T.W. Adorno

By: Joshua Glenn
September 11, 2009


Infamous among middlebrow intellectuals then and now for dismissing mainstream American music, movies, and magazines of the 1940s and ’50s as nothing more than vehicles for a relentless message of “adjustment and unreflecting obedience,” the German social philosopher and theorist T.W. ADORNO (1903-69) had a relentless message of his own. Thanks to the “introjection and integration of social pressure and coercion, men resign themselves to loving what they have to do, without even being aware that they are resigned,” he insisted, in everything he wrote: i.e., even though there’s no shepherd issuing orders, we behave like docile sheep. (Sound Foucauldian? In a 1978 interview, Foucault said that if he’d been familiar with Adorno’s work, “I would have avoided many of the detours which I made while trying to pursue my own humble path.”) But Adorno was not entirely pessimistic, even about pop culture. In fact, he enjoyed unique and eccentric lowbrow productions — which he described as being every bit as “embarrassing” to the coercive aims of the Disneyfied culture industry as were those highbrow works (e.g., Schoenberg) for which he is a better-known advocate. The HiLobrow.com project is deeply indebted to Adorno’s anti-middlebrow negative dialectics.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Arvo Part |

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).