The Incarcerated Mind

Thoralf Knobloch

Thoralf Knobloch

“{The} analysis of violence should be limited to demystifying the contradiction between custody and rehabilitation, so basic to asylums and prisons.”
Franco Basaglia

“Adorno’s philosophy took shape in dread recognition of the reversion of society to the primitive, a dynamic form which he only with luck preserved his own life. The problem that marks the center and circumference of his thought was the effort to comprehend and perhaps even circumvent this logic of progress as regression. Without a doubt the preeminent reason that his work must now be of vital concern in the United States is for what precisely can be learned from it in a nation that has so palpably entered primitive times. The vindication of torture, the desiderated abrogation of due process while utilizing its protections for its destruction, the paranoiac assault on thinking…these are contemporary trappings of phenomena as anciently recurrent in history as the steady exhalation of a desert wind.”
Robert Hullot Kentor

“Trauma is inherent to the human condition.”
Leonard Shengold

“The question of culture, as it is formulated in its essence by art, is now more than ever at the heart of the economy, of industry, and of politics: the *sensible* community is today entirely fabricated by the technologies of what Deleuze called ‘control societies’, and it is essentially on this front that the international economic struggle is taking place.”
Bernard Stiegler

I wanted to discuss how, in varying ways, a reductionist perception of culture infiltrates almost all discussions today. Perhaps it is simply the fact that social media has reduced discourse to a very limited format, but probably it is more than that. Certainly facebook and twitter and all the rest of the platforms in play today are not meant to serve complex analysis, so arguments take place that really are not arguments except at the most superficial level. Culture and politics, interpretation, is hugely complicated. But the desire to *win* debates seems to trump all else. I increasingly feel that social media is inherently antagonistic, that it encourages disagreement and lack of cooperation, lack of in depth pursuits of the truth. Its not surprising that the very idea of ‘truth’ is discouraged as somehow oppressive or out of date.

Adorno suffers from simplification perhaps as much as anyone.

“I do not want to decide whether my theory is grounded in a particular understanding of humanity and human existence. I deny, however, that it is necessary to have recourse to such an understanding.”

Aydin Aghdashloo

Aydin Aghdashloo

That sentence was how Adorno concluded his first academic lecture in 1931. Adorno was a philosopher. He saw himself as such, and throughout his career he emphasized what he saw as the value of complexity, that difficult topics required difficult explanations. In a sense he was emphasizing an irrational mode of expression. Adorno refused to accept the traditional demands of Academic discourse. His entire oeuvre — his particular form of dialectic, ‘negative dialectics’, was an anti-Hegelian polemic. Rudiger Bubner writes of Adorno’s main work, Aesthetic Theory, …“Aesthetic theory does not only mean theoretical aesthetics is one subdivision of an extensive theoretical edifice. More important, it means that the text’s main concern is the process by which theory itself becomes aesthetic — the convergence of knowledge and art.” Adorno himself said aesthetics is in itself philosophical. This is crucially important to even begin to understand Adorno’s thinking. He was not a thinker like even his close friend Horkheimer was, or Benjamin, or Marcuse. For him, as Bubner says, theory must give way to aesthetics. I have always been drawn to Adorno for exactly this reason. Because I believe human emancipation is linked to aesthetics as much as it is linked to anything.

One of the problems many people have with Adorno is his insistence upon history. But this is a very particular *history*, or rather a particular idea of history. Adorno is often criticized for being stuck in the conventions of idealism, when in fact this was one of this primary targets. He was most critical, during his lifetime, of a kind of criticism that he saw as the relic of idealism and of Hegelianism. However, he was inclined to see in Hegel a rigour he later found so lacking in Heidegger, whom he rightly accused of premising his thought on a quasi mystical and deeply reactionary regressive idea of Being. To an ‘irreducible Being’. That said, Adorno was acutely aware that much of his early thinking shared certain similarities to Heidegger. I think that in Adorno’s first major book, his study of Kierkegaard, that he addresses and makes clear his distance from Heideggerian existentialism. Adorno had already felt, or sensed, the rising tide of social domination, and his thought was meant to, in method, address, always, the subsuming of traditional philosophical conventions that he saw as being terminally compromised by a fascistic totality. He looked to develop a thought that served as critique — but one that was critiquing the ideological shifts of a society being overturned by ideology. He was critiquing criticism.

