Rethinking Peter Bürger’s Critique of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Lillian Hingley looks at Peter Bürger’s “Adorno’s Anti-Avant-Gardism” from Telos 86 (Winter 1990–91).

Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde (1984) is one of the landmark texts on aesthetic theory published in the twentieth century. One of the book’s significant claims is that modernism and the avant-garde should be defined as distinct aesthetic movements;[1] specifically, he defines modernism as the less radical cousin of the avant-garde.[2] This distinction is important to note because it is also the crux of Bürger’s thesis in a later article, “Adorno’s Anti-Avant-Gardism,” a historicist critique of Adorno’s “modernist” aesthetic theory that was published in Telos 86 (Winter 1990–91). By acknowledging the pre-established position Bürger was bringing to this article, we can question how useful his distinction may

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