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Anti-consumerism of an earlier era: the "Culture Industry" thesis

by Cassiodorus Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 12:25:19 AM EST

Given the negative orientation to the future of much of what I've read, I thought it appropriate to revisit the "culture industry" thesis, more specifically the thesis given by the essay on "the culture industry" in Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment.  This diary will look at how the "culture industry" has placed culture under the control of industrial power and in the discipline of mass production, and examine the argument in "The Culture Industry" for its social lessons and its relevance to the present political situation.

Theodor Adorno, who according to Jurgen Habermas was the main author of the "Culture Industry" essay.


(crossposted on DailyKos.com and Progressive Historians)

One of the most prominent triumphalist statements following the collapse of the USSR was Francis Fukuyama's long essay "The End of History and the Last Man," in which Fukuyama argued that "liberal democracy" would be the ultimate end of all government around the world.  In the essay itself, however, rather little was said in defense of the idea that the world as a whole would become more democratic.  In fact, one of the main criticisms of this essay was that it gave no serious argument as to why dictatorship wouldn't have a better chance of becoming universal.  Moreover, the authoritarianism of the present moment was spelled out decades earlier by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in an essay published in 1944 (in a collection now titled Dialectic of Enlightenment) titled "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" which suggested an authoritarian demeanor behind consumer society.  A somewhat truncated translation of this essay can be found here -- your best bet, however, is to find a copy of Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Now, I first read this essay when I was studying with Scott Warren at the Claremont Graduate University.  For his courses, we read a wide variety of marxist and utopian books - and this one seemed to have the most devastating critique of society as it was and is.  Later, my understanding of this and a number of other books helped me get into graduate school at The Ohio State University.

More recently, in this (very important, and under-read) diary written late last year I outlined a four-part history of capitalism.  What makes this history important is that it is a history of capitalist discipline. Today, of course, we are in the world of neoliberal capitalism - but the contours of our society (and indeed of global society) were set some time ago by the earlier creation of the consumer society, which imposed upon global society a distinctive form of capitalist discipline.  In "The Culture Industry," Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno outline this form of capitalist discipline.

Now, the "culture industry" itself, as we are told in the essay, is just the entertainment business.  But there is really more to it than that.  Horkheimer and Adorno wish to draw connections between the entertainment business, the capitalist system, and mass production (considered aesthetically as a metaphor for the whole of culture).  The authors wrote this essay in the early 1940s while living as alienated German exiles from Hitler, conveniently close to the center of the world's culture industries: Hollywood.

The "culture industry," then, is more than just the entertainment business: rather, it is the key to culture in the era of mass consumerism.  If the objects of culture are almost entirely mass-produced items bought and sold as commodities, then the culture itself is going to be caught up in this mass production and commodification:

The ruthless unity in the culture industry is evidence of what will happen in politics.  Marked differentiations such as those of A and B films, or of stories in magazines in different price ranges, depend not so much on subject matter as on classifying, organizing, and labeling consumers.  Something is provided for all so that none may escape; the distinctions are emphasized and extended.  The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality, thus advancing the rule of complete quantification.  Everybody must behave (as if spontaneously) in accordance with his previously determined and indexed level, and choose the category of mass product turned out for his type.  (123)

Or, more specifically, we are told:


The culture industry as a whole has molded men as a type unfailingly reproduced in every product.  (127)

Now, Horkheimer and Adorno are often accused of being elitists.  This accusation draws its strength from the sort of nose-turning you read (in the above paragraph) at the whole "mass production" of culture.  Its weakness is that there really aren't any exceptions to this disdain.  Everyone is implicated in the culture industry.  There are no exceptions for aesthetic elites, or any other sort of elites for that matter.

Now, today, the critique of capitalism has a different focus.  Capitalism appears to have hit limits: we can easily guess, for instance, that the climate isn't going to get any better, that housing prices can only go so high, that the national debt can only get so big, or that only so much of a finite planet Earth can be harvested for sale.  We can hope, perhaps, for a silver lining of hope beyond the catastrophe that appears to lie ahead.  

But this reaching of limits is the product of a society in which the "culture industry" has attained the dominant role it has.  The "culture industry," moreover, provides a social binding force that maintains capitalist society's trajectory even when the people themselves realize the fix they're in.  Horkheimer and Adorno thus spelled out society's doom even before the heyday of the consumer society.

"The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception"

Max Horkheimer (left), Theodor Adorno (right), Jurgen Habermas (in back, rubbing hair)

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno were two of the founders of what is today called the Frankfurt School of Social Research.  The Frankfurt School was an entity created in Weimar Germany just before Hitler's takeover, and dedicated to the study of society in terms of what Karl Marx called "historical materialism," without any of the Soviet apologetics that had colored marxist analysis at that time.  With the rise of Hitler, however, the Frankfurt School's social analysis took a considerably more depressing turn.  Horkheimer and Adorno began to investigate why the philosophic trend of the Enlightenment (and especially of the German Enlightenment of Hegel and Kant and Schopenhauer and Marx) culminated in Hitler and (after Hitler's crimes were revealed to the world) Auschwitz.

"The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" offers an inverted Marxism: as the capitalist system develops, the revolution moves further away and elite domination becomes stronger.  For what lies beyond enlightenment, for them, is merely The System:

THE sociological theory that the loss of the support of objectively established religion, the dissolution of the last remnants of pre-capitalism, together with technological and social differentiation or specialisation, have led to cultural chaos is disproved every day; for culture now impresses the same stamp on everything.
Films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part. Even the aesthetic activities of political opposites are one in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system. (120)

We can see this phenomenon of "enthusiastic obedience" in practice, we might imagine, in Presidential elections, especially in the disaster of 2004.  The opposites of the "two-party system" nevertheless stood for many of the same things when it counted the most, the candidates themselves came from the same school and fraternity (Yale, Skull and Bones), and the election itself was a charade marked by vote-tampering.

Hailing from Europe, the sociologist Kees van der Pijl tells us, moreover, that our American election results are by no means unique.  The uniformity of electoral opposites, their common allegiance to neoliberalism, is by no means disturbed by any particular nation's having a multi-party system.  The Socialists or Greens or whomever wins elections claiming an alternative to the status quo merely sell out once they attain power over the state.  This is true because, as van der Pijl points out, there are material requirements to the operation of the neoliberal state.

The "culture industry" thesis, moreover, suggests an all-encompassing failure of the power of reason.  The Enlightenment, that cultural force of the 18th and 19th centuries that was once imagined to make society rational, instead merely amplifies the power of myth by marketing it as emotional manipulation:

No medieval theologian could have determined the degree of the torment to be suffered by the damned in accordance with the order of divine love more meticulously than the producers of shoddy epics calculate the torture to be undergone by the hero or the exact point to which the leading lady's hemline shall be raised. (128)

Once the people may have been deluded by their faith in religion; today, suggest the authors, the same power is served up to them as entertainment, and they still prefer it to reason.

