Language and History in Theodor W. Adorno's Notes to Literature
In Language and History in Theodor W. Adorno’s Notes to Literature (Routledge, 2007), Ulrich Plass makes the case for the importance and relevance of Adorno’s often forgotten and derided attempts at literary criticism. Plass specifically draws our attention to five subjects, Eichendorff, Rudolf Borchardt, Stefan George, Heinrich Heine, and Goethe, and Adorno’s response to their work as a way to make sense of the purpose, motivation, and significance of Adorno’s oeuvre. As Plass reminds us, and indeed shows us again and again, Adorno’s literary criticism can be quirky and enigmatic and yet strikingly impenetrable at its best, and utterly baffling and unreadable at its most trying. For Plass however, the determination and rigor required to make sense of Adorno’s literary criticism is worth the reward as he ultimately concludes that its true value lies not solely in its role as such, but rather as a companion and a primer of sorts to his larger philosophical work. The central focus of Language and History is not Adorno’s response to or criticism of any one writer or piece in particular though, rather it is the essay itself. The essay here more specifically represents what Plass comes to suggest is the medium by which Adorno is able to “act out” his understanding of language and aesthetics rather than ever being able to fully and cohesively conceptualize it in any one phrase or essay of literary criticism-to “say it”. In this sense what Plass leaves us with most is an invaluable tool with which to approach a unified understanding of Adorno in which his literary criticism and philosophy are not isolated singularities but rather complementary works.