PHILOSOPHICAL RUMINATIONS

PHILOSOPHICAL RUMINATIONS

The juxtaposition of these particular aphorisms by Adorno may at first seem strange, but they all intertwine as a commentary of the human condition as opposed to the manufactured human condition. Even somewhat strange reading attempts to come to terms with Nietzsche seem antiquated today when he is much better understood. Certainly, there are at least two Nietzsches, as described below by Ernst, but a multitude — even as he is now understood better than ever. As he himself said, “I was born posthumously.” In fact, by the end of the 19th century, there was not the slightest hint that he was soon to become the single most influential thinker of the 20th, revolutionizing thought and impacting thinkers and writers either directly or indirectly for the entire century and beyond. This is remarkable in itself as his final and most productive year was 1888 and only a thousand copies of his last book of Zarathustra had been printed and most of them were given away. Soon after his last work, the Anti-Christ, he finally succumbed to brain cancer and could not be induced to utter a single syllable about his work. The Will to Power is an attempt by his sister to piece together many of his past writings and notebooks and it was published without his knowledge. The influence he was to have in the next Century was as well anticipated as was Quantum Mechanics in the Physical Sciences. This selection of aphorisms concludes with Adorno’s own analysis of Nietzsche. Evaluation and explication of that is left to the reader.

#106 here discusses memory and memories and the discussion yields an ambivalent attitude towards it. It concludes, however, with a very powerful assertion of ints importance: in other words, without memories of past achievements or worth, one is doomed to die in despair. With such a warning, it is wise to revisit our own memories and reassess them rather than to dismiss them. It is certainly worth thinking about whether winning a baseball game with one swing of the bat, leaving all players to walk off the field, way back when one was in his teens is a more worthy achievement than obtaining a Ph.D. or having an I.Q. measured at least three standard deviations above the mean. In the last analysis, which of these three is the most valuable? There are many diverse elements involved in each situation, but perhaps the overwhelming one is the instantaneous accomplishment which put a final and irrevocable end to something. The point here is that there is value in all of these and one need not let society or societal prejudices determine the value of any of them, nor should one allow them to be tinged as either “good” or “bad” according to some external value system that seems to conspire to keep the individual humble and retiring and allow the wealthy and powerful to continue their own definition of success, which always seems to describe them.

#113 shows Adorno at his most irritating, and hence most interesting. He discusses Schopenhauer’s attitude towards leisure time as expressed by an editor to his World as Will and Idea, indicates that therefore Schopenhauer preferred death to leisure time, found himself alienated from the concept, and then uses Baudelaire, Christianity, Marx (the concept of alienation), and Tolstoi’s attitude towards the feeling after sex to support his points. On a very real level this is preposterous. In fact, when Schopenhauer felt the urge to copulate was so overwhelming that it distracted him from his thought and writing, he went out, paid a willing female, and discharged the offending urge and, with much relief, returned to his work. Such a logical and intelligent, and also stubborn, attitude is simply beyond the imagination of most human beings, yet who is to say that many males, at least, would have led happier and more productive lives had they followed Schopenhauer’s advice and example?

#119 is an excellent discussion of morality as oppression and how it developed. It is amazing when one considers how a system of values that asserts the corrupting and pernicious effects of capital acquisition become a defense of the ruling class and the wealthy, what we today, in 2014, tend to call the 1% when we are in our most polite mode of discourse. Additionally, the ruling forces have always attempted to harness are acquire the rights to any sort of pleasurable or needy urges and allow then to be indulged only by permission. In a section here omitted Adorno uses the term “Ford” to refer to Henry Ford, the archetypical capitalist later identified as Fascist. It is little-known that he had manufacturing plants in Hitler’s Germany and was supplying armaments to Hitler during World War II (he was doing the same here). It is even less known that we bombed one or more of these plants during the war and he sued the United States Government for damages. Even more preposterous is the fact that he won in the United States’ Legal system. He became an obvious symbol of the first half of the 20th century and was used by Aldus Huxley in his Brave New World, a classic that illustrates much of what Adorno discusses in the next passages. Today, of course, no single person can be used a such an exemplar as there ae so many, all subsumed under the rubric of “Corporation,” a concept which has been legally designated as human by our legal system as of a few years ago.

The rest of the discussion concerns the CULTURE INDUSTRY. This is a concept that the Frankfurt School has had difficulty in dealing with. At one time, Marcuse wrote a piece lamenting the phonograph as replacing the concert hall which led to much anger and indignation. He, of course, was not attacking the technology and the benefits but rather remarking on the importance of the traditional setting. At the same approximate time, a recording of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was released and caused not only a sensation, but a revolution in the way people listened to serious music. Some classical pianists remarked that the recording reminded them of why they started on their arduous career in the first place. Gould erupted against the stuffy and traditional, appearing in an overcoat, sitting on an orange crate, wearing gloves with the fingertips cut off and performing in the most prestigious concert halls in the world. Eventually, he retired from public performance and dedicated himself exclusively to the recording studio. He hummed along, out of tune, with his brilliant playing and revived classical music and revolutionized how people listened to it.
