Lambert Zuidervaart. Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought series. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997; paperback 1999.
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Theodor W. Adorno died in 1969, and his last major work, Ästhetische Theorie, was published a year later. Only recently, however, have his aesthetic writings begun to receive sustained attention in the English-speaking world. This collect of essays is an important contribution to the discussion of Adorno’s aesthetics in Anglo-American scholarship.
The essays are organized around the twin themes of semblance and subjectivity. Whereas the concept of semblance, or illusion, points to Adorno’s links with Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, the concept of subjectivity recalls his lifelong struggle with a philosophy of consciousness stemming from Kant, Hegel, and Lukács. Adorno’s elaboration of the two concepts takes many dialectical twists. Art, despite the taint of illusion that it has carried since Plato’s Republic, turns out in Adorno’s account of modernism to have a sophisticated capacity to critique illusion, including its own. Adorno’s aesthetics emphasizes the connection between aesthetic theory and many other aspects of social theory. The paradoxical genius of Aesthetic Theory is that it turns traditional concepts into a theoretical cutting edge.