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Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism) Hardcover – September 14, 2005
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From Library Journal
Adorno, a leading member of the Frankfurt school, often expressed himself in prose of daunting complexity. As he showed after his return to Germany following World War II, he was also capable of appealing to a wide public. He called for philosophy to be critical of society, claiming that it should constantly criticize authoritarian developments and especially feared bureaucrats who carried out orders in a cold, thoughtless way. The present volume collects a number of Adorno's informal writings, including articles on education, politics, and culture. Including wry, helpful antics explaining Adorno's references, it is a worthwhile addition to academic libraries.ADavid Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
[A] collection of essays that offers a view of Adorno in his role as... public intellectual.... Adorno's essays are truly urgent. (The Nation)
Critical Models... introduce[s] a more accessible Adorno to the public.... In an age of cynicism and practicality, he is more essential than ever. (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
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His work on television in this text is extremely relevant. He basically examines how our relationship with television is not necessarily a case of art imitating life, but life imitating art. (Is television art though?) The culture industry therefore has a lot of power in teaching us how to live and what values to hold dear - but, whose values are they? We spend most of our time at work then we come home switch on the TV, tune in and tune out. But, do we ever really tune out? Does TV reinforce social bonds or does it act as a sad replacement for a sense of community and social engagement that we are denied (paraphrasing Adorno here)? Does TV keep the working man pacified and distracted from thinking about how he is being screwed over on the daily by the system? Is there an observable ideology behind TV program scripts? Why do we enjoy watching TV? Adorno engages very thoughtfully with these questions and more. You get the sense that he really cares about the future of the world and wants people to raise their awareness about the society they are living in by equipping them with the critical tools necessary to address the medias of the culture industry. He shows you how life can be read like literature.
There's a lot in this compilation. I would say that his Taboos on the Teaching Vocation was very fun to read. He seems really pissed off throughout the book at the way teachers and intellectuals are represented in the culture industry and the way they are perceived in communal thought. On TV for example, the intellectual or the artist is emasculated, often shown as being gay, narcissistic, or whiney.
Anyway, I would check this book out. I'm glad I did and I look forward to reading more by Adorno.
This collection is of essays written after Adorno returned to the Federal Republic of Germany in the early 1950s. Because culturally Adorno was "very German" and indeed he resented the *Volkische* definition of Germanness imposed by Hitler, Adorno delayed his escape, as the son of a Jewish father and Catholic mother, from Hitlerdom to a dangerous point. He resided briefly in England and somewhat longer in America. Strangely, he did not like England and (given the choice) preferred America, and specifically California, the latter because of its climate.
This collection makes it clear that although Adorno was critical of many tendencies in America he was by no means knee-jerk in his criticism. Adorno enjoyed the very real democracy of American life and the very real empiricism of science as practised here...insofar as democracy and empiricism did not become, as a very different sort of emigre might call it, a shtick, or a number: or, as Adorno would call it, fetishized or reified.
But it is clear from these essays that Adorno would be very critical of changes in America that have occured since my generation, that of the immediate post-war Baby Boom, has taken over the shop. Adorno's work on Fascist tendencies in California, for example, located Fascism in our hearts and at our dinner tables. These tendencies are denied in ceremonies (such as the commemoration, last week, of the bombing in Oklahoma City) which are structured by press and lawyers in a way that fully denies anything like a spontaneous response.
One naturally wonders why it is that people at these commemorations, which memorialize real pain that should never be repeated, have to act in such structured fashions, and it was the structuring of Timothy McVeigh's life by similar tendencies that caused him, in all probability, to bomb the Murragh building.
It was irresponsible to decry social research that located Fascist and authoritarian tendencies so close to home and to expect no incidents such as the bombing of the Oklahoma City building. Adorno's work is a reminder to examine our own environment for barbarism, and Americans who have worked on issues of domestic abuse are in his tradition, even if they would actually find the guy irritating, arrogant and conceited...all of which he was.
Some of the book does require, because of Adorno's arrogance, a knowledge of German philosophy, which is not a laugh a minute by any means. The essay "On Subject and Object", for example, may be completely opaque, even to, and especially to, the "educated" reader if her education is in the typical American university. That's because what we mean by the subject may be divergent from what Ted meant, a difference expressed by our own "catchphrase", "that's subjective."
"That's subjective" means in ordinary usage that "that" can be dismissed, and despite the (laudable) place that mere listening plays in our life, "that's subjective" forecloses listening. Adorno writes from a tradition in which subjectivity is not a sink and instead is a source of value.
The surprising end of "on subject and object" is one in which the mere subject acquires value precisely by being removed from a place of origin: we realize, in the general murk of Adorno's style, that the very reason why we exhibit a false humility about our own subjectivity is that we are delivered a false story about our origins as "the first man", which exalts the subjectivity of a mythical Adam, and makes our own second-hand. Adorno makes the common sense point that given our initial resources (which are inferior, because less specialized, than those of other large mammals) "the first man" was probably the group, in which the "subjectivity" of each member had to be (paradoxically enough) treasured because it was a group resource.
The experience of reading the more difficult essays is one of struggle, and reward, in which one realizes that one's mere failure to comprehend is only in part a product of ignorance: it is one of dawn. This is in contrast to reading the typical American scholarly essay in which the very lack of participation and struggle...and the airy dismissal of important questions as marginalia, drives questions to the zone of the subconscious.
That is, Adorno is outside of the tradition which recast and rephrased problems into such a shape that they could be solved...that their solution was implied by their clear phrasing. Mathematics is an example of this. At its best (and Adorno conceded this in many ways) this tradition is a source of both power and democracy.
At its worst, however, and especially as applied to Adorno's own field of social research, this tradition makes people into objects precisely because it has to ignore the philosopher's tendency to delay, by questioning everything. The most obscene consequence of this is the political poll and its unstated influence on our elections.
Like Adorno's longer works but more accessibly, Critical Models rewards reading, and rereading: the very density of his style provides, in terms that would make the guy shudder, good value for the dollar...precisely because, as
Critical Models is a collection of essays, articles and radio talks, mostly from quite late in Adorno's career. I am neither a philosopher nor an academic, and would be the first person to admit that I'm not quite up to Adorno's more Hegelian moments. I'm just casting about for help in an increasingly bland, homogenised, uncritical cultural environment, and the best thing about Critical Models is that it's Adorno being unusually _helpful_.
This is Adorno throwing himself into the task of trying to build a post-war democracy in Germany, not Adorno the cantankerous emigre complaining that doors shut more violently than they used to. He urges the value of promoting the status of teachers, of rooting out and criticising Nazi attitudes (who'd have thought that they'd still be flourishing fifty years on). Adorno is seldom a very approachable writer, but here he's making the effort to communicate to a mass audience, and to a relatively uneducated schmuck like me it's critical dynamite. The spine of my copy of Negative Dialectics may remain forever uncreased, but this one will be carried around.