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Dialectic of Enlightenment (Cultural Memory in the Present) [Paperback]

by Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, Edmund Jephcott
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 13, 2007 0804736332 978-0804736336 1
Dialectic of Enlightenment is undoubtedly the most influential publication of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Written during the Second World War and circulated privately, it appeared in a printed edition in Amsterdam in 1947. "What we had set out to do," the authors write in the Preface, "was nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism."

Yet the work goes far beyond a mere critique of contemporary events. Historically remote developments, indeed, the birth of Western history and of subjectivity itself out of the struggle against natural forces, as represented in myths, are connected in a wide arch to the most threatening experiences of the present.

The book consists in five chapters, at first glance unconnected, together with a number of shorter notes. The various analyses concern such phenomena as the detachment of science from practical life, formalized morality, the manipulative nature of entertainment culture, and a paranoid behavioral structure, expressed in aggressive anti-Semitism, that marks the limits of enlightenment. The authors perceive a common element in these phenomena, the tendency toward self-destruction of the guiding criteria inherent in enlightenment thought from the beginning. Using historical analyses to elucidate the present, they show, against the background of a prehistory of subjectivity, why the National Socialist terror was not an aberration of modern history but was rooted deeply in the fundamental characteristics of Western civilization.

Adorno and Horkheimer see the self-destruction of Western reason as grounded in a historical and fateful dialectic between the domination of external nature and society. They trace enlightenment, which split these spheres apart, back to its mythical roots. Enlightenment and myth, therefore, are not irreconcilable opposites, but dialectically mediated qualities of both real and intellectual life. "Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology." This paradox is the fundamental thesis of the book.

This new translation, based on the text in the complete edition of the works of Max Horkheimer, contains textual variants, commentary upon them, and an editorial discussion of the position of this work in the development of Critical Theory.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Worth reading as an introduction to the peculiar synthesis of Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and Heidegger commonly associated with the name of Herbert Marcuse."—Times Literary Supplement --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Cultural Memory in the Present
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804736332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804736336
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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117 of 126 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Culture as a new barbarism April 12, 2001
Format:Paperback
"Dialectic of Enlightenment", one of the most celebrated texts of the Frankfurt School, endeavours to answer why modernity, instead of fulfilling the promises of the Enlightenment (e.g. progress, reason, order) has sunk into a new barbarism. Drawing on their own work on the "culture industry", as well as the ideas of the key thinkers of the Enlightenment project, (Descartes, Newton, Kant) Horkheimer and Adorno explain how the Enlightenment's orientation towards rational calculability and man's domination of a disenchanted nature evinces a reversion to myth, and is responsible for the reified structures of modern administered society, which has grown to resemble a new enslavement. Furthermore, Horkheimer's and Adorno's treatise was one of the most ambitious attempts to synthesise Marxist economic analysis with Freudian psychoanalysis, and is developed with much complexity and skill. Their philosophical and psychological critique of the Enlightenment concepts of reason and nature (which they identify as the loci of domination) spans almost the entire history of Western thought up until recent times, from Homer to Nietzsche. The book was written in 1944, during a phase of the war when the threat of Fascist victory still hung ominously over Europe, and when Horkheimer and Adorno themselves had to flee Germany to America. "Dialectic of Enlightenment" thus represents one of the most pessimistic strands of Marxist thought, giving up all expectations of a people's revolution in Western Europe. This was, in addition to the outbreak of the Second World War, due to the meteoric rise of extremely right-wing reactionary parties in the twenties, and their subsequent popularity, which ruled out by fiat any chance of a popular support for the left. Read more ›
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81 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Amazon Page is a Disaster!! February 4, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This Amazon page is a disaster. The sample pages are from the earlier, terrible translation published by Continuum. One of the reader reviews is (as it notes) actually a review of the earlier translation. What is it doing here?? In fact, all of the reviews predate the publication of the new translation.

By all means read the Dialectic of Enlightenment! But be sure to use only the new translation published by Stanford.
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96 of 106 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Warning about the translation July 6, 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
These comments refer to the old Continuum edition (John Cumming, translator), NOT to the Stanford edition (Edmund Jephcott, translator), which is a fine translation ...

While not wishing to detract from what has been said about the importance of this book, it is worth mentioning that the English translation is scandalously bad and in need of replacement. I've had occasion to make extensive comparisons between the German original and the translation and the results are not encouraging. Much is simply flat-out wrong (e.g., sometimes the translator mistakes one German word for another) even more is unnecessarily clumsy. While Horkheimer and Adorno adopted a rather dense style of writing, nothing they produced is quite as cumbersome as what readers of this translation have had to endure.

