MINIMA MORALIA: Reflections from the Damaged Life, aphorism #115: Pure wine.

by Theodor Adorno (translated by Dennis Redmond)

Pure wine [part of figurative German expression, “to give someone pure wine”, i.e. to tell someone the unvarnished truth]. – There is an almost foolproof criterion for determining whether a human being means you well: how they pass on unfriendly or hostile comments about you. Such reports are mostly superfluous, nothing but pretexts for expressing ill-wishes without responsibility, even in the name of what is good. Just as all acquaintances feel the inclination, to occasionally say something bad about someone, probably because they rebel against the greyness of the acquaintance, so is everyone simultaneously sensitive to the views of everyone else and secretly wish that they were loved, even where they do not love: the alienation between human beings is no less indiscriminate and universal than the longing to break through it. The news-hawker blossoms in this climate, for there is never any lack of material or calamities, and they can always count on the fact that those who wish to be liked by all, are agog to hear news of the opposite. One should relay derogatory remarks only when they immediately and transparently influence common decisions, to judgments of human beings one must rely upon, or with whom one has to work. The more disinterested the report, the murkier the interest, the suppressed pleasure, in inflicting pain. It is still harmless, if story-tellers simply wish to set two parties against each other while simultaneously putting their own qualities in the spotlight. More often they represent themselves as the unelected arbiters of public opinion and thereby impress, precisely through their affectless objectivity, the entire violence of anonymity upon the victim, before which this last is supposed to bow. The lie becomes visible in the unnecessary concern for the honor of the one injured, who knows nothing of the injury, for clear relationships, for inner purity: upholding these latter in the entangled world only encourages, on the model of Gregers Werle [character in Ibsen’s Wild Duck], entanglement. By virtue of moral fervor, the well-meaning turn into destroyers.

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