Thursday, September 23, 2010

In Memorandum of My Return to RIT: An Excerpt from Adorno's Minima Moralia, Number Ninety-One: Vandals

"Vandals. – The haste, nervousness and discontinuity observable since the rise of the great cities, is spreading epidemically, as plague and cholera did before. Powers are arising therein, which the scurrying passersby of the 19th century could not have dreamed of. Everyone must always be planning something. Free-time is required to be exhausted. It is planned, employed for undertakings, filled up with the visit of every possible institution or through the fastest possible locomotion. The shadow of this falls on intellectual labor. It takes place with a bad conscience, as if it were moonlighting from some sort of urgent, albeit purely imaginary occupation. In order to justify its own activity to itself, it adopts the gestures of what is hectic, under high pressure, of the enterprise racing against the clock, of every sensibility – including itself – which stands in its way. Often it seems as if intellectuals reserved for their own production only the hours left over from obligations, excursions, appointments and unavoidable pleasures. The accumulation of prestige by those who can present themselves as so important, that they must be everywhere, is repulsive, and yet to some extent rational. They stylize their life with intentionally hammed-up dissatisfaction as a single acte de présence [French: act of presence]. The joy with which they reject an invitation by referring to a prior engagement, announces a triumph in the competition. Similarly, the forms of the production-process are repeated more generally in private life or in the forms excluded from realms of labor. One’s entire life is supposed to look like an occupation, and to hide, through this similarity, anything not yet immediately dedicated to commerce. Yet the fear thereby expressed, only reflects a much deeper one. The unconscious innervations which harmonize the individual existence to the historical rhythm, beyond thought-processes, have an inkling of the dawning collectivization of the world. Since however the integral society does not sublate individuals positively in itself, but rather squeezes them into an amorphous and pliable mass, every individual dreads this as the process of being absorbed, something experienced as inevitable. “Doing things and going places” [in English in original] is the sensorium’s attempt to create a kind of protective stimulus against a threatening collectivization, to get used to the latter, by schooling oneself in the hours apparently left in freedom to be a member of the masses. The strategy therein is to outdo the danger. One lives to a certain extent even worse, that is with still less of an ego, than one can expect to live. At the same time one learns, through the playful excess of giving up the self, that for someone who in all seriousness lives without an ego, things can be easier instead of harder. It all goes very fast, because there is no alarm for earthquakes. Those who do not play along, and that’s as much to say, those who do not swim bodily in the stream of human beings, become afraid of missing the bus and drawing the revenge of the collective down on themselves, rather like entering a totalitarian party all too late. Pseudoactivity is a re-insurance [Rückversicherung: reinsurance, a secondary insurance covering a set of original insurance policies], the expression of preparation for self-sacrifice, in which alone one has an inkling of a guarantee of self-preservation. Security beckons in the adaptation to the most extreme insecurity. It is conceived of as a flight charter, which brings one as quickly as possible someplace else. In the fanatical love of autos, the feeling of physical homelessness resonates. It is the foundation of what the bourgeoisie inaccurately called the flight from oneself, from the inner void. Whoever wants to come along, may not be different. The psychological void is itself only the result of false social absorption. The boredom from which human beings flee, merely mirrors the process of running away, in which they have long been caught. For that reason alone the monstrous apparatus of pleasure stays alive and swells larger and larger, without a single person getting pleasure from such. It canalizes the compulsion to be at the scene, which would otherwise grab the collective by the throat, indiscriminately, anarchically, as promiscuity or wild aggression – a collective which, at the same time, nevertheless consists of no-one else than those who are underway. They are most closely related to the addict. Their impulse reacts exactly to the dislocation of humanity, which leads from the murky blurring of the difference between city and country, the abolition of the house, via the movement of millions of unemployed, all the way to the deportations and mass uprooting of peoples in the destroyed European continent. The nullity and lack of content of all collective rituals since the youth-movement represents retrospectively the groping anticipation of overpowering historical hammer-blows. The myriads who suddenly fall prey to their own abstract quantity and mobility, to hitting the road in swarms, like a drug, are recruits of the movement of peoples, in whose feral realms bourgeois history is getting ready to end."

- Theodor Adorno in Minimia Moralia: Reflections on Damaged Life, 1951.

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