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New Left Review I/233, January-February 1999

Esther Leslie

Introduction to Adorno/Marcuse Correspondence on the German Student Movement


On 12 January 1969, Herbert Marcuse wrote to Theodor Adorno announcing a June visit to Frankfurt. He wanted to give a lecture. He requested that the meeting be small and intimate, and solicited an official invitation, so that he could get leave from the University of California. This was to be the beginning of a summer in Europe, lecturing in Italy, and all-importantly, swimming. That there were tensions between the two old acquaintances was evident from Adorno’s hand-written comments on the letter. He suspected that the need for water, and hence the need to avoid Adorno’s holiday home in Zermatt, was an excuse masking Inge Marcuse’s concern that the Frankfurt theorists would be a bad influence on her husband. Adorno eagerly noted ‘At least he is starting to notice it!’ in the margin when Marcuse conceded that irrational tendencies plagued the student movement and that, because of the issues raised by black politics, the American situation was more complicated and dangerous. [1] ‘What you say about the development of the student movement accords completely with my experiences. Rational and irrational, indeed counter-revolutionary demands are inextricably combined. Where do we stand? Here the situation is even more complicated and dangerous, because of the more than precarious relationship to the black movement. But all this must be discussed in person.’ Letter from Marcuse to Adorno, 12 January 1969, reprinted in Frankfurter Schule und Studentenbewegung; von der Flaschenpost zum Molotowcocktail 1946 bis 1995, vol. II, Dokumente, edited by Wolfgang Kraushaar, Hamburg 1998, p. 541. An additional scribbling on the letter, for Horkheimer’s eyes, echoed the idea that there should be no great fuss and ‘official circus’ around Marcuse’s Frankfurt speech. Exposing his nervousness about the Institute providing a platform for the celebrated supporter of the revolutionary student movement, Adorno toyed with the idea of withdrawing the invitation. [2] Ibid.

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