Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory: The Redemption of Illusion

Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory: The Redemption of Illusion. Lambert Zuidervaart. Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought series. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991; paperback 1993.

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Theodor W. Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory is a vast labyrinth that anyone interested in modern aesthetic theory must at some time enter. Because of his immense difficulty—of the same order as Derrida’s—Adorno’s reception has been slowed by the lack of a comprehensive and comprehensible account of the intentions of his aesthetics. This is the first book to put Aesthetic Theory into context and outline the main ideas and relevant debates, offering readers a valuable guide through this huge, difficult, but revelatory work. Its extended argument is that, despite Adorno’s assumptions of autonomism, cognitivist, and aesthetic modernism, his idea of artistic truth content offers crucial insights for contemporary philosophical aesthetics.

The eleven chapters are divided into three parts: Context, Commentary, and Critique. The first part offers a brief biography, describes Adorno’s debates with Benjamin, Brecht, and Lukács, and outlines his philosophical program. The second is an interpretation of Adorno’s aesthetics, examining how he situates art in society, production, politics, and history and uncovering the social, political, and historical dimensions of his idea of artistic truth. The third part evaluates Adorno’s contributions by confronting it with the critiques of Peter Bürger, Fredric Jameson, and Albrecht Wellmer.