In the “ Culture Industry” chapter of The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer wrote of jazz, “ No Palestrina could have eliminated the unprepared or unresolved dissonance more puristically than the jazz arranger excludes any phrase which does not exactly fit the jargon. If he jazzes up Mozart, he changes the music not only where it is too difficult or serious but also where the melody is merely harmonized differently, indeed, more simply, than is usual today” (Adorno and Horkheimer 101). The essay “ Adorno, Ellison, and the Critique of Jazz”, examines the conceptual and historical factors surrounding Adorno’s controversial essays on jazz, by comparing and contrasting Adorno’s jazz criticism with representations of jazz in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952).

Continue Reading »

Rose claims that Adorno’s concept of reification is an original to his thought, and based in large part off of Marx’s distinction of use-value and exchange-value. Rose first speaks of the difference between the concept and object, a difference with which reification is intimately concerned. It is important to note that the German Begriff, translated as “concept,” has a second and equally prominent meaning that is the equivalent of the English idea of “property” in the sense of having a particular property. Adorno divides conceptual thinking into three forms: identity thinking, rational identity thinking, and non-identity thinking. Identity thinking consists of using a concept to pick out particulars in an object, and is the sort of thinking employed when one uses instrumental reason. Adorno is largely unconcerned with this form of thinking when he is speaking about reification. Rational identity thinking assumes that an object possesses all the properties of its concept, and therefore the object is idealized without examining its particulars. Adorno claims that society generally thinks of objects as being identical to their concepts. Non-identity thinking is practiced when it is realized that there is an unavoidable gulf between the object and the concept. The concept is taken as referring to what the object “would like to be,” its Platonic ideal, roughly. In example, the concept of an enlightened world does not include barbarity, but the real object, the actuality of the present enlightened world, does. This does mean that it is inaccurate to call our society an enlightened society, but instead that it is necessary to acknowledge the gap between concept and the object. Adorno says that an important tool of critical theory is to confront the object as it is with the concept of what it should be, instead of merely assuming the identity of object and concept.

Rational identity thinking and reified thinking are the same, because they make unlike objects the same. Adorno sees commodity exchange as involving the same principles. The only values naturally in things are their use-values. Their exchange-values, which often appear in our capitalist society as actually occurring in objects, are not truly within the object, but instead are part of a social relationship between people. This extends to labor, as well, which is a social relationship objectified by the reification of exchange. However, exchange-value is the only way that the relative value of an object can be expressed in a market economy. To say that something is reified is to say that the social relation appears as a property of the object, rather than something societal (and thus essentially arbitrary) that has no particular allegiance to the object itself. The object appears to have exchange-value because the labor used to produce it seems reified in the object. “Reified concepts describe social phenomena, the appearance of society, as if it has the properties to which the concepts refer” (47). A non-reified object is one in which the concept and the object are truly identical, an object that is considered as the sum of its properties without the incorporation of relationships external to the object. Adorno claims that the use-value of an object is non-reified. It is therefore the commodification of objects that reifies them.

Adorno’s distinction between different modes of thought is not an empirical one. If it were, it would itself be identity thinking. It is instead a formation based on the gap which it perceives. Adorno states that, “To want substance in cognition is to want Utopia.” The substance offered by rational identity thinking is the illusion that one thinks of the actual object, when one can only largely only conceptualize objects. It is only when a real object is viewed rigorously in relation to its concept that one can gain a view of it that possesses anything, because to not acknowledge the gap between an object’s rational identity and its actuality is to imply the intersection of the two, and thus misunderstand the nature of the object.

In Mass Culture and Aesthetic Redemption: The Debate between Max Horkheimer and Siegfried Kracuer, Martin Jay explores the potential of art to redeem mass culture by dialoguing the contradictory thoughts of Horkheimer and Kracuer. In so doing, he offers an outline of their implicit debate and ultimately suggests with reservation the impossibility of a redemptive art.

