A Postscript to “What Was Theodor Adorno Doing in Thomas Mann’s Garden”

Back in 2013, I posted a discussion of the peculiar story that Katia Mann told in her memoirs about Theodor Adorno’s alleged demand that Thomas Mann rectify his failure to mention Max Horkheimer in his account of the writing of Doctor Faustus by writing a review of Dialectic of Enlightenment for the New York Times.  According to Katia, Mann attempted to read the book, but — unable to make any sense of it — farmed it off to his son Golo, who churned out a review that was published under Thomas Man’s name in the New York Times.

Katia Mann’s story has multiple holes in it, not least of which is fact that the New York Times never published a review of Dialectic of Enlightenment.  But a review of Paul Massing’s Rehearsal for Destruction by Thomas Mann did appear in the New York Times.  I went on to offer the following guess as to what might actually have happened:

Horkheimer could well have sent Adorno to Thomas Mann’s house with a copy of Rehearsal for Destruction, reasoning that Mann owed Adorno and the Institute a favor. But, pace Katia, it is hard to see why Mann would have found anything in Rehearsal for Destruction that might have proven difficult for him to understand (after all, he’d read Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music and known which passages were good to steal and also seems to have attempted to do the same thing with the Philosophische Fragmente). It is, on the other hand, quite easy to see why Mann might have had little interest in reading it: there was nothing in it that was relevant for his current writing. So, he could very well have farmed it out to his son Golo and then passed it off to the New York Times as his own work.

I recently picked up a copy of Thomas Mann’s diaries and decided to see what light, if any, they could shed on the matter.  It turns out that, wonder of wonders, I managed to get most of the story right, but missed a few twists.

Mann reports that on the evening of November 9, 1949, Horkheimer visited Mann, talked about Massing’s book, and extracted a commitment from Mann to review it. Horkheimer returned on the afternoon of November 17 and explained the book’s argument to Mann.  By November 18 it was clear to Mann that he was getting nowhere on the review and, four days latter, passed responsibility for the writing the review of Massing to Golo and began thinking about his earlier sketch of Felix Krull into a novel.

So, Katia’s claim about Mann having asked Golo to review of Dialectic of Enlightenment was, as I suspected, in fact a request for Golo to take over the chore of reviewing Massing’s book.  And, as I conjectured, Mann’s lack of interest in Massing’s book had less to do with its difficulties than with Mann’s desire to move on to other work.  Finally (and sadly), in place of Katia’s memorable image of Adorno trudging through the family’s garden, we have a far more prosaic visit from Horkheimer.

About James Schmidt

Professor of History, Philosophy, and Political Science Boston University
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