“What philosophy once called life, has turned into the sphere of the private and then merely of consumption, which is dragged along as an addendum of the material production-process, without autonomy and without its own substance. Whoever wishes to experience the truth of immediate life, must investigate its alienated form, the objective powers, which determine the individual existence into its innermost recesses…The gaze at life has passed over into ideology, which conceals the fact that it no longer exists.” (Trans. Dennis Redmond, 2005)
“What the philosophers once knew as life has become the sphere of private existence and now of mere consumption, dragged along as an appendage of the process of material production, without autonomy or substance of its own. He who wishes to know the truth about life in its immediacy must scrutinize its estranged form, the objective powers that determine individual existence even in its most hidden recesses..Our perspective of life has passed into an ideology which conceals the fact that there is life no longer.” (Trans. E. F. N Jephcott, 1974)
Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, 1951
I’ve been spending some time with Adorno’s Minima Moralia, not something I do lightly as it is too easy to be taken over by its melancholy tone. It isn’t undiluted pessimism, despite Adorno’s reputation, but it depends, like anything we ingest, on what filters are in place at the time. It has more to offer. The 153 apparently sealed aporias offer up some fragile hope, a way to see beyond his assertion above that life, from a historical perspective, has ended.
I’ve also been reading J. M. Coetzee recently, his exchange of letters with Paul Auster, and The Childhood of Jesus, which I found very interesting but perplexing. It was the latter that made me look once again into Minima Moralia. Coetzee also appears to contend in this novel that our inner lives are no longer a necessary part of continued ‘progress’; that philosophy and art have been rendered redundant. This thought also occurs in Annie Ernaux’s The Years, this idea that those things that shape and feed our inner subjectivity have been appropriated by what Adorno would call ‘the culture industry.’ Ernaux writes, “I’m a petite bourgeoise who has arrived,” that she is “no longer entitled to an inner life.”
With no ability to decipher how good are the translations of Adorno, I include both above. It is useful I find to read them both side by side.
I don’t know that I would accept that philosophy and art are redundant. Maybe for a large chunk of society, but not for all. I think if you slip between the cracks of mass media you can certainly hang onto that inner life. And the two translations side by side were fascinating – I prefer the older of the two, which probably says more about the kind of prose I prefer to read than anything else.
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I wish I shared your belief in the endurance of philosophy and art. It is difficult to see that either play any significant part in the lives of people today, surely not to the degree they would’ve done to a sizeable minority up until the 80s. Of course, both still occur but only within the structures of the culture industry and at a superficial, sound-bite level.
You look at those BBC late night shows of the 1970s featuring George Steiner and German Greer (unpopular in some quarters but intellectuals), and fast forward to today’s most popular British philosopher, Alain de Botton, and you appreciate the decline.
I cannot decide which of the two I prefer. Both have qualities.
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