Friday, August 9, 2013
VOICES FROM THE PAST
Brian Leiter points us to an extraordinary exchange of letters between Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno, in 1969, about the student movement then roiling America and Western Europe. Here it is. I have just read it, and it is mesmerizing. For all manner of reasons, personal and political, I completely side with my old friend Marcuse in his debate with Adorno. Herbert seems to me to come off as exhibiting the one absolutely indispensable prerequisite for a theoretical commentator on the political scene: knowing clearly which side he is on. Adorno, by contrast, reminds me of the previously progressive professors at Columbia in '68 who were so wounded by the students' affront to their professorial dignity that they ended up throwing in with the forces of reaction.
Posted by Robert Paul Wolff at 1:25 PM
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"Max Adorno"? Are you sure that you don't mean "Theodor Horkheimer"?
Thanks, Don. I have changed it. They talk about Horkheimer so much that my mind slipped a cog. aaarrrggghh!
Yes, the depth, clarity, and forcefulness of Marcuse, especially in that his position might have jeopardized close relationships is impressive and inspiring.
Two specific statements jumped out for me:
1. Adorno: "...although I never found the substitution of the Ninth Symphony by Jazz and Beat, the scum of the culture industry, exactly illuminating...." Am I missing something or is this statement as ignorant and racist as it seems?
2. Marcuse: "I gladly accept that these thoughts got ‘cruder and simpler’ in my work. I believe crudeness and simplification have made the barely recognizable radical substance of these thoughts
visible again." Love it!
Many things in the exchange struck me. One was the revealing moment when Adorno takes offence at the fact that the title "professor" has been devalued by the students. I could just see him pulling up the skirts of his frock coat and saying "eek! a mouse." Herbert was as old school as Adorno, but he had the humanity and the authenticity to embrace student protest, without cavilling that sometimes it was "crude and simple." Adorno comes across as a real horse's ass.
Yes. Adorno & Marcuse weren’t close relationships—but rivals, some credit this rivalry and feud to Horkheimer’s manoeuvres—so Marcuse’s stand didn’t jeopardize any close relationship, it only fueled his rivalry with Adorno.
The pretended racism of Adorno’s dismissive remark about the jazz scum is only the reverse of nowadays political correctness, a very un—lefty trend.
I think there’s no racism—and certainly no ignorance—in Adorno’s harsh comments. Harshness, perhaps—but that’s a better deal than today’s political correctness and passive admission of everything.
So, I believe in blaming a musicologist like Adorno for his frankness, we do miss a lot of things.
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