Human development in the regime of the culture industry, then, is stunted, and so instead of becoming genuine individuals, people just fit into the system:

Individuation has never been achieved.  Self-preservation in the shape of class has kept everyone at the stage of a mere species being.  Every bourgeois characteristic, in spite of its deviation and indeed because of it, expressed the same thing: the harshness of the competitive society.  The individual who supported society bore its disfiguring mark; seemingly free, he was actually the product of its economic and social apparatus... Against the will of its leaders, technology has changed human beings from children into persons.  However, every advance in individuation took place at the expense of the individuality in whose name it occurred, so that nothing was left but the resolve to pursue one's own particular purpose. (155)

Perhaps once, imagine the authors, society was held together by elites using coercive force against rebellious masses.  Today, however, the masses insist more firmly upon their state of bondage than do the elites themselves:


Whereas today in material production the mechanism of supply and demand is disintegrating, in the superstructure it still operates as a check in the rulers' favour. The consumers are the workers and employees, the farmers and lower middle class. Capitalist production so confines them, body and soul, that they fall helpless victims to what is offered them. As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. (133-134)

The popular cure for oppression, then, is spending, and the myth of success promises that the Disneyland of spending can continue forever.  Horkheimer and Adorno, however, remind us that it is the drab world of work that makes entertainment entertaining by comparison, and that the spectacles with which it attracts us are empty:

The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu. In front of the appetite stimulated by all those brilliant names and images there is finally set no more than a commendation of the depressing everyday world it sought to escape.  (139)

It is mainly by stimulating the imagination that the culture industry distinguishes itself from the reality it creates.  America, the heartland of the culture industry, has over the past half-century been transformed into a suburb, with endless rows of standardized homes growing identical plots of lawn grass, inside which the world of fantasy thrives, on video, through computers, on television, in mass-produced paperback books.  Our authors, typically, viewed this as a cheat.  They seem to have come to the conclusion that communication has itself been ruined by the capitalist ethic which pervades the culture industry:

We have even learned how to identify abstract concepts as sales propaganda.  Language based entirely on truth simply arouses impatience to get on with the business deal it is probably advancing.  (147)

Want to escape the world of the culture industry?  No problem.  But here are the consequences:

The analysis Tocqueville offered a century ago has in the meantime proved wholly accurate. Under the private culture monopoly it is a fact that "tyranny leaves the body free and directs its attack at the soul. The ruler no longer says: You must think as I do or die. He says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your property, everything shall remain yours, but from this day on you are a stranger among us." Not to conform means to be rendered powerless, economically and therefore spiritually - to be "self-employed." (133)

Conclusion: Lessons I drew from the "Culture Industry" Essay

In reading philosophical, critical material of this sort, I try to avoid the "thumbs up/ thumbs down" type of evaluation in favor of a "critical thinking" analysis: the important thing is to arrive at one's own opinion about the world, using the work itself as a vehicle for critical thinking.

First off, I think that Horkheimer and Adorno were unduly pessimistic about consumer society.  There are ways of becoming empowered and changing society "through the cracks" in the existing order.  Most importantly, we can work to strengthen our institutions of education, our media, and our legal and political institutions, so as to increase the space in which critical thinking is valued.

Secondly, I think that the dynamism of global capitalism offers a sort of counterweight to its crisis tendencies, speeding up the possibility of its own transcendence even as it screws up the world.  Global capitalism brings together the world in a global marketplace that can offer protest as well as consumer conformity, intercultural exchange as well as cultural homogenization.

Thirdly, I think it's important to promote individuality, while giving up individualism.  The whole idea of becoming an individual, of understanding one's relationship to the world and of becoming self-creating, of (centrally) deliberately exercising one's freedom for the good of the world, seems permanently detached from the narcissistic obsession with self that drives those addicted to fame, money, power, property, food, drugs, or whatever else the mass-production machines can put out in quantity.  The ideology of individualism, which places "the self" above its relation to the world, seems more aligned with that narcissism than with the healthy development of individuality per se.

Lastly, I understand that as long as the culture industry is in charge of society, we face the future alone.  The main barb the authors throw at the "culture industry" and the society under its spell is that society, somehow, is on "cruise control" - it operates as a sort of mass-production machine cranking out movies, computers, appliances, political candidates, Presidents, military equipment, wars, and so on, without much critical thought given to why any particular production item is being produced or what it's all leading to.  Nothing is believable if our whole society is lacking direction, if our disposition toward the future is limited to (at best) saving a buck or two for retirement.  We as a people really do need to gain control over our own social mode of being, regardless of how far off Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno thought this notion of democratic, social self-control happened to be.

Display:
This is what they call "Continental philosophy," no?

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon
by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 12:35:08 AM EST
that this is why the hippies were so ruthlessly put down, and continue to be put down almost ritually, to this day. the whole idea of just making up one's own culture, of refusing to alienate oneself and one's social circle from the means of producing their own culture, but rather seizing it creatively, threatens the whole system of the niche market society.

any society where people are deeply embarassed to sing out loud, for example, preferring instead to let professionals do it and to listen on the portable music device of ther day, is in a bad place, culturally.

by wu ming on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 03:57:06 AM EST
Why do states and religions believe that they must impose happiness, rather than offer the tools to individuals to discover their own happiness (and dignity)?

The tools are environmental (justice, equality, security), personal advancement (education, welfare, access) and the preservation of rights and freedoms.

The big print of governments and religions actually do a decent job of these in words. It is the small print where it all falls down. And in an excessive and dangerous adherence to the idea that only top down structures (hierarchy had its origins in the church) can maintain the tools.

Society is a process, and government is the control. Control (as a principle) needs to be as complex as the process for it to have any benefits of efficiency. This is fine in simple linear logistic processes such as the class-based social structures pre-consumerism. But we don't have these simple linear structures any more (at least in the W*st).

The top-down answer has been to increase the complexity (bureaucracy) of the control system to try and match the ever increasing complexity of the social process. And it will never work - or, if it could, it would be at the cost of universal happiness, or indeed to make a bastard version of happiness (superfluous money) available to only very few (as we are witnessing today).

As the Man from Lyon pointed out: at some point it becomes imperative to pass control to the process, and allow self-organization. Self-organized structures can be both leaderless and leader full. As far as I know, there are no ready models for large self-organized multicultural societies. But that doen't mean they cannot exist. We certainly have some interesting tools available - this Internet thing, for a start ;-) And we also have cooperatives and LLPs.

