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Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno was born in 1903. He attended the University of Frankfurt where he studied philosophy, sociology, psychology, and music. In 1931Adorno joined the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. Escaping from Nazism, the Institute moved to Zurich in 1934, and Adorno in 1938, rejoined the Institute, which was now located in New York. In 1953, at the age of 50, Adorno left the United States and returned to Frankfurt to take up a position with the Institute In 1959 he became its director following the retirement of Max Horkheimer. In 1969 students occupy the building of the Institute and Adorno calls police to clean the office. After that incident, students, in an aggressive form, of happening, boycotted his lectures. Adorno died in 1969 in Switzerland, after being shocked by the aforementioned events, and while writing what many believe to be his most important work, Aesthetic Theory.

The main works of Adorno: “Dialectics of Enlightnenment” (with M. Horkheimer), 1947, “The philosophy of the new music” (1949), “The negative dialectic” (1966),”The Aesthetic Theory” (1970, published posthumously). Adorno, along with other participants of the so-called Frankfurt School, used Hegelian dialectics for the analysis of the political, ideological, and economic contradictions of the late capitalism. Adorno followed his friend and teacher Walter Benjamin in insisting on a special, irreconcilable form of dialectic, which does not lead to a frozen result and where the negative trumps over the positive. Unlike Hegel, Adorno developed his “negative dialectics” in the constellations of loose aphorisms, never aspiring to a system and avoiding any stabilization of his concepts.

The main imperative of Adorno is the constant illegitimate irruption of thought and art into a territory which is for this or that reason closed to it — into the zone of the inconceivable, of the absurd, of the dissonance, and so forth. Such irruption is not realized automatically, through pure audacity, but only through an artistic or intellectual invention of a new way of viewing reality (i.e., of a new form). The irruption into these zones renders them autonomous — not essentially, since their borders are determined by the social system — but concretely, historically, since hardly anyone dares to glimpse into them. Art fights with society for the new modes of expression and liberates the zones of autonomy for their further occupation by the subject of society.

Adorno’s presentation of his theory of aesthetics in Aesthetic Theory participates in an effort to by-pass the reduction of art and thought to the culture industry. He lauds difficult art and philosophy; for, as he sees it, only through a struggle to understand can value be given its true rights here. Overall, Adorno’s “Aesthetic Theory” struggles to reach a balance between the avant-garde art that risks being ‘normalised’ and reified in capitalist society, and the essentially radical autonomy of art objects which are, as such, singularly out of harmony with the social conditions (including criticism) enabling them to speak. It is the tragedy of Adorno’s death that in practice he refused to see the connection between his ideas of the politicization of philosophy and the concrete actions of students. Adorno was actually crashed by this movement — in which the elite autonomy of the Institute of Social Research faced the new, much more aggressive forms of students’ autonomy.