The heart of the essay begins when Jay employs Peter Bürger’s controversial distinction between modernism and the avant-garde. Jay uses dichotomy as linchpin throughout his piece to help contrast the views of Horkheimer and Kracuer. That is, Horkheimer sides with modernism because in its most esoteric forms it supposedly works outside of the marketplace, thus offering a sort of utopian oasis from mass culture. Conversely, Kracuer sides with exoteric avant-gardism because it works within mass culture hopefully galvanizing revolution. After establishing this dichotomy, Jay unpacks and clarifies these two views focusing first on Horkheimer and then Kracuer.

Jay associates Horkheimer with esoteric modernism in large part because of his remarks on the writing of Joyce and paintings like Picasso’s Guernica: “[They] abandon the idea that real community exists; they are monuments of a solitary and despairing life that finds no bridge to any other or even to its own consciousness” (372). Or, put another way, Horkheimer wants art to negate culture and communication and in this negation escape mass culture. With this in mind, we can understand why Horkheimer rejected film as an art form –– it was too real, too easy, and consequently always under the tent of mass culture (372 – 373).

The analysis of Kracuer offered by Jay associates him with the exoterically avant-garde because for Kracuer –– and the following is something very quirky for a member of the Frankfurt of School –– mass culture was not bad, but rather a necessary stage in a larger process of rationalization (i.e., the end of class struggle). So where Horkheimer wanted to break bridges of communication in art Kracuer wanted to create them to invoke revolution. Kracuer, then, like Benjamin, celebrates the avant-garde filmmakers Pudovkin and Eisenstein for their collective calling of the body politic to organize and revolutionize. Kracuer did not care if such films were superficial for in he thought in a certain regard his era was one were “we cannot gain access to the elusive essentials of life we see assimilate the seemingly non-essential…” (374). This is all evidenced his discussion of the Tiller Girls were he argued that they were a “mass ornament” whose “aesthetic reflex” was inspired by the rationality of capitalism, like Taylor modes of organization. This rationality, of course, was obscured but it was less obscured than myth and thus marked a movement in the right direction. It was, in one of Jay’s more memorable phrases, “a way station towards a rational future” (380).

The difference between Horkheimer and Kracueris’s views on the potential of art, then, is the difference between solitary and solidarity, isolation and community. But as different as their views might be, they in the end both realized neither esotericism nor exotericism could redeem mass culture. Horkheimer realized that even the most esoteric art would be absorbed into the market (387). And Kracuer later lost his radical leanings deeming any revolution in art or elsewhere impossible (379). For this reason, Jay concludes with an ambiguous cynicism: “the sobering lessons provided by their very different attempts to harness art for radical purposes make it difficult not wonder if its end may be near” (381).

Everything is a composite of smaller group of factors, therefore everything is connected.  This is why Benjamin argues that art and science must find a way to coexist.  But, as the author points out, these claims also embody an aspect of hypocrisy.  As he states, “the claim that the Trauerspiel study ‘is’ allegorical is as much an abstraction as the claim that Benjamin ‘was’ himself a melancholic.”  This further demonstrates the paradox between subjectivity and its objects.  The author also addresses the paradox that exists in Benjamin’s argument on allegory by pointing out that his explanation could also be an allegory as well.

Benjamin’s main argument is that allegorical activity or reason is the supreme way of encapsulating the meaning that exists among the fragments of memory and anticipation within historical time.  What Witte’s observation concludes is that allegorical analogies are a form of “absolute subjectivity.”  Benjamin’s arguments differ in that Benjamin’s believes that the subject finds meaning in the object, while Witte believes that the subject bestows meaning onto the object.  Witte criticizes Benjamin’s ideology because to claim that there is absolutely subjectivity means it is necessary to admit your own subjectivity, which Benjamin fails to do.  If Benjamin is making an argument concerning allegorical analogies he must recognize his own inherent creation of allegory in his theory.


          In “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology” Herbert Marcuse examines technology in a broader sense. He defines technology as more than just “the technical apparatus,” which he calls “technics”; for Marcuse technology is “a social process” in which men are inseparably involved (138). The most significant implication of the technological process is the creation of dominative “technological rationality,” similar to but distinct from Horkheimer’s idea of subjective reason.




