Theodor Adorno

Theodor Adorno Picture

Born on September 11, 1903, Thedor Ludwig Adorno was a widely recognized philosopher, social theorist, and a musicologist from Germany. Deeply influenced by Marx, Nietzsche and Hegel, Adorno wrote extensively on human suffering in the modern society. Being one of the first thinkers of the 20th century concerning modern societies and aesthetics, Adorno’s works, such as the Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), Negative Dialectics (1966) and Minima Moralia had a strong impact on the European New Left.

Even before post-modernism came into fashion, Theodor Adorno, along with Horkheimer, co-wrote a detailed critique of the modern society and its depressing impact on the humans, which was titled the Dialectic of Enlightenment. The book starts with a thorough evaluation of the newly-developed West. Adorno said that enlightenment was supposed to liberate human beings from all kinds of pain and suffering, and instill in them a sense of responsibility as the masters of this world, yet it resulted in sad, ignorant people, unaware of their capabilities, rights and duties as modern individuals. Hunger, war and poverty couldn’t be eradicated in the modern world, and people are mindlessly practicing and accepting fascism, production of chemical and nuclear weapons to kill off their fellow living beings on the order of others.

In the book, the two authors also gave the concept of the ‘culture industry’, a phenomenon of the modern society according to which the masses are being fed what to do, buy and consume through rigorous mass campaigning and advertising, portraying a sense of false contentment arising from following the same culture of modernity, which is in reality turning the citizens into nothing more than a mindless crowd of consumers. The production of bulk amounts of products and the pursuing of customers in order to gain high profits is what he termed as ‘standardization’.  Through accepting the standardized cultural goods-the magazines, music, television and radio programming, people are developing artificial emotional needs which can be fulfilled only through the consumption of these cultural goods, and the true psychological needs, such as creativity and freedom are neglected in the long run.

Products are advertised to give off the impression that they are custom-made for a particular individual, while in reality it is the same product thousands will purchase and consume simultaneously.  Adorno also pointed towards the issue of pop-music, where the various samples are used and re-used to create chart-topping songs which are merely slightly different copies of another, and of which none are original, individual works of music.

He differentiated between ‘apologetic’ and ‘critical’ music, apologetic being the highly produced and utilized music which can be converted into a number of tracks with slight modification. He said that such uniform music keeps the audience obedient towards the capitalist status-quo. On the other hand, critical music is the one which as a whole is greater than when it is chopped off indifferent parts, such as the brilliant works of Beethoven.

As per Adorno’s translator, Robert Hullot-Kentor, all of Adorno’s work revolved around the answer to the question of how our lives can be more than a question of self-sustenance and defense. Adorno believed that humans justify the sacrifice of their primitive desires and egos as a price paid to keep ourselves intact, to self-preserve.

Theodor Adorno died of a heart attack on August 6, 1969 in Switzerland, while working on the great Aesthetic Theory. Adorno’s greatness of thought and philosophy is accepted by all, yet he remains one of the most criticized thinkers of the modern era. Critical theorists from around the world derive their inspirations and ideas from Adorno’s critique of modern societies to this day.

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