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Theodor W. Adorno

Last updated:  3 June 1998

The following quotes are taken from Theodor W. Adorno (1974), Minima moralia. Reflections from damaged life. (First published in German in 1951.) London (NLB)

The gods look in pleasure on penitent sinners. 174

No emancipation without that of society. 173

Domination delegates the physical violence on which it rests to the dominated. 182

The man for whom time stretches out painfully is one waiting in vain, disappointed at not finding tomorrow already continuing yesterday. 175

He who has loved and who betrays love does harm not only to the image of the past, but to the past itself. 166

Time flies. 166

Everywhere bourgeois society insists on the exertion of will; only love is supposed to be involuntary, pure immediacy of feeling. In its longing for this, which means a dispensation from work, the bourgeois idea of love transcends bourgeois society. But in erecting truth directly amid the general untruth, it perverts the former into the latter. 172

But he who dies in despair has lived his whole life in vain. 167

They are down to earth like their zoological forbears, before they got up on their hind-legs. 184

To say 'we' and mean 'I' is one of the most recondite insults. 190

Life has become the ideology of its own absence. 190

True thoughts are those alone which do not understand themselves. 192

Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar. 191

All morality has been modelled on immorality and to this day has reinstated it at every level. The slave morality is indeed bad: it is still the master morality. 187

The good man is he who rules himself as he does his own property: his autonomous being is modelled on material power. 185

People at the top are closing ranks so tightly that all possibility of subjective deviation has gone, and difference can be sought only in the more distinguished cut of an evening dress. 188-189

The poor are prevented from thinking by the discipline of others, the rich by their own. 187-188

In his state of complete powerlessness the individual perceives the time he has left to live as a brief reprieve. 165

Dialectic thought is an attempt to break through the coercion of logic by its own means. 150

The individual mirrors in his individuation the preordained social laws of exploitation, however mediated. 148

The human is indissolubly linked with imitation: a human being only becomes human at all by imitating other human beings. 154

Not only is the self entwined in society; it owes society its existence in the most literal sense. 154

The joke of our time is the suicide of intention. 141

In the fanatical love of cars the feeling of physical homelessness plays a part. It is at the bottom of what the bourgeois were wont to call, mistakenly, the flight from oneself, from the inner void. Anyone who wants to move with the times is not allowed to be different. Psychological emptiness is itself only the result of the wrong kind of social absorption. The boredom that people are running away from merely mirrors the process of running away, that started long before. 139

What has become alien to men is the human component of culture, its closest part, which upholds them against the world. They make common cause with the world against themselves, and the most alienated condition of all, the omnipresence of commodities, their own conversion into appendages of machinery, is for them a mirage of closeness. 146-147

Quality is decided by the depth at which the work incorporates the alternatives within itself, and so masters them. 142

Genuine things are those to which commodities and other means of exchange can be reduced, particularly gold. But like gold, genuineness, abstracted as the proportion of fine metal, becomes a fetish. 155

Insane sects grow with the same rhythm as big organizations. It is the rhythm of total destruction. 163

Running in the street conveys an impression of terror. The victim's fall is already mimed in his attempt to escape it. The position of the head, trying to hold itself up, is that of a drowning man, and the straining face grimaces as if under torture. He has to look ahead, can hardly glance back without stumbling, as if treading the shadow of a foe whose features freeze the limbs. Once people ran from dangers that were too desperate to turn and face, and someone running after a bus unwittingly bears witness to past terror. Traffic regulations no longer need allow for wild animals, but they have not pacified running. It estranges us from bourgeois walking. The truth becomes visible that something is amiss with security, that the unleashed powers of life, be they mere vehicles, have to be escaped. The body's habituation to walking as normal stems from the good old days. It was the bourgeois form of locomotion: physical demythologization, free of the spell of hieratic pacing, roofless wandering, breathless flight. Human dignity insisted on the right to walk, a rhythm not extorted from the body by command or terror. The walk, the stroll, were private ways of passing time, the heritage of the feudal promenade in the nineteenth century. 162

