The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy

Querying Magic as a Critical Pedagogical Activity: Theodor Adorno and the Problem of Authoritarian Irrationalism in the Culture Industry

Robert McGray


This essay investigates the resurgence of what the Western Culture Industry refers to as magic – a broad matrix of entertaining activities that range from card tricks, sleight of hand, and theatrical deception. Specifically, this research queries the possibility of these practices as they are aimed as critical educational tools: That is to say, the possibilities of these activities to engage us in activities which allow us to illuminate broader structures of power implicated in our lives. By reading these activities through Theodor Adorno’s concerns about the occult and irrationalism, specifically in his treatise “The Stars Down to Earth,” I argue that it is the reliance on the ongoing tradition of authoritarian irrationalism in magic that poses significant obstacles for critical pedagogues. These obstacles revolve around the tradition of allowing someone (the magician), or something (the culture industry), to define problems to be solved.

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