Immanent Critiques: The Frankfurt School under Pressure
Fifty years after the appearance of The Dialectical Imagination, his pioneering history of the Frankfurt School, Martin Jay (History) reflects on what may be living and dead in its legacy. Rather than treating the Frankfurt School with filial piety as a fortress to be defended, he takes seriously its anti-systematic impulse and sensitivity to changing historical circumstances.
Honoring the Frankfurt School's practice of immanent critique, Jay puts critical pressure on a number of its own ideas by probing their contradictory impulses. Among them are the pathologization of political deviance through stigmatizing "authoritarian personalities," the undefended theological premises of Walter Benjamin's work, and the ambivalence of its members' analyses of anti-Semitism and Zionism. Immanent Critiques (Verso, 2023) also asks questions about various time-honored Marxist themes, including the meaning of alienation, the alleged damages of abstraction, and the advocacy of a politics based on a singular notion of the truth.
Rather than allowing these questions to snowball into a repudiation of the Frankfurt School legacy as a whole, the essays also acknowledge a number of its still potent arguments. They explore its neglected but now timely analysis of "racket society," Adorno's dialectical reading of aesthetic sublimation, and the unexpected implications of Benjamin's focus on the corpse for political theory. Jay shows that the Frankfurt School is a still-evolving theoretical tradition that offers resources for the understanding of our increasingly troubled world.
Jay is joined by Karen Feldman (German). After a brief discussion, they respond to questions from the audience.