In the clock's over-loud ticking we hear the mockery of light-years for the span of our existence. 165

Horror is beyond the reach of psychology. 164

Perhaps the true society will grow tired of development and, out of freedom, leave possibilities unused, instead of storming under a confused compulsion to the conquest of strange stars. 156

It is not man's lapse into luxurious indolence that is to be feared, but the savage spread of the social under the mask of universal nature, the collective as a blind fury of activity. 156

He who matures early lives in anticipation. 161

None of the abstract concepts comes closer to fulfilled utopia than that of eternal peace. 156

The ideology of cultural conservatism which sees enlightenment and art as simple antitheses is false, among other reasons, in overlooking the moment of enlightenment in the genesis of beauty. Enlightenment does not merely dissolve all the qualities that beauty adheres to, but posits the quality of beauty in the first place. 224

Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth. 222

If the integration of society, particularly in totalitarian states, designates subjects more and more exclusively as partial moments in the network of material production, then the 'alteration of the technical composition of capital' is prolonged within those encompassed, and indeed constituted, by the technological demands of the production process. The organic composition of man is growing. That which determines subjects as means of production and not as living purposes, increases with the proportion of machines to variable capital. 229

Taste is the ability to keep in balance the contradiction in art between the made and the apparent not-having-become; true works of art, however, never at one with taste, are those which push this contradiction to the extreme, and realize themselves in their resultant downfall. 227

Modernity is a qualitative, not a chronological, category. 218

Happiness is obsolete: uneconomic. 217

The task of art today is to bring chaos into order. 222

History does not merely touch on language, but takes place in it. 219

The organic composition of man reers by no means only to his specialized technical faculties, but - and this the usual cultural criticism will not at any price admit - equally to their opposite, the moments of naturalness which once themselves sprung from the social dialectic and are now succumbing to it. Even what differs from technology in man is now being incorporated into it as a kind of lubrication. 229-230

He who integrates is lost. 240

Newness only becomes mere evil in its totalitarian format, where all the tension between individual and society, that once gave rise to the category of the new, is dissipated. Today the appeal to newness, of no matter what kind, provided only that it is archaic enough, has become universal, the omnipresent medium of false mimesis. The decomposition of the subject is consummated in his self-abandonment to an ever-changing sameness. 238

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. 247

Mind arose out of existence, as an organ for keeping alive. In reflecting existence, however, it becomes at the same time something else. The existent negates itself as thought upon itself. Such negation is mind's element. 243

Metaphysical categories are not merely an ideology concealing the social system; at the same time they express its nature, the truth about, and in their changes are precipitated those in its most central experiences. 231

The ego consciously takes the whole man into its service as a piece of apparatus. In this re-organization the ego as business-manager delegates so much of itself to the ego as business-mechanism, that it becomes quite abstract, a mere reference-point: self-preservation forfeits its self. Character traits, from genuine kindness to the hysterical fit of rage, become capable of manipulation, until they coincide exactly with the demands of a given situation. With their mobilization they change. All that is left are the light, rigid, empty husks of emotions, matter transportable at will, devoid of anything personal. They are no longer the subject; rather, the subject responds to them as to his internal object. 230

Only a humanity to whom death has become as indifferent as its members, that has itself died, can inflict it administratively on innumerable people. 233

So the experience of death is turned into that of the exchange of functionaries, and anything in the natural relationship to death that is not wholly absorbed into the social one is turned over to hygiene. In being seen as no more than the exit of a living creature from the social combine, death has been domesticated: dying merely confirms the absolute irrelevance of the natural organism in face of the social absolute. 232

There is no love that is not an echo. 217

Thinking no longer means anymore than checking at each moment whether one can indeed think. 197