Given that we might be able to decentralize much of the plumbing of society in the future, I believe we should be devoting our critical thinking to how to decentralize happiness. And that in turn requires critical thinking to be a major function of education.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 07:08:42 AM EST
Why do states and religions believe that they must impose happiness, rather than offer the tools to individuals to discover their own happiness (and dignity)?

Because there is an unexhaustible supply of authoritarian followers. The States and Churches thrive on them.

[Note: I personally have no issues with "the religious esperience" but gurus, organised religion, and proselitism really piss me off]

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 07:19:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But is that an innate human state (to follow authoritarianism), or is it function of the control-process model?

I believe the latter. All religions and states evolved from processes, whether through hundreds of generations of interaction with, and necessary respect for, unmanaged nature (pantheism), a reaction to hostile environments (city states, Christianity), or in the good old Keynsian fashion of having something to do (Mithratic or Pyramids),  to hold a society together.

The innate human state is to seek company and family, as for all animals. We are born social. The problems begin where control seeks to define the process rather than the other way round. And since control has to emerge from within the society, then how does that happen? Do the rules get so complicated that we can no longer understand them - and we give up?

Perhaps we are growing up as societies, and the same rules apply as they do in parenting. You begin being a parent by being in control of your child. You have total responsibility. And it takes a long time (the longest of any animal) to pass on the complex knowledge required to be in a society. But at some point, your control is not complex enough for the process (I'm thinking of teenagers, of course). Therefore you begin to pass control to your self-organizing teenager. And thereafter you become an absentee landord with a limited lease ;-)

I believe that the 'religious' experience, in its broadest sense of joy and of feeling worthwhile, and of being motivated to make a contribution to culture, is what happiness is about. I don't see it as a side issue - but as a central issue.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 08:37:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But is that an innate human state (to follow authoritarianism), or is it function of the control-process model?

Kcurie raised the issue of whether Altemeyer's findings about the Authoritarian personality are "truly psychological" (cross-cultural) or an artifact of North American (and related) culture. I don't think we have resolved that satisfactorily.

And it's the followers that are authoritarians. They don't "follow authoritarianism". They're like newborn ducklings who will identify the first big thing that moves as "mom". The authoritarians follow the social dominators. At least that's the theory.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 09:26:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as imprinting, did the duck egg or the duck come first ;-)

Where do social dominators come from? Are they straightforward evolutions of the classic leaders (best fighter, wisest sage, the insightful innovator or the mentally disturbed)?

I agree that authoritarians can only grow in the fertile ground of historical context, watered by inadequate and uncritical education, and powered by the sun of survival instinct. But there are anthopological examples of cultures who do not understand the concept of authoritarianism, even though they may have powerful tribal hierarchies. Thus I don't see the 'truly cross-cultural psychological' explanation applying to all humankind. I think it is a caucasian problem. Perhaps a genetic defect ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 11:31:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
IIRC, Prof. Altemeyer was clear the labels 'RWA' and 'Social Dominator' are descriptive of psychological types.  As with any such the "objective conditions" may favor driving people with boundary and marginal RWA/SD into the pure - as it were - type.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Aug 2nd, 2007 at 09:33:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I prefer your closing points to Adorno's.

I think it's not said nearly enough that Critical Theory has been a disaster for the Left. While the analyses are often interesting and sometimes perceptive, it carries the same kind of sniffy joyless sterility that afflicted other modernist ideals from the 1920s onwards.

The problem is that it points out flaws, in a desperately depressing way, but doesn't offer alternatives.

So - culture is massed produced. And the answer to this is - what? It's also a useful safety valve for academics who can do critical theory endlessly, safe in the knowledge that whatever they write will make absolutely no difference to anything or anyone.

The whole idea of becoming an individual, of understanding one's relationship to the world and of becoming self-creating, of (centrally) deliberately exercising one's freedom for the good of the world, seems permanently detached from the narcissistic obsession with self that drives those addicted to fame, money, power, property, food, drugs, or whatever else the mass-production machines can put out in quantity.  The ideology of individualism, which places "the self" above its relation to the world, seems more aligned with that narcissism than with the healthy development of individuality per se.

This is very true though.

But how do you re-train a culture in which narcissism is treated as a worthwhile goal in itself?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 08:07:42 AM EST
The problem is that it points out flaws, in a desperately depressing way, but doesn't offer alternatives.

Adorno won't "offer alternatives" out of principle -- his whole method rigorously employed dialectics as a means of inspiring critical thought while attempting to forestall the rush to action (which he often criticized as rash -- see for instance his run-ins with the German student movement in the 1960s).  If you want "alternatives" from a Frankfurt alum, try Herbert Marcuse...

So - culture is massed produced. And the answer to this is - what?

Critical thinking.  Aesthetic nonconformity.  

It's also a useful safety valve for academics who can do critical theory endlessly, safe in the knowledge that whatever they write will make absolutely no difference to anything or anyone.

First off, Adorno does not really allow anyone to feel "safe" in their knowledge.  His self-defined job is to defy ideology whereever it happens to be.

And as for not making a difference, the leaders of the German student movement read the "Culture Industry" essay, and it was one of their main inspirations to become activists, as evidenced by the number of times they themselves cited it.

how do you re-train a culture in which narcissism is treated as a worthwhile goal in itself?

See Adorno's essay "Education after Auschwitz"...

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 09:13:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Critical thinking. Aesthetic nonconformity.  

Both of which are terribly easy to co-opt into something ineffectual.

It's impossible to be an aesthetic non-conformist now. If you're quiet, you're ignored, if you're brash you're turned into another lifestyle option.

As for Critical Theory - it's not a good sign if the most recent example of its influence happened 30-40 years ago. If Critical Theory had anything useful to offer, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now. It's had plenty of time to prove itself by its results, and it hasn't. It's provided exactly no opposition at all to the neocon and neolib crazies, who haven't even bothered to engage with it - they're simply ignored it.

The critical mistake of Critical Theory is to assume that deconstructing texts and power relationships is equivalent to empowering people. It really isn't. Naming the problem is just the start. You then have to offer a positive alternative.

Adorno's idea of 'Just think harder, endlessly' doesn't carry much water when the world is on fire with stupidity and greed.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 12:53:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is an Aesthetic Nonconformist? A Poser with a Ph.D.?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 01:19:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Both of which are terribly easy to co-opt into something ineffectual.

Adorno's point in promoting critical thought is that, by his standards, people barely think at all...

It's impossible to be an aesthetic non-conformist now.
 Your dispute is with Adorno the pianist and music theorist.  Consult his book Aesthetic Theory.

As for Critical Theory - it's not a good sign if the most recent example of its influence happened 30-40 years ago.
 The "Culture Industry" essay is a good place to start talking about critical theory.  There are plenty of people doing this stuff today.  They issue books and journal articles all the time.

