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Biography of German Philosopher Theodor Adorno

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By: Ryan Williams”Running in the street conveys an impression of terror. Thevictim’s fall is already mimed in his attempt to escape it. The position ofthe head, trying to hold itself up, is that of a drowning man, and thestraining face grimaces as if under torture. He has to look ahead, canhardly glance back without stumbling, as if treading the shadow of a foewhose features freeze the limbs. Once people ran from dangers that were toodesperate to turn and face, and someone running after a bus unwittinglybears witness to past terror.

Traffic regulations no longer need allow forwild animals, but they have not pacified running. It estranges us frombourgeois walking. The truth becomes visible that something is amiss withsecurity that the unleashed powers of life, be they mere vehicles, have tobe escaped. The body’s habituation to walking as normal stems from the goodold days. It was the bourgeois form of locomotion physicaldemythologization, free of the spell of hieratic pacing, rooflesswandering, and breathless flight.

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Human dignity insisted on the right towalk, a rhythm not extorted from the body by command or terror. The walk,the stroll, was private ways of passing time, the heritage of the feudalpromenade in the nineteenth century” Theodor Adorno.

Theodor Adorno stated that in the 19th century thus when hewas born in Frankfurt. As an only child to the wine merchant OscarWiesengrund, and of a catholic singer named Maria Barbara. His aunt Agathaalso lived with him. As a child Theodor engaged in four-handed pianoplaying, he attended school at the Kaiser-Wilhem where he proved to be ahighly gifted student at the low age of 17 he graduated from Kaiser-Wilhemat the top of his class. After high school Theodor began college atFrankfurt.

By this time he had already composed a number of musicalcritiques. After college Theodor went back to Vienna Theodor was not sparedanother failure: after his dissertation supervisor Hans Cornelius hisassistant Max Horkheimer voiced their concerns about his professorialthesis, a comprehensive philosophical-psychological treatise, he withdrewit in early 1928. It would take him three more years until he received thevenia legendi (which was revoked in 1933) with the manuscript Kierkegaard:Construction of the aesthetic that he submitted to Paul Tillich. The topicof his inaugural lecture was the ‘Current Importance of Sociology, a themehe considered programmatic throughout his life. In it, he questioned theconcept of totality for the first time, anticipating his famous formula -directed against George Hegel.Among his first courses was aseminar on Benjamin’s treatise The Origin of German Tragic Drama, his 1932essay “On the Social Situation of Music” was Adorno’s contribution to thefirst issue of Horkheimer’s; it wasn’t until 1938 that he joined theInstitute for Social Research. In the late 1920’s during Theodor’s stays inBerlin, He had established closer relations with Walter Benjamin and alsowith Ernst Bloch, with whose first major work Geist der Utopie he hadalready become acquainted in 1921.

The German capital held an even greater attraction to him dueto the presence of chemist Margarethe (‘Gretel’) Karplus, whom he wouldmarry in London in 1937. In 1934, fleeing from the Nazi regime, heimmigrated to England to regain his professor status in Oxford, which neverhappened however, but as a postgraduate there, he undertook an in depthstudy of Hegel’s philosophy. He could not resist spending the summerholidays with his fiance in Germany every year. In 1936, the Zeitschriftnewspaper featured one of Adorno’s most controversial texts, “On Jazz”.

This was less an engagement with this style of music than a first polemicagainst the blooming entertainment and culture industry, a system by whichhe believed society was controlled by a top-down creation of standardizedculture to intensify commodification.

Intense epistolary contact with Horkheimer, who was living inAmerican exile, led to an offer of an interesting and profitable employmenton the other side of the Atlantic. In 1937 Theodor visited New York for thefirst time he decided to resettle there. In Brussels he bade his parents,who followed in 1939, farewell, and said goodbye to Benjamin in San Remo.

Benjamin opted to remain in Europe, thus limiting their very rigorousfuture communication to letters. Shortly after arriving in New York,Horkheimer’s Institute for Social Research accepted Adorno as an officialmember. His first job was directing the “Radio Project” together with thesociologist Paul Lazarsfeld. He also took up a post at Princeton Universitybetween 1938 and 1941.

