Theodor W. Adorno has a complex attitude toward utopian thought. Although he views as destructive and dangerous fascist and “vulgar” Marxist strands of utopianism and has a subtle diagnostic critique of their attractions and deficiencies, he finds the proper use of utopian imagination essential for human freedom. He writes copiously about the perils of prior ideological constraint not only of the content of imagination but also of the possible forms that imagination might take, political and otherwise. This article joins an analysis of Adorno's thought on utopianism with an exposition and critique of his interpretation of Gustav Mahler's symphonic practice. It argues that Adorno's discussion of Mahler both takes precedence in his thought on artistic utopianism and clarifies his treatment of the continuing salience of utopian thought more generally.

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