Katarzyna Kobro

Katarzyna Kobro

“…in all societies in the grip of late capitalism, ideology has become so total and totalizing that there is no way to escape its influence.”
Rudiger Bubner

For Adorno, the answer lay in art. And therein lies the difficulty of grasping what Adorno was attempting to do. For he saw a petrified analysis of ideology, resulting from the sway of that ideology. He saw modern life as deeply delusional, and utterly mystified. And that all theory that was meant to diagnose the problem was itself mystified, because this was the nature of coercive capitalism. Of a society of domination. There are huge difficulties in all this, and Adorno was always revising his method, always looking for ways to find adjust to the reality in which thinking itself is no longer possible (which again, takes him perilously close to Heidegger). To understand Adorno at all, one must understand that for him theory was impossible. Art was impossible. That human projects were doomed to failure and man to despair and suffering. But, from that despair can come a process, as Bubner says, of *unmasking* ideology, but this process must constantly self critique its own methods. And the only avenue to such critique is one found in art. For in art there resides the last glimmer of autonomy. For Adorno the Utopian promise was embedded in mimetic engagement.

Wang Hui. Late 1660s.

Wang Hui. Late 1660s.

I have increasingly found a deep sympathy between Wittgenstein and Adorno. Of the two, finally, Wittgenstgein was the true nihilist, however. They simply approached this critique of critique from opposing poles. And, in Adorno, there was a far greater influence of Marx and Freud. So, then, what accounts for the endless mis-reading of Adorno? I suspect it has to do with an historical aversion to art in Western society since the Enlightenment. A distrust of it. A distrust of culture. Of its importance. Partly this can be laid at the feet of residual Puritanism, and partly a vulgar Marxism found most obviously in various Trotskyist branches of thought. The other problem is that Adorno believed that the Enlightenment had become a set of ideas turned in on itself. This is where Adorno was to employ Hegel’s methodical rigour while avoiding his logical conclusions and effects. Adorno was searching for an anti Hegelian Hegelianism. Or, rather, a dialectic that did not end with absolute knowing. This is, naturally, where much debate about both Adorno and Horkheimer’s thought intrudes. That they saw the Enlightenment reversing into its opposite meant that the search for an antidote would be hugely difficult, in fact, impossible. And this is where Adorno had recourse to a deeper reading of History, and of memory. That all resistance to the totalizing ideology of contemporary society could be discovered by a clearer reading of where such ideology arose, or where in fact dialectical thought itself arose. And for him (and Horkheimer) it was in *myth*. This is a hugely contested area of discussion not least because both Adorno and Horkheimer were using the word and concept of *myth* in a very particular way. I think that today there is a growing awareness of just how corrupted the legacy of Enlightenment thought has become. Progress is regression. And, how very much was lost in this long incremental subsumption of earlier thought. In any event, without going into too much detail here, the point is that for Adorno *art* was the last bastion where experience might find the potential for emancipation. The dream and promise of an alternative to the unfreedom of domination. Art’s radical potential, paradoxically, is found in its purposlessness. Art does not create revolution, but it is an avenue of resistance to the totalizing domination of western fascism.

Adorno is often accused of elitism because he mis read much of how the culture industry worked, and this includes his famous or notorious mis reading of Jazz. Adorno never even knew Coltrane existed, and while that is a rather profound hole in his knowledge, it does not mean he was criticizing it, for what he meant by Jazz was simply popular dance music. But the point is that Adorno was looking for artwork that was not furthering mass deception. And his notion of *experience*, in the context of culture and art, is pinned to *mimesis*. But he also was addressing knowledge and thought that existed outside aesthetics, when engaging with the work of art. There was a complex dialectical relationship between technical mastery and historical (political/social) meaning, or memory. Technical mastery without history was kitsch, and historical memory without discipline and technical rigour was doomed to another form of deception.

