Symposium 2 : Deprofessionalisation

‘Only what does not fit in can be true’: Deprofessionalisation and Academia in Adorno and Tagore

Theodor Adorno by Leandro Gonzalez de Leon.

‘Only what does not fit in can be true’: Deprofessionalisation and Academia in Adorno and Tagore

Rosinka Chaudhuri

I’m not an expert on Adorno; indeed, my approach to Adorno here shall embody today’s theme, in that I shall be ‘dabbling’ in areas that do not strictly belong to those I consider my own. I shall be dealing here, I should specify, with deprofessionalisation in the academic sphere; for, although both Adorno and Rabindranath Tagore were ‘writers’ above all else, it is their struggle with the demands of academia that I wish to investigate particularly. The impetus to relate today’s subject to Adorno came out of the contingency of reading the translator’s introduction that Robert Hullot-Kentor wrote for Aesthetic Theory in 1997 at the time that I did: that is, the time this symposium was being planned. There I discovered resonances, as one so often does, between what was in the book and what was in the air around me. The theme of de-professionalisation, interpreted here as the experience of finding that the work one does doesn’t fit into the demands of the profession, seems to reside at two levels in this context. The first is the inability to find a place for your subject matter within the straitjackets of current academic or publishing imperatives that have been put in place by these professions. The second is a relatively rare condition: to find that that inability may be a direct consequence not just of content, but of the form and style in which the text is written, which makes it unfit for inclusion or wider dissemination within the parameters that the profession demands. In the case of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, what Hullot-Kentor calls his ‘paratactical style’ (which I shall come to later) makes his writing here ‘difficult’ or ‘obscure’, making this work ‘obliquely remote’, at the time, to the national literary sphere of both Germany and the US, where it was not ‘received’ well. ‘And this remoteness’, the translator says, ‘is requisite to any plausible value it may have. For as Adorno wrote in constantly varied formulations, only what does not fit in can be true’. (p.xix)

Standard biographical entries on Adorno available on the internet, from Wikipedia to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, narrate the facts of his return to Europe in tones of quiet vindication, leaving out any suggestion of failure or disappointment: ‘At the end of October 1949,’ declares an astonishingly long and detailed Wikipedia entry, ‘Adorno left America for Europe just as The Authoritarian Personality was being published. Before his return, Adorno had not only reached an agreement with a Tübingen publisher to print an expanded version of Philosophy of New Music, but completed two compositions… etc.’

The editors of the Adorno Critical Reader, Nigel Gibson and Andrew Rubin, on the other hand, tell exactly the opposite story: ‘Miffed by an American publisher’s decision to reject the Philosophy of New Music, Adorno felt that the US did not appreciate the value of his work.’ 1 Hullot-Kentor too interprets Adorno’s return to Germany as a failure to fit in, stating that, throughout his years in the US, Adorno met with the rejection of his works by publishers on many occasions, who found his writings simply too disorganised. He says: ‘It was obvious to Adorno that what he was pursuing required his return to Germany if only because in the 1950s publishing was still less commercially united than in the United States and permitted writers greater control over their work…’ He continues:

One event did, however, finally prompt him to leave. When the editorial board at the Psychoanalytic Society of San Francisco finished with his essay ‘Psychoanalysis Revised’, he found that [and here he’s quoting from Adorno] ‘the entire text was disfigured beyond recognition, the basic intention could not be discerned.’ As Adorno recounted, the head editor explained that the standards to which the essay had been adjusted, which made it look like every other essay in the journal, were those of the profession : ‘I would only be standing in my own way’ – Adorno was told – ‘if I passed up its advantages. I passed them up nevertheless.’ Adorno moved back to Europe.’ (p.xi)

