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Adorno: Minima Moralia

Posted on August 18, 2009 in Reading Project

I have a permanent bookmark in this book. It points to this (haphazard punctuation in original):

Had Hegel’s philosophy of history embraced this age, Hitler’s robot-bombs would have found their place beside the early death of Alexander and similar images, as one of the selected empirical facts by which the state of the world-spirit manifests itself directly in symbols. Like Fascism itself, the robots career without a subject. Like it they combine the utmost technical perfection with total blindness. And like it they arouse mortal terror and are wholly futile. ‘I have seen the world spirit’, not on horseback, but on wings and without a head, and that refutes, at the same stroke, Hegel’s philosophy of history.

Minima Moralia is a book of epigrams, so really you can drop in anywhere. I just read 10 pages on either side of my epigram of choice. They revealed a lot of the sort of things Adorno is known for: racism snobbery, homophobia aaaaaaaand, lest we forget, profound insights. In particular my epigram of choice (clocking in at 3 pages, which is a real heavyweight for an epigram) has much to offer besides the incredible quote above (as if that weren’t enough.)

Entitled “Out of the firing line,” it starts by mentioning the fact that news coverage of air-attacks never fails to name the manufacturer of the aircraft involved. The scale of war, Adorno suggest, is now too great to be comprehended in human terms. Mechanization means that destruction is both tremendous and anonymous. The epigram, written in 1944, ends with the observation that there can’t really be an acceptable course of action in the aftermath of the war that was raging at the time.

To the question of what is to be done with defeated Germany, I could say only two things in reply. Firstly: at no price, on no conditions, would I wish to be an executioner, or to supply legitimations for executioners. Secondly: I should not wish, least of all with legal machinery, to stay the hand of anyone who was avenging past misdeeds. This is thoroughly unsatisfactory, contradictory answer, indeed one that makes a mockery of both principle and practice. But perhaps the fault lies with the question and not only in me.

I really like this too, and if my first reading of this work had come later than age 20, I may well have put the bookmark on the next page. The inability, or pig-headed unwillingness, to engage with contradiction (or, frankly, even gradation) is hallmark of the disastrous state of our discourse. Great philosophy is always applicable to current events, and this does that with real class.

So the whole going-easy-on-myself phase of this process is about to come to a screeching halt. The next book on the shelf is the Adorno/Horkheimer collaboration The Dialectic of Enlightenment and I will, of course, be compelled to read “The Culture Industry.” Now, this is better than it would be if I owned a copy of Negative Dialectics, but it’s not going to be a cakewalk.

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