“The process of spiritualization in art is never linear progress. Its criterion of success is the ability of art to appropriate into its language of form what bourgeois society has ostracized, thereby revealing in what has been stifmatized that nature whose supression is what is truly evil. The perennial indignation, unchanged by the culture industry, over the ugliness of modern art is, despite the pompous ideals sounded, hostile to spirit; it interprets the ugliness, and especially the unleasing reproaches, literally rather than as a test of the power of spiritualization and as a cipher of the opposition in which this spiritualization proves itself.”
Adorno (Aesthetic Theory)

The sentimental play or novel or film about the *revolution* is, for Adorno, a regressive experience, for the form eclipses the content. The familiarity, and the trained responses to formulaic plot of hacknyed sentimentalism neutralizes what was in intention radical, or dissenting. That said, he believed all authentic art was politically emancipatory. That great art was de-facto politically correct. Better to find memory and mastery even if its in the service of trivial content, though (see my thoughts on Michael Mann below). And this is the most contested aspect of Adorno’s thought. It is why he preferred Kafka and Beckett to Brecht. And the reconciliation of correct politics and technical rigour was rare. And such thinking echoed Kant, and Goethe, and even Aristotle. And it is here, as well, that Adorno is narrowing his aesthetics to the history of Western art, and more, to 20th century art.

Virgile Ittah

Virgile Ittah

“Authentic works must wipe out every memory trace of reconciliation…in the interest of reconciliation.”
Adorno (Aesthetic Theory)

“For Adorno asserts that history stands in thrall to regression.”
Robert Hullot Kentor

Adorno’s complex and often contradictory ideas on mimesis and aesthetic experience are beyond the scope of this posting. But however one might parse out the debt to Hegel, to Freud, to Marx, Schelling, and even Kierkegaard, the salient factor is that Adorno was working at finding a way out of the pall of mass deception. A way to re-enchant the disenchanted world. If it never really, finally, adds up, I suspect that would be perfectly alright with Adorno. And there is another factor here, and that is the psychoanalytic, for Adorno borrowed from Freud when he spoke of regression.

“The traumatic return of the repressed covers no spatial distance, but it does ‘arrive’ — and with it an uncanniness bearing an inescapable familiarity, as if it had always been in front of the mind’s eye where, in fact it had always been, though without conscious perception.”
Robert Hullot Kentor

Depiction of Iskandar, book. 15th century Persia.

Depiction of Iskandar, book. 15th century Persia.

One of the reasons, if not the main reason, I find Adorno so important, is that his entire project is one in which he excavates the infantile conflicts the individual must resolve (or not) that remain formative in society (and the individual) and hence surface repeatedly in how conflict is reproduced, both literally and metaphorically. So, the criticism of Adorno, from the left, seems profoundly misguided, since without his theory, the cultural decent into sheer fascistic propagandizing and commodity obsession would be far harder to read and from which escape would be potentially impossible. It may be impossible, anyway. I have been appalled whenever, over the years, I have been present at workshops or in classrooms where theatre and playwrighting were being taught. The experience is usually one in which I can find almost no starting point from which to begin arguing what I think is wrong. And it is in such moments I always think of Adorno. I remember his belief in the importance of aesthetic experience. And it is often with younger student writers that I feel most despair, for it is impossible in the face of mass cultural conventions to even begin to search out alternatives anymore. And there is something deadening to the soul in the banality of today’s artworks (mostly), and certainly something that kills the spirit in MFA writing programs or fine arts programs.

“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence..illusion only is sacred, truth profane.”
Guy Debord

Orange is The New Black (Netflix) 2013- present. Jenji Kohan creator.

Orange is The New Black (Netflix) 2013- present. Jenji Kohan creator.

Today, there is often no original. And mostly Debord, when cited, is met with derision. Godard is looked at as some antiquated artifact from prehistory. Running through all this is a hostility to culture. A rancour toward artistic ambition, if it is not monetized. There is no seriousness attached to cultural pedagogy, and usually…and this is the point of this entire posting I think…usually there is only blanket simplification, from both the right and left. Either you love Western white supremacist propaganda, or you hate anything produced in association with corporate financing. I find, while sympathizing with the aversion to screen violence, that this aversion often provokes a blanket condemnation of any depiction of violence. At which point Titus Andronicus and Macbeth would be shunned, as would half of the Western canon. It is exactly why one must learn to discern the difference between Hannibal and Shakespeare, between The Walking Dead and I Walked With A Zombie. For the other problem inherent in discussions of representational violence is that it serves to distract from the (for me) more destructive political propagandizing of so much Hollywood product. Madame Secretary or House of Cards disturb me far more than The Walking Dead. And, melodrama of the most sentimental and middle brow variety, stuff such as The Affair, erodes aesthetic understanding far more than Marvell Comix, while at the same time validating white privilege. 12 Years A Slave is more culturally regressive than The Following. Now, this is not to say that The Following is not engaging in purient violence porn, essentially, for it is. But I sense that these cartoon depictions are experienced as just that, cartoons. Audiences do not look to iZombie or The Following for cultural enrichment. They *DO* look to House of Cards or Breaking Bad, and admittedly there is a blurry line that is often straddled (Game of Thrones for example). But Marvel’s Agents of Shield, this is the TV equivalent of Jeff Koons. Today’s John Webster even. And in many critiques, and Chris Hedges comes to mind, there lurks a unwholesome policing of content, a not so subtle ecclesiastical tone that scares me a good deal more than junk TV. The Cotton Mathering of pop culture (and Ive not trusted Hedges since he got the Balkans so utterly and shockingly wrong).

