The Saving Line

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4301-2

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4299-2

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4300-5
Publication Date
December 2020
Page Count
248 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Saving Line

Benjamin, Adorno, and the Caesuras of Hope
Márton Dornbach

Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno both turned to canonical literary narratives to determine why the Enlightenment project was derailed and how this failure might be remedied. The resultant works, Benjamin’s major essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Adorno’s meditation on the Odyssey in Dialectic of Enlightenment, are centrally concerned with the very act of narration. Márton Dornbach’s groundbreaking book reconstructs a hitherto unnoticed, wide-ranging dialogue between these foundational texts of the Frankfurt School.

At the heart of Dornbach’s argument is a critical model that Benjamin built around the concept of caesura, a model Adorno subsequently reworked. Countering an obscurantism that would become complicit in the rise of fascism, the two theorists aligned moments of arrest in narratives mired in unreason. Although this model responded to a specific historical emergency, it can be adapted to identify utopian impulses in a variety of works.

The Saving Line throws fresh light on the intellectual exchange and disagreements between Benjamin and Adorno, the problematic conjunction of secular reason and negative theology in their thinking, and their appropriations of ancient and modern legacies. It will interest scholars of philosophy and literature, critical theory, German Jewish thought, classical reception studies, and narratology.

About the Author

MÁRTON DORNBACH is a visiting assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies for German at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Receptive Spirit: German Idealism and the Dynamics of Cultural Transmission.


“Trenchant, lucid, and compelling. This book is a rare achievement: a study by an extraordinarily gifted literary and philosophical thinker who patiently and carefully elucidates notoriously obscure and challenging texts, fully cognizant of the larger intellectual claims informing them and his readings of them. The book alters and deepens our understanding of Adorno and Benjamin, reveals new depths to their implicit dialogue with each other within their writings, and demonstrates how their work continues to provide insights and inspiration for the study of literary narrative.” —Henry W. Pickford, author of Thinking with Tolstoy and Wittgenstein: Expression, Emotion, and Art (Northwestern University Press, 2016)

“In The Saving Line, Márton Dornbach not only expands our understanding of what Benjamin and Adorno are able to accomplish in their analyses of certain pivotal works of literature (Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Homer’s Odyssey respectively); it also shows how their practices of reading engage in a subtle dialogue that we can now—with the help of this superb monograph—eavesdrop on.” —Peter Fenves, author of The Messianic Reduction: Walter Benjamin and the Shape of Time