Contradiction Appreciated: New Approaches to Adorno

Text: Petteri Enroth and Irmeli Hautamäki

Theodor Adorno’s (1903—1969) work forms an acknowledged body of cultural theory and criticism of the thoroughly administrated capitalist culture, and as such it is today perhaps more acute than ever.

In this volume we wish to offer new insights into Adorno, not only as a theoretician but as a person, as well. Adorno was publicly known as a harsh cultural critic and negative thinker, but we introduce another Adorno who, behind his cloak, enjoyed zoos and was nothing short of a socialite. The volume opens with a touristic trip to Adorno’s hometown Frankfurt am Main and to his beloved vacation slot, the village of Amorbach. (Petteri Enroth: Following Adorno’s Footsteps in Frankfurt and Amorbach)

On theoretical plane, we introduce Adorno’s cultural criticism from a dialectical perspective that does justice to the essence of this criticism. Although Adorno consistently considered that culture is divided into the spheres of art and the culture industry, his thinking is not black and white. He believed that it is not impossible to have one without the other, and even quipped that in a utopian future the need for art itself would disappear. This means that it is always culture and society as a whole that needs to be thought of. (Jussi Suortti: Adorno’s Answer to Benjamin: The Impossibility of Reproducible Art in the Culture Industry)

Regarding Adorno’s aesthetic theory, we also offer two important dialectical viewpoints. The first article considers Adorno’s musical analysis of “structural listening” wherein music is appreciated as something expressive and phenomenal on the one hand, and as thoroughly structured and analyzable, on the other. (Timo Laiho: Problematizing Musical Analysis: On Adorno’s Concept of Structural Listening).

A similar conundrum is in fact at the heart of modern art in general. In painting, a contradiction arises when an artwork’s rational and language-like character clashes with its sensual qualities, the necessary mimetic element, which Adorno considers as ethical sensibility. Contrary to several post-modern art theoreticians, Adorno claims that an artwork has an objective truth-value which is related to its affinity to language. (Irmeli Hautamäki: Adorno’s Conceptions of Rationality, Mimesis and Truth in Art Seen through Anselm Kiefer’s Works)

Lastly, we invite Adorno for an imaginary visit to Helsinki in the summer of 2016 where he will, among other things, listen to Portishead and join us to the movies. (Petteri Enroth: All Work, All Play: An Imaginary Visit from a Dead White Man)