Monday, July 13, 2015

Adorno – Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life

I’m in Warsaw and I woke up at 4am to get here and I’ve never been and I want to explore it so I’m dashing this off which are excerpts from Adorno’s Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life from 1951. This slim book reads like a slap dash of aphorisms on war, being, intellectualism, violence, art, and just about all the things Adorno is known for but with a bit more quickness.

I was re-reading this the other day to get my brain out of certain cycles and walking around Warsaw in the sunny rain and past buildings that look shot at but still used I thought of him.

If you want to read it in full you can download it here.


Whoever isn’t “out” for something [wer nichts “will”: literally, whoever doesn’t want, wish, intend to do something] is almost suspect: no-one trusts anyone else to help them get by, without legitimating themselves through counter-claims.

They betray not from instinctual drives, but from principle: they value even themselves as a profit, which they do not wish to share with anyone else.

By adapting to the weaknesses of the oppressed, one confirms in such weaknesses the prerequisite of domination, and develops in oneself the measure of barbarity, thickheadedness and capacity to inflict violence required to exercise domination.

Since the old bourgeois class has abdicated, both lead their afterlife in the Spirit [Geist] of intellectuals, who are at the same time the last enemies of the bourgeois, and the last bourgeois. By allowing themselves to still think at all vis-a-vis the naked reproduction of existence, they behave as the privileged; by leaving things in thought, they declare the nullity of their privilege.

One should beware above all of seeking out influential types from whom “one can expect something.” The eye for potential advantages is the mortal enemy of the construction of relationships worthy of human dignity; though solidarity and consideration for others may ensue from these latter, though solidarity and consideration for others may ensue from these latter, they can never originate in thoughts of practical deals.

The greedy of today regard nothing as too expensive for themselves, but everything as too expensive for others. They think in equivalencies, and their entire private life stands under the law of giving less than they get back, but always just enough to get back something.

For tenderness between human beings is nothing other than the consciousness of the possibility of non-purposive relations, which strikes those who are caught up in purposes as consolation; the legacy of ancient privileges, which promises a condition without privilege.

Every veil which steps between human beings conducting business is felt to be a disturbance of the functioning of the apparatus, in which they are not only objectively incorporated, but to which they belong with pride.

Baby with the bathwater. – One of the central motifs of cultural critique since time immemorial is that of the lie: that culture produces the illusion of a society worthy of human beings, which does not exist; that it conceals the material conditions on which everything human is constructed; and that by seeking to console and assuage, it ends up preserving the bad economic determinacy of everyday existence. This is the notion of culture as ideology, which at first glance both the bourgeois doctrine of violence and its opponent, Nietzsche and Marx, seem to have in common. But precisely this notion, like all hand-wringing against lies, has a suspicious tendency to itself become an ideology.

The fear of the powerlessness of theory yields the pretext of declaring fealty to the almighty production-process and thereby fully concedes the powerlessness of theory.

If society is truly one of rackets, as a contemporary theory teaches, then its truest model is precisely the opposite of the collective, namely the individual [Individuum] as monad.

The health unto death. – If something like a psychoanalysis of today’s prototypical culture were possible; if the absolute hegemony of the economy did not mock every attempt at explicating conditions by the psychic life of their victims; and if the psychoanalysts themselves had not long ago sworn fealty to those conditions – then such an investigation would have to show that contemporary sickness exists precisely in what is normal.

The decomposition of human beings into capabilities is a projection of the division of labor on its presumed subjects, inseparable from the interest in deploying them with ulterior motives, above all in order to be able to manipulate them.

In the end the wisdom of the psychoanalysis truly becomes what the Fascist unconscious of the tabloid magazines considers it to be, to the technics of a special racket among others, which irrevocably binds helpless and suffering human beings to itself, in order to command them and exploit them.

Prefab enlightenment transforms not only spontaneous reflection, but also the analytic insights, whose power is equivalent to the energy and passion which it took to achieve them, into mass-produced products, and the painful secrets of individual history, which orthodoxy is already wont to reduce to formulas, into humdrum conventions.

Narcissism, which loses its libidinal object due to the disassembly of the ego, is replaced by masochistic pleasure of no longer being an ego, and the younger generation guards its egolessness with rare enthusiasm, as a lasting and common possession.

In an intellectual [geistigen] hierarchy, which continually holds everyone responsible, then irresponsibility alone is capable of immediately calling the hierarchy itself by name.

Freedom of thought. – The suppression of philosophy by science has led, as is commonly known, to a separation of the two elements whose unity, according to Hegel, comprises the life of philosophy: reflection and speculation.

Every work of art aims at such a downfall, by seeking the death of all the others. That all art reckons on its own end, is another way of stating the same state of affairs. It is out of such a compulsion towards self-annihilation in works of art, from their innermost concern, that drives towards the appearanceless [scheinlos] picture of what is beautiful, which stirs up seemingly useless aesthetic disputes over and over again. While they stubbornly and obstinately wish to find what is aesthetically correct [Recht] and precisely thereby fall victim to an unquenchable dialectic, they are more correct than they can know; by delimiting each art-work, whose energy they take into themselves and raise to a concept, they work towards the destruction of art, which is its salvation. The aesthetic tolerance, which validates works of art in their immediate narrowness, without breaking this last, yields only the wrong downfall, that of the juxtaposition, which denies the claim of the unitary truth.

The generality of the beautiful is communicated to the subject in no other way than the obsession with the particular.

Gaps. – The demand that one should be intellectually honest amounts mostly to the sabotage of thought. It means to hold authors accountable, to explicitly portray all the steps which led them to their conclusion, and thus enable every reader to follow the process along and, where possible – for example, in academia – to duplicate it.

Of this the Cartesian rule, that one should only turn to objects, “to whose clear and undoubted knowledge our mind [Geist] seems to suffice,” including all order and disposition which relates to such, gives as false an account as the opposing doctrine of the apperception [Wesenschau], which is nevertheless inextricably entwined with the former.

Thought waits for the day that it is awakened by the memory of what was omitted, and is transformed into teaching.