The danger of any impulse to censor begins to feel like the front edges of an auto da fe, a burning of cultural witches. The violence of daily life today is acute, the oppressive and coercive nature of global capital is now openly expressed in police state violence. And the majority of that violence is against the poor, and most especially against black and brown youth. The racism obscured in stuff such as Orange is The New Black rarely seems to come under scrutiny in the same way as exploding zombie heads or scenes of torture. The answer is not to stop differentiating. The Oliver Cromwell impulse lurks …. far too strongly.

The uncanniness eluded to in the Hullot Kentor quote is exactly what remains unseen in today’s mass culture. That invisibility, which is insisted upon from seemingly all directions; the obscurantist racism of Zizek and his willful distortion of Lacan, to the new snark populism that embraces junk in the name of the people (see or just in the liberal white middle brow flattering of privilege that runs from Lena Dunham to Sex in The City, to all of Aaron Sorkin. That which is before our eyes, remains veiled. And so, the subject obsessively repeats its own trauma, sublimation, and projection — the emotional plague is carried on the platform of this ersatz seriousness more acutely than it is in any of the endless excesses of screen violence.

“The emancipatory interest in Adorno’s development of a paratactical style, the non-subordinating structure of clauses in his essays that is experienced by some readers as directionless, has origins not only in Walter Benjamin but in the specific emancipatory claims of psychoanalytic techniques of association.”
Robert Hullot Kentor

For Adorno, it was not a matter of high or low art, it was art that either transmitted historical suffering and oppression, that retained the echo of human misery, or it was work that obscured that history.

I Walked With A Zombie (1943), Jacques Tourneur, dr. Val Lewton producer.

I Walked With A Zombie (1943), Jacques Tourneur, dr. Val Lewton producer.

I have written before the trend to demonize Freud, and it comes from both ends of the political spectrum. Oddly, though, for similar reasons. Freud is hated because there is something in a worldview that suggests man is inherently aggressive and death fixated that is hard to intellectually negotiate. There is certainly a good many reasons to re-think central tenants of Freudian thinking, but hostility to Freud feels oddly counter productive. For what replaces Freud? Who? Is it preferable to embrace neo Freudian revisionism? Better to do away with all psychoanalytic models? And in their place would be what?

Steve Wiese

Steve Wiese

Leonard Shengold writes:
“To feel that we have an identity, we must know (or at least feel that we know) what is and was *real*: we must trust at least some of our memories if not most of them and be able to set them apart from our conscious fantasies. Yet it is characteristic of the victims soul murder that they have lost the ability to make these differentiations.”

