Peter Gordon is Amabel B. James Professor of History at Harvard University and resident faculty at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES), where he co-chairs the Harvard Colloquium for Intellectual History. He is also a faculty affiliate in the department of Germanic languages and literatures as well as the department of philosophy. Gordon works chiefly at the intersection of modern European intellectual history and continental philosophy. His most recent book, Migrants in the Profane: Critical Theory and the Question of Secularization (Yale University Press, 2020), is based on the Franz Rosenzweig Lectures in Modern Jewish Thought that Gordon presented at Yale University. His forthcoming book Prekäres Glück: Adorno über Negativität und Normativität will be published in German by Suhrkamp Verlag. The English edition, A Precarious Happiness: Adorno and the Sources of Normativity will be published in January 2024 by University of Chicago Press.
“It is an extraordinary achievement to explain and illuminate the deepest and darkest thought which motivated the work of the most prominent representatives of the original Frankfurt school ... Peter E. Gordon brilliantly succeeds in disentangling the different interpretations of this explosive idea in the works of Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno.” — Jürgen Habermas
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Theodor W. Adorno's death in 1969, Peter Gordon delivered the Adorno Vorlesungen (Adorno Lectures) at the Institute for Social Research at the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt in June 2019/ The theme of this three-part lecture series was "Adorno and the Sources of Normativity." The lectures were widely reviewed in the German press, including the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (see article here), and will be published by Suhrkamp Verlag under the title Prekäres Glück: Adorno über Negativität und Normativität.
"Adorno is no theorist of total darkness, no Mephistopheles. He had hope."
Today Benjamin is widely esteemed as one of the foremost cultural critics and theorists of the 20th century. But his career was uneven and marked by failure. In 1925, after the faculty of philosophy in Frankfurt rejected his enigmatic study of German Baroque drama and dashed his hopes for an academic career, he found himself adrift, with little assurance of a regular income. But this failure also brought freedom.
All of us need recognition. We need it from those we love but also from the state if we are to enjoy our rights as citizens, and from society at large if we are to secure esteem for our achievements. In the absence of recognition we languish, unloved and unseen, without legal protection and without the basic sense that we matter as human beings.