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The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950 (Weimar & Now: German Cultural Criticism) [Paperback]

Martin Jay

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Book Description

21 Mar 1996 Weimar & Now: German Cultural Criticism
Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, Franz Neumann, Theodor Adorno, Leo Lowenthal--the impact of the Frankfurt School on the sociological, political, and cultural thought of the twentieth century has been profound. The Dialectical Imagination is a major history of this monumental cultural and intellectual enterprise during its early years in Germany and in the United States. Martin Jay has provided a substantial new preface for this edition, in which he reflects on the continuing relevance of the work of the Frankfurt School.

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The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950 (Weimar & Now: German Cultural Criticism) + The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theory and Political Significance + Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodore W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute
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"An invaluable record of the roots of much that is alive in current social thought."--George Steiner, "London Times

About the Author

Martin Jay is Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his books are Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought and, as co-editor, The Weimar Sourcebook, both published by the University of California Press.

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One of the most far-reaching changes brought by the First World War, at least in terms of its impact on intellectuals, was the shifting of the socialist center of gravity eastward. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable Introduction to the Frankfurt School 7 Jan 2002
By Volkswagen Blues - Published on
28 years after its initial publication, Martin Jay's "The Dialectical Imagination" is still the best introduction and most indispensable guide to the Frankfurt School's history and thinkers. Jay can easily be forgiven his occasional historiographer's dryness and insistent reminders of the boundaries of his project (I would be a rich man if I had a nickel for every time he writes that "such considerations fall outside of the area of the current inquiry" or something to that effect). Moreover, even if subsequent publications of the translated correspondence and unpublished papers of figures like Benjamin and Adorno have robbed Jay's book of some of its potential for novelty and scoop, Jay still provides the best and most pithy assessments of the major points, and he does so without sacrificing the scholarly rigor that organizes "The Dialectical Imagination."
The book could certainly better fulfill its role as research tool if the publishers would sponsor an updating of the notes and citations; now that everything has been published and republished by presses like Fischer and Suhrkamp in Germany and by the likes of Continuum, Columbia, Harvard, etc., in the English-speaking world, Jay's opus might be more helpful were it not to insist on citing the original issues of the institute's journals, to which most of us simply don't have easy access.
That's a small bone to pick, though, with such a thorough book. Jay's chapter on the philosophical roots of critical theory moves quickly but surely (despite the occasional dependence on disciplinary argot that may slow down readers not steeped in the vocabulary of "isms"), providing a crucial backdrop to his reading of the Frankfurt School's entire intellectual contribution. This chapter grounds Jay's book safely, and the subsequent chapters make good on this very promising start.
"The Dialectical Imagination" is sure to remain the best available introduction to the thought of the Frankfurt School on the whole. I cannot recommend it highly enough for those interested in the history of philosophy in the 20th century, in radical politics, or in developments in literary theory.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dialecitcal Blade of the Frankfurt School 3 May 2000
By G. Bujak - Published on
Even though a few years old by now, this is still the finest volume on the (at one time) subversive and all-encompassing attempt at rewriting the understanding of man, with special emphasis on reconciling Marx with Freud. The movement was known as The Frankfurt School, and its leading lights are examined here, both in life and thought, with a special emphasis on the former. Other books have come out since then, some had greater access to previously unavailable documents. Even so, no other book beats Martin Jay's scholarly and eminently readable account. If you must read just one book on the movement, read this one.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evenhanded Intellectual History 26 Jan 2001
By Julian B. Brash - Published on
A wonderful introduction to and overview of the works of one of the only coherent intellectual "schools" of the 20th century. Jay describes the penetrating insights (and weaknesses) of the thought of Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse et al., with mercifully little of the psychologizing that one often finds in intellectual history. Ideas and their relation to historical context are the focus, rather than personalities and psyches. The book is readable enough to be attractive for non-academics and academics alike. It would have been nice to have more on the post-1950 period, but the as the subtitle makes clear, this is beyond Jay's purview for this book.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Detailed, Comprehensive View of the Thought and History of the Early Frankfurt School 3 Dec 2012
By A Certain Bibliophile - Published on
In the early 1920s, a formidable array of intellectual talent coalesced into a group that called themselves the Institut fur Sozialforschung (the Institute for Social Research). They would later come to be known more simply as the Frankfurt School. Consisting mostly of assimilated German Jews, they had a truly impressive body of interests, running from sociology, sinology, philosophy, Marxism, musicology, psychology, and psychoanalysis. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno are probably most affiliated with the first generation of the school, but it also included Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Leo Lowenthal, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Franz Neumann, many of whom are still read today.

But when one does hear the words "Frankfurt School" today, their influence on Marxism is perhaps what most immediately comes to mind. The members thought that the German Social Democratic Party was spineless and ineffective, but equally thought that the Communist party was too hard-lined and ideological. Because of this, their academic work paved a middle course between the bourgeois politics of the Social Democrats and the sclerotic, obsolescent, vulgar Marxism that they perceived in Germany, and which was soon to all but disappear.

Martin Jay uses this book as an opportunity to write a multi-person biography of many of the figures above, interlarded with the objective, measured perspective that I've come to know Jay for. (I've also read his "Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme," which is a philosophical history of experience over the last four hundred years or so, and which I have also reviewed for this site.) He discusses the major work which they produced, including their analysis of Nazism, aesthetic theory and Adorno's devastating critique of mass culture, and the later more empirical work that came out after World War II. In the last chapter, some of the contributions of Walter Benjamin, a figure more peripherally related to the school but still extraordinarily important in his own right, are more fully fleshed out. In school, I read Benjamin's "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (which I'm sure that every student in a philosophy of art course is made to read), and found that it completely changed some of my assumptions about aesthetic experience. I have several other volumes of Benjamin's work, including one of media criticism, and Jay's book has made me much more curious to pick those up.

If there is one complaint that I could level against the book, it would be that Jay pays almost equal attention to everyone, even those figures that few people really read these days. For whatever reason, I thought "history of the Frankfurt School" might mean "a detailed discussion of Horkheimer and Adorno," with maybe a little Marcuse or Benjamin tossed in for good measure. But he really tells the entire history of the Institute itself, including how it was funded and the minor figures that no one really except for perhaps academic specialists read anymore (like Neumann and Lazarsfeld). If you're looking for a book that gives a more straightforward account on the major ideas of critical theory and its continuing interdisciplinary influences, this isn't really the book that you're looking for - which is what this book seemed to be - this isn't really the book for you. If this is what you're more interested in I've heard, though I can't confirm since I haven't read them, that the Very Short Introduction's book on the group by Stephen E. Bronner or Thomas Wheatland's "The Frankfurt School in Exile" might be more appropriate.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Invisible College par excellence! 31 July 2007
By Joe Adams - Published on
This was one of the best books I read in graduate school. After 20 years this is still a great reference for anyone interested in the development of American universities. This work is an essential part of the intellectual landscape to anyone navigating the currents of the reactionary neocon thought, which developed in large degree in opposition to the legacy of the Frankfurt School. While the Frankfurt School's students seemed to dominate academe for a generation or more, the new invisible college is dominated by the reaction to this major stream of thought.
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