De-professionalisation, for Adorno, was of course the norm: even a rudimentary acquaintance with his life’s work reveals he wrote on subjects ranging from musicology to metaphysics and that his writing span included such things as philosophical analyses of Hegelian metaphysics, a critical study of the astrology column of the Los Angeles Times , and the music of, among others, jazz, Beethoven and Schoenberg. ‘In terms of both style and content, Adorno’s writings defy convention’ seems to be the leitmotif of commentators on his work. Introducing a book on Adorno in a series he would no doubt have abhorred, titled ‘A Guide for the Perplexed’, Alex Thomson insists ‘on the philosophical dimension of Adorno’s work’ because he is ‘often presented, by both his critics and admirers, as some species of sociologist’.2 In this refusal to fit into any one sphere of specialisation, of course, he embodies the subject of the symposium’: ‘deprofessionalisation’ (in the words of the manifesto) – the urge, as a creative practitioner, or, indeed, a practitioner of any kind, not to be identified with one genre or activity,‘ but whether one could dare to say he was ‘in general, a critic of specialisation and a champion of dabbling’ I don’t know; I would suspect he might have demanded specialisation in dabbling instead.

Adorno’s return to Germany too is presented in Hullot-Kentor’s translator’s introduction in contrast to the standard version (‘Upon his return, Adorno helped shape the political culture of West Germany’) to reiterate, instead, again, the theme of not fitting in:

This is not to say that Adorno returned to Germany to fit in and help restore the nation to what it once was. What he wrote was completely unpalatable to the former-Nazi faculty, still in its prime, that controlled Frankfurt University after the war. They rejected writings such as Minima Moralia as unscholarly and the whole of Adorno’s work as essayistic and fragmentary and saw to it that he was not offered a professorship.

That full professorship, denied him over the years, was granted finally only in July 1957, when he became chair in both philosophy and sociology at the University of Frankfurt and head of the Institute of Social Research. Did the choices he made against professionalisation entail an active ‘separatism’ – and is that the case for any deprofessionalised intellectual – in that these choices to ‘not belong’ entail the production of works and careers that ‘stand outside and look in’ rather than belong?

Adorno’s experience of academic publishing in the US in the 1940s may perhaps hold true even today, as the Alan Sokal / Social Text imbroglio so ostentatiously demonstrated two decades or so ago, and the publishing history of the posthumous appearance of Aesthetic Theory points to the pressures of conformity that have governed in academic editorial offices for some time. 3 The first translation of this book was by C. Lenhardt for Routledge and Kegan Paul (London and New York, 1984), and the history of its publication is worth exploring in the context of the demands of professionalisation. Fearing that the form of the book would stymie the book’s consumption (and in line with marketing wisdom that fervently feels that consumption is only geared to the homogenised product, thus no doubt vindicating the argument of The Culture Industry), the publisher, partly against the wishes of the translator, interfered with the original. While Adorno’s final version rejected the division of the book into chapters, the publisher reinserted numbered chapters; where the text had run on in long sentences with sub-clauses, the publisher inserted headings and subheadings; paragraph indentations were introduced arbitrarily throughout, and a general image was presented of a sequence of sentences flowing in one direction alone that could be followed chronologically from the first chapter to the last. To achieve this compulsory unification, a structure was imposed that only managed to set whole passages adrift. In order to span the now disparate sections, phrases such as ‘as we saw’ or ‘as we said’ or ‘let us remember’ were added. The rejection of the work’s form entailed its content being conveniently presented as a progressive argument, causing it, Hullot-Kentor asserts, to ‘collapse internally’. This happened because there was no argumentative structure in the text itself, which lacked any homogenous content that could be read from start to finish; the simulated paragraphs therefore only appeared clouded and impenetrable as a consequence. This was because the coherence of Adorno’s text depended, rather, on what is called ‘its paratactical form’, and here I wish to insert a proposal to relate these descriptions of Adorno’s prose in Aesthetic Theory to almost all of the songs and some of the poems of Rabindranath Tagore (most famously, for example in Gitanjali: Song Offerings), which seems to me to be, as well, paratactical works as they are defined in the context of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory.

