Critical Theory: Current State and Future Prospects

By Peter Uwe Hohendahl; Jaimey Fisher | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
STUMBLING INTO MODERNITY
Body and Soma in Adorno

Andrew Hewitt

In a study of Adorno's reception in the United States—and on the effect of the United States on Adorno's thought—Martin Jay draws our attention to what might seem the nadir of Adorno reception in the USA.1 In the New York Times obituary of 7 August 1969, Adorno is presented—by virtue of a single, rather obscure essay from 1941 that, nevertheless, rehearses the crucial arguments of the more famous essay on the fetish character of music—as a sociologist of popular dance, the jitterbug; to be more precise: “German Expert on Cultural Problems Also Served as Music Critic.” Not that the obituary was altogether one-sided: “In addition to inquiring into the sociological implications of dancing,” the journalist concedes, “Dr. Adorno looked into the constituents of authoritarianism.”2 In what follows, I will suggest that this seemingly impertinent obituary in fact isolates an important and central Denkfigur in Adorno's work. In fact, the figure of the Jitterbug surfaces at precisely those moments when Adorno himself stumbles at a certain threshold in his thinking about the body.3 In assessing Adorno's writings on the body, rather than merely querying for what Adorno might “stand,” one must pay attention to these stumblings.

In two important areas a reading of stumbling can reframe certain central categories in Adorno's thought. First, with respect to the

Notes for this chapter begin on page 92.

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