Thursday, December 30, 2010

Molyneux on Adorno and Beckett



Hank said...

This was interesting. I read "Dialectic of Enlightenment" over the summer and it provoked a lot of thought -- though I must admit that I can't be said to have understood it all -- but as I continued to learn about Adorno, I became very disillusioned with him. In light of his ensconcement from class struggle, his theorizing seems to be rather masturbatory; one almost wonders if he chose 'marxism' as his path for purposes of academic novelty rather than as a genuine commitment. One wonders if his vehement opposition to Heidegger was less political than it was personal.

t said...

The disconnection of the Frankfurt School from class struggle is a serious worry (as is Adorno's Eurocentrism), but it strikes as a touch unfair to Adorno to say that he chose Marxism for merely academic reasons. He was seriously committed to radical social transformation and often took positions that are better described as ultra-left rather than as resigned.

Moreover, his analyses of contemporary culture are invaluable for contemporary Marxists. To be sure, there are many problems, political and otherwise, with his approach. But he is a force to be reckoned with on all sorts of crucial questions for Marxists: the relationship between culture and politics, freedom and determinism, subjective and objective elements of social change, the structure of ideologiekritik, the dialectic, the relationship between Hegel and Marx's thought, etc.

Also- one point on which both Adorno and Marcuse insisted on was not adequately theorized by previous Marxists: the idea of "false needs". Adorno was ahead of his time in formulating a critical approach to the way in which late capitalism can manufacture needs via the commercialization of hitherto uncolonized spheres of life (recreation, "free time", enjoyment, and so on). Almost all contemporary Marxists worth their salt today recognize that consumerism is a malaise, an ideology, produced by capitalism which often serves to stabilize and perpetuate the system.

Adorno has all kinds of problems that absolutely need to be criticized. But he is one of the most creative and innovative Marxist thinkers of the 20th century and deserves to be grappled with by progressives and Leftist of all stripes.

t said...

Also- I don't think that DofE is his best text. The chapter on the Culture Industry is interesting (mostly for sparking all kinds of subsequent discussion) but lots of it is pessimistic and throws the baby out with the bathwater (e.g. attacking reason itself, rather than what's become of it in advanced capitalist societies under the guises of instrumental reason).

Aesthetic Theory is an incredibly rich Marxist approach to art and culture. Minima Moralia has much to recommend it, although there is plenty to disagree with. His short book on Hegel is incredible, and potentially the best introduction to Hegel (from a Left perspectiev) out there. Lots of what he says about Music is well worth reading, and his essays in the collection Critical Models are excellent.

My biggest problems with Adorno mostly concern what he doesn't say. He doesn't have much at all to say about racial oppression or gender, and he didn't seem to ever have any concrete connection to social movements. His musical views, though profound and incredibly political, often evince a Eurocentricism and complete ignorance of cultural traditions outside of Europe. He was wrong about jazz, although there are some things to say in his defense here. Although he had a "neither Washington nor Moscow" position, for reasons I don't understand, he seems never to have been interested in Trotskyism.

Horkheimer, after the 1940s, seems to me far more pessimistic and, ultimately, liberal. It would be unfair to paint Adorno with the same brush.

Hank said...

I actually bought "Aesthetic Theory" after reading "Dialectic of Enlightenment," but for various reasons have put it down and will likely be giving it up indefinitely as I'm undergoing a move where I can't take many of my books with me -- such is how it is when moving via Greyhound. And it doesn't help that in this area I am mostly an autodidact.