If Critical Theory had anything useful to offer, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now.
 If more people (you, for instance) actually read critical theory, it might have a better shot.

It's had plenty of time to prove itself by its results, and it hasn't. It's provided exactly no opposition at all to the neocon and neolib crazies, who haven't even bothered to engage with it - they're simply ignored it.

The critical mistake of Critical Theory is to assume that deconstructing texts and power relationships is equivalent to empowering people. It really isn't. Naming the problem is just the start. You then have to offer a positive alternative.

Adorno's idea of 'Just think harder, endlessly' doesn't carry much water when the world is on fire with stupidity and greed.

Adorno's rejoinder (the one he suggested to the student movement in Germany) would be that those who are most anxious to act are those whose actions will do the most to strengthen the violent tendencies of the system.

As for me, personally, I think that I learn the most from Adorno by observing how he writes.  I think his "dialectical" writing style has a sort of eccentric precision that gets a lot of cognitive mileage out of the words he uses.

And I think the Adornian version of dialectics would have had a fruitful exchange with the modern revision of what Engels called the "dialectics of nature" -- the line of inquiry into how the technologized abuse of the natural world has caused what's left of nature to "fight back" (e.g. Jim O' Connor's "Second Contradiction of Capitalism").

I will stick, for now, with my rejection of the "thumbs up/ thumbs down" approach.  Critical thought is not denunciation.

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 01:39:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Adorno's point in promoting critical thought is that, by his standards, people barely think at all...

Well, yes - and how is this useful?

Your dispute is with Adorno the pianist and music theorist.  Consult his book Aesthetic Theory.

You mean he wrote one thing in one place and a different thing elsewhere?

If more people (you, for instance) actually read critical theory, it might have a better shot.

But that's exactly what the Critical Theory types always say.

Firstly, it's condescending to assume that someone who disagrees with you knows nothing about it.

Secondly, I work in the media and I've watched 'culture workers' flinging themselves in droves at jobs where they're happy whoring in mindspace for corporates - not only without even a second thought, but apparently with relish, and with no understanding that there might be more to creative work than selling useless shiny stuff to people who can't afford it.

Considering that Critical Theory seems to be standard issue on many media and creative arts courses, and considering that a significant number of people who do these courses end up feeling in exactly the opposite direction to the notional intellectual freedom that Critical Theory is supposed to promote, the reality of the decisions creative professionals make is hardly a resounding endorsement for it.

As for me, personally, I think that I learn the most from Adorno by observing how he writes.  I think his "dialectical" writing style has a sort of eccentric precision that gets a lot of cognitive mileage out of the words he uses.

That's fine as far as it goes, but what do you say to someone who wants to put food on the table?

the line of inquiry into how the technologized abuse of the natural world has caused what's left of nature to "fight back"

And this is exactly the kind of nonsense that makes it so hard to take Critical Theory seriously.

Nature isn't 'fighting back' any more than a pot of boiling water is 'fighting back' if you spill it on your foot.

It's not only factually wrong and sloppily framed, it's not even a particularly insightful, persuasive or creative narrative.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 03:32:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Firstly, it's condescending to assume that someone who disagrees with you knows nothing about it.

You yourself admitted you didn't know anything about critical theory when you said that nothing had been done in it for the past thirty-odd years, an obvious untruth.  You said, and I quote:

As for Critical Theory - it's not a good sign if the most recent example of its influence happened 30-40 years ago.

Get a clue.

It's not only factually wrong and sloppily framed, it's not even a particularly insightful, persuasive or creative narrative.

Since, firstly, I put "fight back" in scare-quotes to make the point that it wasn't real fighting back, it's obvious you've got no comprehension of nuance.

And, secondly, since all you're doing here is piling up adjectives, I'll take this last hatchet job as prima facie evidence that I am doing something good.  

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 05:28:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As for Critical Theory - it's not a good sign if the most recent example of its influence happened 30-40 years ago.

Er - that was your point originally, not mine.

If you think Critical Theory has had a significant positive political influence since then against twits like Fukuyama and Huntington and way-out crazies like Cheney - and I mean one that's easy to recognise, and not one that only the Critical Theorists can see - I'd like to see some evidence for that.

Since, firstly, I put "fight back" in scare-quotes to make the point that it wasn't real fighting back, it's obvious you've got no comprehension of nuance.

No, I understood the nuance. I just don't think that equating running out stuff with the inevitable rise of the proletariat is either illuminating or useful.

You know - running out of stuff means you run out of stuff. It doesn't need to be buried under a ritualised Marxist dialectic.

I'll note you've given me a 1 instead of choosing to debate the main point I've made about the inability of Critical Theory to influence actual culture workers doing actual culture work away from corporatism.

When you have some ideas that will actually help with that particular issue - and I mean ideas have a good track record of making a useful difference - I'll be the first in line to listen.

But recycling Marx via Adorno via lots of big words - and it's deliciously ironic to be accused of piling on the adjectives considering the overweighted stodge that passes for language in Critical Theory writing - not so much, I think.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 07:27:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Er - that was your point originally, not mine.

Um, no, that's a direct quote of you.

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 08:58:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cassiodorus, please don't use troll-ratings to indicate disagreement or annoyance with another user. Thanks.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 2nd, 2007 at 05:05:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
His post was full of phony complaints and put-downs.  The troll-rating stays.

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon
by Cassiodorus on Thu Aug 2nd, 2007 at 06:11:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Phony complaints" is a BS definition of trolling, since you are clearly the only one to decide what you consider "phony". As for put-downs, you're pretty good at those yourself.

You should be aware that ratings abuse is disliked at ET. It easily erupts into ratings wars (in this case ThatBritGuy refrained from responding in kind, which tends to show he's more temperate than you). And it's a lousy way of arguing a point. Please remember this in future.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2007 at 12:55:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Phony complaints" is a BS definition of trolling, since you are clearly the only one to decide what you consider "phony".

Phony complaints are complaints the respondant can do nothing about.  "It's not only factually wrong and sloppily framed, it's not even a particularly insightful, persuasive or creative narrative." is an example of a phony complaint.

As for put-downs, you're pretty good at those yourself.

How is this credible?  Please cite some examples.
 

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Fri Aug 3rd, 2007 at 12:10:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're asking who I am, I'm a front-pager and yes, it's in that capacity that I'm advising you on the use of ratings. As for the rest, I've no intention of arguing with you.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2007 at 04:38:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Um, not quite cricket old boy - as an English version of Colman might say :-). If you accuse him of (mere) "put-downs" and he asks you to justify that - maybe you should try to do so. Just pulling rank is awfully infra dig :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2007 at 06:53:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
<sigh> I'm not pulling rank, but answering a question in the title bar. Neither am I making accusations, I'm simply moderating and explaining about ratings as they're practised here. Those who don't want to understand are not obliged to.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Aug 4th, 2007 at 01:23:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"neither am I making accusations" ?

afew: "As for put-downs, you're pretty good at those yourself."