The translator’s introduction to that book defines paratactical works as those, we learn, which are, ‘with few exceptions’,

short, fragmentary, and compacted by the crisis of their own abbreviation. Paratactical texts are intensive, almost to the denial of their quality of extension; and the more extensive the paratactical work actually is – and Aesthetic Theory is almost unparalleled in this – the greater the potential for its unravelling at each and every point. The text there requires a rhetoric that will heighten concentration and density and absorb the dozens of ways in which it is constantly exposed. (p. xiv)

Digressing for a moment, it may be worth exploring here whether the form of Adorno’s sentences in the paratactical text comes into existence owing to the pressure of the language in which they were originally composed. Frederic Jameson, in Late Marxism , certainly seems to think that Adorno’s sentences, in particular,

try to recover the intricately bound spatial freedom of Latinate declension, objects that grandly precede subjects, and a play of gendered nouns that the mind scans by means of the appropriately modified relative. Chiasmus here becomes the structural echo by one part of the sentence of another, distant in time and space; and the result of these internal operations is the closure of the aphorism itself; definitive, yet a forthright act that passes on, not into silence, but into other acts and gestures.

Calling Lenhardt’s English translation of Aesthetic Theory ‘misguided’, Jameson feels that this text should then be the occasion ‘of forging a powerful new Germanic sentence structure in English’, as the ‘literate and respectable British text’ Lenhardt produces is no longer even recognisable.4

The parallel with Rabindranath’s songs and poems, which in themselves too are ‘short, fragmentary, and compacted by the crisis of their own abbreviation’, seems to me to be useful. Unfortunately for him, very few translators have attempted to retranslate his lines by ‘forging a powerful new Bengali sentence structure in English’, forgoing the ‘literate and respectable British text’ that generations of translators have instead produced. Rabindranath’s texts are paratactical texts in as much as they too are ‘intensive, almost to the denial of their quality of extension’. The coherence of the subterranean relations made through the word-structures and spatial organization of the text in Rabindranath’s songs is understood, it is my contention, by the same logic used to decipher Adorno here, where the aim in translation is susceptible to failure. Rather, the translator would do well to take her lead from Adorno’s description of the kind of hearing implicit in relation to Mahler’s music that Hullot-Kentor invokes: ‘an “amplitude of a hearing encompassing the far distance, to which the most remote analogies and consequences are virtually present.”’ (p. xiii) Adorno’s text’s intention survives, then, only by what the translator calls ‘a density of insight, not by external structure. This defines the text’s – and its translation’s – particular vulnerability: the slightest slackening of intensity threatens to dissolve the text into a miscellany. Nothing supports the text except the intensity with which it draws on and pushes against itself.’ Elsewhere, I have described the process by which Rabindranath translated his own Bengali poems for the English Gitanjali, abandoning ‘external structure’ and even entire phrases for new ones, attempting thereby – not always successfully – to avoid that ‘slackening of intensity’ so inimical to the experience of reading his poems.

A heightening of ‘concentration and density’ is what characterises the language Rabindranath uses, so often described by commentators and critics in his time as numinous, vague and wishy-washy (these are Bengali critics of the 1880s). Of the paratactical text of Adorno it is said: ‘it rejects certitude as a standard of truth in favour of exactness of insight’, which makes it ‘inimical to exposition’. Other techniques, such as ‘condensed reference, used constantly by Adorno’, often cannot be incorporated at all into an English translation because it remains so ‘uniquely a potential of the original’; and another aspect of German, ‘the use of pronouns’, also applies to the difficulties in translating from the Bengali. Another aspect of the paratactical text seen as problematic is that, in it, ‘Adorno is constantly compelled to start anew, saying what has already been said…. Thus Adorno throughout restates major motifs…’ (p. xvi)