Today, the ascension of police power, the constant screen depictions of police goodness, of the inherent rightness of all authority (Sorkin being a perfect example), has resulted in, I feel, a populace that has taken on a form of pseudo identity. Shengold’s idea of ‘soul murder’ is appropriate to this in a sense, because this new collective quasi fugue state also employs massive defense mechanisms, only in response to the total untruth and unreliability of mass culture, rather than individual physical trauma. The U.S. populace as abused children. Shengold (quoted by Amy Buzby) describes the appeasement phase as including…”mechanical dutifulness and a cheerless, loveless existence”. The tools of radical psychoanalytic thought remain just that, radical. While the society of therapy works to unradicalize Freud’s deeper insights. Today, the love for the state, for figures of authority, for instrumental power, can only be explained really by mechanisms associated with early and prolonged mental conditioning. Buzby writes…“As a pathology, soul murder is cemented by the monadism critical theory has consistently diagnosed in advanced capitalism.” The total is false. The whole is untrue. The populace today is one ever less able to experience love. Increasingly it is unable to experience physical desire. Unable to feel compassion or empathy. The endless assault of mass propaganda, of marketed images, commercials, and the generalized empty rituals of patriotism and obedience, are all ways to deplete the sense of self, of autonomy. The depictions of violence serve to numb the viewer to his own trauma. Titillation has replaced lust. Never before has desire felt so dessicated and neurasthenic. The University and military rape culture is only possible when the sense of identity has eroded to the point where the projection of self loathing can actually be acted upon. Burn real women as witches. Rape real women in place of my own spiritual rape. The failure to feel real sexual desire is, I suspect, connected to the precipitous rise in the consumption of pornography. Porn is always objectifying, and seems largely linked to this loss of self in the viewer. It is aggression. So, deport the undocumented worker, punish the poor for being poor. The pseudo identity, the new template for a self that is disconnected to early childhood, a self without very developed empathic connection to anyone is what I feel I continue to run into when I am in the West and in the U.S. especially. But leads back, finally, to this feeling of oversimplification. Even the idea of diagnostic categories for psychology is something to be at least interrogated. That is the legacy of the Enlightenment, again. YOU are this category, and not this one. And then, here, take these medications and you can stop being THAT diagnostic category. It strikes me that if one steps back, even a tiny bit, from such thinking, the entire ediface collapses, or starts to collapse.

Tim Davis, photography.

Tim Davis, photography.

Lorna A. Rhodes book on Maximum Security prisons (Total Confinement) states; “The centrality of classification to prisons has been repeatedly stressed by reform-minded wardens and officials. At many points historically it was probably little more than a dream of order. Better, more scientific or more practical classification systems have been, and still are, the major offering of many efforts to change prisons.” Even at County facilites prisoners are given wrist bands (as Rhodes notes and as I remember) is the designating of identity. And it is a fixed unchanging identity. Or at best, a very glacier-slow identity change. And that, only after re-classification. Prisons are the testing grounds for control of the populace outside. Now, as Leonard Shengold points out, diagnosing schizophrenia, for example, is often difficult, but even when obvious, there are a nearly infinite variety of forms of schizophrenia. The diagnostic model is one suited to control..wear wrist bands…and for obviously visibly disturbed individuals, in custody, that is efficient. For life outside, all the developmental issues, the dependencies, addictions, and most significantly, the dissociative problems, are hard to pin down — and that is exactly the question. Why is there even a desire for such diagnostic proof? What is achieved by that? The only thing achieved is being able to justify prescriptions. As Adorno said, “to be rational means not questioning irrational conditions.”

The original trauma of life is being born. And that is followed by traumas of rivalry and of disappointment and loss. Great art has included violence, since man began making art. Narratives have circled around primal crimes. Images of suffering were painted, and tragic drama defined what theatre was and could and did become. So, the important thing then is to discriminate. But to discriminate you first have to care. You have to care enough to study, and learn. And I think Bernard Stiegler is right when he says : “…industry developed an aesthetic particularly well adapted to audiovisual media, which refunctionalized the aesthetic dimension of the individual, according to the interests of industrial development, causing him to adopt the behaviors of consumerism… The resulting symbolic misery is also a libidinal and affective misery, which leads to the loss of what I cann *primoridal narcissism*, whereby individuals are stripped of their ability to form aesthetic attachments to singularities or singular objects.”

Friederike Von Rauch, photography.

Friederike Von Rauch, photography.

It is important to note here that I take this to mean, if we put it in Adornoesque language, that individuals are stripped of aesthetic concern. Aesthetic emotion. Of mimesis, itself. Entertainment is, after all, the erasure of deep feeling in narrative and image. The denial of melancholy, for melancholy takes one further inward. The loss of personal aesthetic engagement, of mimesis, will produce misery, and aggression. This is certainly what I experience most all the time. Lives that find no relief from the imagination, from creativity, or contemplation of culture. The mimetic engagement has been replaced by hobby painting, and handicrafts. People rarely retire with the desire to create great art. They knit doilies, or make wood things in the garage; birdhouses, or dog houses, or gun racks. Rarely does anyone write anything terribly serious. The potential in an aesthetic seriousness is far too threatening to the defended self.

