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The Challenge of Surrealism

The Correspondence of Theodor W. Adorno and Elisabeth Lenk

2015
Authors:

Edited and translated by Susan H. Gillespie

The Challenge of Surrealism

An epistolary treasure trove and a newly contextualized look at philosopher Theodor W. Adorno

Now appearing in English for the first time, the correspondence between philosopher Theodor W. Adorno and his graduate student Elisabeth Lenk provides a rich mine of critical material for reassessing the significance of the surrealist movement and its successors. Written between 1962 and 1969, these letters are accompanied by a selection of documents that contextualize their engagement with the art and politics of the period.

The Challenge of Surrealism is an important intellectual and personal document that not only illuminates some of Adorno’s major philosophical concerns from an unexpected perspective, but also presents the record of a deeply personal and complex relationship characterized by attraction and repulsion, desire and distance, immediacy and deferral.

Gerhard Richter, Brown University

The correspondence between the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno and his politically active graduate student Elisabeth Lenk offers fresh insights into both Adorno’s view of surrealism and its relation to the student uprisings of 1960s France and Germany. Written between 1962, when Lenk moved to Paris and persuaded an initially reluctant Adorno to supervise her sociology dissertation on the surrealists, and Adorno’s death in 1969, these letters reveal a surprisingly tender side of the distinguished professor. The correspondence is accompanied by a selection of documents that bring additional depth and context to the letters and their engagement with the art and politics of the period.

Filling in the background of Adorno and Lenk’s lively exchange, the volume includes new translations of classic essays by Walter Benjamin (“Surrealism: Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia”) and Adorno (“Surrealism Reconsidered”), along with a collection of short prose readings by Adorno and the writer-scholar Carl Dreyfus and three original essays by Lenk: her afterword to Paris Peasant by Louis Aragon, her Introduction to the German edition of Charles Fourier’s The Theory of the Four Movements and the General Destinies, and her incisive essay “Critical Theory and Surreal Practice.” An introduction by Lenk’s student, the contemporary writer and critic Rita Bischof, points to the continuing challenge of surrealist politics.

This remarkable body of correspondence appears here in English for the first time, as do Adorno and Dreyfus’s surrealist readings and the essays by Lenk. Together, they provide a rich mine of critical material for reassessing the significance of the surrealist movement and its successors.

The Challenge of Surrealism

Susan H. Gillespie is founding director of the Institute for International Liberal Education at Bard College, where she is vice president for special global initiatives. She has translated prose and poetry from German to English.

Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) was a German sociologist, philosopher, and musicologist known for his critical theory of society and his work on aesthetics and philosophy. He was a leading member of the Frankfurt School of critical theory and author of dozens of books.

Elisabeth Lenk is a German literary scholar and sociologist. She is professor emeritus of literature at the University of Hanover.

The Challenge of Surrealism

The Challenge of Surrealism is an important intellectual and personal document that not only illuminates some of Adorno’s major philosophical concerns from an unexpected perspective, but also presents the record of a deeply personal and complex relationship characterized by attraction and repulsion, desire and distance, immediacy and deferral.

Gerhard Richter, Brown University

The Challenge of Surrealism

Contents

Editor’s Note
Introduction. Departures: Critical Theory and Surrealism
Rita Bischof
Surrealism: Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia
Walter Benjamin
Surrealism Reconsidered
Theodor W. Adorno
Critical Theory and Surreal Practice
Elisabeth Lenk
Correspondence between Theodor W. Adorno and Elisabeth Lenk, 1962–1969
Introduction to the Correspondence
Elisabeth Lenk
Sense and Sensibility: Afterword to Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant
Elisabeth Lenk
Introduction to the German Edition of Charles Fourier’s The Theory of the Four Movements and the General Destinies
Elisabeth Lenk
Surrealist Readings
Castor Zwieback (Theodor W. Adorno and Carl Dreyfus)
Notes
Publication History
Index