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Adorno in America

2007
Author:

David Jenemann

Adorno in America

The first in-depth account of Adorno’s years in American exile

In the first in-depth account of this period of Adorno's years in American exile, David Jenemann examines Adorno's confrontation with the burgeoning American “culture industry” and casts new light on Adorno's writings about the mass media. What emerges is not only an image of an intellectual in exile, but a rediscovery of Adorno as a potent defender of a vital democracy.

For those inclined to dismiss Adorno’s take on America as the uncomprehending condescension of a mandarin elitist, David Jenemann’s splendid new book will come as a rude awakening. Exploiting a wealth of new sources, he persuasively shows the depth of Adorno’s engagement with the culture industry and the complexity of his reaction to it.

Martin Jay, Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley

The German philosopher and cultural critic Theodor W. Adorno was one of the towering intellectual figures of the twentieth century, and between 1938 and 1953 he lived in exile in the United States. In the first in-depth account of this period of Adorno’s life, David Jenemann examines Adorno’s confrontation with the burgeoning American “culture industry” and casts new light on Adorno’s writings about the mass media. Contrary to the widely held belief—even among his defenders—that Adorno was disconnected from America and disdained its culture, Jenemann reveals that Adorno was an active and engaged participant in cultural and intellectual life during these years.

From the time he first arrived in New York in 1938 to work for the Princeton Radio Research Project, exploring the impact of radio on American society and the maturing marketing strategies of the national radio networks, Adorno was dedicated to understanding the technological and social influence of popular art in the United States. Adorno carried these interests with him to Hollywood, where he and Max Horkheimer attempted to make a film for their Studies in Prejudice Project and where he befriended Thomas Mann and helped him craft his famous novel Doctor Faustus. Shuttling between insightful readings of Adorno’s theories and a rich body of archival materials—including unpublished writings and FBI files—Jenemann paints a portrait of Adorno’s years in New York and Los Angeles and tells the cultural history of an America coming to grips with its rapidly evolving mass culture.

Adorno in America eloquently and persuasively argues for a more complicated, more intimate relationship between Adorno and American society than has ever been previously acknowledged. What emerges is not only an image of an intellectual in exile, but ultimately a rediscovery of Adorno as a potent defender of a vital and intelligent democracy.

Adorno in America

David Jenemann is assistant professor of English at the University of Vermont.

Adorno in America

For those inclined to dismiss Adorno’s take on America as the uncomprehending condescension of a mandarin elitist, David Jenemann’s splendid new book will come as a rude awakening. Exploiting a wealth of new sources, he persuasively shows the depth of Adorno’s engagement with the culture industry and the complexity of his reaction to it.

Martin Jay, Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley

An exalting portrait of Adorno as a defender of intellectual democracy, as well as an intriguing portrait of mid-twentieth century cultural shifts, Adorno in America is highly recommended for philosophy and cultural criticism shelves as well as biography shelves.

Midwest Book Review

Adorno in America achieves its admirable stated aim of finding ‘a more approachable and down-to-earth Adorno.’ And yet the resulting new portrait strikingly resembles an old one: the pre-70s Adorno, the one we knew before his major works were translated. Jenemann’s Adorno is the weltschmerzlich pop-culture critic, decades ahead of his time, assimilated by mainstream writers like David Riesman, Dwight Macdonald, and Susan Sontag, rather than the post-Marxist dialectician embraced by the academy a little too late and with premature conviviality. Adorno in America reels in the critic from the ether of critical theory: it gives us an Adorno with strings attached, playing them for all their worth.

Modern Painters

Using archival sources, Jenemann helps uncover a lost time in Adorno’s life. Recommended.

Choice

Adorno in America is a work that, like the man himself, is difficult to categorize. And therein lay its strength. It is a work of social history, critical theory, and cultural analysis that manages to seamlessly blend all three of these often competing approaches.

Thesis Eleven

Jenemann ultimately succeeds in providing a proper home for the exile years of Adorno in America. Given the political tenor of the times and the need for the kind of sophisticated cultural analysis that Adorno offers, Jenemann’s book could hardly be timlier.

Journal of American Cultures

David Jenemann has written a major account of a fascinating set of issues in mid-twentieth century philosophy and critical theory. His subtly argued and thoroughly researched exploration of the complexities of Theodor W. Adorno’s scholarly in the United States brings new material and innovative interpretive perspectives into a contested sphere of history, theory, and criticism. His book is also so lucidly written that it deserves more than just a well-justified place in the scholarly literature. The book can serve beautifully as a critical introduction to the frictions and dissonances in the proliferating forms of theoretical and empirical social research pursued by both American and émigré scholars in the United States during the 1940s. It therefore deserves the widest possible readership in numerous fields. Adorno in America therefore does full scholarly justice to its subject: it successfully contributes to the critical history of the Frankfurt School in American and reveals aspects that will require further energetic study. It deserves both wide recognition and vigorous critical engagement.

German Studies Review

David Jenemann’s reconsideration of Theodor W Adorno’s American years is a welcome contribution to the recent wave of new publications on Adorno. . . . Jenemann’s book, following the trajectory first set by Martin Jay’s seminal works on the Frankfurt School in exile, is indispensable for an understanding of Adorno as an American philosopher and critic.

The German Quarterly