Cassiodorus: "How is this credible?  Please cite some examples."

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Aug 4th, 2007 at 06:21:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The original "accuser" was Cassiodorus, who (by an unexplained rating) accused TBG of being a troll. When I asked him not to use troll-ratings in this way, he "justified" it by saying:

His post was full of phony complaints and put-downs.  The troll-rating stays.

Cassiodorus gave no examples of TBG's "put-downs". You did not jump in to ask him for any.

So what are you doing now except wasting my time and yours?

No further comment on this issue. Whether you consider that "pulling rank" or whatever you like.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Aug 4th, 2007 at 08:09:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh come now, you can hardly expect me to want to defend TBG, when I'd made three attempts to show him the rather obvious errors in his views and anyway he had included put-downs of critical theorists/academics, absurdly generalized and over-stated, e.g.:

"...it carries the same kind of sniffy joyless sterility that afflicted other modernist ideals from the 1920s onwards."

"It's also a useful safety valve for academics who can do critical theory endlessly, safe in the knowledge that whatever they write will make absolutely no difference to anything or anyone."

But if you want to drop it - OK. We're off to some spectacle - medieval tournament and feast at Cagnes - can't be sniffily joyless all the time :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Aug 4th, 2007 at 09:16:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The real problem with Critical Theory is that for it to have any influence at all on how people think about their relation to work, society, etc., they have to actually think about it.

Making people think is hard.  Really, really hard.  Once they start, whatever the context, it's easy to guide them in the right direction.  But getting people to start, to look at things for the first time and really LOOK, as opposed to just applying their assumptions and conventional wisdom, is really, really hard.

Furthermore, thinking is hard, and if you challenge people too much, too quickly, they will burn out and stop.  Thinking at the level of Critical Theory is REALLY hard.

So, in and of itself, it's not going to have a major effect on much of anything, because to understand anything said by those influenced by Critical Theory (or for that matter, just about any argument derived from thought and research) one has to be willing to think about things that most people are not accustomed to thinking about.

Thus, a dilemma.  Use the tools of rationalism to reform the system from above as a revolutionary vanguard, or use the tools of rationalism to guide a program of irrational appeal capable of swaying the masses?

Personally, I prefer an army of giant robots wielding death rays, but that's just me.

by Zwackus on Thu Aug 2nd, 2007 at 07:47:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Could you actually cite some evidence for your generalizations ? Just HOW hard is it (what scale was used ?), supposedly, to make people think ?

When I retired from lecturing a number of ex-students emailed me and said the main thing I'd done was make them think - independently - it wasn't THAT hard.

Arguably what's hard is to STOP people from thinking - kids naturally ask very difficult questions. Unfortunately much "education" blunts that natural curiosity and desire to think - but it takes years to subdue it, and then tiring work and easy, cheap entertainment to lull them into apathy.

So your dilemma is based on a false premiss; encourage people to think and they will readily take up the challenge. This is why Chomsky goes on doing what he does, has big audiences for his talks, and they want to discuss things with him. Michael Moore has also got huge audiences thinking, e.g. with Sicko - despite years years of propaganda against national health schemes.

A bit less patronising pessimism please :-) - or at least adopt a thoughtful approach and cite some evidence.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2007 at 06:46:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My comments are based on my experience trying to teach history and anthropology to college students at the University of Michigan.

I was (and am) far from the world's best teacher.  I will never claim otherwise. On the other hand, very few of the students were there to learn - they saw such classes as obstacles to their admission to pre-professional programs, hurdles to be jumped with the least possible effort.  The tenacity with which they refused to engage with even the most basic principles historical perspective and cross-cultural understanding was rather depressing.  

In the end, I started to feel bad for them even having to be in my class to begin with - honestly, it wasn't relevant to their goals, and given their attitude toward the subject, it was a waste of their time.  

by Zwackus on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 03:36:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]

As for Critical Theory - it's not a good sign if the most recent example of its influence happened 30-40 years ago.

Just wrong, cf. Kellener (separate comment) and others.

 If Critical Theory had anything useful to offer, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now. It's had plenty of time to prove itself by its results, and it hasn't.

What an absurd argument; it's very difficult to know what effect and how widespread the influence of theoretical work may be. It certainly can't, by itself, prevent major social/politiical change, even when correct and taken up by SOME actvists. This doesn't mean it's not worth doing and has no effect; the obscure theories of today often become the basis of "common-sense" tomorrow, sometimes despite the fact that they're rubbish, e.g. Freudian theory.

 It's provided exactly no opposition at all to the neocon and neolib crazies, who haven't even bothered to engage with it - they're simply ignored it.

There have been plenty of attacks on "liberal academics" some of whom do what can be seen as a form of Critical Theory and indeed oppose neocon "theory".

The critical mistake of Critical Theory is to assume that deconstructing texts and power relationships is equivalent to empowering people. It really isn't. Naming the problem is just the start. You then have to offer a positive alternative.

It is VERY important, of course, to understand the general problem before acting, and action will depend on particular circumstances which general theorists can't predict. As I remarked elsewhere, this is why Marx offered detailed critiques of the capitalist system in general, but little in the way of detailed proposals for alternatives.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 02:47:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it's not said nearly enough that Critical Theory has been a disaster for the Left. While the analyses are often interesting and sometimes perceptive, it carries the same kind of sniffy joyless sterility that afflicted other modernist ideals from the 1920s onwards.
I think Alan Sokal said it very well
... One of my goals is to make a small contribution toward a dialogue on the Left between humanists and natural scientists -- ``two cultures'' which, contrary to some optimistic pronouncements (mostly by the former group), are probably farther apart in mentality than at any time in the past 50 years.

...

But why did I do it? I confess that I'm an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class. And I'm a stodgy old scientist who believes, naively, that there exists an external world, that there exist objective truths about that world, and that my job is to discover some of them. (If science were merely a negotiation of social conventions about what is agreed to be ``true'', why would I bother devoting a large fraction of my all-too-short life to it? I don't aspire to be the Emily Post of quantum field theory.

But my main concern isn't to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit (we'll survive just fine, thank you). Rather, my concern is explicitly political: to combat a currently fashionable postmodernist/poststructuralist/social-constructivist discourse -- and more generally a penchant for subjectivism -- which is, I believe, inimical to the values and future of the Left. Alan Ryan said it well:

It is, for instance, pretty suicidal for embattled minorities to embrace Michel Foucault, let alone Jacques Derrida. The minority view was always that power could be undermined by truth ... Once you read Foucault as saying that truth is simply an effect of power, you've had it. ... But American departments of literature, history and sociology contain large numbers of self-described leftists who have confused radical doubts about objectivity with political radicalism, and are in a mess.
(My emphasis)

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 02:37:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not post-structuralist, not post-modern.

