Sunday, May 2, 2010

J.-P. Sartre's and T. W. Adorno's letters of reference to UCSD about Marcuse

Many famous philosophers, including J.-P. Sartre and T. W. Adorno, wrote letters to the UCSD department chair in favor of Herbert Marcuse. I have not been able to locate either of the two letters referred to in this post (but am working on it).

The first is a testimony about a letter written by Jean-Paul Sartre, mentioned in Jim Miller's 2003 essay "Just another day in paradise?" (p. 397, footnote 412; see bibliography tab for details).

As professor of literature Carlos Blanco, who was on the budget committee when Marcuse's promotion came up, recalls in an interview dated August 19, 2002, that the committee, in order to make it crystal clear that Marcuse was more than qualified to not only continue on at UCSD, but be promoted as well, asked for assessments of Marcuse from all over the world. Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, wrote, "Why are you asking me about Herbert Marcuse? Don't you know who he is?"

Douglas Kellner in the third volume of his edition of the Collected Works of Herbert Marcuse (2005, p. 120-121; see bibliography tab for details) has translated a letter of recommendation written by Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) to Jason Saunders, then chair of the Philosophy department at UCSD.

            September 18, 1968
            Professor Jason L. Saunders, Chairman
            Department of Philosophy
            University of California
            San Diego, California 92037 [sic]
My Dear Professor Saunders:
    With sincere thanks I acknowledge your letter of August 21 and thank you for the confidence which it expresses.
     It is with the greatest joy that I express my opinion about Herbert Marcuse, for many years my colleague at The Institute for Social Research, and my old friend. I have the highest opinion about his intellectual qualities as well as his humane and moral integrity. His power of thought and intellectual energy, his opposition to all the "mechanisms of stupefication" [sic] to which we are exposed today, speak for themselves. There is no particular need to acknowledge and comment on his fame. For myself, I can only say that during the course of a life-long friendship, his outstanding productive abilities have proved themselves without any sign of a diminution of his intellectual powers. And, my vote should perhaps have a certain weight inasmuch as I have known him and thought so highly of him for a long time, and long before world-wide recognition thrust his name into prominence. But, I can most emphatically assure you that even that recognition has not spoiled him in the slightest, and that he has not changed at all. He is altogether without conceit and without pretension, as only truly great men can permit themselves to be.
     Perhaps I should add that Herbert is, as I am myself, opposed to the violence which manifests itself as one form of the universal repression which we both fear. His sense of reality and his profound sense of humor protect him from evaluating any movement out of proportion to the actual balance of power. He has maintained his independence from the so-called extra-parliamentary opposition in Germany as publicly and as unflinchingly as he has opposed the threatening reaction in the Western World, and just as he has always opposed the Communist terror. He and I are in agreement in our fundamental positions, although these have developed independently. Thus, I do not feel that I am a blind partisan when I speak so strongly on his behalf. I must say that his age certainly presents no difficulty; I have never yet seen a man of 70 who in every aspect, and to an almost unbelievable degree, has so preserved his youth.
     These words represent my spontaneous reaction to your letter. Should there be any need for document [sic] which would be something more of the character of a formal statement and which should be written in English, please let me know as soon as possible. Of course, I would reply immediately. I hope with all my heart that this letter will serve your purpose.
With very best wishes, I remain devotedly,
Theodor W. Adorno

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