The Summer of TheoryHistory of a Rebellion, 1960-1990
The Summer of Theory
History of a Rebellion, 1960-1990
Translated by Tony Crawford

‘Theory’ – a magical glow has emanated from this word since the sixties.  Theory was more than just a succession of ideas: it was an article of faith, a claim to truth, a lifestyle.  It spread among its adherents in cheap paperbacks and triggered heated debates in seminar rooms and cafés.  The Frankfurt School, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Adorno, Derrida, Foucault: these and others were the exotic schools and thinkers whose ideas were being devoured by young minds.  But where did the fascination for dangerous thoughts come from?

In his magnificently written book, Philipp Felsch follows the hopes and dreams of a generation that entered the jungle of difficult texts. His setting is West Germany in the decades from the 1960s to the 1990s: in a world frozen in the Cold War, movement only came from big ideas. It was the time of apocalyptic master thinkers, upsetting reading experiences and glamorous incomprehensibility. As the German publisher Suhrkamp published Adorno’s Minima Moralia and other High Theory works of the Frankfurt School, a small publisher in West Berlin, Merve Verlag, provided readers with a steady stream of the subversive new theory coming out of France.

By following the adventures of the publishers who provided the books and the reading communities that consumed and debated them, Philipp Felsch tells the remarkable story of an intellectual revolt when the German Left fell in love with Theory.

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  • November 2021
  • 280 pages
  • 152 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $30.00
  • 9781509539857
  • Open eBook $24.00
  • 9781509539871
Table of Contents
Introduction: What Was Theory?

1965: The Hour of Theory

1.    Federal Republic of Adorno

Reflections from Damaged Life

Culture After Working Hours

In the Literary Supermarket

Adorno Answers

Are Your Endeavours Aimed at Changing the World?

2.    In the Suhrkamp Culture

New Leftists

He Didn’t Write

School of Hard Books

Paperback Theory

Birth of a Genre

1970: Endless Discussions

3.    Ill-made Books

Theoretical Practice

Smash Bourgeois Copyright!

Mondays, Fridays and Sundays

The Disorder of Discourse

4.    Wolfsburg Empire

Proletarian Public Sphere

In the Land of Class Struggle

The Lightness of Being Communist

A Fateful Stroke of Luck

1977: Reading French in the German Autumn

5.    (Possible) Reasons for the Happiness of Thought

All Kinds of Escapes

Intensity Is Not a Feeling

The Laugh of Merve

Vague Thinkers

6.    The Reader as Partisan

The Death of the Author

The Pleasure of the Text

Children’s Books

A Different Mode of Production

Lying on Water

7.    Foucault and the Terrorists

A Schweppes in Paris

Political Tourists


On Tunix Beach

1984: The End of History

8.    Critique of Pure Text

The Master Thinkers

Adults Only

Sola Scriptura

Aesthetics of Counter-Enlightenment

A Little Materialism

9.    Into the White Cube

The Mountain of Truth

Be Smart – Take Part

German Issues

The Island of Posthistoire

The Trouble with Duchamp

10.  Prussianism and Spontaneism

War in the Time of Total Peace

Machiavelli in Westphalia

The Wild Academy

In Search of the Punctum

Jacob Taubes’s Best Enemy

11.  Disco Dispositive

Tyrannies of Intimacy

Pub Blather

The Art of Having a Beer

In the Jungle

Above the Clouds

Epilogue: After Theory?


Appendix: Translations of Illustrations


About the Author
Philipp Felsch is Professor of Cultural History at Humboldt University, Berlin.
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