cultural industry

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Read the Presentation of Theodor W. Adorno's newly edited book

The Portuguese-speaking public now has at its disposal a set of significant writings by Theodor Adorno on one of the topics that best characterize his philosophical legacy, namely, critical reflection on mass culture – the “cultural industry”, according to with the name established by him, together with Max Horkheimer, in the beginning of the 1940s, in the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Let it be said that establishing a corpus of texts for a single volume on a theme that occupied so many pages of Adorno's immense work is not easy, and certainly some absences were inevitable, although the list of texts presented here is significant in at least two fundamental aspects.

The first – and perhaps the most important – is that we have here a sampling of Adorno's approaches to mass culture from the early 1930s (thus, even before the establishment of the term “cultural industry), through the late 1940s. from that decade and the beginning of the 1950s and 1960s, until the XNUMXs — when Adorno wrote texts, in which he resumed and updated established concepts, together with Horkheimer, in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Thus, this collection offers a clear notion of both the antecedents and the consequences of the critique of the cultural industry in Adorno's work.

The second aspect to be highlighted is the variety of facets under which Adorno addresses the theme of mass culture: whether from the kitsch phenomenon, the characteristics that music reception assumes when performed through radio broadcasting, the specific character of fetishism that adheres to cultural merchandise, the impact of television on the mass culture scene, previously dominated by radio and cinema, the guardianship of culture by sectors of public administration and the consequences of the immediacy spread by the cultural industry in a political action that is intended to revolutionary.

Let us begin by pointing out something about the small text “Kitsch”, written around 1932, which remained unpublished in the original in German until its publication in volume 18 of the Gesammelte Schriften (“Collected Writings”), by Adorno. It is worth remembering that the presumed period for the writing of this text, in which Adorno, still residing in Germany, witnessed the decline of the Weimar Republic and the danger of Nazism (which would not take long to impose itself), is the same in which he wrote essays such as “The actuality of philosophy” (1931) and “The idea of ​​natural history” (1932) – texts that present a young philosopher, spiritually impregnated by German Idealism, Marx and Freud. He was then less than thirty years old and already harbored, however, intellectual ambitions that prefigured the great thinker he would become in subsequent decades.

This text by Adorno, which can be considered a forerunner in the approaches to the phenomenon in question, with writing well before Clement Greenberg's essay (from 1939), “Vanguard and Kitsch”[I], helped to establish its meaning adopted until today, of something cunningly honeyed and devoid of cultural legitimacy. Adorno starts from an etymological assumption then current, according to which the German term “Kitsch” would have come from the English “sketch”, which designates “that which remains unrealized or only indicated”, and could mean, therefore, a kind of mold that refers to artistic forms from the remote past, which with time lost all content. From this point of view, Adorno points to the essentially social constitution of kitsch, asserting that, by persuading people “to accept as current formal entities of the past, kitsch performs a social function: to deceive them about their true conditions. ”[ii]

It is worth noting that the type of illusion that Adorno attributes to kitsch strongly prefigures the effect that he and Horkheimer will attribute, about a decade later, to the products of the cultural industry, given that passages from this small text could deceive the reader. , who were told to appear in the chapter dedicated to the theme of Dialectic of Enlightenment. One of them is as follows: "Despite all dissimulation, real class relations have been delineated in kitsch ever more clearly: as, from a year ago, in hits especially made for employees – that of Loura Inge, for example -, which, together with talkies and magazines, want to convince the typist that deep down she is a queen. One can hardly believe how quickly kitsch responds to needs.”[iii]

The essay "On the fetishistic character of music and the regression of hearing" was written in the summer of 1938, a few months after Adorno's arrival in New York on February 7 of that same year. The first publication of the text was in volume 1938 (XNUMX), of Zeitschrift for Social Forschung (“Journal for Social Research”), and was later included in the collection Dissonanzen. Music in your view Welt (“Dissonances. Music in the Administered World”), organized by Adorno himself and published, in 1956, by Vandenhoeckund Ruprecht Publishing House, in Göttingen. This book had successive editions, with new prefaces, additions and minor modifications, until the last version during Adorno's lifetime, which occurred in 1969 (the year of his death). Subsequently, the text of the fourth edition was included in volume 14 of the Gesammelte Schriften (“Collected Writings”) by Adorno.

It is worth remembering that the text “On the fetish character of music and the regression of hearing” was conceived by Adorno as a possible response to Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The work of art in the era of its technical reproducibility”[iv]. In fact, it is only an approximate response to Benjamin's text, since, while the latter refers to visual media, especially cinema, Adorno's text mainly addresses the situation of music in late capitalism. The essay coincides with the moment Adorno joined the “Princenton Radio Research Project” – the main motivation for his going to the US – and also fits into his efforts to critically understand how musical phenomena occur in radio broadcasts. This text represents, in fact, a very important step in the construction of the theoretical assumptions of the critique of the cultural industry, from the beginning of the 1940s.

