My review of Stuart Jeffries‘ Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School is in Saturday’s Irish Times.
… It is this embrace of negativity that is so bracing to some and frustrating to others, even within the school. During the 1960s student protests, change was deemed possible by Marcuse, who embodied a sunnier, Californian take on critical theory. The institute’s “late ethos” is likewise predicated on the feasibility of “ameliorating the conditions of capitalism and liberal democracy”. Yet Café Marx, as it used to be called derisively, remains tainted by Georg Lukács’s quip that these representatives of the chattering classes — branded traitors by Brecht — had holed themselves up in a beautiful hotel “equipped with every comfort, on the edge of an abyss, of nothingness, of absurdity”. There is a great deal of wisdom, however, in Adorno’s suspicion of revolutionary students’ “aversion to introspection”, which he had already observed in the dark days of Nazism. “I established a theoretical model of thought,” he told an interviewer in 1969. “How could I have suspected that people would want to implement it with Molotov cocktails!” There is also a great deal of hope in his belief that “whoever thinks offers resistance”.
At its best the Frankfurt School was always a think tank — in the armoured-fighting-vehicle sense of the word.