The system promotes the idea of individual responsibility, and imposes this idea in terms that threaten guilt. The system itself is never guilty. In this sense contemporary Western society very much resembles a prison. Poverty is a problem of individual shortcoming, or moral failure. This meta-custodial model suffocates ideas of change, for change is collective, cooperative, and shared. The culture itself now incarcerates its members psychically, and this is a good part of the internalized trauma that cannot be resolved, only repeated in various forms. And this repetition itself destroys, and dissolves the historical perspective needed to recognize it. There is a sort of psychic treadmill that runs at very high revolutions. The individual must believe in the goodness of the system, for without such belief he or she is left estranged. That fragmented historical vantage point is a central feature of Adorno’s project. The attempt to re-stitch the fabric of critical coherence. To step off the treadmill.

Adorno’s work, as Hullot Kentor puts it; “…can begin to be described as a study of the origin that is asserted in the radical critique of origin.” The real dialectic of Enlightenment …“on one hand describing it as an insistence on a return to the origin that sets history in thrall to regression and on the other hand as the forward vector of progress by which history achieves an identical result — may seem confused. It is not. it indicates that the two directions are importantly the same.”

One can see the corruption of spatialized imagery in psychoanalytic and idealist description, and this, too, was a good deal of what Adorno wrote about in his later work. Time is not linear in the psychoanalytic sense. There is no actual earlier or later, there is only the repetition of both. In both society and the individual, the infantile trauma recurs. This is what regression means. The past is not past, and if in no other way does art serve humankind, then it serves it in elucidating, in fleeting glimpses only, perhaps, something of this dilemma. That the infantile conflict and trauma is both forgotten, and then remembered, and then forgotten again. All the while we recreate the outline of its story.

The Grey Fox (1982). Phillip Borsos, dr.

The Grey Fox (1982). Phillip Borsos, dr.

Small note on film, as I was reminded of Phillip Borsos recently, who made two very worthy films that remain too little known. One is Bethune (1991), a bio-pic of Dr Norman Bethune, with Donald Sutherland. Earlier he had made the rather remarkable The Grey Fox (1982) with the great Richard Farnsworth. Both are deserving of much more attention than they received. Borsos, born in Tasmania, but grew up in Canada, and started with short films in the late 70s, a charter member of the *Vancouver School* at that time. Borsos died very young from leukemia at age 41 in 1995. The Bethune bio was a troubled production, and Borsos never was allowed final cut. Still, it’s worth seeing.The Grey Fox though is a splendid revisionist Western of sorts, a smart modest and articulate narrative of an aging bank robber released from prison after 33 years; based on the life of Bill Miner, ‘The Gentleman Bandit’, as the Pinkertons referred to him. It is one of those man-out-of-time stories, a deconstruction of the mythic West. But best of all, there is Richard Farnsworth.

A second note on film here, because Michael Mann’s latest film, Blackhat, is a perfect example of how film can and often defies conventional analysis. As I watched this film I was thinking to myself that rarely have I so purely enjoyed a ‘film’ as film as much as this. And yet, I also saw the inherent flaws in it, which are flaws one can find in almost every Mann film. It is a mediocre, at best, script, and it too lazily falls into cheap genre conventions. It is hard to know what Mann wanted this film to be. But what it is, ultimately, is an example of what makes film such a fascinating medium.

"Blackhat" (2015), Michael Mann, dr.

“Blackhat” (2015), Michael Mann, dr.

There is a very good discussion of the cinematography Mann employed here: Now there is little doubt in my mind that in twenty or twenty five years this film will be resurrected as a neglected masterpiece. Because in the end I think it is. Its the most extraordinarily shot film in recent memory. And this leads into something else, which perhaps surprisingly, was commented on in a mainstream review by Matt Zoller Seitz, in talking about Mann;

“His movies contemplate themselves: they are simultaneously about what’s happening and what it means. They’re sensitive to the intellectual and emotional undercurrents swirling around the characters, whether they’re running, driving, punching and shooting, or just brooding in close-up while electronic music shimmers and drones.”

This film is finally about things that have nothing to do with the *plot*. In a sense this is a film about film, but it is about the poetics of film space (there is no CGI at all that I could detect). The uncanniness of every single set up, every scene, is haunting. There is, on some instinctual level, a narrative about image and memory, about a global sense of space in contemporary life, which sounds idiotically pretentious but happens to be true. Mann has pushed some far limit of moving image as conveyor of unexpected meanings. It is not surprise at all that the reviews for this film were so bad. Of course they were bad. But it is worth examining the reviews in comparison with films such as Under the Skin, or Only God Forgives. Both these films got great reviews from mainstream critics, and both were just empty and pointless, and more, reasonably fascistic. So why pile on Blackhat?