The title of the text indicates that, in it, two different phenomena are addressed, but essentially correlated and complementary, which could be considered, respectively, the objective and subjective sides of the same process. In the first part, which deals with the fetishization of sound language under the conditions given by cultural monopolies, Adorno takes stock of the contemporary situation from the impact caused by the predominance of “light” or entertainment music over so-called serious music. According to him, in practice there is a certain lack of differentiation between officially approved serious music and entertainment music, since, in the context of mass culture, both are transformed into merchandise. From the consideration of these accessible musical phenomena as merchandise, an essential contribution emerges for the subsequent elaboration of the critique of the cultural industry, namely, the replacement of the Marxian concept of fetishism in the sense of understanding its specificity with regard to cultural commodities.

Exactly from a social determination of use values, in the Marxist sense of the term, Adorno thinks of a new form of fetishism: that which adheres to cultural merchandise. If in the common commodity, the character of fetish concerns the concealment of the labor-value character that it possesses through the idolatry of its thing aspect, in which the relations of exploitation are as if buried, in the cultural commodity the supposed absence of value of use (which, in fact, is mediated use value) is hypostatized in the sense of transforming itself into exchange value.

In the part of the text that concerns the subjective side of reification in the cultural sphere of late capitalism, ie, the “regression of hearing”, Adorno starts from the principle that “the consciousness of the listening masses is adequate to fetishized music”[v], pointing to a perfect correlation between the objective and subjective aspects of the process: hearing regression means the growing inability of the general public to evaluate what is offered to their ears by cultural monopolies.

It is worth mentioning that “The fetish character of music and the regression of hearing” was concomitant with a series of studies carried out by Adorno on the presence of music in the medium radio as his contribution to the "Princeton Radio Research Project”, directed by the Austrian sociologist, Paul Lazarsfeld, who, as already mentioned, was the main motivation for the Frankfurtian philosopher to go to New York. Beside a partially unpublished, 161-page memorandum, dated June 23, 1938, entitled “Music on Radio”, whose content is briefly described and commented by Iray Carone[vi], Adorno produced, in addition to the aforementioned text on fetishism, written in German, a series of writings in English, which can be found in the volume Current of Music, published by Suhrkamp in Section 1, Volume 3, of Adorno's Posthumous Writings[vii], from manuscripts that Adorno intended to publish in the originals in English, under the title mentioned above, chosen by himself – a book that the philosopher never saw published in his lifetime.

From this collection, also published by the Anglo-American publisher Polity in 2009[viii], here is the essay “For a social critique of music on the radio”, first published in the periodical Kenyon Review (Spring, 1945) and included by Adorno himself in the unfinished project of his Current of Music. In this text, its starting point is the fact that opinion polls with radio listeners could, on the one hand, have a mere commercial character in the sense of manipulating their behavior towards the consumption of products A or B, or, on the other hand, to exhibit the quality of what Paul Lazarsfeld called “benevolent administrative research”, insofar as there was an altruistic objective behind the use of quantitative methods. According to him, “benevolence” would be characteristic of the main question that would now be: “How can we provide good music to the greatest possible number of listeners?”[ix]

Adorno's critical point of view appears immediately in the rejection of the terms in which the question was posed. Starting with the question about what one would like to say with the expression “good music”. It would be something that was simply previously played more on the radio, considered beforehand of good quality or would it be something belonging to a canon of consecrated pieces from the traditional repertoire of the West? Assuming that some canonical author, for example, Beethoven, was a paradigm for “good music”, the question would remain as to whether this criterion could not be an invariant, in addition to the fact that the way in which it would be heard could compromise the very characteristics of its music. compositions, which, initially, would have raised them to the status of a paradigm. Considerations of this type led Adorno to pose, in this text, a series of questions: “Does the massive distribution of music really mean an increase in musical culture? Are the masses really brought into contact with the kind of music that, according to broader social considerations, might be seen as desirable? Are the masses really participating in music culture or are they just forced to consume music merchandise?”[X]

Certainly, these same questions reappear in most of Adorno's later texts criticizing the cultural industry, with topics such as the mechanism of “plugging”, used by record companies, in agreement with broadcasters, to leverage record sales, analyzed in the article “on popular music"[xi], are also briefly discussed in the text on screen. About this mechanism and, in an indirect reference to the aforementioned article, anticipating the position of the chapter of the Dialectic of Enlightenment about the culture industry, Adorno declares: “But we know, from another segment of our studies, that the plugging of songs does not follow the reactions that he himself incites, but rather the investment interests of the record companies that release the songs.”[xii]

The following text, “The symphony on the radio. A theoretical experiment”[xiii], was one of the three texts concerning the “Princeton Radio Research Project”, together with the essay on fetishism and the article, commented above, on the social critique of music on the radio, which Adorno published in English between the late 1930s and mid-1940s, the only text produced within the scope of the aforementioned project published by its coordinator, Paul Lazarsfeld, with whom, incidentally, Adorno disagreed about the quantitative and “administrative” emphasis of his research[xiv].

