TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

On Adorno and Misunderstandings

Detlev Claussen’s “Malentendu? Adorno: A History of Misunderstandings” appears in Telos 155 (Summer 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Adorno lives on through misreadings. Three of his most celebrated sentences—”The whole is the false” (from Minima Moralia, written 1944, published 1951); “Wrong life cannot be lived rightly” (1944); “After Auschwitz, it is barbaric to write poetry” (from Cultural Criticism and Society, 1949)—rightly remain touchstones for understanding Adorno’s Critical Theory. Yet, each of them has come to be so layered with decontextualized misunderstandings that much of the best in Adorno’s thought is in danger of being lost or forgotten. In this article, Claussen brings these phrases (and the thinker who thought them) into a historical and philosophical context, arguing that the misunderstandings of Adorno are not merely coincidental, but follow the social logic of a distorted perception.

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