Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Călin Andrei Mihăilescu


This thesis develops the concept of ‘correspondence’ as a means by which to read the work of Benjamin and Adorno. The term will be taken to entail at once explicit correspondence, in the sense of the letters written to each other (1928-1940), alongside the implicit constellations structuring their relationship. Beginning with Benjamin’s early writings (-1924), I will trace the development of Benjamin’s immanent method of criticism, followed by Adorno’s re-direction (or appropriation) of this method towards his own Marxist concerns, and notions of ‘critical theory.’ This will be shown as a ‘translation’ of Benjamin’s early work, in which Adorno’s re-direction reveals a political capacity inherent in Benjamin’s (original) method. Following this I present their respective readings of Kafka (Benjamin, 1934; Adorno 1954), as a means by which to contrast their respective notions of messianism, politics, and criticism. This will be presented as a moment of ‘dis-correspondence,’ in which their divergent notions of criticism, and messianism are in full repose; however, such a disagreement will be shown to be underpinned by a shared understanding of the possibilities inherent in tradition. Finally, Benjamin’s 1938-39 work on Baudelaire will be presented as emblematic of his ‘dialectical image,’ and historical methodology more generally. Adorno’s infamous letters surrounding this piece will be analyzed, and he will be noted as an important contributor to the development of Benjamin’s methodology, culminating in his own ‘negative dialectic.’ Each chapter presents an isolated argument related to a constellation of particular texts, yet can also be seen in the larger mosaic of the development of correspondence.