This article explores the notion of contribution and the role of emigrant intellectuals in relation to their new cultural context. Using the example of German exiles in the United States, Adorno suggests that if emigrants find the demands for intellectual independence in discord with the dominant habits of American intellectual life, they should not conform to the American Geist. In academic fields, the notion of contribution is visible in the positive sciences but becomes more problematic in the humanities, where contribution appears not as a palpable result but as a reflection about the results and the nature of the contribution itself. The idea of contribution presupposes the merit of the order to which the contribution is being made: it is precisely this merit of the order that needs to be scrutinized. Emigrant intellectuals—by making contributions without critically reflecting upon them—and the organization of American intellectual life itself—by insisting that the intellectual either integrate him- or herself or remain an outsider—are to blame for furthering standardized contribution. The emigrant intellectual should not accept the idea of “this is the way it is done here” but needs to develop critical thought in relation to the new context. The article proposes four demands to intellectual emigration: (1) one should not cancel out previous life experience and consider emigration as beginning life anew; (2) one must resist the pressure of the industrial apparatus; (3) one must express one's thoughts without regards for ends and the sake of communication; and (4) one must not curtail insight, imagination, and speculation. The article thus propounds the idea that we can only contribute to the building of a better society by not “blindly devot[ing] ourselves to the existing” one.
Theodor W. Adorno; Questions on Intellectual Emigration. Social Text 1 June 2009; 27 (2 (99)): 159–164. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2008-029
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