Adorno: a guide for the perplexed by Alex Thomson

By Alex Thomson

Some of the most influential philosophers and cultural theorists of the 20th century, Theodor Adorno poses a substantial problem to scholars. His works can frequently look vague and impenetrable, quite for people with little wisdom of the philosophical traditions on which he attracts. Adorno: A advisor for the at a loss for words is an interesting and available account of his idea that doesn't patronise or short-change the reader. these new to Adorno - and people who have struggled to make headway together with his paintings - will locate this a useful source: essentially written, entire and in particular keen on simply what makes Adorno tough to learn and comprehend.

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My thinking has always stood in a rather indirect relationship to praxis'. In a pair of late essays, 'Marginalia on Theory and Praxis' and 'Resignation' (both 1969), Adorno revisits what has always been a central part of his theory: that the drive to action, the insistence on activism, is itself a threat to theoretical reflection which alone allows the possibility of rational autonomy - and slides far faster to irrationalism than theory can. It is hard to see how Habermas can reasonably construe this, as he does in 34 AGAINST AUTHENTICITY The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, as giving up on the rationalist inheritance of the Enlightenment.

His task is to find a form for thinking in which this struggle is not resolved one-sidedly in the subordination of the objects of thought by the pattern imposed upon them by the thinker. Aesthetics has proved a challenge to philosophy precisely because it concerns the synthesis of unique and in principle unrepeatable sensations of pleasure or of taste with the universality and necessity of the truth philosophy claims to uncover. A theory of aesthetics is always going to be paradoxical or contradictory, in claiming to account for what must, by definition, remain exceptional.

The significance of America for Adorno is that it is a country in whose modern society there has never been anything other than a 26 AGAINST AUTHENTICITY bourgeoisie. This is the burden of his comments on the Americans appearing to Europeans as a people 'without dignity'. Where class distinction in Germany has been determined 'by whether or not [a man] accepted money', and the receipt of a gift of money prompted shame in the child of a bourgeois family, in America no such reticence exists: 'no child of even well-off parents has inhibitions about earning a few cents by newspaper rounds'.

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