»The Dialectic of Enlightenment in America«
Annual Conference of the Dubnow Institute
The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) by Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer is a crisis treatise that has achieved the status of a critical classic. Shaped by European, US-American and Jewish experiences, that book has encountered an ambivalent reception. The work was long given scant attention, and then became one of the key texts of the student movement in the 1960s. In 1969, the authors, albeit with some hesitation, agreed to its reissue, but noted that they no longer fully adhered to everything stated there. Today the book stands principally accused of being marked by a »turn of pessimism,« where the signs loom of an emergent shift, with some degree of resignation, from the materialistic, interdisciplinary research program of the former Frankfurt Institute for Social Research toward a supra-historical natural history. Most particularly in the US, the country that had a lasting impress on the exiled Critical Theorists, the book has largely remained without any significant impact.
There has to date been little work attempting to view American cultural and intellectual history through the prism of the Philosophical Fragments, seeking if possible to ferret out the American Dialectic of Enlightenment. Isn't the victory over the Wild West an integral part of the American foundation myth, just as Adorno and Horkheimer placed the domination of nature at the center of their philosophical speculations? Doesn't the critique of progress in the Dialectic of Enlightenment cast a new beam to raise discussion of these questions with researchers in philosophy, sociology, the historical sciences and literary studies. In this connection, the conference seeks to view the amalgamation of European and American strands of tradition within Critical Theory in general and the Dialectic of Enlightenment in particular as both a challenge and an opportunity, affording a springboard for gaining fresh insight and new knowledge about the New World as well as the Old.
15th to 16th June 2015