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Theodor W. Adorno wrote Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life in 1951. It is a series of 153 aphorisms striking at the sad ridiculity of living the Aristotelian “good life” in the 20th and 21st centuries. I am reading one aphorism a day and adding it to this page.
“Life does not live.” – Ferdinand Kürnberger
- “For Marcel Proust.” Intellectual work has been departmentalized; the pursuit of anti-business (scholarship, academic virtue) rendered a business in its very structure. Financially independent scholars often fail to recognize this, and are punished for their ignorance.
- “Grassy Seat.” The familial order is dying a brutal death, at the hands of righteous blind children. We only know Oedipus without motherly love, that is, the slaying of the father. And for that, we may grow up to become the father that we slayed, and even to reconcile with his ghost.
- “Fish in water.” The bourgeois public/private division of life has collapsed: all relationships are in service of other relationships, which advance the individual’s sociopolitical position. “Their belated individualism poisons what still remains of the individuated.” There is no motherly love which is not productive. We render ourselves transitory beings: to desire is required.
- “Final clarity.” Good-natured universality stands on a darkly schizophrenic foundation. The old man who is famous for being “benign” has lived a scandalous life; he forgets well. “In the abstract representation of universal injustice, every concrete responsibility collapses.” He stands upon the pedestal of time. The bourgeois are tolerant – their love for people comes from the heatred of rightful human beings.
- “Doctor, that is kind of you.” The small joys of life have opened beneath them the dark depths of twisted potential. The injunction: Enjoy! Relax! Be casual! Let it go! These are manifestations of power and domination. But also the egalitarian spirit: egalité! By adapting to the weakness of the oppressed, they perpetuate the precondition of oppression (the weakness). Intellectuals should embrace isolation for solidarity.
- “Antithesis.” Intellectuals like to think themselves out of the fray, but in fact they only reproduce what they negate. The intellectuals are the last enemies of the bourgeois, and at the same time the last bourgeois. Intellectuals participate in the very culture-industry they critique. One must rather behave modestly and unpretentiously, for there is “the shame that when one is in hell, there is still air to breathe.”
- “They, the people.” Intellectuals fetishize the “common folk” as conflictless and good: this is precisely to ignore the violence of the system. In bouts of righteous self-mockery, intellectuals pass into their opposite, that is, anti-intellectualism, and “rush into Indian temples”. “The justifiable feelings of guilt of those exempted from physical labor ought not to become an excuse for rural idiocy.”
- “If bad boys should tempt you.” Beware of the belief that your intellectual abstinence shall prove capable of overcoming tempting circumstances when they come. “The sacrifice of intellectual self-discipline is borne far too easily, to really believe that it is indeed one.”
- “Above all one thing, my child.” Lies are not unmoral because they are an affront to truth; that function is gone, it is now a performative power gesture. Everyone is in the loop, no one believes anyone, it has no concealing power. The social function of the lie is disrespect, a technique of brazenness. People are compelled to lie to survive in a world which demands dishonesty. Lying arises from a sense of shame, which itself arises from the degrading state of the world.
- “Separated-united.” Marriage is a trick of self-preservation.It is the formal structure of economic compulsion; all parties are degraded, and no one can avoid it, especially the rich. There is no pure union.
- “Table and bed.” If marriage is supposedly the intimate exception to cold h(in)human generality, its divorce is the most viscious of all, in which the very instruments of human relations and trust, or shared bonds, become the most brutal chains. Marriage thus exposes its backside and the fragile foundation of its ideal existence.
- “Among equals.” In sexually liberated modernity, yearning passes from the bohemians to their opposites – the frigid wives left behind. Only the abandoned wives may grant what all others have withheld from them, whereas those which have sexuality written across theri faces make a transaction and even a business out of it. Those frigid wives are the last bastion of the erotic.
- “Aid, assistance, and advice.” Beware the desire to acquire all glittering opportunity in the New World. The emigrant should not so quickly abondon their history, because that is where their cognition is rooted. Construct relationships of human dignity, and live in accordance with austerity.
- “Le bourgeois revenant.” All that was ‘proper’ in the bourgeoisie has fallen away, because the bourgeoisie have lost their naivete. The bourgeoise have become themselves minus the economic prerequisite. “The bourgeoisie live on like ghosts who threaten catastrophe.”
- “Le nouvel avare.” The archaic mode of greediness was to deny anything to anyone; today’s greediness regards nothing as too expensive for themselves. Insurance, rationality, and necessity are the calculating tools.
- “On the dialectic of tact.” Goethe proposed that tact bridged alienated individuals in an industrializing society – Wilhelm Meister, Beethoven, Kant. But now tact is emancipated, it becomes an insult. It loses its personability. “Ultimately, emancipated, purely individual tact turns into a mere lie.” Do not be so quick to herald the fall of conventions.
- “All rights reserved.” One cannot even sacrifice their principles for life now – everyone must be prepared for their extinguishing, everyone is an object – egalitarianism in the most dirty, obscene form. “Individual persons have, as individuals – as these latter represent the species-being of humanity – lost the autonomy through which they could have realized the species.”
“The dawning collectivistic social order is the mockery of one without class: it liquidates, along with the bourgeois, at the same time the utopia, which at one time drew nourishment from the mother’s love.” (2)
“Their belated individualism poisons what still remains of the individuated.” (3)
“The only responsible option is … to behave in private as modestly, inconspicuously and unpretentiously as required, not for reasons of good upbringing, but because of the shame that when one is in hell, there is still air to breathe.” (6)
“The justifiable feelings of guilt of those exempted from physical labor ought not become an excuse for rural idiocy.” (7)
“…so do those who are impoverished in Spirit [Geiste] march enthusiastically into the hell, which is their heaven.” (8)
“The write-off of conventions as outmoded, useless and extraneous ornaments only confirms the most extraneous of all things, a life of immediate domination. That the discontinuation of this caricature in schoolboyish camaraderie makes existence even more unbearable, as the mockery of freedom, is merely a further sign of how impossible it has become for human beings to live together under current conditions.”(16)
“Individual persons have, as individuals – as these latter represent the species-being of humanity – lost the autonomy through which they could have realized the species.” (18)