“A symphony on the radio” contains a courageous position by Adorno, according to which, against all the discourse of democratization of culture through the popularization of “classical” music, the broadcasting of this type of music, in fact, corresponds to a deepening in the misunderstanding, on the part of the general public, of what is most characteristic of the best music produced in the West: its structural aspect, understood in a broad sense, not just the “form” stricto sensu, but covering all parameters of composition, from the melodic aspect to the dynamics, from the harmonic element to the tonal color.

In this sense, even though the expression “classical music” is an equivocal denomination of what is now called “concert music”, in the case of Adorno's essay there turns out to be a certain convergence, since his analysis falls on musical classicism, insofar as in which the previous writing of the music had not yet carried out the aforementioned structural procedure in the composition and the later one – typical of romanticism – reacted programmatically to the classical construction, seeking to replace it with markedly expressive elements. For Adorno, classicism in music produced an intensity that, according to him, is based on the density and conciseness of thematic interrelations, which are particularly well realized in the symphony genre: “This density and this conciseness are of a strictly technical nature, irreducible to a mere by-product of expression. They imply, in the first place, a complete economy of means; in other words, a true symphonic movement contains nothing fortuitous”.[xv]

Adorno's critical analysis is based on the fact that the radio transmission of the symphony compromises the capacity of an audition that contemplates that structural procedure that he designates as “absolute dynamics”, which satisfies the conditions alluded to above. Among the best examples of this procedure, Adorno chooses Beethoven's symphonies as paradigms of that musical intensity that medium Radiophonic cannot reproduce. As for the dynamics aspect, Adorno observes that “Although radio preserves some of the tension, it is not enough. Tension in Beethoven only reaches its true meaning in the gradation from nothing to whole. As soon as it is restricted to the middle stratum from the piano to the fort, the mystery of origin is eliminated from its symphony, as well as the power of revelation.”[xvi]

Under the aspect of tonal color, Adorno also asserts the limitations of radio broadcasting and its inability to provide the acoustic basis for a non-atomistic listening to music: “By exaggerating the abrupt contrast, the neutralization imposed by radio on color obscures precisely those tiny differentiations that are fundamental in the classical orchestra.”[xvii]

From a technical-musical point of view, the main deficiency in the broadcasting of classical symphonies — especially those of Beethoven — can be summarized in the fact that they create a temporality, associated with the performance of live music, which does not coincide with that of the empirical , this temporality being compromised in listening by the radio medium:

On radio, the time consumed by the symphony is empirical time. The technical limitation that radio imposes on the symphony ironically accompanies the fact that the listener can simply turn off the music at will. In other words, in contrast to what happens in the concert hall, where the listener is somewhat compelled to obey the laws of symphony, in radio he can arbitrarily discard them.[xviii]

This erosion of essential temporality by the broadcasting of concert music can be considered central to Adorno's point of view, because, if that "absolute dynamic" cannot be preserved in this medium, in it, the symphony appears as a collection of melodies, in a kind of potpourri, in which the musical cells are as if taken from elsewhere and fitted into the composition, as if it were a montage. As a result, Adorno declares: “A Beethoven symphony is essentially a process; if this process is replaced by a presentation of frozen items, the performance will be doomed. Even if performed under the battle cry of the most extreme fidelity to her handwriting.”[xx]

To conclude this brief comment on “The symphony on the radio”, it is worth remembering that the text, since the time of its first publication, in 1941, was the target of fierce criticism, mainly associated with the supposed elitism of Adorno’s position, for whom it would not be worth “it is worth undertaking any pedagogical effort that does not take into account, with all its implications, the regressive tendencies promulgated by serious music on the radio.”[xx] From the point of view of the Critical Theory of Society, we know how ideological and condescending to the cultural industry this type of criticism is; but the technological development of both sound engineering (with the advent of high fidelity and stereophonic or multichannel equipment) and radio broadcasting itself (with frequency modulation and – more recently – with digital transmission) made Adorno’s criticisms ineffective. strictly based on the stage of technical development at the time. Adorno himself recognized this in a text from the late 1960s, asserting, however, that despite the obsolescence of this merely technological aspect, his critical points of view on atomistic listening and on the dismissal of the specifically sound element in the broadcasting of music by concert remained valid:

Certainly, one of the central ideas proved to be overcome: technologically deriving my thesis that the symphony on the radio would no longer be a symphony due to changes in sound, the “audible range” of the radio at the time, which was meanwhile eliminated by the technique in high fidelity and stereophony. But I believe that neither the theory of atomistic listening was reached, nor that peculiar "imagistic character" of music on the radio, which should have outlived the audible range.[xxx]

The next text in this collection, “The schema of mass culture” occupies – not only from a chronological point of view – a central place in Adorno’s intellectual development, both in terms of his critique of the cultural industry and in terms of his philosophical thinking as a all. Its writing dates from October 1942, its manuscript having been found in Adorno's estate and considered the “part that has remained unpublished” of the chapter on the cultural industry of Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment, “of which Adorno occasionally spoke”.[xxiii] The editor of the German edition of this work, in volume 3 of the Gesammelte Schriften (“Reunited Writings”) by Adorno, also draws attention to the fact that, in its first edition, from Dear Verlag, in 1947, at the end of the chapter on the cultural industry there is a notice: “to continue”, which was removed in the edition of Fischer publishing house, 1969. In view of all these vicissitudes of the text, and its unequivocal connection with the theme of the cultural industry, it was included as an appendix in the aforementioned edition of Adorno's collected works.