Adorno himself contributed to Thomas Mann’s understanding of the technicalities of classical music, especially the twelve tone system of Arnold Schoenberg. I would not hesitate to recommend Dr. Faustus as the most accomplished novel of the twentieth century, although I would warn that not only is a familiarity with the Faust legend is required but also a close understanding of what “Classical” music is. Terms such as “Fugue,” “Cantata,” “Sonata,” and several others are familiar enough and, if they are not, Faustus is not a work the reader will find rewarding.
I must, however, contrast it to Finnegan’s Wake and the works of Joyce. Joyce once said “It took me my whole life to write my books. You should spend your whole life reading them.” I took him at his word, eagerly, and abandoned any attempts to come to terms with him. There were simply too many other authors to consider. Thomas Mann has never made such an idiotic statement.
On the final issue: the culture industry. Mass media is simply too demeaning to discuss formally and is out of place here. Adorno does his best to deal with it and I leave his words to themselves.

106
All the little flowers. – The sentence, most likely from Jean-Paul, that memories are the only property which cannot be taken from us, belongs in the storehouse of a powerlessly sentimental consolation, which would like to think that the self-renouncing withdrawal of the subject into interiority is precisely the fulfillment, from which the consolation turns away. By establishing the archive of oneself, the subject commandeers its own stock of experience as property and thereby turns it once more into something entirely external to the subject. The past inner life turns into furniture, just as, conversely, every piece of Biedermeier furniture was memory made wood. The intérieur [French: interior], in which the soul stores its collection of curiosities and memorabilia, is invalid. Memories cannot be preserved in drawers and file cabinets, but rather in them is indissolubly interwoven what is past with what is present. No-one has them at their disposal in the freedom and arbitrariness, whose praise resounds in the swollen sentences of Jean-Paul. Precisely where they becomes controllable and objective, where the subject thinks of them as wholly secure, memories fade like soft wall-papers under harsh sunlight. Where however they retain their energy, protected by what is forgotten, they are endangered like anything which is alive. The conception of Bergson and Proust, aimed against reification, according to which what is contemporary, what is immediacy, constitutes itself only through memory, the reciprocity of what is now and what is then, has for that reason not merely a providential but also an infernal aspect. Just as no earlier experience truly exists, which was not detached from the rigor mortis of its isolated existence by involuntary memorialization, so too is the converse true, that no memory is guaranteed, as existing in itself, indifferent towards the future of the one who harbors it; nothing which is past is safe from the curse of the empirical present, through the transition into mere representation [Vorstellung]. The most blissful memory of a human being can, according to its substance, be repealed by a later experience. Whoever loved and betrayed love, does something awful not only to the picture of what has been, but to this last itself. With incontrovertible evidence, an unwilling gesture while awakening, a hollow cadence, a faint hypocrisy of pleasure, inveigles itself into the memory, making the nearness of yesterday already into the alienation, which it today has become. Despair has the expression of what is irrevocable not because things couldn’t go better next time, but because it draws the previous time into its maw. That is why it is foolish and sentimental, to wish to preserve what is past as pure in the midst of the dirty flood of what is contemporary. This latter, delivered unprotected to calamity, is left with no other hope than to emerge once more from this latter as something else. To those however who die in despair, their whole life was in vain.
113
Spoilsport. – The affinity between asceticism and euphoria, noted by the humdrum wisdom of psychology, the love-hate between saints and whores, has the objectively valid ground, that asceticism accords to fulfillment more of its rights than cultural installment-payments. The hostility to pleasure is certainly not to be separated from the consensus with the discipline of a society, which has its essence [Wesen] in demanding more than it grants in return. But there is also a mistrust against pleasure which comes from the intuition, that the latter is in this world nothing of the sort. A construction of Schopenhauer unconsciously expressed something of this intuition. The transition from the affirmation to the repudiation of the will to life occurs in the development of the thought, that in every delimitation of the will by a barrier “which is placed… between it and its former goal” there is suffering; in contrast, “its attainment of the goal” would be “satisfaction, well-being, happiness.” While such “suffering,” according to Schopenhauer’s intransigent cognition, could easily enough grow to the point that death itself would be preferable, the condition of “satisfaction” is itself unsatisfying, because “as soon as a shelter is granted to human beings from urgent necessity and suffering, boredom is so close at hand, that it requires the killing of time. What occupies all living beings and keeps them in motion, is the striving for existence [Dasein]. They don’t know what to do with existence, however, what it is assured: thus the second thing, which they set into motion, is the striving to be free of the burden of existence, to make it imperceptible, ‘to kill time’, that is, to escape