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon
by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 02:49:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We're going to need a taxonomy of Critical Theory for the uninitiated, then.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 02:54:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Adorno's writing is difficult because he is thinking dialectically.  (So making Adorno into a postmodern would be like making Marx and Hegel into postmoderns and dismissing Hegel as politically irrelevant, something Marx didn't do.)  The idea is that forces and ideas are important for what they push against.

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon
by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 03:11:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which dialectics?  Are you speaking generically or of a specific methodology, e.g., dialectical materialism?  I suspect the exempli gratis from your last sentence.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Aug 2nd, 2007 at 10:22:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cassiodorus and Prof. Welch are quick to require references, proofs, and substantive justifications for comments but are not so quick to respond when they, in turn, are asked for such.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Aug 4th, 2007 at 11:23:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Adorno was very much a Hegelian...

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon
by Cassiodorus on Sat Aug 4th, 2007 at 04:58:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Adorno was very much a Hegelian

Meaningless drivel.

Let me simplify so you can grasp the question ...

Did Adorno strictly accept Hegelian logic and epistemology?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Aug 4th, 2007 at 11:50:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Meaningless drivel.

Let me simplify so you can grasp the question

Since you are clearly stuck on put-downs and insults-to-intelligence of this sort here, go find out about Adorno for yourself.  It's not as if I have any privileged knowledge here, and loneliness is happier than socializing with posts of this sort.

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Sun Aug 5th, 2007 at 12:19:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tit-for-tat is a bitch, ain't it?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 12:05:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OH really, that's odd, I responded very fully three times to the chief antagonist here; did I miss something - where did I "fail to respond" ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Aug 5th, 2007 at 04:20:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been looking on in awe at this discussion based as it is upon knowledge I do not have, reading I have not, and never will, undertake, and at a level of abstraction a bear of little Brain can never attain.

But my thanks to Migeru for his unfailing supply of shafts of light

never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class

THAT I understand....

Migeru: please keep on "taking the pith". ;-)

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Fri Aug 3rd, 2007 at 07:10:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Adorno's failure and the concomitant failure of Critical Theory is that he and they are all just parts of the culture industry too. And by his own definition, that debases his language and works.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 02:09:04 PM EST
"All culture after Auschwitz, including its urgent critique, is rubbish."

There is, btw, an online paper on this same topic... part of the difficulty of Adorno is in being able to understand paradox...

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 02:46:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've read Elaine Martin's work before and it, like you and many other professional "Adorno-ists" rather misses the point.

It may satisfy your ego to exalt your understanding of paradox, but if you spend some time with various non-Judeo-Christian philosophies, you might develop a finer sense for what is missing from it. Some philosophies have been dealing with these paradoxes in rather more depth than Adorno, you know.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 03:50:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Name names...

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 04:00:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some philosophies have been dealing with these paradoxes in rather more depth than Adorno, you know.

Examples?

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 05:14:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Kellner is less pessimistic about Critical Theory than TBG, and his article is a valuable complement to Cassiodorus' diary, bringing out some complexities and positive aspects:

... It is my conviction that the critical theory of the Frankfurt School continues to provide theoretical and political resources to draw upon to create theories and politics adequate to the contemporary era, an era of unpheaval, unpredictability, utopian possibilities, authoritarian horrors, the resurgence of the radical right, and as yet unforeseen crises and openings for social transformation. The critical theorists of the 1930s found themselves in a similar complex socio-political conjuncture and revised the classical theories of Marx and Weber accordingly to provide new theoretical syntheses for their present moment. They filled in some of the missing parts of classical Marxism, developing theories of culture, society, psychology, and the state, lacking in the Marxian theory, while fleshing out the philosophical dimension of the Marxian theory. They also updated the Marxian theory and critique of monopoly state capitalism, analyzing the transition to the new stages of capitalism and fascism. They developed the Weberian themes of rationalization and the Nietzschen themes of the massification of society and decline of individuality to describe the dynamics of their social situation.

Critical theory remains of intense interest for the present conjuncture and provides crucial resources for a renewal of critical social theory and democratic politics in the current age precisely because, like the 1930s, our age is undergoing vast transformations, some of which are promising and some of which are threatening. Going back to the classics in critical theory is therefore not a matter of mere antiquarian pleasure, but of gaining methodological insight, theoretical illumination, and political inspiration to carry on the tasks of critical social theory in the present conjuncture.

...

 Furthermore, the complexity of the text, its difficulty to the point of willful obscurity, its failure to affirm clear positions, either theoretical or practical, and its dark vision put it in close relation with what Habermas called "the 'black' writers of the bourgeoisie" (1987: 106). These features also point it its affinities with certain versions of postmodern theory - especially, Nietzsche, Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault. Thus, it is ultimately undecidable as to whether Horkheimer and Adorno are affirming a reconstructed version of Enlightenment, or rejecting Enlightenment altogether for something else; one can offer either reading, or argue, as I would, that they are both producing a text that is between modern and postmodern theory and conceptualizing a society in transition. Several aspects of the text besides its fragmentary, open, and complex character point to its experimental qualities. Horkheimer and Adorno offer two philosophical excurses, one of which provides a reading of Homer's Odyssey and the other which interprets the connections between the role of system in modern philosophy and Enlightenment projects of social transformation. Several interpreters have stressed the allegorical reading of Homer as demonstrating the entanglement of myth and Enlightenment, of juxtaposing the past with the present that highlights the "modern" features of antiquity and the "barbaric" features of the present (see Mills, 1987; Habermas, 1987; Geyer-Ryan and Lethen, 1987; and Kellner, 1989). The methodological point I wish to stress is that Horkheimer and Adorno here use the techniques of philosophical and literary interpretation to unfold the social truth contained in literary and philosophical texts. This move decenters the sort of analytic social theory that constituted the critical theory of the 1930s and marks a significant departure and growing mistrust of social sciences and theory.

...

Although Habermas was personally closer to Adorno, and in fact had serious political differences with the late Horkheimer, he is more philosophically sympathetic to Horkheimer's positions. Habermas points to the tensions between Horkheimer's previous work and Dialectic of Enlightenment, written with Adorno. His argument that Horkheimer's agreement with Adorno was short-lived and was primarily a product of their intense collaboration during the writing of Dialectic of Enlightenment is convincing, especially in the light of Horkheimer's Eclipse of Reason and the article published in this issue "Reason Against Itself: Some Notes on Enlightenment." In these texts, Horkheimer more positively evaluates the legacy of the Enlightenment and calls for a reconstruction of reason and the more radical critique of reason and Enlightenment of Dialectic of Enlightenment is not evident. Horkheimer's style too follows that of the classical philosophical essay which clearly sets out arguments, contextualizes its problematic within intellectual history, and advances specific positions. Such a rational discursive procedure evident in "Reason Against Itself" is significantly different from the textual strategy of Dialectic of Enlightenment and its more distanced relation to Enlightenment and reason.

