Some beginnings

January 28, 2004 at 9:29 pm | In yulelogStories | 7 Comments

Yes, I used to be an art historian, an academic with a possibly not unpromising career, until by the end of the 1990s other life stuff made its claim with the force of a wooden stake through the heart. Since nothing in life is ever simple, that sensation was furthermore exquisite, both painful and pleasurable. What will follow in the coming days or weeks is my personal paint-by-numbers reconstruction of one aspect of my former life, namely ideas I used to care about, as blogged verbatim from my book. I did give fair warning a few days ago that I might start doing this, start by blogging some Adorno bits, and here’s my start: a 1944 Adorno quote. This is easy, just a quote, no exegesis, so don’t worry. But first, some background to explain where I got it: In 1989 I was researching my dissertation in Germany. I had a Social Science Research Council fellowship with the Berlin Program, and for once my timing was excellent: I was there when The Wall came down in November. …Except I nearly missed it, as I was travelling around to research in various regional archives, after which I got massively sick and spent most of January 1990 in a state of semi-delirium, reading. Hey-ho. But what a Fall ’89 it had been. There was a glut of interesting work showing up at several Berlin venues: the Berlinische Galerie and the Hamburger Bahnhof had excellent exhibitions dealing with Nazism and the post-WWII period. The Hamburger Bahnhof installation “So viel Anfang war nie” (a H�lderlin quote), studded with post-war art and documents, film showings, and readings, came with an exhibition catalog by Herman Glaser, Lutz von Pufendorf, and Michael Sch�neich. It’s almost impossible to find information about this tremendous resource or its contents online, however. Too bad, there was so much good research coming to light that year. The exhibition featured, immediately at the entrance, a quote by Adorno on a huge wall board. Its source was unattributed, but it was dated 1944. Since I never came across it in Adorno’s published writings, and since it had the kind of immediacy one might expect in a letter, I assume it’s from his personal papers. This is my translation:

The idea that after this war life would be able to continue “normally” or that culture could even be “reconstructed” — as if the reconstruction of culture itself was not already its negation — is idiotic. Millions of Jews have been murdered, and this is supposed to be but an intermezzo and not catastrophe itself. What is this culture actually still waiting for? And even if countless people find reprieve, could one imagine that what has occurred in Europe will not have consequences, that the quantity of victims won’t turn over into a new quality — barbarism — of society itself? As long as things continue blow by blow, the catastrophe is perpetuated. One only has to think of vengeance for the murdered. If as many of the other side are killed, then the horror is institutionalized and the precapitalist schema of the blood feud, which since time immemorial has reigned only in isolated mountain regions, will be reintroduced in more expanded form, with entire nations in the role of subjectless subject. If, nowever, the dead are not avenged and mercy reigns, then unpunished fascism will have its victory after all, and after it has shown how easy it is, it will continue elsewhere. The logic of history is as destructive as the people it produces: wherever its center of gravity falls, it reproduces the equivalent of past disaster. Death is normal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Coming soon, I will blog other Adorno bits, along with my responses and interpretations, all from that same far-away book. If this makes your eyes glaze over, too bad. I’m doing it by way of responding to a bits-and-pieces email exchange about Adorno with Chris Locke, whose blogly excoriations of narcissism I never miss. My merely slightly sadistic bloggish terrorism (think very limp guns, but at the same time I won’t hold your hand, you know, so if you do strike something hard, tough luck), upcoming in bits and pieces (stay tuned or not), is also motivated by my general annoyance over Heidegger’s share of air time. I will tell you, if you can stand to stick around, what I think Adorno thought was wrong with the Ontology Overlord. It really used to matter to me, since I thought it had something to do with how a particular society (post-WWII Germany) was reconstructed. In other words, philosophical ideas had real contexts and consequences for me, which, I’ll admit, really turned me on. It’s different now, but consider this, by way of many mirrors, a portrait then.

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
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