boredom.” (Schopenhauer, Collected Works, Grand Duke Wilhelm-Ernst Edition, Volume I: The World as Will and Idea. I. Introduction by Eduard Grisebach. Leipzig 1920, pg 415). But the concept of this boredom which is sublated to such unsuspected dignity, is something which Schopenhauer’s sensibility, which is hostile to history, would least like to admit – bourgeois through and through. It is, as the experience of antithetical “free time,” the complement of alienated labor, whether this free time is supposed to merely reproduce expended energy, or whether it is burdened by the extraction of alien labor as a mortgage. Free time remains the reflex of the rhythm of production as something imposed heteronomously, to which the former is compulsorily held fast even in periods of weariness. The consciousness of the unfreedom of all existence, which the pressure of the demands of commerce, and thus unfreedom itself, does not allow to appear, emerges first in the intermezzo of freedom. The nostalgie du dimanche [French: Sunday nostalgia] is not homesickness for the workweek, but for the condition which is emancipated from this; Sundays are unsatisfying, not because they are observed, but because its own promise immediately represents itself at the same time as something unfulfilled; like the English one, every Sunday is too little Sunday. Those for who time painfully extends itself, who wait in vain, are disappointed that it failed to happen, that tomorrow goes past once more just like yesterday. The boredom of those however who do not need to work, is not fundamentally different from this. Society as a totality imposes, on those with administrative power, what they do to others, and what these latter may not do, the former will scarcely permit themselves. The bourgeoisie have turned satiety, which ought to be the close relation of ecstasy, into an epithet. Because others go hungry, ideology demands that the absence of hunger should count as vulgar. Thus the bourgeoisie indict the bourgeoisie. Their own existence, as exempt from labor, prevents any praise of laziness: the latter would be boring. The hectic bustle, which Schopenhauer refers to, is due less to the unbearable nature of the privileged condition than to its ostentation, which according to the historical situation either enlarges the social distance or seemingly reduces such through presumably important events and ceremonies, which are supposed to emphasize the usefulness of the masters. If those at the top truly felt bored, this stems not from too much happiness, but from the fact that they are marked by the general unhappiness; by the commodity character, which consigns the pleasures to idiocy, by the brutality of command, whose terrifying echo resounds in the high spirits of the rulers, finally by their fear of their own superfluousness. Noone who profits from the profit-system is capable of existing therein without shame, and it distorts even undistorted pleasure, although the excesses, which the philosophers envy, may by no means be so boring as they assure us. That boredom would disappear in realized freedom, is something vouchsafed by many experiences stolen from civilization. The saying omne animal post coitum triste [Latin: all animals are sad after mating] was devised by bourgeois contempt for humanity: nowhere more than here does what is human distinguish itself from creaturely sorrow. Not euphoria but socially approved love elicits disgust: the latter is, in Ibsen’s word, sticky. Those who are deeply moved by erotic sentiment transform fatigue into the plea for tenderness, and momentary sexual incapacity is understood as accidental, entirely external to passion. It is not for nothing that Baudelaire thought the bondage of erotic obsession together with the illuminating spiritualization, naming kiss, scent and conversation equally immortal. The transience of pleasure, on which asceticism stakes its claim, stands for the fact that except in the minutes heureuses [French: happy minutes], in which the forgotten life of the lover radiates from the arms and limbs of the beloved, there is no pleasure yet at all. Even the Christian denunciation of sex in Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata cannot entirely cancel out the memory of this in the middle of all the Capucin-style preaching. What he reproaches sensuous love for, is not only the grandiosely overweening theological motif of self-denial, that no human being may turn another into an object – actually thus a protest against patriarchal control – but at the same time the memorialization of the bourgeois malformation of sex, in its murky entanglement with every material interest, in marriage as a humiliating compromise, however much of an undercurrent of Rousseau’s resentment against pleasure raised to reflection runs in this. The attack on the period of the engagement is aimed at the family photograph, which resemblance the word “bridegroom.” ‘And moreover there was that ridiculous custom of giving sweets, of coarse gormandizing on sweets, and all those abominable preparations for the wedding: remarks about the house, the bedroom, beds, wraps, dressing-gowns, underclothing, costumes.’ [The Kreutzer Sonata, trans. R. Gustafson, Oxford UP: 1997, pg 107] He similarly mocks the honeymoon, which is compared to the disappointment after visiting an ‘extremely uninteresting’ fairground booth, extolled by a hawker. The exhausted senses are less to blame for this dégoût [French: disgust] than what is institutionalized, ordained, prefabricated in pleasure, its false immanence in the social order which adjusts it and turns it into something deathly sad, in the moment it is decreed. Such contrariness may grow to the point that all euphoria ultimately prefers to cease, inside renunciation, rather than violating the concept of euphoria through its realization.