Because thought has by now been perverted into the solving of assigned problems, even what is not assigned is processed like a problem. 196

The culture industry not so much adapts to the reactions of its customers as it counterfeits them. 200

Intelligence is a moral category. 197

The quantification of technical progress, however, their dissection into minute operations largely independent of education and experience, makes the expertise of these new-style managers to a large degree illusory, a pretence concealing the privilege of being appointed. That technical development has reached a state which makes every function really open to all - this immanently socialist element in progress has been travestied under late industrialism. Membership of the elite seems attainable to everyone. One only waits to be co-opted. Suitability consists in affinity, from the libidinal garnishing of all goings-on, by way of the healthy technocratic outlook, to hearty realpolitik. Such men are expert only at control. 194

Love you will find only where you may show yourself weak without provoking strength. 192

If across the Atlantic the ideology was pride, here it is delivering the goods. 196

Up to our days a man's membership of the upper or lower classes has been crudely determined by whether or not he accepted money. At times false pride became conscious criticism. 195

The capacity for fear and for happiness are the same, the unrestricted openness to experience amounting to self-abandonment in which the vanquished rediscovers himself. 200

He who has laughter on his side has no need of proof. 210

The intellectuals themselves are already so heavily committed to what is endorsed in their isolated sphere, that they no longer desire anything that does not carry the highbrow tag. 207

... legitimate works of art are today without exception socially undesired. 213

All satire is blind to the forces liberated by decay. Which is why total decay has absorbed the forces of satire. 211

... everything that has ever been called folk art has always reflected domination. 204

The dreams have no dream. Just as the technicolour heroes do not allow us to forget for a second that they are normal people, type-cast public faces and investments, so under the thin tinsel of schematically produced fantasy emerges in unmistakable outline the skeleton of cinema-ontology, the whole obligatory hierarchy of values, th canon of the undesirable or the exemplary. There is nothing more practical than escape, nothing more fervently espoused to big business: we are abducted into the distance only to have the laws of empiricist living hammered from afar, unhampered by empirical possibilities of evasion, into our own consciousness. The escape is full of message. And message, the opposite, looks what it is: the wish to flee from flight. It reifies the resistance to reification. 202

Society is integral even before it undergoes totalitarian ule. Its organization also embraces those at war with it by co-ordinating their consciousness to its own. 206

The film has succeeded in transforming subjects so indistinguishably into social functions, that those wholly encompassed, no longer aware of any conflict, enjoy their own dehumanization as something human, as the joy of warmth. The total interconnectedness of the culture industry, omitting nothing, is one with total social delusion. 206

Everybody must have projects all the time. The maximum must be extracted from leisure ... The whole of life must look like a job, and by this resemblance conceal what is not yet directly devoted to pecuniary gain. 138-139

The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying-glass. 50

In many people it is already an impertinence to say 'I' . 50

The whole is the false. 50

The first and only principle of sexual ethics: the accuser is always in the wrong. 50

In psycho-analysis nothing is true except the exaggerations. 49

In the nineteenth century the Germans painted their dream and the outcome was invariably vegetable. The French needed only to paint a vegetable and it was already a dream. 49

Today self-consciousness no longer means anything but reflection on the ego as embarrassment, as realization of impotence: knowing that one is nothing. 50

The recent past always presents itself as if destroyed by catastrophes. 49

One must have tradition in oneself, to hate it properly. 52

The very people who burst with proofs of exuberant vitality could easily be taken for prepared corpses, from whom the news of their not-quite-successful decease has been withheld for reasons of population policy. Underlying the prevalent health is death. All the movements of health resemble the reflex-movements of beings whose hearts have stopped beating. 59

The almost insoluble task is to let neither the power of others, nor our own powerlessness, stupefy us. 57

Psychology repeats in the case of properties what was done to property. It expropriates the individual by allocating him its happiness. 64

