The Confusion of Marxian and Freudian Fetishism in Adorno and Benjamin

Philosophy Today 46 (4):429-443 (2002)
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Both Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin borrow from Freudian theory in their analyses of fetishism’s relation to the contemporary reception of cultural prod- ucts. I will argue that both authors have con- fused the Marxian and Freudian theories of fetishism, resulting in mistaken conclusions about artistic reception. By disentangling the Marxian and Freudian elements in both authors’ positions, I want to show that 1) Adorno’s characterization of regressive lis- tening implies, contrary to his intentions, that the current reception of artwork is in fact antagonistic to fetishism, and that 2) his crit- icism of Benjamin’s optimism toward “re- ception in distraction” is nevertheless justi- fied. If I am correct, it may be necessary to reassess Adorno’s demand for asceticism in advanced art. The current danger may not be “fetishism” at all, but rather the troublesome consequences of fetishism’s decline.
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