Critical Theory and the Now: A Contemporary Introduction to the Frankfurt School
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201
In 1930, Max Horkheimer became the director of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany. Along with his colleagues and a broader orbit of external scholars, he inaugurated the first wave of what came to be called “critical theory.” This course is an introduction to some of the key works and concepts of the Frankfurt School, including thinkers like Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin, in the context of a comparative analysis of the cultural and political landscape of the mid-twentieth century and that of today. What is historical materialism? What is the “dialectic of enlightenment”? How does the “culture industry” work? What, if any, are the connections and boundaries between philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, art, history, and religion? Drawing on readings from several Frankfurt School texts, particularly Adorno and Horkeimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, we will attempt to read, understand, and evaluate these questions and link them to the contemporary world.