Almost each and every one of these features can be found in Rabindranath and illustrated by examples. I will not go into a detailed exposition here; perhaps just one song will suffice. In a famous song written in the winter of 1937, four years before he died, ‘srabaner pabane aakul bishanna sandhyay‘, he uses, as he has many times before in varied forms, the phrase gandhaghana andhakare to describe the darkness in the dense, shaded, fragrant kadamba grove so common in Bengal. Now, gandhaghana is not a word you will find in the dictionary; it is a compound word, a new word-structure for conveying both fragrance (gandha) and density (ghana). The entire line may be translated as ‘In the densely-fragrant kadamba grove’s darkness…’. These Bengali compound words, it may be worth pointing out, are different from the compound words used, for instance, by Bankimchandra Chatterjee in his novels, which were far more Sanskritized and conventional word forms than are to be found here. Again, if we look at the last two lines of the song –

dake tabu hriday mama mane mane rikta bhabane,
rodon-jaga sangihara asim sunye.

[Yet in this empty house my heart still calls out within me,
In this tear-filled, wakeful, companion-less, endless emptiness]

– it is the last line here that creates the difficulty for the translator. The compound word rodon-jaga, used to describe the solitude of the companion-less (sangihara) is rendered by me as ‘tear-filled, wakeful’ – two words that inadequately conjure the tear-washed evocation of dusk or dawn sky. Further, the English translation of ‘asim sunye‘ as ‘endless emptiness’ fails to bring to the page the ‘remote analogy’ to the vastness of the sky – one needs here exactly that description of the hearing suggested by Mahler’s music: ‘an “amplitude of a hearing encompassing the far distance, to which the most remote analogies and consequences are virtually present.”’

Many of the difficulties of Adorno’s text in Aesthetic Theory arise, of course, because they occur in the domain of complex critical thought, though the same features would not be out of place in poetry. ‘Restating major motifs’, ‘condensed reference’, or ‘exactness of insight’ are attributes of poetry; that the concentration and density of Rabindranath’s poetry has rarely been achieved in translation may well point simply to a failure of translation at a fundamental level – a failure of nerve such as Adorno’s editors had. But it is also commonly acknowledged that Rabindranath’s poetry is uniquely difficult to present in translation, and reading about the difficulties of translating Aesthetic Theory makes us aware of the manner in which the translator and editor’s approach may need to change.

I wish to move this exploration of deprofessionalisation in the context of Adorno and Tagore now into the domain of experience. Rabindranath Tagore was born in 1861, and as a young man would not have been subjected to the pressures of professionalisation except in the requirements of the colonial schooling system already in place by then. Nevertheless, the family was rich enough and idiosyncratic enough to allow him to mature without making him go through exams, allowing him to learn from private tutors and erudite family friends as he grew. Precocious and talented, he developed in the domains of music and song, poetry and criticism, editorship and dramatic performance without any sense of the requirements of specialisation. De-professionalisation, or, as I said at the start, the experience of finding that the work one does doesn’t fit into the demands of the profession, was never an issue for the youngest progeny of the Tagore family, which defrayed the expenses of almost all his early endeavours, whether publishing books of poems or letters, financing dramatic productions, or starting family magazines such as Bharati that he edited and where most of his early criticism and essays are to be found. Nevertheless, the wider world did exert exactly those demands of professionalisation from his writing, as we shall briefly see later.

Tagore was fifty two when he won the Nobel Prize in 1913 for Gitanjali, already very much a public persona, primarily known as a poet, but no less so because of his political activism during the agitations against the Partition of Bengal tabled by Lord Curzon in 1905 that continued till the plan was dropped in 1911. In the middle of that period, however, he withdrew from the movement, horrified by the intimidation and violence that erupted from 1907 onwards. Most Bengalis, including some his friends, were critical of him now, regarding him, in the words of Nirad Chaudhuri, ‘as an apostate’. Adorno’s stand, on the other hand, against the protesting students of 1968 in Frankfurt, refusing to produce ‘a theory engaged in the liberation of the oppressed’, is explained as part and parcel of his ‘negative dialectic’, Gibson and Rubin feel. ‘The notion of autonomy was the closest he got to “liberation”’, they write, even calling their Introduction ‘The Autonomous Intellectual’, for they see that he found the student’s ‘actionism’ akin to Nazi anti-intellectualism that sacrificed independent thinking for immediate goals. ‘“The project of personal autonomy” is prioritised’, they said, ‘over what he sees as the “manipulated public sphere”.’5 Rabindranath’s withdrawal from the Swadeshi movement at its height brings to mind Adorno’s defence of his position in 1968 in ‘Resignation’: ‘the uncompromisingly critical thinker, who neither signs over his consciousness nor lets himself be terrorized into action, is in truth the one who does not give in.’6 Not fitting in, of course, always has a strong element of not giving in.

