Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius
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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.
American exponent of Weber舗s ideas at the time, Horkheimer recalled the 舠crass disappointment舡 he and his friends had felt on listening to Weber舗s discussion of the workers舗 councils: 舠It was all so precise, so strictly scientific, so value-free, that we all went home full of gloom.舡7 Kracauer舗s Ginster, too, records the uncanny feeling of alienation triggered in Kracauer by the public and the semiprivate behavior of great scholars舒uncanny if only because many of their public statements must
of a Novel, which can actually be thought of as a unique tribute to Adorno. For the family admirers of the 舠Magician,舡 this meant a sort of act of self-disenchantment on the master舗s part. Even the term 舠autobiography,舡 which recurs in Mann舗s diaries, can only be interpreted ironically, since this autobiography was essentially written to clarify his relationship with another person. The loneliness of genius in a disenchanted world had inspired Mann to give shape to his own experience as a
the file drawers of newspaper editors had not been updated. Most of the people who might have been entrusted with the task of writing a fresh one were on vacation. Unusually, no one rushed to the fore to make a public comment. The stormy political quarrels with his students that Adorno had endured in 1969 seemed obscure and had never been clarified. The public, which was not particularly well informed, appeared to expect disturbances during the funeral. Although it was the middle of the summer
oppositional academics and politically active Austro-Marxists. The fact that young Jewish students leaned toward the apparently more neutral natural sciences and mathematics favored a tendency in the Austro-Marxist milieu to approach the social sciences with methods derived from mathematics and modeled on the natural sciences. The positivism that Adorno encountered among empiricist social scientists in the United States was by no means simply an American invention. It came from the Austro-Marxist
Franconia remained the focus of anti-Jewish agitation. In 1866 in particular, violent anti-Semitic outbursts were reported in this region. What could have seemed more natural for Bernhard Wiesengrund than to distance himself as much as possible from these inhospitable places and to seek out the anonymity of a larger commercial center, without, however, moving too far away from the wine-producing region he knew so well? In 1867 there was a revival in modified form of a coalition of would-be