This article seeks to reconstruct a central claim of Theodor W. Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, namely, that art is simultaneously autonomous and socially conditioned. The thesis of art’s “double character” is often misunderstood, especially by critics who wish to fault Adorno for his retreat into socially indifferent aestheticism. But his actual view was that art can remain art only if it is responsive to human suffering. For Adorno, it is only by virtue of its relative autonomy that art can address social suffering and sustain a critical posture toward the world.

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