This text takes up elements from previous essays, associated with Adorno's collaboration in the “Princeton Radio Research Project” and is also related to the criticisms of jazz and Hollywood cinema developed in the chapter on the cultural industry of Dialectic of Enlightenment. In addition, the text anticipates fundamental elements of the philosophy of new music, whose writing dates back to the same period, and prefigures much later philosophical positions, such as the texts on television from the 1950s, discussed below, and even some topics from the aesthetic theory, elaborated from the mid-1960s and left unfinished by the philosopher.

With regard to the connection with the aesthetic theory, the idea of ​​the work of art as being in opposition to empirical reality, which tends to be eliminated by the cultural industry, stands out in ”O schema da cultura mass”, since its products are presented as a kind of of reality substituting for empiricism, in which complete self-referentiality prevails, and the proximity to the real, claimed by mass culture, works as a way of its deformation, in which conflicts are diverted to the sphere of consumption.

At the center of the reification caused by the cultural industry is the tendency to abolish time in the consciousnesses submitted to it based on the timelessness inscribed in its products. For Adorno, this process coincides with the elimination of historicity itself in people's lives, which is in line with the predominant ideology in late capitalism, in the sense of imposing ahistoricity in all spheres of life: "Every product of the culture of masses is, by its very structure, as devoid of history as the managed world of the future would like to be right now.”[xxiii] A practical example of this emptying of history is, according to Adorno, the radio transmission of music, as critically analyzed in the texts commented above. According to him, “In music, the ahistorical was implemented by technical transformations that led to radio.”[xxv]

Another topic addressed in “The scheme of mass culture” that anticipates fundamental discussions in Adorno's later work is the critique of “pseudomorphosis”. This can be defined as the pervasion of the fundamental element of a activity artistic at the heart of another language of art as a symptom of a type of generalized alienation in the culture in which it occurs in a current and uncritical way.[xxiv] Adorno addresses, in philosophy of new music, for example, the impact of spatiality – typical of the visual arts – on music, understood as essentially temporal art, and, in contemporary times, the composition of Igor Stravinsky could be considered a paradigm.[xxv] But musical impressionism also presents similar characteristics and Adorno does not fail to mention it in “The schema of mass culture”: “As a pseudomorphosis of music with painting, impressionist music imitated this procedure, and it is not by chance that Debussy chose variety as one of your musical subjects.”[xxviii]

This connection of an example of “serious” music to elements associated with entertainment refers to Adorno’s well-known critique of jazz, which appears in several moments of the text on screen, and, in one of them, this type of American popular music is equated with sports. , since both in the often virtuosic musical performance and in the frenetic dance associated with it, there is a considerable expenditure of bodily energy, in which the rhythm determines the gestures, which, according to Adorno's acidic criticism, translate conformity and resignation: " If in jazz the dancers' pleasure can be sought in syncopation as a formula for their own mutilation – and their collective function must not deceive in this regard – then in the jazz musician the pleasure can be compared to that of the sportsman who works under deliberately strenuous conditions. .”[xxviii]

Not that sport, for Adorno, is in itself something harmful to personal development; for him “The sportsman, as a person, can develop certain virtues such as solidarity, solicitude, or even enthusiasm, which would be valuable in crucial political moments.”[xxix] But the appropriation of sport by the cultural industry values ​​not the sport itself, but the passivity of those who only watch the games, reacting to events in the way previously configured by their organizers and radio and/or television broadcasters: “Mass culture does not wants to transform its consumers into sportsmen, and yes into roaring fans in the stands.”[xxx]

Another topic addressed in “The schema of mass culture” that had decisive repercussions on Adorno's later development was the way in which the relationship between the technological image of cultural industry devices and writing appears in this text, as medium previously predominant, through which concepts were conveyed within the scope of culture. The idea is that the ideology that was realized before by the word – even as writing – started to be realized more effectively in cinema as moving images that, deep down, performed an ideological function similar to that of writing itself: “Even as a phenomenon optically, cinema images, which flicker and disappear, approach writing. They are perceived, not observed. The tape takes the gaze like the line, and the leafing of the pages flows to the sweet lull of the scenes.”[xxxii]

The effectiveness of ideology in these terms reached unprecedented levels in sound films, which became popular from the mid-1920s onwards, which, in Adorno's assessment, put an end to the image-writing dialectic characteristic of silent films, deepening the above-mentioned tendency to blur between merchandise and people's empirical experience, transforming messages into hieroglyphs, in which, however, the indistinction between icons and concepts rather confuses the masses than clarifies them. According to Adorno: “In old films, the written signs on the signs still alternated with the images, an antithesis that lent weight to the imagery character of the images. This dialectic was, like all others, unbearable for mass culture. She pushed writing away from the film like a foreign body, only to convert the images into writing, which absorbed her.”[xxxi]

