Immanent Critiques

Immanent Critiques:The Frankfurt School under Pressure

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Fifty years after the appearance of The Dialectical Imagination, his pioneering history of the Frankfurt School, Martin Jay reflects on what may be living and dead in its legacy. Rather than treating it with filial piety as a fortress to be defended, he takes seriously its anti-systematic impulse and sensitivity to changing historical circumstances. Honouring the Frankfurt School's practice of immanent critique, he puts critical pressure on a number of its own ideas by probing their contradictory impulses. Among them are the pathologization of political deviance through stigmatizing "authoritarian personalities," the undefended theological premises of Walter Benjamin's work, and the ambivalence of its members' analyses of anti-Semitism and Zionism. Additional questions are asked about other time-honored Marxist themes: the meaning of alienation, the alleged damages of abstraction, and the advocacy of a politics based on a singular notion of the truth.

Rather, however, than allowing these questions to snowball into an unwarranted repudiation of the Frankfurt School legacy as a whole, the essays also acknowledge a number of its still potent arguments. They explore its neglected, but now timely analysis of "racket society," Adorno's dialectical reading of aesthetic sublimation, and the unexpected implications of Benjamin's focus on the corpse for political theory. Jay shows that it is a still evolving theoretical tradition which offers resources for the understanding of - and perhaps even practical betterment - of our increasingly troubled world.


  • Praise for Splinters in Your Eye

  • In this sizzling collection of essays, Martin Jay demonstrates again that he is the unsurpassed reader of the group of thinkers known as the “Frankfurt School.” In fact, he challenges the false unity and coherence of ideas and views often imposed upon them, including his own earlier writings on the subject. Practicing episodic and fragmentary historiography, he uncovers astonishingly novel angles of interpretation as well as demonstrating brilliant re-readings of known texts. An absolute pleasure to read.

    Professor Seyla Benhabib
  • With this collection of brilliant and insightful essays Martin Jay has returned to the topic that defined his early career: Critical Theory, i.e. the lives and works of theorists such as Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin, Kracauer, and Marcuse. Based on deep historical knowledge and endowed with great sensitivity for theoretical nuances, Jay traces the unfolding of what is commonly called the Frankfurt School. He succeeds in this endeavor by his refusal to treat their thought as the expression of a unified school. For this difficult task one could not have found a more suitable critic than Martin Jay. This book is a precious gift to America in these troubled times.

    Peter Uwe Hohendahl