Theodor W. Adorno: An Introduction

May 27, 2010

Author: Gerhard Schweppenhauser

Edition: First Publisher Duke University Press

Pages: 200

Price: £60.00 and £15.99

ISBN 9780822344544 and 4711

Theodor W. Adorno (1903-69) must count as one of the great thinkers of the last century. His work in philosophy, cultural theory, musicology and social theory represents a highly individual attempt to reinterpret Karl Marx's thought in the context of 20th-century capitalist society. Adorno was no straightforward Marxist, but rather blended the ideas of other great thinkers of the German tradition (Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) with the sociology of figures such as Max Weber and the psychoanalytic approach of Freud to make his own distinctive philosophy.

But it is fair to say that appreciating the brilliance and fecundity of Adorno's thought remains a difficult challenge. Adorno often writes in a manner best characterised by his own definition of a good essay, which he says develops its line of thought "methodically unmethodically". He says good writing refuses to chase down fixed conditions of knowledge and spurns universal conclusions, even as the universal may be kept productively at play within it.

For Adorno, what matters is not the production of defined truths but the pursuit of problems by way of an approach that refuses complacent belief in a world of well-defined concepts. Not all of Adorno is forbidding territory (as his 1951 book Minima Moralia often reveals), but given the difficulties that are bound to be experienced, any reader new to him is likely to be eternally grateful for the existence of Gerard Schweppenhauser's introductory volume.

After skilfully situating Adorno's thought in the context of his American exile during the Second World War, where he came face to face with unrestrained capitalism but also a humanity that impressed him, Schweppenhauser offers an overview of Adorno's thought.

We are taken on a journey through the model of "critical theory" that Adorno developed in conjunction with fellow Frankfurt School thinker Max Horkheimer (1895-1973), their critique of Enlightenment rationality formulated together in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), Adorno's attack on "identity thinking" and his critique of epistemology.

The later portions of the book deal in a helpful manner with Adorno's conception of the totally administered society, his aesthetic theory, and his account of the commodification of modern life exemplified by the "culture industry".

Schweppenhauser's text is never less than eminently readable and often deeply insightful and it serves to remind us how, in an age dominated by consumerism, this great thinker's ideas remain deeply relevant.

Who is it for? Students of European philosophy at every level.

Presentation: Well written, concise, clearly structured.

Would you recommend it? Yes, for anyone with an interest in Adorno and European philosophy.

Highly recommended

Nietzsche: Writings from the Early Notebooks

Editors: Raymond Geuss and Alexander Nehamas

Edition: First

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Pages: 328

Price: £45.00 and £14.99

ISBN 9780521855846 and 1671804

Highly recommended

Philosophical Investigations

Author: Ludwig Wittgenstein

Editors; P.M.S. Hacker and Joachim Schulte

Edition: Fourth revised

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Pages: 592

Price: £19.99

ISBN 9781405159296

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