This introduction to the translation of Theodor W. Adorno's “Kultur and Culture,” originally a lecture not intended for transcription and publication, situates the talk amongst Adorno's analyses of U.S. society and traces his distinctions between European and American understandings of culture. The talk is a rare example where Adorno discusses culture per se, as opposed to his work on “culture industry” and “cultural criticism.” The object of the critical and dialectical critique—a prime example of “immanent critique” as understood by the Frankfurt school—is the Enlightenment, both as a historical epoch and as human beings' increasing technical mastery over nature. In its historical sense, the Enlightenment has been victorious in the United States, where free and equal citizens engage in market exchanges as free agents, without feudal and precapitalist residues. Examining the concept of culture in American and European context suggests that in the United States, culture is seen as an exertion of control over human nature and one's natural surroundings. On the other hand, the Old World is “cultured” because it preserved, cared for nature: the Enlightenment as humans' increasing technical mastery over nature has not been completely victorious. In its critique of the Enlightenment both in the historical and philosophical sense, “Kultur and Culture” seeks to transcend the dichotomy of uncritically identifying oneself with or hypercritically isolating oneself from the United States. It rejects the opposition between the allegedly profound German Kultur and the “mere civilization” of the United States. The introduction concludes by highlighting the main challenges of translating “Kultur and Culture”: the author's complex sentences and the characteristics of a spontaneous, freely held speech, which are mirrored in the syntax of the translation.
Mark Kalbus; A Short Introduction to Adorno's Mediation between Kultur and Culture. Social Text 1 June 2009; 27 (2 (99)): 139–143. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2008-027
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