The University of Wisconsin Press

Drama / Philosophy


Hannah Arendt, the Two Adornos, and Walter Benjamin
A play by Carl Djerassi

“Few readers have studied the canonical texts of the great author-protagonists of the Frankfurt School without the secret desire to know more about their private lives. Djerassi’s historical fiction in dramatic form may come closer to the truth than any of the more empirical studies.”
—Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Stanford University and the Collège de France

Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno were intellectual giants of the first half of the twentieth century. The drama Foreplay explores their deeply human and psychologically intriguing private lives, focusing on professional and personal jealousies, the mutual dislike of Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, the association between Walter Benjamin and Georges Bataille, and the border between erotica and pornography.

Djerassi’s extensive biographical research brings to light many fascinating details revealed in the dialogues among the characters, including Adorno’s obsession with his dreams, Benjamin’s admiration for Franz Kafka, and the intimate correspondence between Gretel Adorno and Walter Benjamin. The introduction of a fictitious character, Fräulein X, intensifies the complex interplay among the four lead protagonists and allows for a comparison of Adorno’s philandering and the similar behavior of Martin Heidegger, whose affair with Hannah Arendt is well known. Foreplay brims with intrigue and the friction created when strong personalities clash.

“At once outrageous and beguiling, Foreplay boldly extrapolates from the known facts of its four real protagonists’ lives to create a spirited drama of entangled emotional intrigue and mordant wit. Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen and Tom Stoppard’s Travesties have found a worthy successor.”
—Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley

Carl Djerassi (1923–2015) was the author of many novels, plays, essays, poetry, and short stories published in twenty languages. Renowned as both a writer and a scientist, he was an emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford University and the recipient of thirty honorary doctorates as well as many international scientific honors. His books published by the University of Wisconsin Press are: How I Beat Coca-Cola and Other Tales of One-Upmanship; Foreplay: Hannah Arendt, the Two Adornos, and Walter Benjamin; Sex in an Age of Technological Reproduction: “ICSI” and “Taboos”; and A Diary of Pique 1983–1984 / Ein Tagebuch des Grolls 1983–1984.

Please see this obituary published in the New York Times.

For more information about the author and his other works, visit

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April 2011
LC: 2010046467 PS
88 pp.   5 x 8

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Paper $19.95 a
ISBN 978-0-299-28334-6
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“In Foreplay, Djerassi vaults the spectator straight into the middle of the emotional struggle among famous philosophers of the 20th century. His private insights into the lives of Hannah Arendt, Gretel and Theodor W. Adorno, and Walter Benjamin allow us access to the otherwise imponderable aspects of their interpersonal as well as intellectual relationships. Djerassi’s perspective is as sophisticated as it is ironic. It keeps us stunned and amused.”
—Antonia Grunenberg, director of the Hannah Arendt Center and Archive, Carl von Ossietzky-University, Oldenburg, Germany




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