Monday, November 30, 2015

Favorite quotes from Detlev Claussen's Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius

Wikipedia: A Tool For the Ruling Elite (Helen Buyniski);

This should work as an antidote for some of the crap written in the Internet about Adorno and the Frankfurt School:
"Adorno made use of Hofmannsthal’s strategy 'that he would rather give a good explanation for a weakness that he had been reproached with than deny it' in defending Marcel Proust against the accusation of snobbery. The fantasy of exalted origins ignited by an aristocratic name rescues the imagined person from the trammels of bourgeois competition" (: 28).
"The fact that Adorno’s mother, Maria Calvelli-Adorno, had enjoyed some success in Vienna as a court singer allowed Adorno to speak of Vienna as his 'second home'" (: 28).
"Personal secrets, the source of pleasure and suffering, are encoded as social riddles. The persistence with which Adorno keeps returning to Proust and Thomas Mann, George and Hofmannsthal, seems closely related to the 'childlike obstinacy' that he praises in Proust" (: 29).
"The Calvelli-Adornos were really outsiders and a bit of a motley crew, something that Teddie may well have found attractive" (: 31).
"It was produced on the piano, which was simply a piece of furniture, and those who set about it without fear of stumbling or playing false notes all belonged to the family" (: 32).
"… as an adult, Adorno used to play duets even with friends who were not professional musicians" (: 33).
"… Agathe, a highly accomplished pianist, whom Adorno sometimes called 'Dädd'…. Agathe was regarded as an impressive figure to be treated with respect. She insisted on the highest musical standards and was known for her apodictic judgments, but she also followed the intellectual fashions of the 1920’s, ranging from Kierkegaard to the cinema" (: 33).
"'I cannot express what losing [Agathe] really means to me; it is not so much the death of a relative as above all that of the person closest to me of all, my most faithful friend, a piece of nature that has always enabled me to regenerate myself. I am utterly at a loss and am only gradually coming to visualize the possibility that, and how, I am to go on living.'… 'This sounds highly excessive, but you can believe me that it does not contain an atom of exaggeration and sentimentality'" [Adorno to Krenek, 29 July 1935] (: 34).
"Only exceptional intellectual outsiders noticed that there might be something unusual about Benjamin. Hugo von Hofmannsthal was one of the first newly successful writers to note the extraordinary qualities of Benjamin’s type of criticism" (: 97).
"… Benjamin came to believe that he had grasped the situation of the intellectual who could no longer live either as a citizen or as a traditional artist. Questions of theology, metaphysics, and even esoteric thought remained unresolved in 1919" (: 98).
"Benjamin’s criticism derived its strength from a changed view of the past, one that did not shy away from theological consequences. Paul Klee’s Angel, which he bought in 1921, stimulated him to ever newer interpretations and self-interpretations. In a material sense, this picture of an angel bound him to two intellectual opposites – to Gerhard Scholem, who for a long time looked after the Angel for the homeless Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno, who was sent the picture in New York after it had been cut from its frame following Benjamin’s death" (: 101).
"[Adorno's] own mothers, Maria and Agathe, together with his imaginary origins in the Genoan nobility, suddenly appear remarkably insignificant in comparison with Helene Berg, a great beauty who was able to discuss questions of composition on an equal footing with Alban. The impression of grandeur was further enhanced by the proximity of Berg’s house in Trautmannsdorfgasse to the Schönbrunn Palace…." (?).
"'I hung magnetically upon the book [Minima Moralia] for days, and every day I took it up it proved the most fascinating reading'" [Thomas Mann to Adorno, 9 January 1952, in Correspondence, 1943-1955, p. 73] (: 116).
"Adorno lavishes praise on the opening sequences of Charlie Chaplin’s film The Circus: 'Absolute genius!'" [“Notizen über Eisler”, p. 122] (: 161).
"'Scarcely had the actor departed than Chaplin was already mimicking the scene. So close to horror is the laughter he provoked that only from close up can it acquire its legitimacy and its salutary aspect'" [Adorno, “Zweimal Chaplin”, in Ohne Leitbild: Parva Aesthetica, Ags, vol. 10.1, pp. 365f.] (: 165).
"In a congratulatory telegram to Chaplin on his seventy-fifth birthday, he refers to him as a 'Bengal tiger as vegetarian.' The German reader of 1964 would have found it almost impossible to grasp the significance of such an allusion in Adorno’s works. Adorno believed Chaplin capable of extracting a form of reconciliation from the barbarism of the Culture Industry, symbolized here by the image of the predator. The current belief that Adorno’s elitist preference for high culture implied a contempt for the film as an art form is contradicted not only by the value he placed on Chaplin but also by the esteem in which he held Lang. Film had been a prominent feature in the Adorno household from the 1920’s on. He went regularly to the cinema with his aunt Agathe and was able to discuss films on equal terms with the much older Siegfried Kracauer" (: 172).
"In a rage, Adorno grabbed his hat and coat, but unfortunately they were Lang’s, not his own. 'He then presented a comic sight… The hat was much too large and slipped down over his ears; the coat was far too long and Adorno’s hands and arms disappeared inside them…'" (: 173).
"Adorno does not just distance himself from Marxist ideology but develops the idea that 'as with many other elements of dialectical materialism, the notion of ideology has changed from an instrument of knowledge into its strait-jacket'" [“Cultural Criticism and Society”, Prisms] (: 207).
"Politically, Horkheimer had long since broken with all organizations connected with the labor movement… after the beginning of the Moscow show trials – he wanted nothing more to do with communists in the party" (: 210).
"…it was Mao Tse-tung’s China that Horkheimer regarded as the scene of the bloodiest terror; he speaks again and again of the 20 million dead Chinese sacrificed to the planned process of industrialization" (: 222).
