Geuss - Adorno's Gaps

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


Adorno's Gaps Author(s): Raymond Geuss Source: Arion, Third Series, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Fall, 2004), pp. 161-180 Published by: Trustees of Boston University Stable URL: Accessed: 30/01/2010 18:36Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Trustees of Boston University is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Arion.




While 1940s, books on which the German his


in the United Adorno



States during the the three

rests. The first, The lasting reputation New Music, presented a remarkably whiggish of Philosophy set the terms for all of his later and very theory which would extensive writings on art. Adorno believed that musical tech techniques forms became more complex, edge did. Over time musical more and flexible, and more suited to their sophisticated task of representing the "truth" about the world. He also believed niques which developed industrial historically, more and or less forms of scientific in the way in knowl

or parallelism in a convergence between the histor and the aesthetically satisfactory. The only ically progressive to comprehend and evaluate a particular piece of music way it formally and also to locate it properly was to understand in the history wards, of music, starting from and this history had to be read back "most advanced" contemporary in Vi had also been trained as a composer the

practice. Adorno enna by Alban Berg, and so it comes as little surprise that he in instantiated thought the "most advanced practice" was the Sch?nberg School. In particular, any form of neo-classi cism, such as that represented by Stravinsky and his follow ers, was historically deficient, and retrogressive, aesthetically suspect. politically Given this general view, itwould not be strange if Adorno had little interest in the ancient world. If, as he claimed, se rious music starts in the eighteenth century, with perhaps an exceptional as far back "honorable mention" for Bach, because that is into the past as the reflected insight of Sch?nARION 12.2 FALL 2OO4




reaches, one should not be surprised to find berg's music Adorno writing Stefan George, essays on Proust, Beckett, no equally detailed en and Kafka,1 but exhibiting Val?ry, gagement with Archilochus, Sophokles, Vergil, or Catullus von der Vogelweide, (or, for that matter, with Walter Dante, or Racine). Rabelais, Shakespeare, of Adorno's major works, Dialektik der Auf to some ex written with Max Horkheimer, kl?rung, jointly in that it this expectation tent, then, seems to violate contains an extended To of Homer's Odyssey. interpretation be sure, this is systematically be intentionally anachronistic ments which "bourgeois-occidental is interpreted Odysseus of interpreted in a way that must as one of the earliest docu The second

civilization" {DA, 6) in as the "archetype of the bour is {DA, 50), but this kind of anachronism geois individual" an integral part of the basically Hegelian framework Adorno uses. All of western is a single story of increasing history technical control over nature and concomitant Such is purchased


Enlighten at a very high control, however, to underestimate: price which we have come systematically at the cost of self-repression, and the exploitation alienation, in a social system divided into classes. In partic the story of Odysseus and the Sirens is an image of the ular, of Enlightenment: the knowledge and control over process of inferiors nature Odysseus gains is his ability to sail safely past the is land of the sirens, while hearing their song, the self-repres sion he suffers is being bound to the mast, the exploitation he imposes is his reduction of his sailors to the status of mu tilated slaves who must row with stopped ears. The title of the third book, Minima Moralia, recalls the Aristotelian Magna Moralia, (i.e.,'H6iKa (probably pseudo-) in the case of the pseudo-Aristotelian [iey?Xa).2- Although


\iej?Xa/magna virtually certainly does not express a on Topics of judgment about the contents?"Moral WritingsImportance"?but is a bookseller's or a librarian's

term referring pyrus

to the sheer physical size of the rolls of pa on Ethical Matters (orwhatever)?"Writings [Format:




the possible of the Large] "3?Adorno exploits ambiguity Latin form of expression, because he specifically intended this to be read both as "Tiny Moral Writings" and "Writings is "tiny" because it is Minima Moralia over 150 extremely short disquisitions, just most of them only two or three pages long. In addition, the are not the grand topics of academic ostensible theo topics Minutiae." of a collection the goal of human rizing: the concept of a moral obligation, or the role of universal rules in action, but such appar life, doors have handles or knobs ently trivial matters as whether on Moral

(MM ?19), publishers' advertising (MM ?133), the discoveryin Utah dinosaur" of a "well-preserved (MM ?74), why one to read de Sade [if one is a Ger not need a dictionary does man-speaker ?151), film reading it in French] (MM ?27), occultism (MM (MM ?131), running (MM ?io2),4 gift-giving (MM ?21), house-guests (MM ?114), etc. The cultivation of form the fragment or aphorism as a literary or philosophical in German5 and the idea that has a reasonably long history calls "micrology,"6 the study of the seemingly trivial details of life, could be of great philosophical signifi cance is one he took over from his two older colleagues Adorno and Walter the ideology-laden world to cultivate sharp observation Benjamin.8 The of abstractions, best way to avoid they thought, was reaction to and spontaneous most ba of his life


Ernst Bloch7

to the "apparently concrete objects and situations, for most nal and indifferent things, "9 and Adorno tried to follow attempt

this policy. This is connected with Adorno 's to break with many of the traditional ways of doing Traditional academic philosophers seek to con philosophy. vince others of the rightness of their views by presenting log of this project, ically irrefutable arguments. The coerciveness even if it is a highly sublimated form of coerciveness,10 is

part of the general obsession with control that is character a to practice istic of the Enlightenment. Adorno wished which would not be form of philosophizing "post-Socratic" motivated vince by the compulsive opponents need all possible to be in the right and con like a lawyer arguing a case




that constitute Minima (MM ?44). The micro-treatises to be series of images, supposi Moralia then are supposed tions, insights, even "arguments" (of a kind), etc., that do not demand agreement, but which have other kinds of plau sibility. The section the successful of Minima and Moralia entitled "Gaps" on the dichotomies (L?cken) between

is one of a series of meditations

the failed, the adequate and the inade and the imperfect, the perfect the sound and the quate, as they apply to art and thought, and also to a damaged, as a whole. These "reflections human life considered from a damaged are also life," as the subtitle on what reflections calls them, Moralia it is for a life to be damaged, on what itwould be for it to be of Minima

and thus also, ex negativo, is not incorrect, but suggests a sound. To put it this way more detached and even-handed attitude toward the success reading of any of Adorno's works. Adorno was, after all, a philoso ethical thinking revolved around the claims that pher whose in the contemporary world is harmless (MM ?5), nothing to live the right life in our society that it isn't really possible because morality Adorno between it is so thoroughly evil, and that it is a part of not to feel at home with oneself (MM S18). When describes the relation of mutual envy that existed Sch?nberg success with and Berg, Wozzek, public failures that officially Adorno Sch?nberg envying Berg his and Berg envying Sch?nberg there [GS 13.360; GS 18.492], Berg on the of failure. One's first re stood with or failure of a human life than will survive a careful

public his numerous is no doubt action

side of the prima facie superiority to public success,11 at any rate in a society like ours, too disgraceful to bear, and should be that it is something success of any kind is to be treated with indeed apparentsuspicion. In various everyday, comparative, or con


senses we may distinguish relative success text-dependent sense no work of from relative failure, but "in an emphatic art can be a s