Theodor Adorno & Walter Benjamin — around an elective friendship

Lin Barrie, Freedom, 2020


Commentary on the book Lucyane De Moraes


Theodor Adorno & Walter Benjamin around an elective friendship sensitively presents the close relationship between two of the most emblematic thinkers of the 20th century, solidified over time through a fruitful epistolary exchange, addressing themes such as tradition and modernity; art and culture; society and mass communication.

Responding to a recognized public demand for the works of Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, the publication's challenge is to shed another light on this relationship — more generous and collaborative — revealing a friendship that, characterized by dialectical thinking, not only tolerates profound theoretical differences , but makes it possible to converge on themselves.

Through stories and memories, the volume does justice to the trajectory of a unique and unrepeatable partnership and is a reckoning with the collaboration and reciprocal solidarity of both. If the book could be summarized in just one sentence, it would be: a cartography of affections.

Lucyane De Moraes, a scholar of sociocultural phenomena linked to the critical reception of recent digital technologies, reveals in her book a friendship clearly marked by generosity and intellectual sincerity, a complicity told in the lines and between the lines of an epistolary exchange, which ended up transforming in true autobiographical documents. And it is from the appreciation of this correspondence that Lucyane De Moraes reconstructs the creative dialogue between the two philosophers in a free exercise of critical thinking, which points to the relevance and originality of her work.

The author's great merit concerns her capacity for synthesis and investigation, above all, for having considered the scientific task of carrying out a critical interpretation of the philosopher-friends' correspondence, expressed by admiration and mutual trust. In the words of Mário Vieira de Carvalho, “the theoretical legacy of Adorno and Benjamin is inseparable from the friendship between them, a friendship that, on an intellectual level, translated into the reciprocal mediation of their respective angles of approach, or, in other words, a complementarity dialectic that certainly contributes greatly to keeping it alive and dynamic, continually renewed in its critical potential”.

Another relevant discussion carried out by the author concerns the challenging historical context marked by the rise of Nazi-fascism, a disturbing period in European history in troubled times of war. From this perspective, the book addresses peculiar aspects of a Germany at the time devastated by an anti-democratic tradition and marked by catastrophes, including the concrete impossibility of realizing human freedom, an emblematic background that constitutes the basis for the author's reflection.

The information exposed was based on period reports (with emphasis on the transformations that occurred in the scenario of political-cultural practices), from the perspective of what Adorno critically called the “course of the world” and which Benjamin, in turn, named as “lived experience” (experience), opposed, above all, to the need for an “authentic experience” (Experience).

Through the assembly of original writings, the path chosen by Lucyane De Moraes, covering a significant part of what surrounds Adorno and Benjamin's relationship, was based on comments recorded through documents — including notes from daily life, history and the collaboration of personalities , artists and intellectuals — and letters from friends-interlocutors who maintained dialogue with them. When analyzing the missives, the author not only weaves and deepens considerations about the literary-philosophical production of the thinkers but also covers important moments in their stories, memories and the debate maintained by both.

Among other significant contributions, De Moraes highlights an elective friendship that could be expressed at various levels, far exceeding the sphere of formal critical-theoretical collaboration, even dispelling many misunderstandings in this regard. After this book, no one will be able to hide behind a forged idea of ​​polarization between friends, an assumption without any basis of support that, as the author rightly points out, finds no echo in terms of scientific investigation.

While Lucyane De Moraes emphasizes the relationship between Adorno and Benjamin in a qualified sense and addresses at the same time central points of the theoretical legacy of both, her research efforts manage to clearly demonstrate the close personal connection and the constitutive force of the philosophers' dialectical thinking: different , but not divergent.

From this perspective, the book presents themes notably dear to Adorno and Benjamin, prepared in the form of essays — whose formation of arguments (between the whole and the parts) is not addressed conclusively —, enabling the author to engage in a dialogue with Adorno and Benjamin. only conceptually, but also methodologically. As Adorno refers in his text Characterization of Walter Benjamin, “the essay as a form, consists of contemplating the capacity, the history, the manifestations of the objective spirit, the culture, as if they were nature” or as the philosopher himself says in his Essay as form, “the test proceeds like this, methodically, without method”.


In addition to the Introductory Note (full of historical information) and a Note on Materials Used in the Edition (evidencing the documentary criteria used by the author), the volume is composed of five main parts that summarize philosophical themes presented either in a harmonious relationship or in a field of tension and forces.

Added to these parts is an Appendix with very useful chronologies of the thinkers' lives and works. Also noteworthy is the author's translation into Portuguese of the letters Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt exchanged with Adorno, relating to Benjamin's estate. Complementing the volume is the original presentation by Bruno Pucci and the enlightening Afterword by Mário Vieira de Carvalho.

It is worth highlighting the appropriate and complementary use of footnotes, where the author expresses her didactic-training concern through commitment to scientific investigation and the clarification of dubious and unknown points, also enabling an accurate image of the relevant intellectual debts.

The reference bibliography meets this same perspective, prepared with historical fidelity and sociological and philosophical coherence. From now on, anyone who intends to study the writings of both thinkers scientifically will not be able to disregard this bibliography, in the same way that the content of the book proves to be indispensable for those who dedicate themselves to the multifaceted conceptual repertoire of Adorno and Benjamin.

This is a historical, documentary work, captivating both to researchers and the common Portuguese-speaking reader, which brings to light biographical data that is still little known to the general public. In the words of Bruno Pucci, “readers will be enchanted by the elective friendship, by the mutual help, by the presence of one in the other's life and writings, particularly Adorno, who had the happiness of living longer and carried on his written teachings, concepts and, above all, the dialogical and critical presence of his friend”.

The book is, therefore, an invitation to the reader who wants to venture into the appreciation of the contents covered by the philosopher-friends, both in the remembrance of their first writings and in the traces of their theories, making it possible to reconstruct together with the author the history of friendship, the intellectual partnership and mainly the theoretical-critical legacy of both, considered an essential tool for current times.

Theodor Adorno & Walter Benjamin — around an elective friendship It is a work whose reading is worth reading not only because of the scope of the research carried out and the expressive way in which the author approaches the topic, but also because of the accuracy of her placements and the refinement of her language.

*Wagner Campos is Ccomposer, researcher and musician. Graduated in conducting from UNIRIO (Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro).

Lucyane De Moraes. Theodor Adorno & Walter Benjamin — Around an elective friendship. São Paulo: Edições 70, 2023, 228 pages. []

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