And how comfortless is the thought that the sickness of the normal does not necessarily imply as its opposite the health of the sick, but that the latter usually only present, in a different way, the same disastrous pattern. 60

Life has changed into a timeless succession of shocks, interspaced with empty, paralysed intervals. 54

There is some reason to fear that the involvement of non-Western peoples in the conflicts of industrial society, long overdue in itself, will be less to the benefit of the liberated peoples than to that of rationally improved production and communications, and a modestly raised standard of living. 53

Normality is death. 56

The idea that after this war life will continue 'normally' or even that culture might be 'rebuilt' - as if the rebuilding of culture were not already its negation - is idiotic. 55

In the end the tough guys are the truely effeminate ones, who need the weaklings as their victims in order not to admit that they are like them. 46

Lies are told only to convey to someone that one has no need either of him or his good opinion. 30

In the end, glorification of splendid underdogs is nothing other than glorification of the splendid system that makes them so. 28

Tact is the discrimination of differences. It consists in conscious deviations. 37

The only decent marriage would be one allowing each partner to lead an independent life, in which, instead of a fusion derived from an enforced community of economic interest, both freely accepted mutual responsibility. 31

In the abstract conception of universal wrong, all concrete responsibility vanishes. 25

Today it is seen as arrogant, alien and improper to engage in private activity without any evident ulterior motive. Not to be 'after' something is almost suspect. 23-24

We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless. 27

He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private interest. 26

The hardest hit, as everywhere, are those who have no choice. 39

The decay of giving is morrored in the distressing invention of gift-article, based on the assumption that one does not know what to give because one really does not want to. 42

Estrangement shows itself precisely in the elimination of distance between people. 41

The enraged man always appears as the gang-leader of his own self, giving his unconscious the order to pull no punches, his eyes shining with the satisfaction of speaking for the many that he himself is. The more someone has espoused the cause of his own aggression, the more perfectly he represents the repressive principle of society. In this sense more than in any other, perhaps, the proposition is true that the most individual is the most general. 45

Every undistorted relationship, perhaps indeed the conciliation that is part of organic life itself, is a gift. He who through consequential logic becomes incapable of it, makes himself a thing and freezes. 43

Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men. 40

Wrong life cannot be lived rightly. 39

If time is money, it seems moral to save time, above all one's own, and such parsimony is excused by consideration for others. One is straight-forward. 41

The new human type cannot be properly understood without awareness of what he is continuously exposed to from the world of things about him, even in his most secret innervations. 40

The scientific industry has its exact counterpart in the kind of minds it harnesses: they no longer need to do themselves any violence in becoming their own voluntary and zealous overseers. Even if they show themselves, outside their official capacity, to be quite human and sensible being, they are paralysed by pathic stupidity the moment they begin to think professionally.

But far from finding anything inimical in the prohibitions on thinking, the candidates - and all scientists are candidates for posts - feel relieved. Because thinking burdens them with a subjective responsibility which their objective position in the productive process does not allow them to meet, they renounce it, shiver a bit, and run to join their opponents. Dislike of thinking rapidly becomes incapacity for it: people who can effortlessly discover the most sophisticated statistical objections when it is a question of sabotaging a piece of knowledge, are unable to make ex cathedra the simplest predictions. They hit out at speculation and in it kill common sense. The more intelligent of them suspect the sickness of their intellectual powers, since it first appears not universally but in the organs whose services they sell. Many wait in fear and shame for their defect to be discovered. But they all find it publicly acclaimed as a moral achievment, and see themselves recognized for a scientific asceticism which to them is none, but the secret contour of their weakness. Their rancour is socially rationalized with the argument: thinking is unscientific. At the same time, their mental power has, in a number of dimensions, been prodigiously increased by control mechanisms. The collective stupidity of research technicians is not simply an absence or regression of intellectual faculties, but a proliferation of the thinking faculty itself, which consumes thought with its own strength. 123-124

Once the last trace of emotion has been eradicated, nothing remains of thought but absolute tautology. 123