One can sympathize with the translator -- he did the translation at a time when very little by Horkheimer and Adorno was in English and it appears that he worked under a rather tight schedule (it is possible to find errors piling up on a page and then suddenly ceasing -- suggesting that the poor fellow took a break and came back later on, with happier results). But there is no forgiving the publisher for leaving this text uncorrected for so long despite a long-standing consensus among students of the Frankfurt School that this is a deeply flawed translation. That anything of the power of the original makes it through the muck of this translation is a testimony to the force of Horkheimer and Adorno's ideas.

A new translation is long overdue. Until then, readers coming to the work of the Frankfurt School might want to seek out Max Horkheimer's Eclipse of Reason, a summary of the argument elaborated here which Horkheimer delivered in English at Columbia University at about the same time of as the publication of the German original of this book.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of critical theory November 10, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, both prominents of the Frankfurter Schule of critical theory, wrote this work during WWII. In their own words, the purpose of the book was to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism. Obviously their experiences as Jewish intellectuals fleeing for the national-socialist regime to the United States was a strong impulse for this view, but the book is not limited to a critique of nazism or even totalitarianism altogether.

The main subject of the book, though that itself is already difficult to disentangle, is Enlightenment's betrayal of its own liberating capacity. Adorno & Horkheimer analyze this by means of various cultural metaphors, which in highly abstract, contradictory and aesthetic language (especially the parts by Adorno) trace the development of Enlightenment and its subsequent 'dark side' throughout an equally metaphorical history of culture and ideas. In a certain sense this may most remind readers not familiar with both authors of Foucault and his use of concepts like the Panopticon to express a view of power relations. The method of Adorno and Horkheimer is however not so much genealogical, as Foucault's is, as dialectical in its idealist form.

The book consists of an introduction, two "excursions" and two chapters on the Enlightenment itself, as well as a series of aphorisms provided at the end as "notes and sketches". Each part of the book consists of a very abstract, very metaphysical and almost entrancing analysis of, in turn, the development of Enlightenment as myth out of earlier myth, the form of modern Enlightenment as instrumental reason and mass deception, and the limits of Enlightenment to its own rationality, in the form of anti-semitism.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Adorno A Go Go
Adrono's neo-Marxist musings on Capitalism and mythology is, from my perspective, a bit out of date with respect to current thinking on mythology and modern capitalism. Read more
Published 2 months ago by cloud2013
2.0 out of 5 stars Voltaire, man, and logical positivism, they're bad, man. Really bad...
So now I understand where the Sokal hoax came from. To people who are used to stuff like this, Sokal's paper was just more of the same. Read more
Published 3 months ago by S. Matthews
2.0 out of 5 stars Really?
This book reads as if some one placed it into Google-translate and then just copy and pasted it and decided they were going to publish it.
Published 5 months ago by H. Elawawadh
4.0 out of 5 stars Confuse but easy to sumarize
Published in the late 40 century, the book is confusing but basically summarized in a concept that played other philosophers and touch him later: the current culture or... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Eric Mascarin Perigault
3.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for discussion
It is a little hard to understand, but very thought and discussion provoking and for my Irreverence (Philosophy/Art) Cross Disciplinary class.
Published 9 months ago by Emily E. Osborne
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Critical Theory
The classic text of the Frankfurt School remains the most ambitious attempt to synthesize the tools of Marxism and Freudian Psychoanalysis for the project of critical theory. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Steiner
4.0 out of 5 stars DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT
GREAT REFERENCE WORK. MANY MORE SUCH REFERENCE BOOKS SHOULD BE MADE AVAILABLE FOR HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE, AND UNIVERSITY POST GRADUATE STUDENTS.
Published 14 months ago by K. Grubaugh
5.0 out of 5 stars Canonical Masterpiece
In a very subtle yet consistent way the book conveys some of the main flaws in the enlightenment movement. Very well written. Read more
Published 15 months ago by itai arnon
5.0 out of 5 stars Great translation, relevant through the decades
I've only read one other translation of the Dialectic, but this one was by far the better one. This is a must read for anyone interested in the evolution of our culture or... Read more
Published 17 months ago by theuserb
5.0 out of 5 stars a basis for more radical thinking
Nietzsche arising as the thinker contributing the most in the time of America's gift outright to literary life of Cain and Abel playing a game unto the kiss of death. Read more
Published on March 2, 2012 by Bruce P. Barten
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