I wanted to start reading Dialectic of Enlightenment by Adorno and Horkheimer. My question is simple: Which philosophers' works do I have to be familiar with to get a decent first time reading from it?

Also on a similar note, is this a book that can be manageable and fruitful for someone as an undergrad?

  • 2
    Kant, Hegel, Freud... – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 28 '16 at 15:10
  • 2
    See Adorno and Horkheimer. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 28 '16 at 15:12
  • The first long essay requires some familiarity with Homers Odessey. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 29 '16 at 16:42
  • In the larger context, Marx! I wouldn't be ashamed to get an intro or summary guide. Some people love Adorno, I join Kolokowski in finding him an obscurantist. – Nelson Alexander Aug 31 '20 at 14:14

I think the text would be challenging to an undergraduate unless a lecturer provided context and exegesis. Some philosophical texts, such as Descartes' Meditations and Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding, can with some degree of success be tackled head-on. Others, such as Hegel's Phenomenology and Heidegger's Being and Time, can't. While I wouldn't put Adorno and Horkheimer in the same league as Hegel and Heidegger, the same point applies to A & H.


Plainly this is a vital point of reference :

Dialektik der Aufklärung a seminal text in twentieth-century intellectual history, at the heart of which lies a mournful reading of the Odyssey. Odysseus and the adventures of his voyage home provide Horkheimer and Adorno with critical material for exploring the history and nature of barbarous enlightenment and their - seemingly paradoxical - thesis: namely, that myth is already enlightenment; and that enlighten ment reverts to mytholology. (Katie Fleming, 'Odysseus and Enlightenment: Horkheimer and Adorno's "Dialektik der Aufklärung"', International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol. 19, No. 2 (JUNE 2012), pp. 107-128 : 107.)

The German philhellenic tradition

Fleming again :

... closer attention ought to be paid to the authors' choice and interpretation of the Odyssey. Dialektik der Aufklärung is, this article shall suggest, a confrontation with the German philhellenic tradition itself, from Hegel to Wilamowitz, out of which arises a powerful, ethical statement about the nature of that tradition, and the politics and cultural identity in which it plays a central part. (Ibid.)

Hegel and Nietzsche

Special mention should be made of these two. Adorno and Horkheimer contrast their positions within the philhellenic tradition :

It is important to note, however, that here and particularly in his later work, Der Antichrist (1888), Nietzsche does not follow Hegel, whose philosophical programme ultimately justifies Christianity. In this respect their appropriations of antiquity differ dramatically. For Hegel, the Greeks are proto-Christians. For Nietzsche, Griechentum [Hellenism : GT] is opposed to Christianity (which he places in the same negative category as archaic Judaism).

But Adorno and Horkheimer's discussion of Hegel and Nietzsche is too complex to summarise adequately here.

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