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He was famously hostile to biography as a literary form. And yet this life of Adorno by one of his last students is far more than literary in its accomplishments, giving us our first clear look at how the man and his moment met to create “critical theory.” An intimate picture of the quintessential twentieth-century transatlantic intellectual, the book is also a window on the cultural ferment of Adorno’s day—and its ongoing importance in our own.
The biography begins at the shining moment of the German bourgeoisie, in a world dominated by liberals willing to extend citizenship to refugees fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Detlev Claussen follows Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903–1969) from his privileged life as a beloved prodigy to his intellectual coming of age in Weimar Germany and Vienna; from his exile during the Nazi years, first to England, then to the United States, to his emergence as the Adorno we know now in the perhaps not-so-unlikely setting of Los Angeles. There in 1943 with his collaborator Max Horkheimer, Adorno developed critical theory, whose key insight—that to be entertained is to give one’s consent—helped define the intellectual landscape of the twentieth century.
In capturing the man in his complex relationships with some of the century’s finest minds—including, among others, Arnold Schoenberg, Walter Benjamin, Thomas Mann, Siegfried Kracauer, Georg Lukács, Hannah Arendt, and Bertolt Brecht—Claussen reveals how much we have yet to learn from Theodor Adorno, and how much his life can tell us about ourselves and our time.
Most people first encounter Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) as one of the leading lights of the Marxist philosophers known as the Frankfurt School and as the collaborator with Max Horkheimer on Dialectic of Enlightenment, which argued that the Enlightenment emphasis on reason gave rise to Nazi politics and genocide. Yet Adorno's writings ranged widely from aesthetics and music to ethics and literature. This elegant translation of Claussen's 2003 biography of his teacher provides the first glimpse of the depth of Adorno's life and thought. In masterful strokes, Claussen traces Adorno's life and work from his middle-class Jewish childhood in Frankfurt and Vienna and his university work on Kierkegaard to his friendships with Walter Benjamin and Thomas Mann, among others, and his later intellectual partnership with Horkheimer. Weaving in colorful excerpts of Adorno's writings, Claussen demonstrates the centrality of music and aesthetics to the philosopher and offers fresh insights into his life. Thanks to its depth and thoroughness, this lovingly crafted study will most certainly become the definitive portrait of Adorno, and it is also a captivating portrait of the incredibly shifting times, from Weimar to the Nazi regime, through which Adorno passed. 19 b&w photos. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
[A] magisterial biography...As a student of Adorno's during the '60s, Claussen, who teaches sociology at the University of Hanover, knows his mentor's philosophy, as well as his character, intimately.
— Richard Wolin
Fascinating...The best thing about Mr. Claussen's book is the way it helps us to understand the extremities of Adorno's experience, which gave rise to such hope and such despair.
— Adam Kirsch
Detlev Claussen's biography of Adorno is a remarkable achievement. Central to the success of this book is the fact that its author is not solely a biographer but is also a distinguished sociologist and social theorist, and he is able to identify and respond to each of the difficulties that Adorno poses...In its entirety, this is a brilliant book that movingly disentangles and pieces together highly complex relations of personal, historical, and intellectual life. It is difficult to imagine how biography could be more successful in examining theoretical existence or how it could more accurately elucidate thought in so many of its formative dimensions.
— Chris Thornhill
A former student of Adorno's, Mr. Claussen is on intimate terms with the late master's work, especially his correspondence with compatriots such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin.
— Thomas Meaney
Claussen is illuminating on his subject’s politics, cultural heritage, historical context, musicology, intellectual liaisons and reflections on the culture industry...Theodor Adorno: One Last Genius is a strenuously intellectual biography, the only sort the master himself might just have approved, in which the bare facts of his life always come to us interwoven with historical currents and philosophical wrangles.
— Terry Eagleton
Claussen superbly examines every aspect of Adorno’s life and career, digging like an investigative reporter into “Teddy’s” relations with Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, and other famous contemporaries and friends, clarifying the Frankfurt School’s evolving ethos, and zeroing in on Adorno’s awkward relation to his Jewishness.
— Carlin Romano
As Detlev Claussen's densely textured biography proves time and again, the conflicts and rapprochements between generations were as essential to Adorno's personal and intellectual development as was his persistent sense of exile.
— Brian Dillon
List of Illustrations
How to Read This Book
1. Instead of an Overture: No Heirs
2. The House in Schoene Aussicht: A Frankfurt Childhood around 1910
3. From Teddie Wiesengrund to Dr. Wiesengrund-Adorno
4. Adorno as "Non-identical" Man
Bertolt Brecht: "To Those Who Come after Us"
Theodor W. Adorno: "Out of the Firing Line"
Hanns Eisler, the Non-identical Brother
Fritz Lang, the American Friend
6. Frankfurt Transfer
7. Adorno as "Identical" Man
8. The Palimpsest of Life
Theodor W. Adorno to Ernst Bloch, 26 July 1962
Max Horkheimer to Theodor W. Adorno, 27 September 1958
Theodor W. Adorno to Max Horkheimer, 14 February 1965
Theodor W. Adorno to Claus Behncke, 21 February 1964
Max Horkheimer to Otto O. Herz, 1 September 1969