119
Model virtue. – It is well-known how oppression and ethics [Moral] converge in the renunciation of the drives. But the ethical ideas do not merely oppress other ones, but are immediately derived from the existence of the oppressor. Since Homer, the concepts of good and wealth are intertwined in the Greek language. The kalokagathie [Greek: perfection], which was upheld by the humanists of modern society as a model of aesthetic-ethical harmony, has always put a heavy emphasis on property, and Aristotele’s Politics openly confessed the fusion of inner value with status in the determination of nobility, as “inherited wealth, which is connected with excellence.” The concept of the polis [Greek: city-state] in classical antiquity, which upheld internalized and externalized nature [Wesen], the validity of the individual [Individuum] in the city-state and the individual’s self as a unity, permitted it to ascribe moral rank to wealth, without inciting the crude suspicion, which the doctrine already at that time courted. If the visible effect on an existent state establishes the measure of a human being, then it is nothing but consistency to vouchsafe the material wealth, which tangibly confirms that effect, as the characteristic of the person, since the latter’s moral substance – just as later in Hegel’s philosophy – is supposed to be constituted on nothing other than their participation in the objective, social substance. Christianity first negated that identification, in the phrase that it would be easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. But the particular theological premise on voluntary chosen poverty indicates how deeply the general consciousness is stamped by the ethos [Moralität] of property. Fixed property is to be distinguished from the nomadic disorder, against which all norms are directed; to be good and to have goods, coincided from the beginning. Good people are those who control themselves as their own possessions: their autonomous nature [Wesen] is modeled on material disposition. The rich are therefore not to be accused of being unethical – that reproach has ever belonged to the armature of political oppression – but given to understand, that they represent ethics [Moral] to others. In this latter is reflected having [Habe]. Wealth as goodliness [Gutsein: having goods/being good] is an element of the mortar of the world: the hard-bitten appearance [Schein] of such identity hinders the confrontation of the moral idea with the social order, in which the rich are right, while at the same time determinations of what is ethical different than those derived from wealth cannot be conceptualized. The more that the individual [Individuum] and society later diverged in the competition of interests, and the more the former is thrown back on itself, the more stubbornly do individuals hold onto the conception of moral nature [Wesen] as wealth. It is supposed to vouch for the possibility of reunifying what has been divided in two, into inside and outside. That is the secret of the inner-worldly asceticism, which Max Weber wrongly hypostatized as the limitless exertion of the businessman ad majorem dei gloriam [Latin: to the greater glory of God]. Material success binds individual [Individuum] and society not merely in the comfortable and meanwhile dubious sense, that the rich can escape loneliness, but in a far more radical sense: if the blind, isolated self-interest is driven only far enough, then it passes over, along with the economic one, into social power and reveals itself to be the incarnation of a universally binding principle. Whoever is rich or acquires wealth, experiences what is attained by the ego, “by one’s own initiative,” as what the objective Spirit [Geist], the truly irrational predestination of a society held together by brutal economic inequality, has willed. Thus the rich may reckon as benevolence, what testifies only to its absence. To themselves and to others, they experience themselves as the realization of the general principle. Because this latter is injustice, that is why the unjust turn regularly into the just, and not as mere illusion, but borne out of the hegemony of the law, according to which society reproduces itself. The wealth of the individual is inseparable from progress in society as “prehistory.” The rich dispose over the means of production. Consequently the technical progress, in which the entire society participates, is accounted for primarily as “their” progress, today that of industry, and the Fords necessarily appear to be benefactors, to the same degree which they in fact are, given the framework of the existing relations of production. Their privilege, already established in advance, makes it seem as if they were giving up what is theirs – namely the increase on the side of use-value – while those who are receiving their administered blessings are getting back only part of the profit. That is the ground of the character of delusion of ethical hierarchy. Poverty has indeed always been glorified as asceticism, the social condition for the acquisition of precisely the wealth in which morality [Sittlichkeit] is manifested, but nevertheless “what a man is worth” [in English in original] signifies, as everyone knows, the bank account – in the jargon of the German merchants, “the man is good,” i.e. they can pay. What however the reasons of state of the almighty economy so cynically confesses, reaches unacknowledged into the mode of conduct of individuals. The generosity in private intercourse, which the rich can presumably allow themselves, the reflected glow of happiness, which rests on them, and something of this falls on everyone who they consort with, all this veils them. They remain nice, “the right people” [in English in original], the better types, the good. Wealth distances itself from immediate injustice. The guard beats strikers with a billy club, the son of the factory-owner may occasionally drink a whisky with the progressive author. According to all desiderata of private ethics [Moral], even the most advanced kind, the rich could, if they only could, in fact always better be than the poor. This possibility, while truly indeed left unused, plays its role in the ideology of those who do not have it: even the convicted con artist, who may anyway be preferable to the legitimate boss of the trusts, is famous for having such a beautiful house, and the highly paid executive turns into a warm human being, the moment they serve an opulent dinner. Today’s barbaric religion of success is accordingly not simply counter-ethical [widermoralisch], rather it is the home-coming of the West to the venerable morals [Sitten] of the fathers. Even the norms, which condemn the arrangement of the world, owe their existence to the latter’s own mischief [Unwesen]. All ethics [Moral] is formed on the model of what is unethical [Unmoral], and to this day reproduces the latter at every stage. Slave-ethics [Sklavenmoral] is in fact bad: it is still only master-ethics [Herrenmoral].
