Adorno on Popular Culture

By Robert W. Witkin | Go to book overview

3

THE DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT AND THE RING OF THE NIBELUNGEN

It is somewhat ironic that the most famous ideas with which Adorno was associated, namely the theory of popular culture and of the culture industry, should have been promulgated as a central part of a text that is as difficult, complex and unusual as The Dialectic of Enlightenment, written with Horkheimer (Adorno and Horkheimer 1979). The birth of the theory of the culture industry thus emerges in the midst of a 'grand narrative' about man's 'original' separation from and domination of nature, the rise of myth and the mythic consciousness, of mankind's enslavement of itself in the quest to become as strong as the forces of nature, and of the part played by science as a new and totalistic mythology in the development of this self-enslavement, this reduction of men and women to the status of manipulated things, of objects, even to themselves. The culture industry serves the aims of this manipulative life; it undermines all genuine sociality and spontaneity, all expressivity in the subject, and imposes, upon the psyches of individuals, the calculated 'effects' of manufactured cultural goods.

The rootedness of this work in German idealist themes that these exiled thinkers had inherited has been insufficiently acknowledged. In part, perhaps, this is occluded by the fact that the most important resonances and parallels are to thinkers of whom Adorno was critical. He is disparaging in his infrequent 'asides' about Schopenhauer. Nevertheless, the Schopenhaurian resonances in this work are very clear. Where Schopenhauer speaks of the primacy of the 'will', Adorno speaks of 'domination'. Both see 'art' and the 'aesthetic' as liberating and seek a praxis that is non-antagonistic, non-dominating; both eschew any response to domination and to the imposition of will that is in itself a process of domination (Adorno suffered from the wrath of German students in the 1968 protests and demonstrations because they had clearly not understood him on this point and thought that the famous critic of modern oppression ought to join them in active rebellion against authority); both may be seen by their critics as ultimately being

-33-

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Adorno on Popular Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - Cultural Nemesis 1
  • 2 - The Theory of Pseudo-Culture 16
  • 3 - The Dialectic of Enlightenment and the Ring of the Nibelungen 33
  • 4 - The Decay of 'Aura' and the Schema of Mass Culture 50
  • 5 - Star Power 68
  • 6 - Situating Music Socially 83
  • 7 - On Popular Music 98
  • 8 - Adorno's Radio Days 116
  • 9 - Film and Television 135
  • 10 - Woody Allen's Culture Industry 151
  • 11 - Walking a Critical Line Home 170
  • References 188
  • Index 191
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