...
As I suggested earlier, Baudrillard, Lyotard, and other forms of postmodern theory which reject macrotheory and political economy, or wallow in implosion, fragmentation, irony, and nihilism, lack the theoretical resources to develop a critical theory of contemporary society. Instead, theories are needed that articulate both fragmentation and new forms of social structuration, that stress disorganization and reorganization within the present order, and that combine macro and micro perspectives. The classical models of critical theory provide aspects of a critical theory of the present age and their models of social theory, philosophy, and cultural critique continue to be relevant to the present situation. Although we need new syntheses of social theory and politics today, the continuing relevance of the Frankfurt School for these concerns makes their work more than a nostalgic remembrance of things past. A better tomorrow depends on building on the best of yesterday and new theories should appreciate the most valuable legacies of the heritage of contemporary social theory.

http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell10.htm




Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 02:53:45 PM EST
Constructive commentary!

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon
by Cassiodorus on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 03:12:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thus, it is ultimately undecidable as to whether Horkheimer and Adorno are affirming a reconstructed version of Enlightenment, or rejecting Enlightenment altogether for something else; one can offer either reading, or argue, as I would, that they are both producing a text that is between modern and postmodern theory and conceptualizing a society in transition.

PoMo 'it's all a matter of opinion' has been massively useful for the neocons, precisely because it has weakened any prospect of forceful criticism, and replaced it with self-referential non-specific noodling.

I'm finding it hard to believe that Dick Cheney lies awake at nights worrying that someone is deconstructing his text.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 03:41:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do try to keep up :-)  Kellner explains that that text is is complex and ambiiguous, for the reasons he gives, but also that it did not really reflect the views of Horkheimer, who had a more positive view of the Enlightenment and (for Migeru :-)) was therefore different from the postmodernists and closer to Sokal:

In these texts, Horkheimer more positively evaluates the legacy of the Enlightenment and calls for a reconstruction of reason and the more radical critique of reason and Enlightenment of Dialectic of Enlightenment is not evident. Horkheimer's style too follows that of the classical philosophical essay which clearly sets out arguments, contextualizes its problematic within intellectual history, and advances specific positions. Such a rational discursive procedure evident in "Reason Against Itself" is significantly different from the textual strategy of Dialectic of Enlightenment and its more distanced relation to Enlightenment and reason.

As such it was not so different from the media critique of Chomsky and Herman, who also continue the Enlightenment tradition and are quite marxist in their "institutional analysis" of the media.

I'm finding it hard to believe that Dick Cheney lies awake at nights worrying that someone is deconstructing his text.

I don't suppose French royalty lost much sleep over most of the writings of Diderot et al.

It's absurd to judge the value of such ideas by whether some dogmatic politician pays attention to them or not. Kellner is just one of those working in the general tradition of Critical Theory and argubaly many on the Left use this kind of general approach and they help create a background intellectual framework  for criticism. This affects the work of some in the media (some of whom were taught by people like Kellner)who are now able to be more critical as the public mood has changed in the US, partly because of critical analysis of the arguments of those in power.

In your simplistic view there is no point to such work unless the masses storm the White House waving copies of these theortecical texts. Things work in somewhat more subtle and complex ways. Try reading the whole of the Kellner article - might be enlightening :-) - as might his applications of theory to current issues:

Kellner argues that "media spectacles' have come to dominate news covereage and distract the public from the substance of real public issues. Exploring the role of media spectacle in the 9/11 attacks and subsequent Terror Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kellner documents the centrality of media politics in advancing foreign policy agendas and militarism. He reveals how conflicting political forces ranging from Al Qaeda to the Bush administration construct media spectacles to advance their politics. Two chapters delineate the role of the media in the highly significant 2004 election campaign that many believe to be one of the key political struggles of the contemporary era. Criticizing unilateralism abroad, Kellner argues for a multilateral and cosmopolitan globalization and the need for democratic media to take a more decisive role to overcome the current crisis of democracy.

About the Author
Douglas Kellner, professor in the Graduate School of Education, UCLA, is the author of many books, including Grand Theft 2000 (Rowman & Littlefield 2001) about the last presidential election.

I'm glad such guys are writing - like that other academic, Noam Chomsky - and if Kellner thinks the Critical Theorists worth reading and building on, I'm more inclined to believe him than someone who reduces complex issues to simplistic attacks on unwordly academics - views one might expect from the O'Reillys of this world.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 05:39:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's absurd to judge the value of such ideas by whether some dogmatic politician pays attention to them or not.

But it's not so absurd to judge the value of such ideas by pointing out that if they were half as clever as they claim to be, Cheney would most likely be in an insane asylum instead of running a country.

The basic issue here is a denail of the fact that the Right is much better at playing media games than the so-called Critical Left is.

The Right gets results. It wins elections. It sets the agenda. It defines the discourse. This has been happening since before Thatcher, and they are damn good at it.

And the Critical Left does - what exactly? Quotes Adorno and hopes the neocons will run away screaming?

This isn't a trivial point. The intellectual Left worked up a good head of steam between the wars, and lost it after the sixties because it grew complacent enough to believe that telling people they ought to think for themselves would be enough.

The evil genius of the Right is that it has such a good instinct for forcing people to think and feel how it wants them to - if not for ever, certainly for long enough to do a huge amount of cultural, legal, social, political and environmental damage.

Saying 'Yes, but, well, you see, so and so said, while such and such also said...' is not in any way a useful answer to this, no matter how superficially clever it is.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 07:43:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]

TW: It's absurd to judge the value of such ideas by whether some dogmatic politician pays attention to them or not.

TBG: But it's not so absurd to judge the value of such ideas by pointing out that if they were half as clever as they claim to be, Cheney would most likely be in an insane asylum instead of running a country.

Yes, it IS absurd. If you were a first year student I'd tell you go away and read something before sounding off - is this level of "theory" all that's come of thirty years in the media ? It just demonstrates how important theory is, you should actually read some and make distinctions between those who continue the work of Critical theorists, such as Kellner, and Postmodernists, of whom he is very critical.

Your daft "argument" is that on the one hand are the Critical theorists, and on the other huge media organisations, well-funded right-wing think-tanks and immensely rich, right-wing politcians and parties. And, if the latter get into power, then this proves that the critical theorists are wasting their time. Surely you can see how ridiculously simplistic this is?

