Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius

Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius

Detlev Claussen

Language: English

Pages: 464

ISBN: 0674026187

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

He was famously hostile to biography as a literary form. And yet this life of Adorno by one of his last students is far more than literary in its accomplishments, giving us our first clear look at how the man and his moment met to create “critical theory.” An intimate picture of the quintessential twentieth-century transatlantic intellectual, the book is also a window on the cultural ferment of Adorno’s day—and its ongoing importance in our own.

The biography begins at the shining moment of the German bourgeoisie, in a world dominated by liberals willing to extend citizenship to refugees fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Detlev Claussen follows Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903–1969) from his privileged life as a beloved prodigy to his intellectual coming of age in Weimar Germany and Vienna; from his exile during the Nazi years, first to England, then to the United States, to his emergence as the Adorno we know now in the perhaps not-so-unlikely setting of Los Angeles. There in 1943 with his collaborator Max Horkheimer, Adorno developed critical theory, whose key insight—that to be entertained is to give one’s consent—helped define the intellectual landscape of the twentieth century.

In capturing the man in his complex relationships with some of the century’s finest minds—including, among others, Arnold Schoenberg, Walter Benjamin, Thomas Mann, Siegfried Kracauer, Georg Lukács, Hannah Arendt, and Bertolt Brecht—Claussen reveals how much we have yet to learn from Theodor Adorno, and how much his life can tell us about ourselves and our time.













Benjamin in Paris, dated 18 March 1936: 舠The goal of the revolution is the elimination of fear.舡110 He had boldly added: 舠That is why we need not fear the former, and need not ontologize the latter. It is not a case of bourgeois idealism if, in full knowledge and without intellectual inhibitions, we maintain our solidarity with the proletariat, instead of making our necessity into a virtue of the proletariat as we are constantly tempted to do舒that proletariat which itself experiences the same

movement began to get under way starting in 1967. Kracauer舗s later best-seller From Caligari to Hitler appeared with Rowohlt in 1958, minus the antifascist thrust of the first American edition of 1947. Kracauer舗s splendid study of white-collar workers, The Salaried Masses, which had appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1930, was reissued in 1959 by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in her Allensbach Verlag fɒr Demoskopie, before the paperback edition in 1971 became one of the representative books to

boundlessness, the no-man舗s-land close to Amorbach:The frontier between Baden and Bavaria ran between Ottorfszell and Ernsthal. It was marked by posts on the highway with imposing coats of arms in the provincial colors spiraling round the posts, blue and white on the one side, if I remember right, and red and yellow on the other. There was a generous space between the two. That was where I liked to walk on the pretext, which I did not actually believe, that this empty space belonged to neither of

Adorno developed from a child prodigy into the genius that he had not been from the outset. The way in which Adorno severed his emotional bonds with Frankfurt can best be seen in the reflected images of his paradoxical study sojourn in Vienna. The old idols proved a disappointment. He made the acquaintance of Soma Morgenstern, a young man from Galicia a few years older than himself, who was on familiar terms with Berg and who would later on accompany Joseph Roth on his trawl through the Paris

themselves as philanthropists; the writers felt that they were not badly paid but that they were superfluous, a defining experience for the immigrant writers舗 guild in Hollywood. By the time the world began to open up once again, in the later 1940s, Lang had long since established himself in Hollywood, whereas Adorno faced an uncertain future. His financial resources were waning, and he and the others were living on research projects, which meant that by necessity they were constantly writing

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