Tell Me Lies and Show Me Invisible Images!: Adorno’s Criticism of Film – Revisited

For a long time critical theorists have reproduced the thesis that culture, industrially produced, loses the element of critical negativity hidden in its bourgeois affirmative character. Instead of freeing the masses, the culture industry delivers mere deception, and cinema is treated as the central sector of that swindle. But it is important to realize that Adorno, the main representative of this thesis, adopts several contradictory positions about cinema. His criticism is focused on the principle of visualization: Adorno is an enemy of images interested in invisible images; he is a blind realist outlining the contradiction between representation and meaning, intention and action without intention. Adorno only assumes this double perspective in his later short essays on film. He does not deliver a theory, but offers a theoretical profile somewhere between the approaches of image, movement and language theory. And he himself rejects the claim that culture industry and mass culture are identical. Rather culture industry is as antagonistic as society as a whole; it includes the antidote of its own lie.

Professor Josef Früchtl is Professor and Chair in Philosophy of Art and Culture at the University of Amsterdam. He is co-editor of the Zeitschrift fuer Aesthetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft and the author of numerous books and articles on Adorno, aesthetics, ethics, theory of culture, cinema, Critical Theory and theories of modernity.

Introduction: Martin Jay, Professor of History, UC Berkeley