           Marcuse traces the change in the individual and his rationality. He constructs the rationality of the individual in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and contrasts this “individualistic rationality” with the modern “technological rationality” (Marcuse 141). Individualism was based on autonomous self-interest, whereas technology makes self-interest completely heteronomous, achieved only by “adjustment and compliance” (Marcuse 146). Individualistic, rational self-interest was motivated towards finding “forms of life”; therefore, in the service of the realization of this interest, reason was critical of the world as it is (Marcuse 139-40). Technological rationality is instrumental; it is motivated towards efficiency, and technology makes any critical protest irrational. Marcuse uses Lewis Mumford’s phrase, “matter-of-factness” to describe an attitude of empirical rationality that in the age of technology becomes a dominating force over man. Through these social dominations of technology over the individual, man’s autonomy is erased—not by force, but rather by his identification with the apparatus, by a fetish of technique.

            Marcuse is primarily concerned with the fate of the individual. One of the methods by which technology removes the dignity of the individual is by sublimating him into a crowd. Marcuse is critical of the crowd, which reduces the individual to a “standardized subject of brute self preservation” (150); that is, he is an atomic and standardized force whose only expression is self-interest. The specialization of professions does not contradict this standardization, because a man merely becomes one of several replaceable tools in the toolbox. Thus, specialization is simultaneously a force for standardization as well as division.

            Truth, which as individualistic truth was once whole, is split into technological and critical truth. Technological truth is that set of values that “hold good for the functioning of the apparatus—and for that alone” (Marcuse 146). It is a truth concerned only with the goals of technological rationality, namely efficiency. Critical truth is antagonistic to the apparatus; it is autonomous and objective. However, Marcuse points out, the two truths are not completely contradictory, as technological truth often transforms critical truths for its own purposes. Critical truths are adopted by their opposition and thereby made impotent. This adoption is symptomatic of the way critical forces have been “incorporated into the apparatus itself—without losing the title of opposition” (Marcuse 149). Marcuse cites the example of the labor movement, which has changed from a truly critical force into a “business organization with a vested interest of its own” in the system (Ibid.).

            But technological rationality does affirm critical rationality in two cases. First, technology “implies a democratization of functions” (Marcuse 152). Democratization is subverted, however, by hierarchical private bureaucracies that enforce division. Second, technics’ potential triumph over scarcity could allow for a “free human realization,” in which man can realize his true self in the freedom from “the hard struggle for life, business and power” (Marcuse 160). Marcuse closes with an imagination of this state, in which humans “are nothing but human” and allowed to live on their own terms. This autonomy of man is Marcuse’s Utopia, characterized not by “perennial happiness” but by the affirmation of man’s “natural individuality” (Marcuse 161). Technology, though it constricts individuality in the many ways Marcuse describes, is also necessary for its full realization.

Works Cited


Marcuse, Herbert. “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology”. The Essential Frankfurt School Reader. Ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt. New York: Continuum, 1982. 138-162.

