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He furnishes a template for the pop-savvy intellectual, the preferred model in what remains of literary life.
Yet Adorno, his dark-minded, infuriating brother, will not go away: his cross-examination of the “Work of Art” essay, his pinpointing of its moments of naïveté, strikes home.
After several more book-selling expeditions, Chip enters a high-end grocery store and walks out with an overpriced filet of wild Norwegian salmon.
Adorno tended to be protective of them, even as he exposed their ideological underpinnings.
Benjamin, in his resonant sentence linking culture and barbarism, saw the treasures of bourgeois Europe as spoils in a victory procession, each work blemished by the suffering of nameless millions.
In 1938, Adorno said it of Benjamin, who fell into a months-long depression.
The word “dialectic,” as elaborated in the philosophy of Hegel, causes endless problems for people who are not German, and even for some who are.
The debate reached its height in the wake of Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” a masterpiece of contingent optimism that praises mass culture only insofar as mass culture advances radical politics.
Many readers will sympathize with Benjamin, who managed to uphold a formidable critical tradition while opening himself to the modern world and writing in a sensuous voice.
In light of recent events, however, it may be time to unpack those texts again.
Economic and environmental crisis, terrorism and counterterrorism, deepening inequality, unchecked tech and media monopolies, a withering away of intellectual institutions, an ostensibly liberating Internet culture in which we are constantly checking to see if we are being watched: none of this would have surprised the prophets of Frankfurt, who, upon reaching America, failed to experience the sensation of entering Paradise.
The novelist Benjamin Kunkel, in his recent essay collection “Utopia or Bust,” extolls the criticism of Jameson, who has taught Marxist literary theory at Duke University for decades.
(Kunkel also mentions “The Corrections,” noting that Chip gets his salmon at a shop winkingly named the Nightmare of Consumption.) The critic Astra Taylor, in “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age,” argues that Adorno and Max Horkheimer, in their 1944 book “Dialectic of Enlightenment,” gave early warnings about corporations “drowning out democracy in pursuit of profit.” And Walter Benjamin, whose dizzyingly varied career skirted the edges of the Frankfurt collective, receives the grand treatment in “Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life” (Harvard), by Howard Eiland and Michael W.
Jennings, who earlier edited Harvard’s four-volume edition of Benjamin’s writings.