The conclusion of “The schema of mass culture” points to what, in the body of Dialectic of Enlightenment, appears as a “universal context of blindness” (universaler Verblendungs ​​zusammenhang), that is, the characteristic situation of late capitalism, in which the exploitation of labor is concealed by the radical depersonalization of production agents, making social and historical facts appear as natural phenomena, without actually being so. The last section of the text, in addition to drawing attention to this phenomenon in a very expressive way, points out the share of responsibility that each person has in preserving – or subverting – this state of affairs:

The lights that appear over the city, overshadowing the natural darkness of the night with their luminosity, bring like comets, in their death shudder, news about the natural catastrophe that befell society. However, they don't fall from the skies. They are controlled here from Earth. It's up to men to decide if they want to erase them, to wake up from the nightmare that threatens to become reality, just as long as they believe in them.[xxxii]

The following text, “Prologue to television”, is part of the studies that Adorno carried out as scientific director of the Hacker Foundation in the United States, from 1952 to 1953, having been published for the first time in the periodical Rundfunkund Fernsehen (“Rádio e Televisão” – notebook 2, 1953) and later in the collection Eingriffe. Neunkritische Modelle(“Interventions. Nine Critical Models”). This collection currently appears in volume 10.2 of the Gesammelte Schriften by Adorno.

Along with the article “Television as ideology” – present in this collection and to be discussed later – the “Prologue on television” seeks to repair the deficit in the text of the Dialectic of Enlightenment with regard to television, since, in the 1940s, this vehicle was not yet sufficiently established, so that the authors could make a critical analysis of its connection to the cultural industry system. Of the two texts, “Prologue on television” is the more theoretical and begins with the statement that, for a critical approach to television, the “social, technical and artistic aspects of television cannot be treated in isolation”[xxxv]. This is because, already in the early 1950s, in the United States, a total insertion of the medium television in the broad scheme of the cultural industry. Adorno observes, in this text, that the strategy of duplicating the sensitive world, already present in sound films, was expanded on television due to the fact that it has more resources to penetrate people's private lives, invading the intimacy of their homes.

Adorno notes, however, the technical problem – particularly important if one considers the technology at the time the text was written – of the size of the images, which are small compared to those projected on a movie screen. According to him, if a technical development did not occur that made the domestic use of larger screens possible, as is widely possible today, the ideological manipulation potential of television might not be fully realized. Another “technical” problem associated with such scope is the disproportion between the realism of the voices and the phantasmatic character of the images, which already occurred in cinema, “because between the two-dimensional images and the corporeity of the voice there is a contradiction.”[xxxiv] This problem would, however, be accentuated on television by the aforementioned small size of the images.

In a non-explicit reference to his study of the radio symphony, Adorno also observes that what happened to sound at the time when commercial radio appeared, now happens to images: “What happens to all images now happens to what long ago happened to the symphony: the exhausted official, while eating soup in his shirtsleeves, tolerates it without paying much attention”[xxxiv].

The connection of the messages to what is more prosaic works as a parody of fraternity and solidarity and is, according to Adorno, the main characteristic of the medium television, with a deliberate intention to dissociate it from the context of sacredness from which the work of art emerged. This is because “the environment in which television is watched should not be too different from normality.”[xxxviii], because the limits between reality and the imagery-sound construct appropriated by ideology must be reduced as far as possible. This appropriation is linked to the establishment of a visual language, in which the contents are “pre-conceptually” introduced, since the words and the concepts corresponding to them are preceded by images that, acting in unconscious layers of the psyche of consumers, condition confirming behaviors status quo.

The text “Television as ideology”, which is also part of the research financed by the Hacker Foundation, appeared as an article in English, called “How to Look at Television“, first published in The Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television (Vol. VIII, Spring 1954, pp. 214–235). In it, Adorno proposes to analyze scripts of television series (thirty-four in all), as a typical product of this medium, with marked differences in relation to feature films – the most characteristic product of the cultural industry until the time Adorno wrote this text (around 1952). Since these teletheatres are shorter (the pieces analyzed last a maximum of thirty minutes), their quality is, according to Adorno, even more compromised than that of cinema, although, according to him, these differences do not compromise the unity monolithic of the culture industry as a system, even though the scope and penetration of the television medium justify its separate approach, as it proposes to do.

Within the project of ideological maintenance of the current order, there is not much new, specifically regarding the analyzes of the scripts, except for the fact that the choice made by Adorno for his comments falls on those programs that most typically represent the “genres” commonly cultivated in the cultural industry. With regard to comedies, the story of a primary school teacher who finds herself in serious financial difficulties is presented, in which the supposedly comic aspect of her attempts – always frustrated – is explored in order to be invited to meals at a friend's house. friends. According to Adorno, the subliminal message is that, under any circumstances – even if you work to death and don't have resources even for food – you shouldn't lose your good humor and enthusiasm. Fairplay.