"Blackhat" (2015), Michael Mann, dr.

“Blackhat” (2015), Michael Mann, dr.

I suspect it is because there is something very disruptive in Blackhat, and that rather than sit and contemplate the reasons, it is far easier to attack the low hanging fruit of a ludicrous plot and a lead actor best known for playing a Marvell super hero. The obvious contradiction in this notwithstanding, there is, I am certain, something unsettling in Mann’s film that makes it very hard for hack critics to write about. And it *is* hard to articulate, because the meaning is fugitive and slippery, and primarily because it resides on a meta-level of almost unconscious connection and memory. The weather in the film is always present, and never pointed at, or referenced, for example. The quality of urban light, of neons and the colors of crowded cities, is gnawing at the viewer, interrogating the quick anticipated resolution that never comes.
"Blackhat" (2015), Michael Mann, dr.

“Blackhat” (2015), Michael Mann, dr.

And it is perhaps in the very fact of its pulp narrative that one is being asked to experience something else going on utterly outside the expected. The story is known beforehand. The visual experience is one that is constantly, unrelentingly, unknown and unexpected, and almost un-analysable. There is a sense of space being introduced in every scene, in every shot, that has far greater implications than the role of furthering along the plot. In fact, the plot, around mid film, starts to unravel. And it is a relief, because the viewer senses that the plot is not the reason to be paying attention. It is the hallucinatory camera movement, the world lit by neon and LED, by the glare of computer screens. Its an odd poetics of the cyber epoch. I suppose, in the end, the film is not going to quite be revered the way a Pasolini or Fassbinder is, or a Bresson, but it certainly is the best film to come out of Hollywood in a long time, and its a testament to the mise en scene-itude of Michael Mann, who may be the last auteur working with studio money.

"Blackhat" (2015). Michael Mann, dr.

“Blackhat” (2015). Michael Mann, dr.


  1. Molly Klein says:

    Great stuff’

    you know I am going to constest a lot of this…

    especially the contempt for the philistine majority who don’t consume european modernism.

    Adorno and Horkheimer, horrified that their own class, the bearers of their elite culture which they so admired and thought so superior and elevating, tried to kill them, did what all these refugees did and tried out elaborate sophistry to shift the blame to the people for whom they had always had contempt, who actually saved them and all humanity from the people they admired and revered as superior. This is the painful thing about Dialectic of Enlightenment,it’s all kind of a rationalization, to cover up the fact that Enlightenment and Enlightened people didn’;t try to kill all the Jews and commies, but just a group of people to whom Adorno and Horlkheimer thought they belonged, the German bourgeoisie and intelligensia. The commies are enlightened, not the Nazis. there’s nothing ironic about a bunch of white bourgeois imperialists killing people for money, they have always done that. And there’s nothing suprising about the rest of humanity stopping them, because that’s always what the rest of humanity tries to do. The Enlightenment didnt turn on itself, Horkheimer and Adorno’s class turned on them. But they seem unable to face this and so invent a story withsomething like a Hegelian mechanism; its dressed up in historical narrative but its finally just a fable – progress and regress. Its based on a dogmatic assertion about human nature – antisocial and violent – that is idealist and ahistorical.

    ” Freud is hated because there is something in a worldview that suggests man is inherently aggressive and death fixated ”

    The idea there is no anthropology but Freud’s…Marx’ anthropology is better than Freud, In Freud’s anthropology, the actual reproduction of our species is impossible. No infants would ever survive to maturity were what Freud says about people true, His anthropology is a version of Judeo Christian neoplatonic myth, fallen nature, the human spark of the divine striving forever to get back, and requires a supernatural factor to fill in the gaps between historical reality (routine survival of very weak dependent infants for a million years) as his theories. The vision o f”Man” is virtuvian man, a young healthy male, whom we are told is very aggressive and antisocial and violent. But this is not our species. Our species requires at least two individuals, one of each sex. and they have to not kill eachother or the offspring. Our species to survive has to be a lot like gorillas and wolves. And we are!

    Marx on the other hand inherits something of Rousseau – very popular posture, whose basic shape rivals the Freudian model in common sense now – and adapts it with historical and dialectical analysis. And in Marx the fact that human beings are not all adolescent males is not repressed, and the pregnant woman doesn’t remain an impossibility, the unthinkable, which then requires all kinds of exceptions to the anthropology for the female of the species who is finally just declared mysterious, as in Freud.

