Monday, August 13, 2007

Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia

Even though Theodor Adorno was a philosopher, yet he wrote like a poet. It is a quality that few philosophers possess. Most philosophical writing is very arm-chair, erudite and tedious. Philosophizing and writing philosophy are thus different issues. To write is to affirm in a different medium while to speak and thus teach allows you to explain.

Adorno writes in a language that is accessible but not mundane, beautiful but not ineffectual, wonderful at times but never superfluous. Adorno co-wrote the Dialectic Of Enlightenment with Max Horkheimer and perhaps the language in that book is not entirely his. Yet his other works published as the Culture Industry, Negative Dialectics and Aesthetic Theory might occasionally present difficulties to a lay-person like myself, who bravely ventures into the intricacies of the Frankfurt School. However, after the initial difficulties are dealt with, one finds Adorno rewarding, particularly when you allow yourself to follow him.

However, I would like to draw attention to this great collection of reflections on a damaged life, wherein Adorno writes like a tragic poet, occasionally far away from the hassles of Marxism and Commodity Fetishism. Dedicated to his friend Max Horkheimer, the book begins with an epigram, life does not live. The book is in three parts with small chapters, the first of which is called For Marcel Proust. The book was written in America, when Adorno was in exile, when he became known as Teddy. The book has numerous anecdotes, parables and aphorisms and mostly reflections on exile, on damaged lives.

The tone of this book is definitely pessimistic for Adorno feels that in this capitalistic chaos, life is permanently damaged. Writes Adorno in the dedication..........The melancholy science from which i make this offering to my friend relates to a region that from time immemorial was regarded as the true field of philosophy, but, which, since the latter's conversion into method, has lapsed into intellectual neglect, sententious whimsy and finally oblivion: the teaching of the good life. With insights and reflections on marriage, divorce, on fish in water and on the dialectic of tact, this book is filled with aphorisms.The basic anxieties of his oeuvre are addressed as usual but the intensity of an argument is matched by the beauty of the prose.

It is well recognized that most of what Adorno wrote can be quoted or each sentence generally is a quotable quote and nowhere is it truer than this book. This is an unforgiving and an unforgettable book. And if all philosophy were written like this, I might consider a change in trade.
Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar, writes Adorno but then Minima Moralia has more.


* said...

Adorno, interesting you like his style - maybe he is more readable in english than in german, but even though I am not such a big friend of his style I like minima moralia and its aphorisms a lot, especially the little Proust pieces - do you know his other things on Proust? I wish he one day would have sat down and had written one big book on Proust.

Kubla Khan said...

I have read his essay on Proust in Illuminations, but none besides that. minima moralia is outstanding because of perhaps its somewhat melancholic philosophy or some such approach towards it.

@llull said...

Minima Moralia is perhaps Adorno's finest work, and his most poetic. It is a book to fall in love with, to return to again and again, and is filled not only with poetry in the form of philosophy, as you nicely point out, but much humor - black humor might be closer to the mark. Yes, it is extremely pessimistic, but more out of love of truth than mean-spirited sentiment. A big portion of Adorno's poetic style evolves from his reading and association with Walter Benjamin. Adorno's style in his late works, such as Negative Dialectics, took a decided turn for the worse, as he became caught up in doing damage to syntactical structures, specifically pronomial references, rendering the meaning of his sentences more and more unclear. The aphoristic form suits him better than systematic argument, in my opinion. One quote sticks in my head and I use it for my financial picture sometimes - "When everything is bad, it's good to know the worst." Another ringers: "In psychoanalysis only the exaggerations are true." And here's a difficult rebus: "Kafka: the solipsist without ipseity." That one took me a while to figure out... By the way, it's "Reflections from Damaged Life" not "... a damaged life." Cheers, Daniel