The Prism of Expectation: Critical Theory’s Afterlife in America

Nowhere outside of Germany has the critical theory of Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and others received such an enthusiastic and productive reception like in the United States. In the wake of the crisis of the New Left, the Frankfurt tradition became not just the door to a “hidden dimension,” as a volume of the 1970s put it, but also a medium through which to answer the pressing cultural and political questions of the day. Taken from a dissertation that focuses on the journals New German Critique and Telos–that is apparently the first treatment of the history of Critical Theory to make extensive use of the archival materials of Martin Jay–this talk will argue that the afterlife of Critical Theory in the United States can be studied not just as a confrontation between the present of the American readers and the historical experience engrained in the texts of Adorno and others, but also as part of a larger, historically far-reaching discussion between the Old and the New World.

Robert Zwarg studied translation (English/Spanish), philosophy and cultural studies at Leipzig University, UC Davis and Mexico City. In 2015 he completed his Ph.D. in philosophy with a dissertation on the reception of critical theory in the United States, undertaken at the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture. For his research he spent ten months in 2012 at the New School for Social Research in New York and was a guest at the Mosse Program in History in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2016. He is currently a research associate at the Simon Dubnow Institute. His research interests are in twentieth century intellectual history, critical theory and the history of theory.

Co-sponsored by the German Department.