Adorno also analyzes another comedy plot, according to which an eccentric elderly woman makes the will for her pet cat, naming common unknown people as heirs, who are obliged to pretend that they are old acquaintances of the lady, until it is discovered that the “inheritance” was just cat toys. After discarding the toys, it turns out that, in each of them, a hundred dollar bill was hidden, which obliges honest middle-class citizens to rummage through the trash can in search of the money. Both in relation to this script As for the former, Adorno's analysis points to the encouragement of conformism.

Although he mentions other examples among the genres that best characterize television products, Adorno focuses on the analysis of a play that supposedly presents more “psychological” traits in its characters. It's about the script of the play, in which a very successful actress, but difficult to deal with, goes through a process of “awareness” of her own situation and becomes, in the end, sweet and kind. The agent in this process is a playwright, who falls in love with her and writes a script that is so close to the biography of the actress herself, that she gradually transforms herself until she not only declares herself in love with the protagonist, but also opens up to a religious feeling that he had repressed until then. This occurs after a cathartic episode in which the actress's daughter, previously rejected by her mother, tries to drown herself in the sea and is saved, with the playwright's active participation.

With regard to the conclusive observations of the analysis of the scripts, Adorno highlights two aspects: the first concerns the deliberate and openly “kitsch” way in which such routine products of the cultural industry are presented, in the hope of also winning over the adhesion of less naive spectators. , attentive to what may seem like a “self-criticism” embedded in cultural goods. The other observation is precisely related to the possibilities of making viewers aware of the more strongly ideological aspects of television, which would presuppose an awareness on the part of the producers of this means of communication, a fact that would presuppose, in turn, organizational structure other than the trading station:

To begin with, the most important thing is to make phenomena such as the ideological character of television aware, not only among those in the production sectors, but also among viewers. In Germany especially, where non-economic interests directly control programming, one can expect something from attempts at enlightenment. If ideology, which uses a somewhat limited number of ever-repeating tricks and ideas, were put in its proper place, then perhaps some public aversion to being treated like cattle could arise, despite the willingness of many spectators to let the social tendency of the ideology prevails. Perhaps it is possible to consider a kind of immunization of the public against the ideology disseminated by television and similar means.[xxxviii]

The following text “Culture and Administration”, dated 1960, was originally a lecture by Adorno, first published in the German periodical Merkur (vol. XIV, 1960, notebook 2, p. 101) and in the volume of annals Vorträge, gehaltenanläßlich der Hessischen Hochschulwochen für staats wissenschaftliche Fortbildung (“Lectures given on the occasion of the week of higher schools in Hessen” — vol. 28. Bad Homburg, VDH, 1960, pp. 214–231), later included in the joint collection with Horkheimer, Sociology II. Redenund Vortrage (“Sociological II. Speeches and Lectures” – Frankfurt AM Main: EuropäischeVerlagsanstalt, 1962) and finally included in volume 8 of the Gesammelte Schriften(“United Writings”) by Adorno, dedicated to his sociological writings (part I).

It is a thought-provoking essay, in which Adorno investigates, as the title itself indicates, the relationship between cultural production and administrative processes. For today's common sense, totally imbued with the spirit of the cultural industry, these two areas are so mutually intertwined that Adorno finds himself authorized to start his text by asserting, provocatively, that “Whoever says culture also says administration; whether you like it or not.”[xxxix] But, beyond what currently seems like a truism, the philosopher refers to the German concept of culture, which would be the extreme opposite of administration, as it would aim to be exactly what is most elevated and pure, in a type of idealization that would exclude even even the modeling of its products through technical or practical criteria. In this sense, culture would have civilization as a counter-pole, loci the type of organization to which management is affiliated in a broad sense.

But, according to Adorno, the relationship between culture and management is so complex that a paradox formulated in this way could be equated: “when planned and managed, culture is damaged; when relegated to its fate, however, it is in danger of losing not only its effectiveness but also its very existence.”[xl] In this sense, the survival of culture depends on a type of organization, for whose characterization Adorno resorts to the Weberian concept of rationality, in the sense of incorporating a good dose of universality within the scope of the institutions that make up bourgeois society, while overcoming particularities that expressed in family ties in the conduct of public affairs, for example, for the benefit of technical competence to carry out the purposes for which the referred institutions are intended.

