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  • Theodor W. Adorno 1

    Theodor W. Adorno

    Theodor W. Adorno

    Max Horkheimer (front left), Theodor Adorno (front right), and Jrgen Habermas (in the background, right), in 1964 in Heidelberg.

    Other names Theodor Ludwig Adorno Wiesengrund

    Born September 11, 1903Frankfurt am Main, Hesse-Nassau, Prussia, Germany

    Died August 6, 1969 (aged65)Visp, Visp, Valais, Switzerland

    Residence Germany

    Nationality German

    Era 20th century philosophy

    Region Western philosophy

    School Critical theoryMarxism

    Maininterests Social theory, sociology, psychoanalysis, epistemology, aesthetics, musicology, massmedia

    Notableideas Criticism of "actionism"[1]

    Theodor W. Adorno (/drno/;[2] German: [adno]; born Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund; September 11,1903 August 6, 1969) was a German sociologist, philosopher and musicologist known for his critical theory ofsociety.He was a leading member of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, whose work has come to be associated withthinkers such as Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse, for whom the work of Freud,Marx and Hegel were essential to a critique of modern society. He is widely regarded as one of the 20th century'sforemost thinkers on aesthetics and philosophy, as well as one of its preeminent essayists. As a critic of both fascismand what he called the culture industry, his writingssuch as Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), Minima Moralia(1951) and Negative Dialectics (1966)strongly influenced the European New Left.Amidst the vogue enjoyed by existentialism and positivism in early 20th-century Europe, Adorno advanced a dialectical conception of natural history that critiqued the twin temptations of ontology and empiricism through studies of Kierkegaard and Husserl. As a classically trained pianist whose sympathies with the twelve-tone technique of Arnold Schoenberg resulted in his studying composition with Alban Berg of the Second Viennese School, Adorno's commitment to avant-garde music formed the backdrop of his subsequent writings and led to his collaboration with Thomas Mann on the latter's novel Doctor Faustus, while the two men lived in California as

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    exiles during the Second World War. Working for the newly relocated Institute for Social Research, Adornocollaborated on influential studies of authoritarianism, anti-semitism and propaganda that would later serve asmodels for sociological studies the Institute carried out in post-war Germany. Upon his return to Frankfurt, Adornowas involved with the reconstitution of German intellectual life through debates with Karl Popper on the limitationsof positivist science, critiques of Heidegger's language of authenticity, writings on German responsibility for theHolocaust, and continued interventions into matters of public policy. As a writer of polemics in the tradition ofNietzsche and Karl Kraus, Adorno delivered scathing critiques of contemporary Western culture. Adorno'sposthumously published Aesthetic Theory, which he planned to dedicate to Samuel Beckett, is the culmination of alifelong commitment to modern art which attempts to revoke the "fatal separation" of feeling and understanding longdemanded by the history of philosophy and explode the privilege aesthetics accords to content over form andcontemplation over immersion.

    Life and career

    Early years: FrankfurtTheodor Ludwig Adorno-Wiesengrund was born in Frankfurt am Main on September 11, 1903, the only child ofOscar Alexander Wiesengrund (18701946) and Maria Calvelli-Adorno della Piana (18651952). His mother, adevout Catholic from Corsica, was once a professional singer, while his father, an assimilated Jew who hadconverted to Protestantism, ran a successful wine-export business. Proud of her origins, Maria wanted her son'spaternal surname to be supplemented by the addition of her own name: Adorno. Thus his earliest publications carriedthe name Theodor Wiesengrund-Adorno; upon his application for US citizenship, his name was modified to TheodorW. Adorno. His childhood was marked by the musical life provided by his mother and aunt: Maria was a singer whocould boast of having performed in Vienna at the Imperial Court, while her sister, Agathe, who lived with them, hadmade a name for herself as both a singer and pianist. He was not only a precocious child but, as he recalled later inlife, a child prodigy who could play pieces by Beethoven on the piano by the time he was twelve.[3] At the age of six,he attended the Deutschherren middle school before transferring to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gymnasium, where hestudied from 1913 to 1921. Prior to his graduation at the top of his class, Adorno was already swept up by therevolutionary mood of the time, as is evidenced by his reading of Georg Lukacs's The Theory of the Novel that year,as well as by his fascination with Ernst Bloch's The Spirit of Utopia, of which he would later write:

    Bloch's was a philosophy that could hold its head high before the most advanced literature; a philosophy thatwas not calibrated to the abominable resignation of methodology I took this motif so much as my own thatI do not believe I have ever written anything without reference to it, either implicit or explicit.[4]

    Yet Adorno's intellectual nonconformism was no less shaped by the repugnance he felt towards the nationalism which swept through the Reich during the First World War. Along with future collaborators like Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Ernst Bloch, Adorno was profoundly disillusioned by the ease with which Germany's intellectual and spiritual leadersamong them Max Weber, Max Scheler, Ernst Simmel, as well as his friend Siegfried Kracauercame out in support of the war. The younger generation's distrust for traditional knowledge arose from the way in which this tradition had discredited itself.[5] Over time, Oscar Wiesengrund's firm established close professional and personal ties with the factory of Karplus & Herzberger in Berlin. The eldest daughter of the Karplus family, Margarete, or Gretel, moved in the intellectual circles of Berlin, where she was acquainted with Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht and Ernst Bloch, each of whom Adorno would become familiar with during the mid-20s; after fourteen years, Gretel and Theodor were married in 1937. At the end of his schooldays, Adorno not only benefited from the rich concert offerings of Frankfurtin which one could hear performances of works by Schoenberg, Schreker, Stravinsky, Bartk, Busoni, Delius and Hindemithbut also began studying music composition at the Hoch Conservatory while taking private lessons with well-respected composers Bernhard Sekles and Eduard Jung. At around the same time, he befriended Siegfried Kracauer, the Frankfurter Zeitungs literary

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    editor, of whom he would later write:For years Kracauer read [Kants] Critique of Pure Reason with me regularly on Saturday afternoons. I am notexaggerating in the slightest when I say that I owe more to this reading than to my academic teachers Underhis guidance I experienced the work from the beginning not as mere epistemology, not as an analysis of theconditions of scientifically valid judgments, but as a kind of coded text from which the historical situation ofspirit could be read, with the vague expectation that in doing so one could acquire something of truth itself. [6]

    Academic Genealogy

    Notable teachers

    Hans Cornelius

    Notable students

    Jrgen Habermas

    Leaving gymnasium to study philosophy, psychology and sociology at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University inFrankfurt, Adorno continued his readings with Kracauer, turning now to Hegel and Kierkegaard, and beganpublishing concert reviews and pieces of music for distinguished journals like the Zeitschrift fr Musik, the NeueBltter fr Kunst und Literatur and later for the Musikbltter des Anbruch. In these articles, Adorno championedavant-garde music at the same time as he critiqued the failings of musical modernity, as in the case of StravinskysThe Soldiers Tale, which he called in 1923 a dismal Bohemian prank.[7] In these early writings, he wasunequivocal in his condemnation of performances which either sought or pretended to achieve a transcendencewhich Adorno, in line with many intellectuals of the time, regarded as impossible: No cathedral, he wrote, can bebuilt if no community desires one.[8] In the summer of 1924, Adorno received his doctorate with a study of EdmundHusserl under the direction of the unorthodox neo-Kantian Hans Cornelius. Before his graduation, Adorno hadalready met with his most important intellectual collaborators, Max Horkheimer and Walter Benjamin. ThroughCornelius's seminars, Adorno met his future collaborator Max Horkheimer, through whom he was then introduced toFriedrich Pollock.

    Vienna, Frankfurt, and BerlinDuring the summer of 1924, the Viennese composer Alban Berg's Three Fragments from Wozzeck, op. 7 premieredin Frankfurt, at which time Adorno introduced himself to Berg and both agreed the young philosopher and composerwould study with Berg in Vienna. Upon moving to Vienna in February 1925, Adorno immersed himself in themusical culture which had grown up around Schoenberg: in addition to his twice-weekly sessions with Berg, Adornocontinued his studies on piano with Eduard Steuermann and befriended the violinist Rudolf Kolisch. In Vienna, heattended public lectures of the satirist Karl Kraus with Berg and met Lukcs, who had been living in Vienna after thefailure of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Alban Berg, the man Adorno referred to as "my master and teacher," wasamong the most prescient of his young pupil's early friends:

    [I am] convinced that, in the sphere of the deepest understanding of music ... you are capable of supremeachievements and will undoubtedly fulfill this promise in the shape of great philosophi