Rabindranath’s refusal to fit in is well known to scholars, as his evisceration at the hands of hostile reviewers in his younger days was unprecedented in Bengali letters. That hostility would return, despite the Nobel Prize, at the end of his life in the open antagonism of the largely Marxist Calcutta critics of the 1920s and 30s who attacked what they perceived to be the transcendentalism of the older poet. It led the aged poet to say, with a devastating matter of factness, in the Preface to the Rabindra Rachanabali, his Complete Works: ‘No other writer has ever had to endure a disrespect that was so continuous, so unabashed, so unkind, and so unchecked as I have.’7 He had, in the course of his career, changed the form of Bengali poetry, reshaping the style in which it was written, pioneered the short story and written his more important novels in a new and different mode from that which had gone before. Crucially, he was also writing in a new literary language that was more sensuous and less formal, but the arena that he sought to deprofessionalise the most actively was, of course, that of education. His numerous essays and lectures since the 1890s on the failings of Indian higher education had resulted in famous pieces such as ‘Indian students and western teachers’ in 1916, and the acerbic fable, Tota Kahini [The Parrot’s Training] about the parrot that received such a rigorous schooling from the pundits on the orders of the Raja that it dies, choked to death on the papers of its textbook education. Even the introduction of Bengali at Calcutta University at the MA level filled him with doubt, and he wrote:

I have found that the direct influence which the Calcutta University wields over our language is not strengthening and vitalizing, but pedantic and narrow. It tries to perpetuate the anachronisms of preserving Pundit-made Bengali [and] is everyday becoming a more formidable obstacle in the way of our boys’ acquiring that mastery of their mother tongue which is of life and literature. (p.220)

Of course we must remember that, on the other side, professional Bengali scholars had had, in the early days, so many misgivings about his language that they had included it in B.A. exam questions asking students to rewrite passages by Rabindranath in chaste Bengali, as Nirad Chaudhuri has attested to in The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian.

Visva-Bharati, the university he founded near the town of Bolpur in a place he came to call Santiniketan, was formally inaugurated in December 1921. Rabindranath had first conceived of Visva-Bharati (another compound word he made up) in the orange groves of California in 1916 in terms that lay outside the ‘limits’, as he put it, ‘of nation and geography’. The ‘fields of Bolpur’ would witness ‘universal union’ and Santiniketan become ‘the connecting thread between India and the world.’8 To achieve this union of the world – Visva – with the goddess of learning – Bharati, another name for Saraswati – he worked tirelessly to attract scholars and teachers from across the world and of course India. It is the quarrel that developed between him and India’s foremost historian at the time, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, when he invited Sarkar to be member of the governing body at Visva-Bharati that I want to end this discussion with, simply because it throws the whole notion of professionalisation in the context of education into such sharp focus.

These two men, it should be made clear at the start, were not just friends from when they first made each other’s acquaintance in 1910, but admirers of each other’s work, each in his own field; Rabindranath very much the famous poet who was to go on to acquire world renown, and Jadunath the historian of austere habits who had produced some of the most magisterial volumes on Indian history ever written. Nor were their views on education wholly antithetical; Jadunath admired the fact that the medium of instruction in the school at Santiniketan was Bengali, even writing an essay on the subject: ‘The Vernacular Medium: Views of an Old Teacher’. Most interestingly of all, Sarkar, who ‘struggled all his life to give history a “proper” academic form in India’ was not, ‘in today’s terms, a “professional” historian’,9 but an amateur at a time when that was a term of particular merit, denoting a situation untainted by pecuniary motive, powered by passion and possessed of the highest skill set, as in ‘amateur detective’.