With all the republican character, however, imprinted in the Weberian position, Adorno asserts that under this aspect of a rationality that could be called “instrumental”, even organizations in favor of political terror, such as the Nazi SS, for example, would fit well regarding the correlation between means and ends, to the detriment of the evaluation of the rationality of ends: “in Weber's own theory of rationality, one can suspect the latent presence of administrative rationality.”[xi]

This administrative rationale is designed to collide with demands arising from sectors such as artistic and cultural creation, which occur under the sign of particularity, although, paradoxically, they are those that have in themselves the consideration of ends and the projection of another type of universality – as a rule –, disregarded by the supposedly universalist reason of administration. This explains, according to Adorno, the conflicts of interest between culture and administration in a class society such as capitalism: “In an antagonistic society, purpose-oriented organizations must pursue particular ends, that is, they need to structure themselves at the expense of the interests of others. groups”.[xliii]

That is why the subsumption of artistic creation and production to administration generates, within the scope of culture, an unavoidable heteronomy, insofar as it must adapt any cultural matters to norms that are essentially extrinsic to it, totally alien to the characteristics of its objects. This is when, in some way, society is, albeit moderately, convinced that investments in the cultural area are worthwhile, since this area is always accused of being useless, of not bringing any concrete benefit to the community. .

In this regard, Adorno's answer is clear: there is no metaphysical certainty about the fact that some things are considered useful and others are not, but there are social constructions that seek to justify the benefit of certain sectors of society to the detriment of others. : “The usefulness of the useful is not beyond any doubt, and the useless takes the place of what could no longer be disfigured for profit. (…) Culture must be completely useless, and therefore be beyond the methods of planning and managing material production, so that the alleged justifications of the useful, as well as those of the useless, gain greater prominence”.[xiii]

The idea that underlies this dialectic of utility, proposed by Adorno, is that the notion of socially useful work cannot be abstracted from what he calls “integral socialization”, ie, the consideration of utility not only from the point of view of immediate interests of the dominant sectors in a society, but those that demonstrate their usefulness precisely by problematizing that predominant notion of usefulness. This is associated with the idea that the mediate utility of culture would be the humanization of humanity, in the face of whose failure Adorno states: “Culture has not been able to take root in men as long as they lack conditions for a humanly dignified existence: it is not why is it always prone to barbaric outbursts, with repressed resentment for the fate that has befallen it, the lack of freedom deeply experienced.”[xiv]

Despite this, Adorno's conclusion is not necessarily pessimistic, in the sense that the paradox formulated at the beginning of the essay may not be insoluble and culture may be the object of institutional support, without this fatally implying its complete immersion in heteronomy: “ Whoever operates administrative means and institutions with an undisturbed critical sense can still achieve something more than pure administered culture.”[xlv]

The last text in the “Resignação” collection was originally a radio lecture at the Sender Freies Berlin (“Emissora Berlin Livre”), transmitted on 09/02/1969, and published as a chapter of the book Politik, Wissenschaft, Erziehung. Festschriftfür Ernst Schutte (“Politics, science, education. Commemorative writing for Ernst Schütte” – Frankfurt amMain 1969, pp. 62–65). It was later included in volume 10.2 of the Gesammelte Schriften (“Collected Writings”), together with the essay “Kritik” in what would be a book called Critical Models III, which was not completed due to Adorno's death on 06/08/1969.

Understanding the meaning of this text depends on knowing the very particular context in which it was created, namely the dissent between Adorno and the students of the University of Frankfurt, mobilized from 1968 onwards, in a movement correlated to that of May of that same year in France. German students, on the one hand, were protesting against police violence directed at them and against authoritarian measures that were about to be taken by the conservative government of Federal Germany; on the other hand, they claimed more internal democracy in German higher education institutions, and their more radical factions believed – erroneously, it seems – that they were in a pre-revolutionary period.[xlv] In relation to Adorno and other professors at the Goethe University, the protesters' complaint was more specific: representatives of the Critical Theory of Society had been the theoretical inspirers of their movement and would have supposedly betrayed their students by not supporting them in their practical actions and by not taking up their defense with the vehemence they considered needed. In view of this context, and taking into account the growing radicalization in students' actions in the face of police repression, Adorno states that: "The challenge that is made to us in a low voice says something like: the one who, in times like these, doubts the hypothesis of profound transformation of society, and for that reason it does not participate in violent and spectacular actions nor does it recommend them, it would have capitulated.”[xlv]

Adorno emphatically refutes the accusation leveled at him, drawing attention to the fact that the anti-intellectualism demonstrated by various protagonists of the student revolt seemed to be a reproduction of the usual hostility towards intellectuals by the media, which ironically affects the very opposition groups who are themselves maligned as intellectuals. The foundation, invoked by the students, for the accusation leveled at Adorno and his colleagues would be the indissolubility between theory and praxis, with which, in principle, one could completely agree. But Adorno considers that, in a specific social situation in which the element of “practice” would only mean an increase in material production, what would be in question would be a complete submission of theory to praxis: “The so-called unity between theory and praxis has a tendency of abusively converting itself into the predominance of praxis.”[xlviii]

Adorno identifies as the core of the conflict between him and the students the fact that they harbor exorbitant expectations regarding the scope of their movement, which were not shared by the philosopher, who believed he was being the object of the anger of the rebels because he embodied the figure of the one who tried to warn them. them that they should not expect a socialist revolution the next day. According to Adorno: “For the time being, there is no form of superior society on the horizon: whoever gestures as if it were within reach has something regressive.”[xlix] For the philosopher, the most subversive attitude that could be assumed at that moment would be a radicalization of thought – a decisive factor for the configuration of a transforming praxis, not assuming the present situation as definitive and prefiguring its possible solutions. The explanation attempted by Adorno to understand the students' attitude is that the administered world tends to inhibit any and all spontaneity, channeling it into what he calls “pseudoactivity”, a term with which he designates the students' action.