The overbearing matter-of-factness which sacrifices the subject to the ascertainment of the truth, rejects at once truth and objectivity. 126

The division of the world into important and unimportant matters, which has always served to neutralize the key phenomena of social injustice as mere exceptions, should be followed up to the point where it is convicted of its own untruth. The division which makes everything objects must itself become an object of thought, instead of guiding it. 125

The world is systematized horror, but therefore it is to do the world too much honour to think of it entirely as a system; for its unifying principle is division, and it reconciles by asserting unimpaired the irreconcilability of the general and the particular. 113

He who says he is happy lies, and in invoking happiness, sins against it. He alone keeps faith who says: I was happy. The only relation of consciousness to happiness is gratitude: in which lies its incomparable dignity. 112

Truth is inseperable from the illusory belief that from the figures of the unreal one day, in spite of all, real deliverance will come. 121-122

Rampant technolgy eliminates luxury, but not by declaring privilege a human right; rather, it does so by both raising the general standard of living and cutting off the possibility of fulfilment. 119

Advice to intellectuals: let no-one represent you. 128

Whatever the intellectual does, is wrong. He experiences drastically and vitally the ignominious choice that late capitalism secretly presents to all its dependants: to become one more grown-up, or to remain a child. 133

Freedom would be not to choose between black and white but to abjure such prescribed choices. 132

No harm comes to man from outside alone: dumbness is the objective spirit. 138

Those who cannot help ought also not advise: in an order where every mousehole has been plugged, mere advice exactly equals condemnation. 136

In the age of the individual's liquidation, the question of individuality must be raised anew. 129

The most powerful person is he who is able to do least himself and burden others most with the things for which he lends his name and pockets the credit. 128

Work while you work, play while you play - this is a basic rule of repressive self-discipline. 130

A pencil and rubber are of more use to thought than a battalion of assistants. 129

To happiness the same applies as to truth: one does not have it, but is in it. 112

Rather, knowledge comes to us through a network of prejudices, opinions, innervations, self-corrections, presuppositions and exaggerations, in short through the dense, firmly-founded but by no means uniformly transparent medium of experience. 80

The specific is not exclusive: it lacks the aspiration to totality. 79

Without hope, the idea of truth would be scarcely even thinkable, and it is the cardinal untruth, having recognized existence to be bad, to present it as truth simply because it has been recognized. 98

For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live. 87

The dialectic cannot stop short before the conceptsof health and sickness, nor indeed before their siblings reason and unreason. 73

The notions of subjective and objective have been completely reversed. Objective means the non-controversial aspect of things, their unquestioned impression, the façade made up of classified data, that is, the subjective; and they call subjective anything which breaches that façade, engages the specific experience of a matter, casts off all ready-made judgements and substitutes relatedness to the object for the majority consensus of those who do not even look at it, let alone think abou it - that is, the objective. 69-70

To hate destructiveness, one must hate life as well: only death is an image of undistorted life ... organic life is an illness peculiar to our unlovely planet. 78

Exuberant health is always, as such, sickness also. 77

Proletarian language is dictated by hunger. The poor chew words to fill their bellies. 102

A German is someone who cannot tell a lie without believing it himself. 110

Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish. So Hitler, of whom no-one can say whether he died or escaped, survives. 109

Every work of art is an uncommitted crime. 111

Anti-Semitism is the rumour about the Jews. 110

An emancipated society, on the other hand, would not be a unitary state, but the realization of universality in the reconciliation of differences. 103

That all men are alike is exactly what society would like to hear. It considers actual or imagined differences as stigmas indicating that not enough has yet been done; that something has still been left outside its machinery, not quite determined by its totality. 102-103

Fascism is itself less 'ideological', in so far as it openly proclaims the principle of domination that is elsewhere concealed. 108

When all actions are mathematically calculated, they also take on a stupid quality. 107

Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001