MINIMA MORALIA: Reflections from the damaged life. By THEODOR ADORNO
PART TWO: 1945. Aphorism #72:
Translated by Dennis Redmond
Second harvest. – Talent is above all perhaps nothing other than serendipitously [glücklich] sublimated rage, the capacity to transpose the incalculable energies once raised for the destruction of intractable objects into the concentration of patient meditation, and refusing to let the secret of objects slip away, very much as one refused to be swayed until the squeaking voice was torn from the mishandled toy. Who has failed to observe on the face of someone sunk in thought, dissociated from practical objects, the same aggression which is otherwise activated in practice? Don’t those engaged in production feel brutish, “working up a storm” in the midst of their frenzied ardor? Indeed isn’t such rage required in order to emancipate oneself from the feeling of being prejudiced and from the rage of being prejudiced? Isn’t what is reconciling precisely something wrested from what is destructive?
Today most people kick against the pricks [i.e. have running battles with the authorities].
How so many things are inscribed with gestures, and thereby with modes of conduct. Clogs – “floppies,” slippers [in English] – are made so that one can slip them on one’s feet without using the hands. They are monuments to the hatred of bending over.
The carefree gestures of adolescents testify to the fact that in repressive society freedom and insolence are the same thing, the attitude of “it doesn’t cost me a dime,” so long as they do not have to sell their labor. To show that they don’t rely on anyone else and for that reason don’t have to show any respect, they stick their hands into their pockets. The elbows however, which they turn outwards, are already prepared to strike anyone who crosses their path.
Germans are human beings who can’t tell a lie without believing it themselves.
The phrase, “That’s completely out of the question,” which may have arisen in Berlin in the 1920s, is potentially already the [Nazi] seizure of power. For it pretends that the private will, founded at times on actual administrative rights, but mostly on sheer impudence, would immediately represent the objective necessity, which admits of no appeal. Fundamentally it is the refusal of the bankrupt negotiating partner to pay the other a penny, with the proud consciousness that there’s nothing to be gotten from them, anyway. The legal trick of the shady lawyer harangues itself into heroic fortitude: the linguistic formula of usurpation. Such a bluff defines in equal measure the success and the fall of Nazism.
That the prayer for our daily bread has, in view of the existence of bread factories, become a mere metaphor and simultaneously lucid despair, says more against the possibility of Christianity than all the enlightened critiques of the life of Jesus.
Anti-Semitism is the rumor about the Jews.
Foreign loan-words are the Jews of language.
During an evening of bottomless sadness, I caught myself using a ridiculously wrong conjunctive of a not quite correct High German verb, which belonged to the dialect of my home town. I had not even perceived, let alone used, this endearingly wrong term since the first school-years. Melancholy, irresistibly pulling me into the abyss of childhood, awakened the old, powerlessly demanding sound out of the deep. Language threw back to me, like an echo, the humiliation which unhappiness had inflicted on me, by forgetting what I am.
The second part of [Goethe’s] Faust, decried as abstruse and allegorical, overflows with common citations, to a degree matched only by [Schiller’s] William Tell. The transparency and simplicity of a text has no direct relationship to the question of whether it becomes part of the cultural tradition. It may precisely be what is hidden away, continually stimulating renewed interpretation, which certifies that a passage or a work is destined for posterity.
Every work of art is an unexecuted [abgedungene] crime.
The tragedies which keep themselves the furthest away from mere existence through “style,” are simultaneously those which most accurately preserve the memory of the demonology of savages, through collective processions, masks and sacrifices.
The poverty of the sunrise of Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony is caused not merely by banal sequences, but by its very splendor. For no sunrise, not even the one in the high mountains, is pompous, triumphal, stately, but each occurs faintly and diffidently, like the hope that everything may yet turn out well, and precisely in the inconspicuousness of the mightiest of all lights lies that which is so poignantly overwhelming.
The voice of every woman on the telephone signals whether the speaker is pretty or not. The tone reflects all the glances of admiration and desire she ever received back as confidence, independence, self-attentiveness. It expresses the Latinate double meaning of grace, gratitude and mercy. The ear perceives what is meant for the eye, because both live from the experience of the one beauty. It is instantly familiar from the very first: the familiar citation of what has never been seen.
If one wakes up in the middle of a dream, even the most troubling, one is disappointed and feels as if one had been cheated of what is best. Yet there are as few happy, fulfilled dreams as, in Schubert’s words, happy music. Even the most beautiful ones retain the blemish of their difference from reality, the consciousness of the mere appearance [Schein] of what they grant. That is why even the most beautiful dreams are somehow damaged. This experience is unsurpassable in the description of the nature theater of Oklahoma in Kafka’s America.
It is no different with happiness than with truth: one does not have it, but is in it. Indeed, happiness is nothing other than being encompassed, an after-image of the warm security of the mother. That is why no-one can know that they are happy. In order to see happiness, they would have to step out of it: they would be like a newborn. Whoever says, they are happy, lies, by evoking it and thus sinning against happiness. Only those who say: I was happy, are true to it. The only relationship of consciousness to happiness is that of gratitude: this constitutes its incomparable dignity.
To children returning from vacation, the home is new, fresh, festive. But nothing has changed in it, since they left. Only because the duties were forgotten, of which every piece of furniture, every window, every lamp is otherwise a reminder, does the Sabbath peace once more repose, and for minutes one is at home in the multiplication table of rooms, chambers and corridors, as it will appear for the rest of one’s life only in lies. Not otherwise will the world appear, nearly unchanged, in the steady light of its day of celebration, when it no longer stands under the law of labor, and the duties of those returning home are as light as vacation play.
Since one can no longer pick flowers to adorn one’s beloved, as a sacrifice which is reconciled, by freely taking on itself the injustice to all in the ardor for the one, there is something malign about picking flowers. It suffices only to eternalize what is transient, by making it thinglike. Nothing however is more pernicious: the scentless bouquet, the official memorial kills what remains, precisely by conserving it. The fleeting moment is capable of living in the murmur of forgetting, on which one day the ray of light falls, which makes it flash up; to want to possess the moment is already to have lost it. The profuse bouquet, which the child lugs home at the behest of the mother, could stand behind the mirror like the artificial ones sixty years ago, and in the end it is turned into the greedily snapped photos of the trip, in which the landscape is littered by those who saw nothing of it, grabbing as a souvenir, whatever fell unremembered into nothingness. Yet whoever sends flowers, enraptured, will involuntarily reach for those which appear mortal.
We can thank our life to the difference between the economic framework, late industrialism, and the political facade. To theoretical critique, the different is slight: everywhere the superficial character [Scheincharakter] of, say, public opinion, the primacy of the economy in actual decisions, can be displayed. For countless individuals however this thin and ephemeral husk is the basis of their entire existence. Precisely those who set store in their thinking and actions on change, as what is solely essential, owe their existence to what is inessential, to appearance [Schein], indeed to what according to the measure of the great historical laws of development came about as mere accident. Yet doesn’t this affect the entire construction of essence and appearance? Measured by the concept, what is individual has in fact become as void as Hegel’s philosophy anticipated: yet sub specie individuationis [Latin: in relation to the one eternal substance], absolute contingency – as something permitted, abnormally living on, as it were – is itself what is essential. The world is a system of horror, but that is why those who think of it entirely as a system do it too much honor, for its unifying principle is division, and it reconciles, by asserting the wholesale irreconcilability of the general and particular. Its essence [Wesen] is mischief [Unwesen]; its appearance [Schein] however, the lie, by virtue of which it continues to exist, is the placeholder of truth.