Despite the somewhat somber atmosphere of the text, which refers to the profound suffering experienced by Adorno in this situation (which perhaps led to illness and death), it ends up evoking the joy of the thinker as a symbol of humanity itself and a factor of resistance against the harassment of the administered world:

And because he who thinks does not want to harm himself, nor does he want to harm others. The joy that emanates from the eyes of those who think is the joy of humanity itself. Therefore, the universal tendency to oppression attacks thought as such: it is happiness even where it defines unhappiness; because it states. Only through him does happiness penetrate the domain of universal unhappiness.[l]

This felicity of thought has its universality also implicit in the fact that it can be realized in any historical or geographical context, which is a motto to conclude this preface, calling the reader's attention to the enormous quality of the texts and this edition. , which certainly prefigures happy moments in thought.

*Rodrigo Duarte He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Varia aesthetica: Essays on art and society (Reliquary)


Theodor W. Adorno. cultural industry. Translation: Vinicius Marques Pastorelli. São Paulo, Unesp, 2020, 286 pages.


[I] Clement Greenbert, “Avant-Gardeand Kitsch”, In: The Collected Essays and Cri2cism. Vol.1. Chicago/London, The University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 5-22.

[ii] Theodor Adorno, “The kitsch”.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] This point of view of Adorno in relation to his text appears both in the preface to Dissonanzen (Gö Xngen, Vandenhoeckund Ruprecht, 1982 p. 6) and in the autobiographical account of “Scientific Experiences in America” (Gesammelte Schri6en 10.2, Frankfurt AM Main, Suhrkamp, ​​1996, p. 706).

[v] Theodor Adorno, “On the fetish character of music and the regression of listening”.

[vi]IrayCarone, Adornment in New York. The Princeton Studies of Radio Music (1938-1941). São Paulo, Alameda, 2018, p. 24 et seq.

[vii]Nachgelassene Schriien. Abteilung I: Fragment gebliebene Schriien – Band 3: Current of Music. Elements of a RadioTheory. Frankfurt am Main, Surhkamp, ​​2006.

[viii] Theodor Adorno, Current of Music. Elements of a RadioTheory. Cambridge/Malden, Polity Press, 2009.

[ix] Paul Lazarsfeld, “RemarksonAdministration and Crigcal Communications Research”. In: Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9, 1941. pp.2-16. Apud Theodor Adorno, “Towards a social critique of music on the radio”.

[X] Theodor Adorno, “Towards a social critique of music on the radio”.

[xi] First published on Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, vol IX, 1941, p. 17-48. Republished on Current of Music, op. cit., p. 271 et seq.

[xii] Theodor Adorno, “Towards a social critique of music on the radio”.

[xiii] The Radio Symphony. An Experiment in Theory, in: Radio Research 1941. Ed. by Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Frank N. Stanton. New York 1941. S. 110ff. Republished on Current of Music (op. cit., p. 144 et seq.). In this edition, some passages collected in the manuscript and available in the volume were added: Theodor Adorno: Essays on Music, edited by Richard Leppert (University of California Press, 2002, p. 251 et seq.).

[xiv] On this disagreement, see Iray Carone, op. cit., passim.

[xv] Theodor Adorno, "The Symphony on the Radio".

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxx] Theodor Adorno, Wissenschailiche Erfahrungen in Amerika, In: Stichworte. Krigthsche Modelle II, Gesammelte Schri6en 10.2. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, ​​1996, p. 717.

[xxiii]Editorische Nachbemerkung (Editorial note), In: Gesammelte Schri6en 3, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, ​​p. 336.

[xxiii] Theodor Adorno, “The schema of mass culture”.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxiv] V. Rodrigo Duarte, “About the concept of 'pseudomorphosis' in Theodor Adorno”. art philosophy 7, 2009, p. 31-40.

[xxv] See Theodor Adorno, Philosophy of new music, In: Gesammelte Schri6en 12. Frankfurt AM Main, SuhrkampVerlag, 1978, p. 127 et seq.

[xxviii] Theodor Adorno, “The schema of mass culture”.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxv] Theodor Adorno, ”Prologue to television”.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] Theodor Adorno, “Television as Ideology”.

[xxxix] Theodor Adorno, “Culture and Administration”.


[xi] Ibid.

[xliii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xlv] Ibid.

[xlv] On the context that generated the production of this text by Adorno, see Rodrigo Duarte, “The German student movement in the 1960s and the Critical Theory of Society: some notes”. Kritérion Magazine, Special issue, July 2020.

[xlv] Theodor Adorno, “Resignation”.

[xlviii] Ibid.

[xlix] Ibid.

[l] Ibid.

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