 There are many factors which account for the current triumph of the Right, not just the supposed inadequacy of Critical Theory. Just maybe the system at the moment is rigged, the Right has immense power and influence and there are many things which led to Bush and Cheney getting into power - the money the right spent on the elections, corruption of the electoral process, the lack of appeal of Kerry and the Democrats, etc., etc.

The basic issue here is a denail of the fact that the Right is much better at playing media games than the so-called Critical Left is.

The Right gets results. It wins elections. It sets the agenda. It defines the discourse. This has been happening since before Thatcher, and they are damn good at it.

And the Critical Left does - what exactly? Quotes Adorno and hopes the neocons will run away screaming?
This isn't a trivial point.

It's not EVEN a trivial point, it is s ridiculous travesty of a complex situation in whiuch the Left in the US (which is very varied and engages in a variety of activities: demos, campaigns, registering minorities, etc., etc.) does rather more than quote Adorno. If they haven't succeeeded, this requires a SOMEWHAT more sophisticated analysis than this.

 The intellectual Left worked up a good head of steam between the wars, and lost it after the sixties because it grew complacent enough to believe that telling people they ought to think for themselves would be enough.

The evil genius of the Right is that it has such a good instinct for forcing people to think and feel how it wants them to - if not for ever, certainly for long enough to do a huge amount of cultural, legal, social, political and environmental damage.

Saying 'Yes, but, well, you see, so and so said, while such and such also said...' is not in any way a useful answer to this, no matter how superficially clever it is.

This is history at its most childish - your "explanation" of complex historical processes is that, for some unexplained reason, the Left just got "complacent". I suggest you try reading some real history from the Left, which shouldn't strain the grey cells too much and which, contrary to your travesty of the Left, has been very popular, e.g. Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States". From an interview with him:

Of course, since then, we've had a diminution of the power of the labor movement: the CIO merged with the AFL, and the militancy of the CIO, to a great extent, has been lost in the vast bureaucracy of the AFL/CIO. But despite that, there have been movements of workers, whether in unions or outside of unions, to try to better their conditions. In the 1960s, there was a welfare rights movement, and that was something that took place outside the union movement. It was a movement that pointed to the condition of poor people. And I'm sure the welfare rights movement of the '60s along with the other movements of that time -- that is, the Civil Rights Movement and the movement against the war in Vietnam and the Women's Movement -- I think all of that contributed to an atmosphere in which you could get some reforms in the 1960s for working people. You could get Medicare and Medicaid. So the 1960s, like the 1930s, was a period of great social movements which brought some reforms.

http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2006/wagingaliving/special_goodman_zinn.html

You might also try Eric Hobsbawm:

In a vivid chronicle bristling with unorthodox views and fresh insights, [marxist] British historian Hobsbawm divides the period from the outbreak of WWI to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. into three phases. The "Age of Catastrophe" (1914-47), marked by two world wars, the crumbling of colonial empires, the spread of communism and the near-breakdown of the capitalist system, ended only after the liberal West and the Soviet Union forged a temporary, bizarre alliance to defeat Hitler.

Rivalry between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. dominated the ensuing "Golden Age" (1947-73), yet Hobsbawm (emeritus professor at the University of London and professor of politics at Manhattan's New School for Social Research) argues that despite Cold War rhetoric, the superpowers essentially accepted the division of the world and sought long-term peaceful coexistence. The Golden Age's real significance, he maintains, lies in explosive growth of the world economy, technological revolution and, for most of the globe, a social revolution marked by death of the peasantry, mass urbanization, the spread of literacy and the primacy of individualism over traditional constraints.

The "Crisis Decades" (1973-present) have brought mass unemployment, severe cyclical slumps and a widening abyss between rich and poor nations. Hobsbawm weaves into his tapestry scientific advances, the decline of both avant-garde and classic high art and the disintegration of social relationships amid rampant individualism.

http://www.amazon.com/Age-Extremes-History-World-1914-1991/dp/0679730052

It goes a bit beyond "the Left got complacent" - which is just amateur social psychologism.

It's not that the Right has an "evil genius", rather, to put it simply, that they have more money and they can buy smart people to argue their case AND that they do so at many levels, theoretical and populist. You might also note that they think it important to attack "liberal" and, even more, leftist academics (so the RIGHT don't think they are irrelevant), and they are funded by a small group of wealthy people - but this takes a bit of research, by an academic:

In a recent article on HNN Professors Eric Foner and Glenda Gilmore worry that academic freedom is being eroded. While they address the McCarthyite tactics of the right, I think there may also be another interesting story here.
...
So it turns out that every single right-wing source mentioned in their article owes some portion (if not all) of their livelihood to a very small core group of funders. In my experience, this is not atypical among conservative opinion-makers. It appears that the majority of the conservative experts and scholars writing newspaper op-ed pieces, books and magazine articles, and even the organizations that generate the "talking points" and position papers used by TV pundits and radio talk show hosts, are directly funded by, or work for organizations supported by this core group of funders.

This pattern of concentrated, interlinking financial backing is not found when you look into who is funding people and organizations that would not describe themselves as "conservatives".
...

By looking at the backgrounds of the conservative sources cited in Foner and Gilmore's article on freedom of speech on campus, we have discovered another story. What Foner and Gillmore took to be a number of voices signifying, in their words, "a broader trend among conservative commentators, who since September 11 have increasingly equated criticism of the Bush administration with lack of patriotism," is really only the tip of an iceberg of organizations, funded by a core group coordinating a right-wing agenda to put a chill on more than just academic speech. Academics should be on guard because the activities of these organizations follow a pattern designed to mislead the casual reviewer.

http://www.hnn.us/articles/1244.html

But I'm afraid you seem impervious to evidence which runs counter to your rather fixed and simplistic views about recent history, so I make these efforts in case anyone else thinks what you say makes sense.


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Aug 2nd, 2007 at 04:21:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted, I understand you're frustrated and not a little annoyed, but it would probably work better if you played the ball a bit more rather than the player ...

(Note: I shouldn't use sports analogies.)

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 2nd, 2007 at 04:25:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Ted, I understand you're frustrated and not a little annoyed, but it would probably work better if you played the ball a bit more rather than the player ..."

Yes, well, this is my third attempt and there is rather a lot of content, which took some time to dig out, as well as the invective - which just echoes his scorn for Critical theorists, leftist academics, etc.

"(Note: I shouldn't use sports analogies.)"

A critical theorist would understand  :-) - it's a reflection of the hegemony of the corporate appropriation of the ethos of sports which now saturates the media, diverting the masses and inducing irrational attachments to what have become mere marketing tools, but which also promote the reigning ideology of the culture of consumption - or something like that :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Aug 2nd, 2007 at 05:51:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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