129
Customer service. – The culture industry sanctimoniously claims to follow its consumers and to deliver what they want. But while it reflexively denigrates every thought of its own autonomy and proclaims its victims as judges, its veiled high-handedness outbids all the excesses of autonomous art. It is not so much that the culture industry adapts to the reactions of its customers, as that it feigns these latter. It rehearses them, by behaving as if it itself was a customer. One could almost suspect, the entire “adjustment” [in English in original], which it claims to obey, is ideology; that the more human beings try, through exaggerated equality, through the oath of fealty to social powerlessness, to participate in power and to drive out equality, the more they attempt to make themselves resemble others and the whole. “The music listens for the listeners,” and the film practices on the scale of a trust the despicable trick of adults, who, when speaking down to a child, fall over the gift with the language which suits only them, and then present the usually dubious gift with precisely the expression of lip-smacking joy, that is supposed to be elicited. The culture industry is tailored according to mimetic regression, to the manipulation of suppressed imitation-impulses. Therein it avails itself of the method, of anticipating its own imitation by its viewers, and sealing the consensus that it wishes to establish, by making it appear as if it already existed. What makes this all the easier, is that it can count on such a consensus in a stable system and can ritually repeat it, rather than actually having to produce it. Its product is by no means a stimulus, but a model for modes of reaction of nonexistent stimuli. Thus the enthusiastic music titles on the silver screen, the moronic children’s speech, the eye-winking folksiness; even the close-up of the start calls out “How beautiful!,” as it were. With this procedure the cultural machine goes so far as to dress down viewers like the frontally photographed express train in a moment of tension. The cadence of every film however is that of the witch, who serves soup to the little ones she wants to ensorcel or devour, with the hideous murmur, “Yummy soup, yummy soup? You’ll enjoy it, you’ll enjoy it…” In art, this kitchen fire-magic was discovered by Wagner, whose linguistic intimacies and musical spices are always tasting themselves, and who simultaneously demonstrated the entire procedure, with the genius’ compulsion of confession, in the scene of the Ring, where Mime offers Siegfried the poisoned potion. Who however is supposed to chop off the monster’s head, now that its blond locks have lain for a long time under the linden tree? [Unter den Linden: famous boulevard in Berlin]
130
Grey and grey. – Not even its bad conscience can help the culture industry. Its Spirit [Geist] is so objective, that it slaps all its subjects in the face, and so the latter, agents all, know what the story is and seek to distance themselves through mental reservations from the nonsense which they create. The acknowledgment, that films broadcast ideology, is itself a broadcast ideology. It is dealt with administratively by the rigid distinction between synthetic day-dreams on the one hand, vehicles of flight from daily life, “escape” [English in original]; and well-meaning products on the other hand, which promote correct social behaviors, providing information, “conveying a message” [in English in original]. The prompt subsumption under “escape” [in English in original] and “message” [in English in original] expresses the untruth of both types. The mockery against “escape” [in English in original], the standardized outrage against superficiality, is nothing but the pathetic echo of the old-fashioned ethos, which denounces gambling, because it cannot play along with such in the prevailing praxis. The escape-films are so dreadful not because they turn their back on an existence squeezed dry, but because they do not do so energetically enough, because they are squeezed just as dry, because the satisfactions which they pretend to give, converge with the humiliation of reality, with renunciation. The dreams have no dream. Just as the technicolor heroes don’t allow us to forget for a second that they are normal human beings, typecast prominent faces and investments, what is unmistakably revealed under the thin flutter of schematically produced fantasy is the skeleton of cinema-ontology, the entire prescribed hierarchy of values, the canon of what is unwanted and what is to be imitated. Nothing is more practical than “escape” [in English in original], nothing is more wedded to bustle: one is kidnapped into the distance only to have it hammered into one’s consciousness, that even at a distance, the laws of the empirical mode of life are undisturbed by empirical deviations. The “escape” [in English in original] is full of “message” [in English in original]. That is how the “message” [in English in original], the opposite, looks, which wishes to flee from flight. It reifies the resistance against reification. One need only hear experts talk about how a splendid work of the silver screen has, next to other merits, also a constitution, in the same tone of voice that a pretty actress is described as even having “personality” [in English in original]. The executive can easily decide at the conference, that the escape-film must be given, next to more expensive additions, an ideal such as: human beings should be noble, helpful and good. Separated from the immanent logic of the entity, from the thing, the ideal turns into something produced on tap, the reform of ameliorable grievances, transfigured charity, thereby simultaneously tangible and void. They prefer most of all to broadcast the rehabilitation of drunks, whose impoverished euphoria they envy. By representing a society hardened in itself, according to anonymous laws, as if good will alone were enough to help matters, that society is defended even where it is honestly attacked. What is reflected is a kind of popular front of all proper and right-thinking people. The practical Spirit [Geist] of the “message” [in English in original], the tangible demonstration of how things can be done better, allies itself with the system in the fiction, that a total social subject, which does not exist at present, can make everything okay, if one could only assemble all the pieces and clear up the root of the evil. It is quite pleasant, to be able to vouch for one’s efficiency. “Message” [in English in original] turns into “escape” [in English in original]: those swept up in cleaning the house in which they live, forget the ground on which it was built. What “escape” [in English in original] would really be, the antipathy, turned into a picture, against the whole, all the way into what is formally constituted, could recoil into a “message” [in English in original], without expressing it, indeed precisely through tenacious asceticism against the suggestion.
