Geuss - Adorno's Gaps

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<p>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</p> <p>Trustees of Boston University is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Arion.</p> <p></p> <p>Adorno's</p> <p>Gaps</p> <p>RAYMOND GEUSS</p> <p>While 1940s, books on which the German his</p> <p>exiled</p> <p>in the United Adorno</p> <p>philosopher</p> <p>wrote</p> <p>States during the the three</p> <p>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</p> <p>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</p> <p>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</p> <p>i62</p> <p>ADORNO'S</p> <p>GAPS</p> <p>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</p> <p>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</p> <p>ment.</p> <p>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</p> <p>writingGreat</p> <p>\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</p> <p>term referring pyrus</p> <p>to the sheer physical size of the rolls of pa on Ethical Matters (orwhatever)?"Writings [Format:</p> <p>Raymond</p> <p>Geuss</p> <p>163</p> <p>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</p> <p>(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</p> <p>what</p> <p>Ernst Bloch7</p> <p>to the "apparently concrete objects and situations, for most nal and indifferent things, "9 and Adorno tried to follow attempt</p> <p>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</p> <p>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</p> <p>i64</p> <p>ADORNO'S</p> <p>GAPS</p> <p>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</p> <p>is one of a series of meditations</p> <p>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</p> <p>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</p> <p>public his numerous is no doubt action</p> <p>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</p> <p>great</p> <p>senses we may distinguish relative success text-dependent sense no work of from relative failure, but "in an emphatic art can be a success" (AT, 87), and the same is true of a life</p> <p>(MM ?18).</p> <p>Raymond</p> <p>Geuss</p> <p>165</p> <p>To speak of the failure or the inadequacy of a human life it lives up to or is to measure it against something12 which is a construct of our fails to live up to. That "something" hav imagination. Thus, a life can be imagined as potentially ing a structure like that of a train of consecutive thought and as exhibiting therefore potentially the same kind of coher ence, closure, and validity that such a train of thought has. That is, since a human life evolves through time, it is tempt to in the imagination ing to look for some kind of analogy this temporal extension, and the consecutiveness of thought tensified seems to provide if what temporally extended aspect is in I am thinking about is a sequence of or steps to be taken to attain a goal, and if this is constructed that. This</p> <p>dered, practical ordered sequence alized, what</p> <p>my thinking taken in the real world</p> <p>inmy mind before being re is a plan of action. The ordered stages of in the steps through the plan are to be mirrored I have</p> <p>to execute the plan. My life is con enter strued as the attempted execution of an imaginatively tained plan. This attempt retains enough residual connection with the world of consecutive thought for it to be appropri ate to evaluate it as if it were</p> <p>a deductive system. Adorno a line of argument?that speaks of the "line of life"?like may follow along or stray from the path indicated by its If I begin to think of my life in this way, then "premises."J3 in addition to all the other ways inwhich I can speak of it as a success or a failure, there are several highly specific kinds of failure deviate not I can envisage. I can fail to attain the goal, or I can out by the plan, whether or the path marked I eventually attain the end. Or I can attain the goal, from I followed</p> <p>whether</p> <p>it was not the path or not, and discover at all what I thought itwas going to be. This, in turn can be it has properties I had not expected or because the because</p> <p>I correctly thought it had turn out not to please properties I have changed. J4 I can change my me, perhaps because mind about whether the goal actually constituted attaining "success." Given the facts of temporal succession and the of much human it is not a context-dependency judgment,</p> <p>i66</p> <p>ADORNO'S</p> <p>GAPS</p> <p>forgone conclusion the goal, will be made about</p> <p>I have attained that my judgment, when the same as the prospective judgment I itwhen I began to plan. 9</p> <p>Adorno</p> <p>cinated with</p> <p>far from the only one ever to be fas and failure. Arguably by deficiency, imperfection, the same was true of the ancients. The ancients' obsession was, of course,</p> <p>failure, however, was based on extreme fear, certainly not on anything like admiration. Partly this was the perfectly realistic general fear on the part of relatively weak animals in an unpredictable Sometimes it was a specific fear world. of a success or prosperity that could be thought to be exces sive. This kind of fear, too, can be empirically well-grounded</p> <p>in small face-to-face societies the envy visible pros can provoke among the less fortunate is a serious dan perity it also partly took the ger, but in the case of the ancients a paranoid "the gods" would begrudge form of fantasy that because humans The any signal success they might have.15 ancients then in no sense glorified failure per se, nor indeed attributed value to it. Some an any special positive admired because precisely encounters although of their they (finally) documented failed, and success in</p> <p>cient heroes were heroes, many were was</p> <p>to that, and the possible envy attached at risk of catastrophic but no hero failure, especially glorious because he failed.</p> <p>Just as all political careers in a sense end in failure, so too all human life is radically deficient and a failure, if only be cause all humans in the end die, and thus fail to live up to to last at least a bit the imaginary standard of continuing No matter how long it has lasted already, one can al longer. ways imagine it lasting a little longer.16 This fantasy that takes its most life and ?ovte? Odyssey shape in the contrast between human the gods who "live for ever" (Oeoi cd?v In a famous passage of the etc.]). [Iliad 1.290, the shade of (11.471-91), Odysseus congratulates concrete that of</p> <p>Raymond</p> <p>Geuss</p> <p>167</p> <p>Achilles He was does</p> <p>blessed life he has had. of the superlatively honoured while he was alive, and now in supremely because</p> <p>the dead. Achilles he is powerful among not deny that his life on earth was all that Odysseus says itwas, but now he is in Hades and virtually any life on earth is better than the best life possible after death. the underworld Not only,</p> <p>is the end?a certain kind of failure however, are to all humans, but life and prosperity (death)?common and unpredictable while they last. Croesus highly precarious and Priam are the non plus ultra of success and happiness: established, wealthy, politically overwhelmingly powerful men. The only question about Priam's good fortune is: how long will it last? Croesus has various pro-active plans for in creasing his prosperity; will they work? Priam's g...</p>