasized the importance of data collection and statistical evaluation while asserting that such empirical methods have only an auxiliary function and must lead to the formation of theories which would "raise the harsh facts to the level of consciousness.
With Horkheimer as dean of the Arts Faculty, then rector of the university, responsibilities for the Institute's work fell upon Adorno. At the same time, however, Adorno renewed his musical work: with talks at the Kranichsteiner Musikgesellschaft, another in connection with a production of Ernst Krenek 's opera Leben des Orest , and a seminar on "Criteria of New Music" at the Fifth International Summer Course for New Music at Kranichstein.
Adorno also became increasingly involved with the publishing house of Peter Suhrkamp , inducing the latter to publish Benjamin's Berlin Childhood Around , Kracauer's writings and a two-volume edition of Benjamin's writings. Adorno's own recently published Minima Moralia was not only well received in the press, but also met with great admiration from Thomas Mann, who wrote to Adorno from America in In sociology Adorno is probably most widely read as a representative, if not founder, of critical social theory; he is less seen as a sociologist as such.
The works that are of most significance are the collections Critical Models , Prisms , Minima Moralia and two collective sociological research projects, the Authoritarian Personality and Group Experiment. Society for Adorno is a relational concept in that it is formed out of social relations between individuals. Adorno attaches importance to the analysis of social phenomena from the standpoint of society as a whole and from the perspective of social actors who can change society. The perspective of the outsider and the experience of exile formed the basis of an approach that was otherwise not methodologically rigorous.
Possibly his greatest work, Mimima Moralia , is an exploration of everyday life distorted by the capitalist exchange principle. This approach, which can be characterized as a sociological analysis of exchange society, informed his philosophy of social science, which was opposed to positivist analysis in that he saw as the objective the analysis of complications and contradictions of social life.
Sociology should try to discover possibilities for social transformation within the present; it is in this sense a critical endeavour and one in the Hegelian-Marxist tradition. Sociology, as practised by Adorno, must be based on a theory of society but it must also have an empirical dimension. He was opposed to the separation of theory from empirical research and always insisted that sociology was not a purely theoretical discipline, but required empirical field research.
It is probably the case that what he had in mind here was the polarization of empirical social research and philosophy. He wanted sociology to occupy a mid-way position. The empirical material that informed his sociological analysis was drawn from his own personal observations of everyday life, many of which are deeply insightful while some are the bizzare thoughts of a bourgeois intellectual whose Marxism confirmed his disdain for everyday life.
He believed that such research isolates itself from theoretical analysis and is generally theoretically improvised. Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Introduction to Sociology by Theodor W. Introduction to Sociology by Theodor W. Introduction to Sociology distills decades of distinguished work in sociology by one of this century's most influential thinkers in the areas of social theory, philosophy, aesthetics, and music. It consists of a course of seventeen lectures given by Theodor W.
Adorno in May-July , the last lecture series before his death in Captured by tape recorder which Adorno Introduction to Sociology distills decades of distinguished work in sociology by one of this century's most influential thinkers in the areas of social theory, philosophy, aesthetics, and music. Captured by tape recorder which Adorno called "the fingerprint of the living mind" , these lectures present a somewhat different, and more accessible, Adorno from the one who composed the faultlessly articulated and almost forbiddingly perfect prose of the works published in his lifetime.
Here we can follow Adorno's thought in the process of formation he spoke from brief notes , endowed with the spontaneity and energy of the spoken word. The lectures form an ideal introduction to Adorno's work, acclimatizing the reader to the greater density of thought and language of his classic texts. Delivered at the time of the "positivist dispute" in sociology, Adorno defends the position of the "Frankfurt School" against criticism from mainstream positivist sociologists.
He sets out a conception of sociology as a discipline going beyond the compilation and interpretation of empirical facts, its truth being inseparable from the essential structure of society itself. Adorno sees sociology not as one academic discipline among others, but as an over-arching discipline that impinges on all aspects of social life.
Tracing the history of the discipline and insisting that the historical context is constitutive of sociology itself, Adorno addresses a wide range of topics, including: the purpose of studying sociology; the relation of sociology and politics; the influence of Saint-Simon, Comte, Durkheim, Weber, Marx, and Freud; the contributions of ethnology and anthropology; the relationship of method to subject matter; the problems of quantitative analysis; the fetishization of science; and the separation of sociology and social philosophy.
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Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno
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