131
Wolf as grandmother. – The strongest argument of the apologists for film is the crudest, its massive consumption. They declare the drastic medium of the culture industry to be popular art. The independence of norms of the autonomous work is supposed to discharge it from aesthetic responsibility, a responsibility whose standards prove to be reactionary in relation to film, just as in fact all intentions of the artistic ennoblement of film have something awry, something badly elevated, something lacking in form – something of the import for the connoisseur. The more that film pretends to be art, the more fraudulent it becomes. Its protagonists can point to this and even, as critics of the meanwhile kitschy interiority, appear avant-garde next to its crude material kitsch. If one grants this as a ground, then they become, strengthened by technical experience and facility with the material, nearly irresistible. The film is not a mass art, but is merely manipulated for the deception of the masses? But the wishes of the masses make themselves felt incessantly through the market; its collective production alone would guarantee its collective essence [Wesen]; only someone completely outside of reality would presume to see clever manipulators in the producers; most are talentless, certainly, but where the right talents coincide, it can succeed in spite of all the restrictions of the system. The mass taste which the film obeys, is by no means that of the masses themselves, but foisted on them? But to speak of a different mass taste than the one they have now, would be foolish, and what is called popular art, has always reflected domination. According to such logic, it is only in the competent adaptation of production to given needs, not in consideration of a utopian audience, that the nameless general will can take shape. Films are full of lying stereotypes? But stereotyping is the essence of popular art, fairy-tales know the rescuing prince and the devil just as films have the hero and villain, and even the barbaric cruelty, which divided the world into good and evil, is something film has in common with the greatest fairy-tales, which have the stepmother dance to death in red-hot iron shoes.
All this is can be countered, only by consideration of the fundamental concepts presupposed by the apologists. Bad films are not to be charged with incompetence: the most gifted are refracted by the bustle, and the fact that the ungifted stream towards them, is due to the elective affinity between lies and swindlers. The idiocy is objective; improvements in personnel could not create a popular art. The latter’s idea was formed in agrarian relationships or simple commodity economies. Such relationships and their character of expression are those of lords and serfs, profiteers and disadvantaged, but in an immediate, not entirely objectified form. They are to be sure not less furrowed by class differences than late industrial society, but their members are not yet encompassed by the total structure, which reduces individual subjects to mere moments, in order to unite them, as those who are powerless and isolated, into the collective. That there are no longer folk does not however mean that, as Romanticism propagated, the masses are worse. On the contrary, what is revealed precisely now in the new, radical alienated form of society is the untruth of the older one. Even the traits, which the culture industry reclaims as the legacy of popular art, become thereby suspect. The film has a retroactive energy: its optimistic horror brings to light what always served injustice in the fairy-tale, and evokes in the parade of villains the countenances of those, which the integral society condemns and whose condemnation was ever the dream of socialization. That is why the extinction of individual art is no justification for one which acts as if it its subject, which reacts archaically, were the natural one, while this last is the syndicate, albeit unconscious, of a pair of giant firms. If the masses themselves, as customers, have an influence on the film, this remains as abstract as the ticket stub, which steps into the place of nuanced applause: the mere choice between yes and no to something offered, strung between the discrepancy of concentrated power and scattered powerlessness. Finally, the fact that numerous experts, also simple technicians, participate in the making of a film, no more guarantees its humanity than the decisions of competent scientific bodies vis-à-vis bombs and poison gas. The high-flown talk of film art stands indeed to benefit scribblers, who wish to get ahead; the conscious appeal to naïvété, however, to the block-headedness of the subalterns, long since permeated by the thoughts of the master, will not do. Film, which today clings as unavoidably to human beings, as if it was a piece of themselves, is simultaneously that which is most distant from their human determination, which is realized from one day to the next, and its apologetics live on the resistance against thinking through this antinomy. That the people who make films are by no means intriguers, says nothing against this. The objective Spirit [Geist] of manipulation prevails through rules of experience, estimations of situations, technical criteria, economically unavoidable calculations, the entire deadweight of the industrial apparatus, without even having to censor itself, and even those who questioned the masses, would find the ubiquity of the system reflected back at them. The producers function as little as subjects as their workers and buyers, but solely as parts of an independent machinery. The Hegelian-sounding commandment, however, that mass art must respect the real taste of the masses and not that of negativistic intellectuals, is usurpation. The opposition of film, as an all-encompassing ideology, to the objective interests of human beings, its entanglement with the status quo of