"'I have learned from you that the possibility of wanting change need not be purchased with the renunciation of one’s own happiness…'" [Adorno to Horkheimer, 14 February 1965, also “Offener Brief an Max Horkheimer”] (: 245).
"Only by recognizing sensuous experiences as historically variable would it prove possible to restore the dimension of enlightenment to the study of physiognomy. In 1957 Adorno wrote an enthusiastic review of a psychoanalytically oriented study by Paul Moses, 'The Voice of neurosis,' with the subtitle 'Physiognomy of the Voice,' a title that itself evoked memories of the Enlightenment tradition associated with Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. He conceived of this 'physiognomy' as an 'expressive science'" [“Physiognomik der Stimme” (1957), AGS, vol. 20.2, p. 510] (: 254).
"… 'I have been sacked from my job as a dishwasher because I couldn’t work fast enough'... Now, he [Bloch] went on, he was working as a paper packer. What Adorno made of this was: 'He now has no time for writing. His relation to paper has finally become realistic. He packs it in bundles, eight hour a day, standing in a dark hole'" (: 296).
"The term 'coldness' cannot be applied to Bloch as a human being… One need only open Bloch’s political essays from the thirties, however, to feel the icy wind of abstract political judgments with which the Moscow murders are observed.../ Such passages in Bloch’s writings had alarmed Benjamin and caused him to judge that Bloch was 'un peu dépaysé,' a little disoriented" (: 298).
"Adorno’s notes, unpublished during his lifetime, point clearly to the affection he felt for Eisler, who, despite his exaggerated left-wing radicalism, could count on the fierce support of Schoenberg…" (: 302).
"While Brecht used his work on one new play after another as a kind of drug, Eilser, by his own admission, took increasingly to Scotch" (: 303).
"To this day critics have largely ignored Adorno’s remark that not only had the official musical life in the United states been transformed since his time there as an émigré but also that in the second half of the sixties he had observed 'a very vigorous and spontaneous' interest from below that had generated an authentic 'resistance to the Culture Industry' by such musicians as 'John Cage and his school'" [“Anmerkungen zum deutschen Musikleben,” 17: 168] (: 309).
"Because of his experience of America, he defended the injunction to 'keep smiling' as a practical form of humanity, but at his first place of work, in Princeton, he must have appeared more or less unapproachable" (: 311).
"Even when living under the conditions of actually existing socialism, Lukács could gaze out stoically from a beautiful old house onto a view of Budapest’s Chain Bridge, at the same time that he was accusing Adorno of living comfortably in the Grand Hotel Abyss" (: 315).
"What is needed to form a school is the kind of pupil-teacher relationship that characterized the Second Viennese School, with Schoenberg at its head and Berg as a teacher. Habermas was never a pupil of Adorno’s in that sense: as a young man Habermas did not discuss his own projects with Adorno" (: 318).
"[Horkheimer ] insisted on this in his letter to Adorno; 'the world is full of revolution, and thanks to it terror is on the increase.' Adorno noted in the margin, 'Yes'" [Max Horkheimer to Theodor W. Adorno, 27 September 1958] (: 319).
"Adorno’s theory liberates aesthetic experience from the shackles of political and practical utility… / This experience is negated by a conception of the unity of theory and practice that is idealist in reality, even though it purports to be entirely materialist. As early as 1944 Adorno had observed how in Brecht, Auschwitz had disappeared behind a rationalistically constructed Marxism. In his late writings, Horkheimer had already considered the issue of why Marx’s essay On The Jewish Question had been marked by rationalist elements that tended to insulate him from historical realities" (: 327).
"'Misunderstandings are the medium in which the non-communicable is communicated'" ["A Portrait of Walter Benjamin", Prisms] (: 329).
"[Adorno’s interpretation of anti-Semitism in The Authoritarian Personality] not as the function of an authoritarian national character but as a historically determined manifestation of violence (: 335) that could not be eliminated simply by an enlightened program of information."
"'It would be advisable… to think of progress in the crudest, most basic terms: that no one should go hungry anymore, that there should be no more torture, no more Auschwitz. Only then will the idea of progress be fee from lies. It is not a progress of consciousness'" ["Graeculus II: Notizen zu Philosophie und Gesellschaft, 1943-1969", p. 8] (: 338).
"'For all his sagacity, anyone who writes like [Habermas] writes with blinkers on; he lacks bon sens and intellectual tact'" (: 346).
*****Detlev Claussen, Theodor W. Adorno. One Last Genius. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.

This question comes from another book, and is also quite interesting:
"Can we be certain, for example, that for [Adorno], as for the utopian messianism and materialism of Benjamin and Bloch, the realms of the inanimate (i.e., of minerals, stones, plants, mere objects, and “things”) and also of the dead or, more precisely, the no longer, not yet, or not quite living (nonpresent past and future generations, ghosts, and angels) are ultimately excluded from the prepredicative responsiveness and responsibility that Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Habermas, McDowell, and, in their footsteps, Bernstein reserve for a conception of the re-enchanted, that is to say, second nature conceived of as exclusively human?" Hent de Vries, Minimal Theologies: Critiques of Secular Reason in Adorno & Levinas (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2005, p. 552-3, note 57).
Another book that should be mentioned is Richard Leppert's edition of Adorno's Essays on Music (translated by Susan H. Gillespie; Univ. of California Press, 2002). There we learn that Adorno was a very open-minded admirer not only of the work of Chaplin, but also of the work of figures such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Pierre Boulez.

See also:
Pier Paolo Pasolini & Deconstruction;
Sur les premiers chapitres d’Esthétique et théorie du roman;
Umberto Eco about Nietzsche (& deconstruction);

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