Very soon, however, his attention shifted to directcollaboration with Horkheimer. They moved to Los Angeles together, where hetaught for the following seven years he spent as the co-director of aresearch unit at the University of California.

Their collective found its first major expression in thefirst edition of their essay collection “Dialectic of Enlightenment” in1944. Faced with the unfolding events of the Holocaust, the work beginswith the words “In the most general sense of progressive thought, theEnlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishingtheir sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disastertriumphant.” Theodor, 1973 it was published in 1947. In this influentialbook, Adorno and Horkheimer outline civilization’s tendency towards self-destruction. They argue that the concept of reason was transformed into anirrational force by the Enlightenment. As a consequence, reason came todominate not only nature, but also humanity itself. It is thisrationalization of humanity that was identified as a cause of fascism andother totalitarian regimes. Consequently, Adorno did not considerrationalism a path towards human emancipation. For that he looked towardthe arts.

This is one of Theodor’s greater findings, saying that wewant power. We want to be irrational and we are because of the force by theenlightenment. After 1945 Theodor ceased to work as a composer. He wasentrusted with the honorable task to advise Tomas Mann on the musicologicaldetails of his novel Dr. Faustus. Apart from that he worked on his’philosophy of the new music’ in the 1940s, and on Hanns Eislers’scomposing for the films. He also contributed ‘Qualitative Interpretations’in anti-Semitic. Qualitative in social science means “makes no attempt tomeasure, count, or classify, but rather tries to capture the fullcomplexity of social phenomena through descriptive analyses that focus onthe details and nuances of people’s words and actions.” Qualitativetechniques were first developed in ethnography but are now used in mostsocial sciences.

In psychological and some other social sciences, when formalqualitative techniques became available in the 1990s, the decision to usethem often reflected a philosophical or ideological belief thatquantitative measures were inappropriate or inadequate in a human science.

Nowadays, however, most social scientists would see qualitative andquantitative techniques as complementary. Still though it’s performed bymultiple research institutes in the US that uncovered the authoritariancharacter of test persons through indirect questions.

After the war, Theodor, who had been homesick, did nothesitate long before returning to Germany. Due to Horkheimer’s influence hewas given a professorship in Frankfurt in 1949/1950, allowing him tocontinue his academic career after a prolonged hiatus. This culminated in aposition as double Ordinarius or of philosophy and of sociology. In theInstitute, which was affiliated with the university, Adorno’s leadershipstatus became ever more and more apparent, while Horkheimer, who was eightyears older, gradually stepped back, leaving his younger friend the soledirectorship in1958. Despite his pessimistic stance, the work raisedTheodor Adorno to the level of a foundational intellectual figure in theWest German republic, after a last attempt to get him involved in researchin the USA failed in 1953.

In 1952 he participated in a group experiment, revealingresidual national socialist attitudes among the recently democratizedGermans. In 1954 onwards, he taught musicology in the summer academies inKranichstein. Numerous radio stations had debates with Theodor on themamong others like Ernst Bloch, Elias Canetti and Arnold Gehlen. In 1961 heinitiated the positivism debate at a meeting of the German Society forSociology in Tubingen. In 1964 he headed the 15th sociology conference,where Max Weber and Sociology today and in 1968 he headed the 16thsociology conference, Late Capitalism or Industrial Society. In 1966 extraparliamentary opposition formed against the grand coalition of Germany’stwo major parties and was directed primarily against the planned emergencylaws.

Theodor was an outspoken critic of these politics, which hedisplayed by his participation in an event organized by the actioncommittee Demokratie in Nostand. When the student Benno Ohnesorg was shotby a police officer at a demonstration against a visit by the Shah of Iran,the left wing APO became increasingly radicalized, and the universitiesbecame a place of unrest. To a considerable extent it was students ofTheodor Adorno who represented the spirit of revolt thus drawing’practical’ consequences from ‘Critical Theory’. The leading figures of theFrankfurt School were not prepared, despite empathizing with the students’causes, to support their activism. Therefore Adorno in particular became atarget of student action. On the other side of the spectrum, the rightaccused him of providing the intellectual basis for leftist violence.