the profit-system, its bad conscience and deception can be succinctly cognized. No appeal to a factually accessible state of consciousness would have the right of veto against the insight, which reaches beyond this state of consciousness, by disclosing its contradiction to itself and to objective relationships. It is possible, that the Fascist professor was right and that even the folk songs, as they were, lived from the degraded cultural heritage of the upper class. It is not for nothing that all popular art is crumbly and, like films, not “organic.” But between the old injustice, in whose voice a lament is still audible, even where it transfigures itself, and the alienation which upholds itself as connectedness, which cunningly creates the appearance [Schein] of human intimacy with loudspeakers and advertising psychology, there is a distinction similar to the one between the mother, who soothes the child who is afraid of demons with a fairy-tale in which the good are rewarded and the evil are punished, and the cinema product, which drives the justice of each world order into the eyes and ears of audiences of every land harshly, threateningly, in order to teach them anew, and more thoroughly, the old fear. The fairy-tale dreams which call so eagerly for the child in the adult, are nothing but regression, organized by total enlightenment, and where they tap the audience on the shoulder most intimately, they betray them most thoroughly. Immediacy, the community produced by films, is tantamount to the mediation without a remainder, which degrades human beings and everything human so completely to things, that their contrast to things, indeed even the bane [Bann] of reification itself, cannot be perceived anymore. Film has succeeded in transforming subjects into social functions so indiscriminately, that those who are entirely in its grasp, unaware of any conflicts, enjoy their own dehumanization as human, as the happiness of warmth. The total context of the culture industry, which leaves nothing out, is one with total social delusion. That is why it so easily dispatches counter-arguments.
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Expensive reproduction. [Piperdruck] – Society is integral, before it ever becomes ruled as totalitarian. Its organization encompasses even those who feud against it, and normalizes their consciousness. Even intellectuals who have all the political arguments against bourgeois ideology handy, are subjected to a process of standardization which, whether in crassly contrasting content or through the readiness on their part to be comfortable, brings them closer to the prevailing Spirit [Geist], such that their standpoint objectively becomes always more arbitrary, dependent on flimsy preferences or their estimation of their own chances. What appears to them as subjectively radical, objectively belongs through and through to the compartment of a schema, reserved for them and their kind, so that radicalism is degraded to abstract prestige, the legitimation of those who know what today’s intellectuals should be for and against. The good things, for which they opt, have long since been acknowledged, their numbers accordingly limited, as fixed in the value-hierarchy as those in the student fraternities. While they denounce official kitsch, their sensibility is dependent, like obedient children, on nourishment already sought out in advance, on the cliches of hostility to cliches. The dwellings of young bohemians resemble their spiritual household. On the wall, deceptively original color prints of famous artists, such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers or the Café at Arles, on the bookshelf derivative works on socialism and psychoanalysis and a little sex-research for the uninhibited with inhibitions. In addition, the Random House edition of Proust – Scott Moncrieff’s translation deserved a better fate – exclusivity at reduced prices, whose exterior alone, the compact-economic form of the omnibus, is a mockery of the author, whose every sentence knocks a received opinion out of action, while he now plays, as a prize-winning homosexual, the same role with youth as books on animals of the forest and the North Pole expedition in the German home. Also, the record player with the Lincoln cantata of a brave soul, which deals essentially with railroad stations, next to the obligatory eye-catching folklore from Oklahoma and a pair of brassy jazz records, which make one feel simultaneously collective, bold and comfortable. Every judgment is approved by friends, they know all the arguments in advance. That all cultural products, even the non-conformist ones, are incorporated into the mechanism of distribution of large-scale capital, that in the most developed lands a creation which does not bear the imprimatur of mass production can scarcely reach any readers, observers, or listeners, refuses the material in advance for the deviating longing. Even Kafka is turned into a piece of inventory in the rented apartment. Intellectuals themselves are already so firmly established, in their isolated spheres, in what is confirmed, that they can no longer desire anything which is not served to them under the brand of “highbrow” [in English in original]. Their sole ambition consists of finding their way in the accepted canon, of saying the right thing. The outsider status of the initiates is an illusion and mere waiting-time. It would be giving them too much credit to call them renegades; they wear overlarge horn-rimmed glasses on their mediocre faces, solely to better pass themselves off as “brilliant” to themselves and to others in the general competition. They are already exactly like them. The subjective precondition of opposition, the non-normalized judgment, goes extinct, while its trappings continue to be carried out as a group ritual. Stalin need only clear his throat, and they throw Kafka and Van Gogh on the trash-heap.
