The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950

The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950

The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950

The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950

Synopsis

Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, Franz Neumann, Theodor Adorno, Leo Lowenthal--the impact of the Frankfurt School on the sociological, political, and cultural thought of the twentieth century has been profound. The Dialectical Imagination is a major history of this monumental cultural and intellectual enterprise during its early years in Germany and in the United States. Martin Jay has provided a substantial new preface for this edition, in which he reflects on the continuing relevance of the work of the Frankfurt School.

Excerpt

It has become a commonplace in the modern world to regard the intellectual as estranged, maladjusted, and discontented. Far from being disturbed by this vision, however, we have become increasingly accustomed to seeing our intellectuals as outsiders, gadflies, marginal men, and the like. The word “alienation,” indiscriminately used to signify the most banal of dyspepsias as well as the deepest of metaphysical fears, has become the chief cant phrase of our time. For even the most discerning of observers, reality and pose have become difficult to distinguish. To the horror of those who can genuinely claim to have suffered from its effects, alienation has proved a highly profitable commodity in the cultural marketplace. Modernist art with its dissonances and torments, to take one example, has become the staple diet of an increasingly voracious army of culture consumers who know good investments when they see them. The avant-garde, if indeed the term can still be used, has become an honored ornament of our cultural life, less to be feared than feted. The philosophy of existentialism, to cite another case, which scarcely a generation ago seemed like a breath of fresh air, has now degenerated into a set of easily manipulated clichés and sadly hollow gestures. This decline occurred, it should be noted, not because analytic philosophers exposed the meaninglessness of its categories, but rather as a result of our culture’s uncanny ability to absorb and defuse even its most uncompromising opponents. And finally to mention a third example, it is all too evident in 1972, a few short years after the much ballyhooed birth of an alleged counterculture, that the new infant, if not strangled in the crib, has proved easily domesticated in the ways of its elders. Here too the mechanisms of absorption and cooptation have shown themselves to be enormously effective.

The result of all this is that intellectuals who take their critical function seriously have been presented with an increasingly rigorous . . .

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