Life and career[ edit ] Early years: Frankfurt[ edit ] Theodor W. 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. 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.

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Life and career[ edit ] Early years: Frankfurt[ edit ] Theodor W. 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. 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.

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. The eldest daughter of the Karplus family, Margarete , or Gretel, moved in the intellectual circles of Berlin, where she was acquainted with Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht and Bloch, each of whom Adorno would become familiar with during the mids; after fourteen years, Gretel Karplus and Adorno were married in 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.

Before his graduation Adorno had already met his most important intellectual collaborators, Horkheimer and Benjamin. 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. 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 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. 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.

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.

His lecture, "The Actuality of Philosophy," created a scandal. 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.

As a non- Aryan ," he was informed, "you are unable to feel and appreciate such an obligation. 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.

After months of strained relations, Horkheimer and Adorno reestablished their essential theoretical alliance during meetings in Paris. 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.

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.

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, 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.

At the end of , when Lazarsfeld submitted a second application for funding, the musical section of the study was left out. In light of this situation, Horkheimer soon found a permanent post for Adorno at the Institute.

At around the same time Adorno and Horkheimer began planning for a joint work on "dialectical logic", which would later become Dialectic of Enlightenment. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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.

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 Adorno also assisted Thomas Mann with his novel Doktor Faustus after the latter asked for his help.

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?

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.

Essays on fascism[ edit ] Starting with his essay Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler, [34] Adorno produced a series of influential works to describe psychological fascist traits. 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.

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. Every day brings new fascination It is said that the companion star to Sirius, white in colour, is made of such dense material that a cubic inch of it would weigh a tonne here.

This is why it has such an extremely powerful gravitational field; in this respect it is similar to your book. While there he wrote a content analysis of newspaper horoscopes now collected in The Stars Down to Earth , and the essays "Television as Ideology" and "Prologue to Television"; even so, he was pleased when, at the end of ten months, he was enjoined to return as co-director of the Institute. A second collection of essays, Notes to Literature, appeared in Public figure[ edit ] Throughout the fifties and sixties, Adorno became a public figure , not simply through his books and essays, but also through his appearances in radio and newspapers.

With his friend Eduard Steuermann , Adorno feared that music was being sacrificed to stubborn rationalization. During this time Adorno not only produced a significant series of notes on Beethoven which was never completed and only published posthumously , but also published Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy in In his return to Kranichstein, Adorno called for what he termed a "musique informelle", which would possess the ability "really and truly to be what it is, without the ideological pretense of being something else.

Or rather, to admit frankly the fact of non-identity and to follow through its logic to the end. Adorno additionally befriended the writer and poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger as well as the film-maker Alexander Kluge. In , Adorno was elected to the post of chairman of the German Sociological Society, where he presided over two important conferences: in , on "Max Weber and Sociology" and in on "Late Capitalism or Industrial Society".

His publication of The Jargon of Authenticity took aim at the halo such writers had attached to words like "angst", "decision" and "leap". After seven years of work, Adorno completed Negative Dialectics in , after which, during the summer semester of and the winter semester of —68, he offered regular philosophy seminars to discuss the book chapter by chapter. One objection which would soon take on ever greater importance, was that critical thought must adopt the standpoint of the oppressed, to which Adorno replied that negative dialectics was concerned "with the dissolution of standpoint thinking itself.

Like many of his students, Adorno too opposed the emergency laws , as well as the war in Vietnam, which, he said, proved the continued existence of the "world of torture that had begun in Auschwitz". In spring , a prominent SDS spokesman, Rudi Dutschke , was gunned down in the streets; in response, massive demonstrations took place, directed in particular against the Springer Press , which had led a campaign to vilify the students.

At the same time, however, Adorno protested against disruptions of his own lectures and refused to express his solidarity with their political goals, maintaining instead his autonomy as a theoretician. The building of barricades, he wrote to Marcuse, is "ridiculous against those who administer the bomb.

Upon his return to Frankfurt, events prevented his concentrating upon the book on aesthetics he wished to write: "Valid student claims and dubious actions," he wrote to Marcuse, "are all so mixed up together that all productive work and even sensible thought are scarcely possible any more. Adorno began writing an introduction to a collection of poetry by Rudolf Borchardt, which was connected with a talk entitled "Charmed Language," delivered in Zurich, followed by a talk on aesthetics in Paris where he met Beckett again.

Beginning in October , Adorno took up work on Aesthetic Theory. In June he completed Catchwords: Critical Models. During the winter semester of —69 Adorno was on sabbatical leave from the university and thus able to dedicate himself to the completion of his book of aesthetics. For the summer semester Adorno planned a lecture course entitled "An Introduction to Dialectical Thinking," as well as a seminar on the dialectics of subject and object.

After further disruptions to his lectures, Adorno canceled the lectures for the rest of the seminar, continuing only with his philosophy seminar. In the summer of , weary from these activities, Adorno returned once again to Zermatt, Switzerland , at the foot of Matterhorn to restore his strength.

On August 6 he died of a heart attack. Intellectual influences[ edit ] Like most theorists of the Frankfurt School , Adorno was influenced by the works of Hegel , Marx and Freud. Their major theories fascinated many left-wing intellectuals in the first half of the 20th century. Hegel rejected the idea of separating methods and content, because thinking is always thinking of something; dialectics for him is "the comprehended movement of the object itself. Adorno dedicated himself to this task in one of his later major works, the Negative Dialectics The title expresses "tradition and rebellion in equal measure.


The Jargon of Authenticity

It goes without saying that this text will present the same formidable problems as any Adorno text. There is dense philosophical argument, written in that curious speculative style, with many asides to philosophers, writers and poets that Adorno assumes we will be familiar with. This text also features a very close reading of several works by Heidegger and Jaspers, which are referenced. As usual, I am going to sketch what I take to be the general argument and then pick one or two little gems. I must say it that reading it on this occasion , I was struck by the continued relevance of the critique to current notions of authenticity or personal sincerity. A cult of sincerity affects a number of recent efforts in social science, such as autoethnography, the ideas of performance or narrativity in a number of areas, including Education and ethnography. What is the critique?


Theodor W. Adorno

JA, xiii. After all, Heidegger is also guilty of clouding such Germanic and rather untranslatable words like Geborgenheit shelteredness , Anruf appeal , Begegnung encounter , Anliegen concern in a mystified aura cf. Concepts of authenticity are marked precisely by such lines of argument, by rhetorics of return and rediscovery. It is the political aspect of such ideas that interested Adorno, the functions that such reasoning fulfils.


Heidegger shirks responsibility for the claim inherent in the word "authenticity" to be presenting a positive doctrine of the good life when he insists that he is using the word as a value-free technical term, even while exploiting its fascination. That the alleged meaninglessness of life invalidates all principles of how to live serves in effect only to attract people to a certain way of life. Reading Adorno, on the contrary, it is easy to be initially unimpressed. His style aims precisely at avoiding such thoughtless adherence to thoughts.

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