In 1969 the disturbances in his lecture hall increased to anextent that Adorno discontinued his lecture series. Adorno becameincreasingly exhausted and fed up with the situation on campus. Hisbiographer Stefan Doohm contends that he was convinced the attacks by thestudents were directed against his theories as well as his person and thathe feared that the current political situation may lead to totalitarianism.

He left with his wife on a vacation to Switzerland. Despite warnings by hisdoctor, he attempted to ascend a 3,000 meter high mountain, resulting inheart palpitations. The same day, he and his wife drove to the nearby town,where he suffered heart palpitations once again. He was brought to thetown’s clinic. In the morning of the following day, August 6, where he diedof a heart attack.

Though he was gone Theodor Adorno had left his Theoriesbehind. Theodor Adorno was to a great extent influenced by WalterBenjamin’s application of Karl Marx’s thoughts. Unlike Marx, however,Adorno did not consider capitalism on the verge of collapse this was one ofTheodor’s points that he hit on. Instead he shows that capitalism hasbecome more entrenched. Additionally, Adorno focused on culture rather thaneconomics as Marx did. He argued that critical theory must keep a certainstandard. On this ground Adorno attacked many approaches commonly used insocial studies he took out some big questions that sociologist were facingduring this time. He was particularly harsh on approaches that claimed tobe scientific and quantitative proving that they were wrong.

He is probably best known for his critique of “mass culture”in contemporary societies. He argued that culture industries manipulatedthe masses. Popular culture was identified as a reason why people becomepassive; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popularculture made people docile and content, no matter how terrible theireconomic circumstances. It is culture industries that produce standardizedcultural goods like factories. There are differences between the culturalgoods that make them appear different, but they are in fact just variationsof the same theme. Adorno called this phenomenon pseudo-individualization.

Theodor saw this mass produced culture as a danger to the more difficulthigh arts. Culture industries cultivate false needs; that is, needs createdand satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom,creativity or genuine happiness. Some of the work on mass culture Adornoundertook together with Maz Horkheimer.

Despite a certain timeliness of Adorno’s work, many aspectsof it are relevant today and have been developed in many strands ofcontemporary critical theory though many have there are still tons of hiswork that hasn’t be applied to modern day. Theodor did some hard longstudies threw out his life, the top 3 theories that I feel are the mostimportant are the Critical Social theory, the Aesthetic Theory, and theNegative Dialects theory. These 3 theories are the most important theAesthetic theory is one of the most applied theories today. The CriticalSocial theory is not used as much but is being used more and more.

Thinkers influenced by Adorno believe that today’s societyhas evolved in a direction foreseen by him, especially in regard to thepast, morals or the Culture Industry. The latter has become a particularlyproductive, yet highly contested term in cultural studies. Many of hisreflections on music have only just begun to be debated, as a collection ofessays on the subject, many of which had not previously been translatedinto English, have only recently been collected and published as Essays onMusic. Critiques of Adorno’s theories come primarily from Marxist. Othercritics include Ralf Dahrendorf and Karl Popper and positivistphilosophers. Many Marxists accuse the Critical Theorists of claiming theintellectual heritage of Karl Marx without feeling the obligation to applytheory for political action.

So in conclusion this is paper is about Theodor Adorno’s lifeand some of his ideas of society. Theodor was one of the greatestsociologists in Germany after World War 2. He had created many theories andproved many to be wrong. But I do feel as though he primarily viewedsociety as a self-regulating system, “from which one must escape” beingAdorno’s exact words. For him it was existent, but inhuman, while othersargue against the existence of such a system. In his argument, he claimsthat Critical Theory provides no practical solution for societal change.

This I agree with and I feel as though there is no practical solution forsocietal change. Thus concluding my paper on Theodor Adorno I hope youlearned as much about his life and some of his thoughts about life asmeritorious as I did. He lived a very interesting life and had chances tochange the world with his thoughts. Some of the greatest sociologists werelisted in this paper but out of all of them Theodor was the greatest.

Cite this Biography of German Philosopher Theodor Adorno

Biography of German Philosopher Theodor Adorno. (2019, Apr 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/theodor-adorno/

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