School of New Resources
An expository and critical analysis of the work of Theodor W. Adorno provides the theoretical framework within which the concept of ideology is examined.
Adorno's work is located within the Marxist legacy wherein the concept of ideology refers to false consciousness. This epistemological focus and rooting of Adorno's work is explored through the works of Karl Marx and Georg Lukacs.
For both Marx and Lukacs, ideology arises as a result of the socioeconomic structures of capitalism and characterizes the ways in which ideas concerning social reality become distorted. Their critique of ideology is meant to reconcile social reality with the subject whose ideas concerning reality have become distorted. This reconciliation is located within the proletariat.
In light of twentieth century events, Adorno sought to reevaluate traditional Marxism. Finding Marx and Lukacs' reconciliation of subject and object inadequate, Adorno constructs an epistemology based on a notion of nonidentity. Accordingly, objects are not reduced to the conceptual frameworks used to describe them, but rather, by way of linguistic constructs are allowed to reveal their autonomy and truth. According to Adorno, only where the contradictory nature of ideological discourse exists is there a possibility of redeeming objects and experience from reification. Adorno's philosophical style offers a method of this redemption.
Adorno, after finding both the Marxian view of the proletariat and modern philosophy inadequate as models of emancipation, turns to art. He provides an analysis of contemporary art, especially music, in order to locate emancipatory possibility. His analysis indicates that although art provides a model of emancipation, it also suffers from the demands of the culture industry which attempts to reduce the reception of art to a commodity, thus denying individuals their autonomy. The objects of art are ideological, in Adorno's sense, and thus in need of philosophical redemption. In light of this, Adorno turns to the music of Arnold Schoenberg as a particular example of emancipatory possibility.
Adorno offers no strategy for political action. His theoretical method attempts to broaden our understanding of ideology and caution us regarding conceptual frameworks and the tendency towards reducing autonomous experience to unquestioned categories.
deSalle, L. V. (1984). The Dialectic Of Ideology In The Thought Of Theodor W. Adorno (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Columbia University, New York.
© Louis V. deSalle. All rights reserved.