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Contribution to intellectual history. – In the back of my copy of Zarathrustra, dated 1910, there are publisher’s notices. They are all tailored to that clan of Nietzsche readers, as imagined by Alfred Körner in Leipzig, someone who ought to know. “Ideal Life-goals by Adalbert Svoboda. Svoboda has ignited a brightly shining beacon in his works, which cast light on all problems of the investigative Spirit of human beings [Menschengeist] and reveal before our eyes the true ideals of reason, art and culture. This magnificently conceived and splendidly realized book is gripping from beginning to end, enchanting, stimulating, instructive and has the same effect on all truly free Spirits [Geister] as a nerve-steeling bath and fresh mountain air.” Signed: Humanity, and almost as recommendable as David Friedrich Strauss. “On Zarathrustra by Max Ernst. There are two Nietzsches. One is the world-famous fashionable philosopher, the dazzling poet and phenomenally gifted master of style, who is now the talk of all the world, from whose works a few misunderstood slogans have become the intellectual baggage of the educated. The other Nietzsche is the unfathomable, inexhaustible thinker and psychologist, the great discerner of human beings and valuer of life of unsurpassable spiritual energy and power of thought, to who the most distant future belongs. To bring this other Nietzsche to the most imaginative and serious-minded of contemporary human beings is the intent of the following two essays contained in this short book.” In that case I would still prefer the former. The other goes: “A Philosopher and a Noble Human Being, a Contribution to the Characteristics of Friedrich Nietzsche, by Meta von Salis-Marschlins. The book grabs out attention by the faithful reproduction of all the sensations which Nietzsche’s personality evoked in the self-conscious soul of a woman.” Don’t forget the whip, instructed Zarathrustra. Instead of this, is offered: “The Philosophy of Joy by Max Zerbst. Dr. Max Zerbst starts out from Nietzsche, but strives to overcome a certain one-sidedness in Nietzsche… The author is not given to cool abstractions, it is rather a hymn, a philosophical hymn to joy, which he delivers in spades.” Like a student spree. Only no one-sidedness. Better to run straight to the heaven of the atheists: “The Four Gospels, German, with introduction and commentary by Dr. Heinrich Schmidt. In contrast to the corrupted, heavily edited form, in which the gospels have been delivered to us as literature, this new edition goes back to the source and may be of high value not only for truly religious human beings, but also for those ‘anti-Christs’, who press for social action.” The choice is difficult, but one can take comfort from the fact that both elites will be as agreeable as the synopticists: “The Gospel of Modern Humanity (A Synthesis: Nietzsche and Christ) by Carl Martin. An astounding treatise of edification. Everything which is taken up in the science and art of the present has taken up the struggle with the Spirits [Geistern] of the past, all of this has taken root and blossomed , in this mature and yet so young mind [Gemüt]. And mark well: this ‘modern’, entirely new human being creates for itself and us the most revivifying potion from an age-old spring: that other message of redemption, whose purest sounds resonate in the Sermon on the Mount… Even in the form of the simplicity and grandeur of those words!” Signed: Ethical Culture. The miracle passed away nearly forty years ago, plus twenty more or so, since the genius in Nietzsche justifiably decided to break off communication with the world. It didn’t help – exhilarated, unbelieving priests and exponents of that organized ethical culture, which later drove formerly well-to-do ladies to emigrate and get by as waitresses in New York, have thrived on the posthumous legacy of someone who once worried whether someone was listening to him sing “a secret barcarole.” Even then, the hope of leaving behind a message in a bottle amidst the rising tide of barbarism was a friendly vision: the desperate letters have been left in the mud of the age-old spring, and have been reworked by a band of noble-minded people and other scoundrels to highly artistic but low-priced wall decorations. Only since then has the progress of communication truly gotten into gear. Who are we to cast aspersion on the freest spirits [Geister] of them all, whose trustworthiness possibly even outbids those of their contemporaries, if they no longer write for an imaginary posterity, but solely for the dead God?

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One thought on “PHILOSOPHICAL RUMINATIONS”

  1. Reblogged this on Manticore Press and commented:
    Model virtue. – It is well-known how oppression and ethics [Moral] converge in the renunciation of the drives. But the ethical ideas do not merely oppress other ones, but are immediately derived from the existence of the oppressor. Since Homer, the concepts of good and wealth are intertwined in the Greek language. The kalokagathie [Greek: perfection], which was upheld by the humanists of modern society as a model of aesthetic-ethical harmony, has always put a heavy emphasis on property, and Aristotele’s Politics openly confessed the fusion of inner value with status in the determination of nobility, as “inherited wealth, which is connected with excellence.” The concept of the polis [Greek: city-state] in classical antiquity, which upheld internalized and externalized nature [Wesen], the validity of the individual [Individuum] in the city-state and the individual’s self as a unity, permitted it to ascribe moral rank to wealth, without inciting the crude suspicion, which the doctrine already at that time courted. If the visible effect on an existent state establishes the measure of a human being, then it is nothing but consistency to vouchsafe the material wealth, which tangibly confirms that effect, as the characteristic of the person, since the latter’s moral substance – just as later in Hegel’s philosophy – is supposed to be constituted on nothing other than their participation in the objective, social substance.

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