Session at the 108th College Art Association of America Annual Conference

Jordan M. Rose, University of California, San Diego and Anthony E. Grudin, University of Vermont 

Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory turns 50 in 2020. Published the year after Adorno’s death in 1969, the book remains one of the most powerful critiques of art and philosophical aesthetics ever written. Yet it is undeniably a 20th-century work. It has the 20th century in mind. The extent to which Aesthetic Theory illuminates our contemporary moment is of necessity a matter of dispute. Surely Adorno wouldn’t disagree – Aesthetic Theory is nothing if not specific and partisan. This session, conceived in part as a celebration of Adorno’s achievement (alas, one he never quite finished), asks the following questions: What is to be gained by reading Aesthetic Theory 50 years after it first appeared? To what end ought we – can we – read it? What have we still to learn from it? How does or doesn’t Aesthetic Theory help us to understand the work of art today? Are there ways in which the contemporary political climate, and the rise of nationalist and fascist tendencies with in it, makes Adorno’s magnum opus more relevant now that it has been in decades?