Critical Theory Addressed at Humanities Symposium

The Center for the Humanities and the Theory Initiative Sponsored a symposium titled "Adorno and America" Dec. 4 in Russell House. Many of the major works of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory were written in the United States during the World War II. Critical theory’s dislocation from its European origins is significant not only historically but also philosophically: the exiled intellectuals were convinced that an effective theory of culture and society could be realized only in America, where capitalism had reached its most advanced state. The symposium reflected on how the American experience of the Frankfurt School’s most prominent representative, Theodor Adorno, informed the evolution of critical theory.

The Center for the Humanities and the Theory Initiative, a faculty group that is currently seeking to add a "Certificate in Theory" to Wesleyan’s curriculum, hosted a symposium titled "Adorno and America" on Dec. 4 in Russell House. The speakers discussed how the American experience of the Frankfurt School’s most prominent representative, Theodor Adorno, informed the evolution of critical theory. Adorno, a prolific philosopher, sociologist, critical essayist, and musicologist, lived in New York and Los Angeles during the late 1930s and the 1940s. It was during his time in America that he wrote many of his major works of lasting importance, such as Minima Moralia, Dialectic of Enlightenment, and The Philosophy of New Music. Adorno shared with his fellow exiles—among them Bertolt Brecht, Hanns Eisler, Max Horkheimer, and Thomas Mann—the conviction that an effective theory of culture and society could be realized only in America, where capitalism had reached its most advanced state.

Ulrich Plass, assistant professor of German studies, introduced the symposium's topics and guest speakers. These included Joshua Rayman of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD); Matt Waggoner of Albertus Magnus College; Ryan Drake of Fairfield University; and David Jenemann of the University of Vermont.

Ulrich Plass, assistant professor of German studies, introduced the symposium's topics and guest speakers. These included Joshua Rayman of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD); Matt Waggoner of Albertus Magnus College; Ryan Drake of Fairfield University; and David Jenemann of the University of Vermont. Extended versions of the papers presented will be published in issue 149 of the journal Telos, guest-edited by Plass and Rayman.

At left, Ethan Kleinberg, associate professor of history, associate professor of letters, chair of the College of Letters, and Arne Hoecker, visiting assistant professor of German studies, listen to Plass's introduction.

At left, Ethan Kleinberg, associate professor of history, associate professor of letters, chair of the College of Letters, and Arne Hoecker, visiting assistant professor of German studies, listen to Plass's introduction.

Joshua Rayman spoke on "Adorno’s American Reception," during the symposium. Rayman is a professor for SCAD's eLearning Program.

Joshua Rayman spoke on "Adorno’s American Reception," during the symposium. Rayman is a professor for SCAD's eLearning Program.

Joshua Rayman, Ryan Drake and Sara Brill from Fairfield University, enjoy the symposium. (Photos by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Joshua Rayman, Ryan Drake and Sara Brill from Fairfield University, enjoy the symposium. (Photos by Stefan Weinberger '10)