The first serious crack in their relationship was fatal to it, breaking the friendship beyond repair. It was occasioned by the contents of Jadunath’s long letter of May 1922 to Rabindranath declining a Governing Body position at the newly constituted university. He was refusing this prestigious post, he said, for two important reasons. The first of these was practical: the distance between Darjeeling, where he intended to retire in a few months, and Santiniketan was too great. The second reason was elaborated upon at some length. The school at Santiniketan (that had preceded the University) he still thought of highly for the character and heart with which it endowed its pupils, making them ‘complete human beings’. (But in the department of the ‘head’ or of education alone, he reminded the poet that he himself had said to him that there the foundations were weak.) But a university, he felt, demanded much more, and the main sticking point for him was, as he put it in his own words: ‘intellectual discipline and exact knowledge‘ among the students. At the high school level and the post graduate level he could still envision the students at Visva-Bharati functioning successfully; however, at the University level they would fail because they had not been put through the ‘grind’ – again his own word inserted in parenthesis in this Bengali letter. The students at this level in Santiniketan, he said, were taught to despise exact knowledge and intellectual discipline, looking down on those who practiced them as ‘fake pundits’, ‘dry and heartless enemies of the complete man’. They look only to ‘emotion’, to ‘synthesis of knowledge’. But however poetic the silver aeroplane in the sky might look, it was still the fruit of exact knowledge , a lot of research, many tests and retests and much sacrifice. It was not created out of joy.

Sarkar’s rebuttal of ‘joy’ here is a pointed one. Joy, or ananda, was a word that had great resonance for Rabindranath. Repeatedly, he had written in his poems and songs of celebration, of delight, and of the festival of joy that is this world: jagate ananda jagye amar nimantran [I have been invited to be part of the worship of joy in this world]. The Upanishadic anandam – visible in the inscription above the gate at Visva-Bharati – was torn from its scriptural devotional roots by Rabindranath and turned into the secular and poetic ananda – it lay, as he reasserted on many occasions, at the very foundations of his own philosophy. Sarkar is being practical in his objection that students who wish to research India’s ancient past must already have mastered Economics and Political Science as well as one other language in their B.A. classes. It is not enough to know Sanskrit alone, he says: they need to pass B.A. exams on the history of Greece, Babylon, and Egypt and on Political Philosophy or else their minds will remain narrow – i.e. exact knowledge, as is provided in a lowly conventional college (mamuli college) is required. That learning is not provided at Bolpur. Relentlessly, he piles on example after example: Jagadish Chandra Bose would never have proved that plants have life by saying that that had already been proclaimed in the Upanishads – he had had to prove it scientifically; volumes of authentic Pali and Buddhist literature had been made possible by endless dry hard work, etc. etc. India must find its place in the modern world, and the way forward was not to return to the Vedanta but to build up new stores of knowledge so that it may contribute exact knowledge to the 20th century and to the world. This it would not be possible to do in Bolpur.

