Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund (1903–69) By Pecora, Vincent P.
Born Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund to an Italian Catholic mother and an assimilated Jewish father, Adorno would take his mother’s vaguely aristocratic last name. Philosopher, aesthetician, social theorist, and musician, Adorno throughout his life remained committed to a decidedly secular and socialist European consciousness, even when dissecting German anti-Semitism in the 1940s. Yet his notion of utopian political transformation owed much to his early reading of Ernst Bloch’s insistence on a hunger for the transcendent that Bloch added to Marxian materialism. Adorno’s understanding of the work of art—a crucial element of his thinking, culminating in his Aesthetic Theory—was equally in tension over the historical necessity of its progressive secularization and rationalization. On the one hand, any “contamination of art with revelation” would uncritically embrace the mystical, fetish character of art. On the other hand, “the eradication of every trace of revelation from art” would reduce the artwork to a mere repetition of the status quo—that is, the lifeless routines of an administered society, including film and jazz, both of which Adorno denigrated.