Theodor W. Adorno

An Introduction

Theodor W. Adorno

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: Published: April 2009

Politics > Political Theory, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969) was one of the twentieth century’s most important thinkers. In light of two pivotal developments—the rise of fascism, which culminated in the Holocaust, and the standardization of popular culture as a commodity indispensable to contemporary capitalism—Adorno sought to evaluate and synthesize the essential insights of Western philosophy by revisiting the ethical and sociological arguments of his predecessors: Kant, Nietzsche, Hegel, and Marx. This book, first published in Germany in 1996, provides a succinct introduction to Adorno’s challenging and far-reaching thought. Gerhard Schweppenhäuser, a leading authority on the Frankfurt School of critical theory, explains Adorno’s epistemology, social and political philosophy, aesthetics, and theory of culture.

After providing a brief overview of Adorno’s life, Schweppenhäuser turns to the theorist’s core philosophical concepts, including post-Kantian critique, determinate negation, and the primacy of the object, as well as his view of the Enlightenment as a code for world domination, his diagnosis of modern mass culture as a program of social control, and his understanding of modernist aesthetics as a challenge to conceive an alternative politics. Along the way, Schweppenhäuser illuminates the works widely considered Adorno’s most important achievements: Minima Moralia, Dialectic of Enlightenment (co-authored with Horkheimer), and Negative Dialectics. Adorno wrote much of the first two of these during his years in California (1938–49), where he lived near Arnold Schoenberg and Thomas Mann, whom he assisted with the musical aesthetics at the center of Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus.


“[T]his book offers an excellent introduction to the work of Theodor Adorno and can become recommended reading for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in philosophy, literary criticism, aesthetics and political theory. James Rolleston has provided a great service to scholars of all those disciplines by making Schweppenhäuser’s Theodor W. Adorno: An Introduction available to English speaking scholars world-wide.” — Frank D. Casale, Pennsylvania Literary Journal

“This volume by Schweppenhauser is one of the best short books on this elusive and allusive figure, whereas his ‘more selective treatment, thematically via core concepts variously deployed, engages directly with Adorno’s thinking. Successive chapters are ranged dialectically against one another. . . . In short, the book exemplifies Adorno’s non-identity thinking.” — M. Donougho, Choice

“[I]t is fair to say that appreciating the brilliance and fecundity of Adorno’s thought remains a difficult challenge. . . . [G]iven the difficulties that are bound to be experienced, any reader new to him is likely to be eternally grateful for the existence of Gerard Schweppenhäuser’s introductory volume. . . . Schweppenhäuser’s text is never less than eminently readble and often deeply insightful and it serves to remind us how, in an age dominated by consumerism, this great thinker’s ideas remain deeply relevant.” — Peter Sedgwick, Times Higher Education

“[Schweppenhäuser’s] book (now expanded and available in English in James Rolleston’s brisk and lucid translation) provides a concise but astonishingly thorough overview of the main elements of Adorno’s thought, while simultaneously highlighting both Adorno’s importance as a thinker and his continued relevance for today.” — Erica Weitzman, German Quarterly

“In this work, Schweppenhäuser, through his lucid representation of Adorno’s often esoteric prose, which is augmented by James Rolleston’s exemplary translation, and his erudite comparison with similar theorists, presents us with an examination of Adorno that remains faithful to the theorist’s own commitment to an interdisciplinary and contextually aware approach to philosophy.” — Steven Leddin, International Journal of Philosophical Studies

“Schweppenhäuser is intimately familiar with the complexity of Adorno’s thought, but he is able to truly translate and introduce these ideas in a remarkably clear, engaging, jargon-free, and highly readable language.” — Shannon Mariotti, Review of Politics

“The book's general clarity, breadth and depth of understanding make it a valuable, informative and advanced introduction to one of the more complex thinkers of the twentieth century.” — Paul Mazzocchi, Political Studies Review

Theodor W. Adorno: An Introduction is a useful survey of Adorno’s thought. It is concise, written in plain language, and focused on the most important topics and themes of the theorist’s work. Gerhard Schweppenhäuser gives basic background about the intellectual and historical context of Adorno’s thought and writings, and he makes a convincing case for the internal coherence of a complex and at times apparently heterogeneous body of work.” — Uwe Steiner, Rice University

“This is a clear and concise overview of Theodor W. Adorno’s philosophical, political, sociological, and aesthetic thought, written by a brilliant German critical theorist. Gerhard Schweppenhäuser covers all the central topics in Adorno’s writing, shows a firm grasp not only of his work but also of the secondary literature on it, and relates his thought to the more recent theoretical literature that has challenged it.” — George Steinmetz, University of Michigan

“This superb introduction to Adorno’s complex and difficult work is full of extraordinary insights, which will benefit the old hands as well as the beginners.” — Fredric Jameson, Duke University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gerhard Schweppenhäuser is Professor of Design, Communication, and Media Theory at the University of Würzburg in Germany. He has written many books building on the sociocultural, analytical mission of the Frankfurt School, including two focused on Adorno. James L. Rolleston is Professor Emeritus of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Duke University. He has written books on Kafka, Rilke, and modern German poetry. His translation of Bernd Witte’s Walter Benjamin: An Intellectual Biography won the German Literary Prize of the American Translators Association. His and Kai Evers’s translation of Peter Weiss’s last play, The New Trial, is also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface to the English Edition vii

Translator's Preface xi

1. The Project of Renewing Childhood by Transforming One's Life 1

2. Critical Theory 11

3. Reason's Self-Criticism 18

Defined Negation 20

The Two Faces of Enlightenment 26

4. Rescuing What is Beyond Hope 34

Philosophy from the Perspective of Redemption 34

Primacy of the Object 38

5. The Totally Socialized Society 51

The Concept of Society 52

Liquidation of the Individual 58

Critical Theory on Morality 68

6. The Goal of the Emancipated Society 77

7. The Powerless Utopia of Beauty 91

The Destruction and Salvation of Art 93

The Silence of Music 102

The Transition from Art to Knowledge 109

Theorizing Art and Culture in the Institute for Social Research 112

Benjamin and Kracauer: Theorizing Mass Art 120

Anarchistic and Bourgeois Romanticism: Adorno's Critique of Benjamin 125

The Work of Art and the Concept of Truth 128

8. The Failure of Culture 136

The Radically Pathetic and Guilty Culture 137

Enlightenment as Mass Deception 144

Biographical Timeline 159

Notes 163

Bibliography 171

Index 179
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4471-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4454-4
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