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Critical aesthetic theory : the aesthetic theories of the Frankfurt School

By Jeremy Gaines


The following study outlines the different aesthetic theories developed\ud by Theodor. W. Adorno, Leo Löwenthal and Herbert Marcuse between 1931\ud and 1978, describing the work they undertook while members of the Frankfurt\ud School (1931-1942) and relating this to their later writings. A\ud brief explanation is also given of why - in the author's opinion - Walter\ud Benjamin's work should not be included amongst that of the Frankfurt School.\ud The thesis adopts a chronological approach based on immanent, textual\ud analysis of primary source material including unpublished correspondence.\ud The main point of comparison from which the different aesthetics are evaluated\ud is the degree to which they accept the main social theory developed\ud in the School by Max Horkheimer. It is argued that Horkheimer's work was\ud in turn based on Friedrich Pollock's theory of state capitalism. One of\ud the main arguments advanced here is that all the aesthetics constructed\ud before and after 1942 were indeed influenced to a greater or lesser extent\ud by Pollock's theory, an argument which challenges the dominant interpretations\ud of Frankfurt School aesthetic theories which regard them as not\ud being grounded in a theory of the base. The thesis shows that adopting\ud Pollock's social theory created problems for the aesthetic theories and\ud led to the emergence of two different aesthetics: Adorno's aesthetics of\ud mimetic experience and Marcuse's political aesthetics. Löwenthal's essays\ud are judged to form a literary sociology and not an aesthetics as such..\ud The dissertation concludes with the attempt to recuperate Adorno's concept\ud of mimesis as the basis for a Marxist aesthetics

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