Rabindranath’s thought and action with regard to Visva-Bharati was expectedly inflected with his own unique world-view. Railing, as he always had, against pedantry and punditry, he had wanted his own University students not to ‘try to drown the natural spontaneity of their expression under some stagnant formalism’ as was the norm, he felt, at Calcutta University. In a speech in which he tried first to define Visva-Bharati to the world, he said: ‘the trouble is that as soon as we think of a university, the idea of Oxford, Cambridge, and a host of other European universities rushes in and fills our mind.’ Stating clearly that he had never harboured any distrust toward other cultures, he still, he said, objected to ‘the artificial arrangement by which this foreign education tends to occupy all the space of our national mind and thus kills, or hampers, the great opportunity for the creation of new thought by a new combination of truths…. [The culture of the West] must become for us nourishment and not a burden. We must gain mastery over it and not live on sufferance as hewers of texts and drawers of book-learning.’10 The nucleus of his university, in all the years that he was alive and for some time after, was the department of fine arts (Kala Bhavan), the department of music (Sangit Bhavan), and the department of Indology. It was perhaps in the interests of the latter that he wished to involve Jadunath Sarkar; certainly he had held Sarkar’s probity and integrity in the highest respect, writing of him even after their parting of ways to a friend: ‘There is a great honesty in Jadubabu… I cannot disrespect him even if he has no regard for me.’

The tussle between the two men regarding the nature of a university education goes to the heart of the argument over deprofessionalisation. Sympathy and admiration for Rabindranath’s insistence on his vision and his ideal (he repeatedly refused donations for Visva-Bharati that came with conditions attached, saying he would not allow anyone to ‘put a chain on his feet’11) does not prevent us from seeing the point of Jadunath Sarkar’s dogged advocacy of professionalisation in the interests of accurate research and what he calls exact knowledge. ‘I’m a terrible philistine’, he apologises, but I am a professional teacher (peshadar gurumahasay) – ‘of the head, not the heart’, he adds – trying to train pundits. He is willing to accept the dictates of the Upanishads in stories, poems or religious discourses, but not in training students. In response, Rabindranath had replied that he wanted his students not just to be well-trained, but to be able to think imaginatively as well. The debate between the two goes back to the foundations of the disciplines and the professionalisation of University education in Victorian Europe and England. Where Jadunath Sarkar advocated Henry Newman’s position that the University’s chief aim was the distribution of knowledge, Rabindranath saw that ‘the real sphere of education was there where there was invention or creation of knowledge. The main work of a University was the generation of knowledge, and its secondary task its dissemination’, he said.12 Whether that was practicable or possible in a University that handed out degrees to would-be professionals was another matter altogether.

In ‘Education after Auschwitz’, Adorno had assumed nothing other than a radical reform of society, which he had argued could begin through the transformation of education into a system of sociological critique.13 This kind of critical education was nowhere in sight, but it might manage perhaps to reform the people ‘down below’. Once again invoking ‘autonomy’, he called it ‘the single genuine power standing against the principle of Auschwitz … autonomy [or] the power of reflection, self-determination, not cooperating.’ The goal of education and culture is for Adorno nothing less than ‘the production of a correct consciousness.’14 Rabindranath might have agreed.

This paper was first presented at the symposium on ‘deprofessionalisation’ in Delhi in January 2016. It was later published in the Economic and Political Weekly.

Rosinka Chaudhuri is the author of, among other books, The Literary Thing, a study of the emergence of the sphere of the literary in 19th-century Bengal, and editor of Derozio, Poet of India and A History of Indian Poetry in English. She is Director and Professor of Cultural Studies at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.

1. Nigel Gibson and Andrew Rubin, Adorno: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002) p.10.

2. Alex Thomson, Introduction, Adorno: A Guide For the Perplexed (London: continuum, 2006) p.2.

3. The Sokal affair, also called the Sokal hoax, was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text , an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether ‘a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions’.[2]

4. Frederic Jameson, ‘A Note on Editions and Translations,’ Late Marxism: Adorno or The Persistence of the Dialectic (London: Verso, 1990) ix.

5. A Critical Reader, p. 18.

6. Quoted in Gibson and Rubin, p.14.

7. RR Vol. 1, p 17.

8. Andrew Robinson and Krishna Datta, Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad Minded Man (London: Bloomsbury, 1995) 205.

9. (London: Bloomsbury, 1995) 205. The Calling of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015) 4.

10. Robinson, p. 221-2.

11. Ibid, 231.

12. Chakrabarty, p. 17.

13. Gibson and Rubin, 285.

14. Ibid., 319-320.