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Prisms, essays in cultural criticism and society, is the work of a critic and scholar who has had a marked influence on contemporary American and German thought. It displays the unusual combination of intellectual depth, scope, and philosophical rigor that Adorno was able to bring to his subjects, whether he was writing about astrology columns in Los Angeles newspapers, the special problems of German academics immigrating to the United States during the Nazi years, or Hegel's influence on Marx. In these essays, Adorno explores a variety of topics, ranging from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Kafka's The Castle to Jazz, Bach, Schoenberg, Proust, Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption, museums, Spengler, and more. His writing throughout is knowledgeable, witty, and at times archly opinionated, but revealing a sensitivity to the political, cultural, economic, and aesthetic connections that lie beneath the surfaces of everyday life. Prisms is included in the series, Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought, edited by Thomas McCarthy.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780262510257
ISBN-10: 0262510251
Format: Paperback
(201mm x 134mm x 15mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: MIT Press
Publisher: MIT Press Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Jan-1983
Country of Publication: United States

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Co-director of the Frankfurt School in pre-war Germany, Adorno (1903-1969) is one of those pivotal intellectual figures - along with Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse - from whom much leftist cultural criticism is directly derived. As these twelve touchstone essays reveal, Adorno's outlook was based upon Marxist causality ("Nothing intellectual was ever conceived, not even the most escapist dream, whose objective content did not include the transformation of material reality"); on implicit opposition to the "captivity of bourgeois immanence"; on deep skepticism toward "consumer culture" (per critics as traffic managers for whatever the culture is overproducing at the moment); and on a willingness - like that of his mentor, Walter Benjamin - to write jumpily, to let ideas flair off each other rather than merely follow from them. Though all the essays here are of interest, some stand out negatively and positively. A musicologist as well as a philosopher, Adorno takes on both jazz and Schonberg. The jazz essay grabs a simple truth - that jazz is less free-form than is often believed - and runs it up to a ridiculous height: ". . . its rebellious gestures are accompanied by the tendency to blind obeisance, much like the sado-masochist type described by analytic psychology." On Schonberg, he is better - because scholarly and minutely specific. But the most successful full essay here (for that reason and its breadth) may be the one contrasting Hugo Hofmannsthal's and Stefan George's separate responses to late 19th-century German Romanticism - and the historical reverberations these were to have. But it's not as an essayist that you read Adorno. He is not Walter Benjamin; he hasn't Benjamin's vision or plasticity of style; he can be leaden or overly pithy ("Kafka scrutinizes the smudges left behind in the deluxe edition of the book of life by the fingers of power"). What he does have consistently (if paradoxically) is an endless flicker of profound brilliance. It's here when he writes about Valery and Proust: "If Valery understands something of the power of history over the production and apperception of art, Proust knows that even within works of art themselves history rules like a process of disintegration." Or, about Spengler, Benjamin, Kafka. The titular description, "prisms," suits Adorno - a major thinker of facets and angles and revolutions - and the collection itself is an ideal introduction to his work. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Theodor W. Adorno

Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) was a student of philosophy, musicology, psychology, and sociology at Frankfurt where he later became Professor of Philosophy and Sociology and Co-Director of the Frankfurt School. During the war years he lived in Oxford, in New York, and in Los Angeles, continuing to produce numerous books on music, literature, and culture. Shierry Weber Nicholsen teaches environmental philosophy and psychology in Antioch University Seattle's M.A. Program on Environment and Community and is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in Seattle. She has translated several works by Theodor Adorno and Jurgen Habermas.

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