Theodor W. Adorno

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Adorno was chiefly influenced by Max Weber's critique of disenchantment, Georg Lukács's Hegelian interpretation of Marxism, as well as Walter Benjamin's philosophy of history. Adorno, along with the other major Frankfurt School theorists Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse, argued that advanced capitalism had managed to contain or liquidate the forces that would bring about its collapse and that the revolutionary moment, when it would have been possible to transform it into socialism, had passed. As he put it at the beginning of his Negative Dialectics (1966), philosophy is still necessary because the time to realise it was missed. Adorno argued that capitalism had become more entrenched through its attack on the objective basis of revolutionary consciousness and through liquidation of the individualism that had been the basis of critical consciousness.

Whilst Adorno's work focuses on art, literature and music as key areas of sensual, indirect critique of the established culture and modes of thought, there is also a strand of distinctly political utopianism evident in his reflections especially on history. The argument, which is complex and dialectic, dominates his Aesthetic Theory, Philosophy of New Music and many other works.

Adorno saw the culture industry as an arena in which critical tendencies or potentialities were eliminated. He argued that the culture industry, which produced and circulated cultural commodities through the mass media, manipulated the population. Popular culture was identified as a reason why people become passive; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popular culture made people docile and content, no matter how terrible their economic circumstances. The differences among cultural goods make them appear different, but they are in fact just variations on the same theme. He wrote that "the same thing is offered to everybody by the standardised production of consumption goods" but this is concealed under "the manipulation of taste and the official culture's pretense of individualism".[11] Adorno conceptualised this phenomenon as pseudo-individualization and the always-the-same.[citation needed]

Adorno's analysis allowed for a critique of mass culture from the left which balanced the critique of popular culture from the right. From both perspectives — left and right — the nature of cultural production was felt to be at the root of social and moral problems resulting from the consumption of culture. However, while the critique from the right emphasized moral degeneracy ascribed to sexual and racial influences within popular culture, Adorno located the problem not with the content, but with the objective realities of the production of mass culture and its effects, e.g. as a form of reverse psychology.[citation needed] Thinkers influenced by Adorno believe that today's society has evolved in a direction foreseen by him, especially in regard to the past (Auschwitz), morals or the Culture Industry. The latter has become a particularly productive, yet highly contested term in cultural studies. Many of Adorno's reflections on aesthetics and music have only just begun to be debated, as a collection of essays on the subject, many of which had not previously been translated into English, has only recently been collected and published as Essays on Music.[12]

Adorno's work in the years before his death was shaped by the idea of "negative dialectics", set out especially in his book of that title. A key notion in the work of the Frankfurt School since Dialectic of Enlightenment had been the idea of thought becoming an instrument of domination that subsumes all objects under the control of the (dominant) subject, especially through the notion of identity, i.e. of identifying as real in nature and society only that which harmonized or fit with dominant concepts, and regarding as unreal or non-existent everything that did not.[citation needed] Adorno's "negative dialectics" was an attempt to articulate a non-dominating thought that would recognize its limitations and accept the non-identity and reality of that which could not be subsumed under the subject's concepts. Indeed, Adorno sought to ground the critical bite of his sociological work in his critique of identity, which he took to be a reification in thought of the commodity form or exchange relation which always presumes a false identity between different things. The potential to criticise arises from the gap between the concept and the object, which can never go into the former without remainder. This gap, this non-identity in identity, was the secret to a critique of both material life and conceptual reflection.[citation needed]

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