In order to discover the central cause of the pronounced social and economic divisions according to Theodor Adorno it is first necessary to define the word “society” in terms of the individual and the forces by which individuals remain connected to it. The common representation of a society is any group of people who share ideas and are capable of being a force of reason and a structure by which individuals can discuss intellectually significant matters. It was once supposed that the only societies in existence were those of the elite and intellectuals, but the availability of new information and modes of communicating complex ideas led to discussions within communities of people allowing comparisons within a society in order to formulate a collective capable of analyzing that which is necessary for improving its structure. The predictability within the industrialization of commodities that satisfy the material needs of the society who remains connected even to the point of congruent desires proves that on the end opposite the intellectual properties of collectivism are the numerous affects of the psychological fixations of the society detrimental to the individual. Further analysis leads one to question the representations of society that are functional for extracting theory, and to specify the affect as it relates to the individual. The individual in relation to this constantly expanding industrialized society is seemingly a commodity studied by the marketers of satisfaction, but as more than a consumer, the individual is the force aware of his role in maintaining the system who is continually satisfied by the empathetic value of the surrounding society. Adorno’s conceptual theory on society shows that society as a whole can only cease comprehension and create “relationships among men which grow increasingly independent of them” (63). In order to further define the means by which this occurs it is necessary to define the role of society in the identity and actions of the individual separate from the affect on reasoning and intellectual process. Structured society is capable of causing a change in the individual’s perception of his actions. This concept relates to the identity as it is the result of introspection on one interactions within society and leads to reasoning that has the potential to affect actions. This seems beneficial as a strengthening to reasoning, but can lead to the continued unawareness of the individual whose inhibitions may grow as a result of his awareness of a self image in the face of society. Sadly, it is this attribute that is the connectedness as well as the primary problem of society. The connectedness of a society is a result of the comfort of the existence of standards by which all members of a society live, but at the same time, interacting in an environment as such leads to a formalization of reason given one’s interpretation of appropriate actions within the society. The affect of society on the nature of individuality is central to understanding the application of functionalized reason, because the concept of a society entails the means of definition within it thereby furthering the predictability of the desirable commodities. According to Adorno the state of the society was, “a vast network of consumers whose needs and wants have been predetermined by entrepreneurs and the consumers engaging in purchasable forms of remaining a part of the society”(64). Adorno considers that some individuals begin to have a “role” in society. The term role in his case does not establish the possibility of permanence, but the increased awareness of oneself as a member of society enables an individual to formulate a representative self that is the way one believes he is most capable of being a normal member of society. The common individual is always representative of the society in some way, and comparisons of representations would prove one of the first ways in which it was established that different societies existed. The economies in both capitalist and non capitalist systems rely on the predictability and existence of the network of consumers. The variable difference though is the amount of distance between the societies, the large scale response to the differences, and the availability of obtainable satisfaction. The repression here can be seen in that although differences exist, there is consistent satisfaction in terms of each group of people who can relate life experiences. The negative shared aspects and the exchanges that make the awareness of class difference universal are a positive result of the existence of a society. Unfortunately, the class struggle for improvements within a society and the individual struggle for a better life remain merely objects of conversation. The possibility for change is apparently kept open by the existence of a working upper class, but remains unattainable for the average individual. The structure of society proves beneficial as a suitable way of exchanging ideas suitable for implementation in the right conditions, and also creates a social standard by which the members of the society can be understood collectively and can relate. The negative aspect remains the detrimental affect on individuality and the way the structure can generate social and psychological satisfaction from undesirable conditions ceasing the progressive thought that eventually leads to large scale social change. Individuals continue to remain enchanted by society because a subjective standard is established within that is seemingly the representation of the ideal experience of its members. The subjective standard is another way that that the standardization of thought is comfortably continued, but the representations of society become so immediately intertwined with the habits and idiosyncrasies of its members, that there is no desire or possibility of escaping it. It is the structure of society which creates desire and fixations, satiates them, and further allows individuals to see both the standard and a clearer vision of individuality by comparison, but it is also that which continues the predictability of markets and funds the increase in the difference between social societies. In closing, the structure of society can be viewed as many forces: a force for that creates comfort, but fuels oppression through ignorance, a force that is highly predictable but at times defines modernity, a force that promotes empathy but brings out the major differences in people, and a force that is capable of enacting its own form of reason, but provides the means by which one can draw conclusions that transcend time, and it is this vast array of necessities fulfilled by the society that makes it capable of being analyzed as a structure consistent throughout history .



       Gersholm Scholem’s main focus is to discuss Walter Benjamin’s fascination with the painting Angelus Novus, by Paul Klee.  He shows how Benjamin’s interpretation follow a dialectic between mystical intuition and reason. His main discussion revolves around the first two drafts found in a notebook in Benjamin’s literary remains in Frankfurt written August 12th and 13th, 1933, named “Agesilaus Santander.”  In it Benjamin discusses the relationship between a Jew and their secret religious name, an allegory for his relationship to Angelus Novus that Scholem exposes. The examination takes a route of literary and philosophical analysis accompanied by the author’s stance that he knew Benjamin on a very personal level.

Continue Reading »