    So in the Grand Hotel Abyss of course Freud is attractive, its an expression of the misanthropy and egotism and sexism of a certain class. A class that did kind of sacrifice its own young in the first world war, a class that could not survive a week without the majority of humanity who share very few of their predilections and none of their property.Freud;s “Man” is “truth” for that class. Freud was workjing for men who really were routinely raping their daughters and incubating Nazism ( but even their daughters didnt routinely smother their babies). But to say this is the truth of the species from our appearance on earth and forever requires ignoring really important things like the fact that philistine sentimental humanity defeated these people repeatedly and managed to survive them, although it looks like finally this minority will probably destroy the whole species. But humanity is obviously not going without a fight for its survival and for one another. So this kind of anthropological blaming the victim really irks me – this idea that there is some death drive in Iraqis that accounts for what is being done to them, and how hideously they are dying and how reduced their circumstances of life. This really ignores the immensely courageous and self sacrificing fight the masses of humanity put up against the insatiably destructive proprietor class, and how the masses of humanity keep rebuilding the world, even though again and again the proprietor elite destroys it, and keep organizing to share and mutually care, even though again and again the proprietor elite like Freud;s clients keep .unleashing a nightmare of terror and torure against them to stop them

  2. Molly Klein says:

    Also the whole death drive is very dubious especially now that we have half a century of an experiment where there are a handful of diverse individuals capable of destroying the entire species and nobody’s done it in all that time. Its kind of obvious now that people do weild these immensely destructive capabilities, that these capacities are used against others not the self and they are used for a pretty narrow notion of gain – conquest or protection of property and control over humanity – virtually always. An entire species subject to a deathn drive has produced airline pilots for a hundred years and we have the first instance of a suicidal airline pilot taking down a passenger plane, and he was probably on psychtropic meds. Freudians ask us to believe in the death drive as a leap of faith, as a way of explaining what is better explained by class society and the acquisitveness of dominant classes, because attributing it to the death drive absolves those classes and enables mockery and demoralization of people who would want to change the social relations, making them/us seem naive and sentimental for believing things could arranged among people so as to reduce this immense amount of agiony billions of people are in all the time.

  3. Molly Klein says:

    Also I dont buy this idea that art baout revolution is inescapably sentimental and art about bougeois neurosis is not. The argument about ugliness is assuming a kind of pedagogical didactic capacity thjat iAdorno simultaneously disavows. I find a lot of this assertion and disavowal in Adorno’s era among the partisans of a certain modernism. There is a hope that art is going to do something magically to emancipate people that seems to arise out of a sense of despair that anything else is worth doing or a kind of kibbitzing dislike of most people and what they do to emancipate themselves and how their successes are limited or even sometimes inconvenient to bourgeois intellectuals who are por often feel they are in their ideal situation in liberal democracy while everyone else is suffering. But of course this is just one tendency in modernism; in contrast you have the communists like Picasso, Eluard, Neruda, Brecht, Guttuso, who don’;t accept the notion that red politics are sentimental in a manner that kills art and who refuse the idea that fascist politics become emancipatory when they are expressed in certain forms. Adorno’s case for all good art or authentic art being politically correct is kind of evasive when you challenge or investigate it. Because all politically correct art is bad but all good art is politically correct. On investigation it seems to resolve by decoding all communist art is bad but all good art is libertarian. The judgements add up to political leanings – famously the worship of Schoenberg as authentic and the loathing of Stravinsky is an example of what her commonly his classic bourgeois judgements, loathing of sensual pleasure (anyone who enjoys art concretely is a philistine), a preference for things that are “difficult”, individualist, have a kind of trademark and celebrate an illusion of authorial demiuirgic originality, and accessible only to educated elites. It strikes me as probable that listening to Schoenberg and listening to Stravinsky are equally compatible with and equally unnecessary to emancipatory politics, but Adorno is almost working toward the production of liberal tribes as a kind of weakened imitation of Virile Aryan versus Degenerate Art in his approach to these composers.

  4. But Molly:

    I think the opposite is true. I don’t want to speak for John here, but to deify Stravinsky and Picasso over Schoenberg and , oh I don’t know, Godard let’s just say would be the classic bourgeois judgment.

  5. John Steppling says:

    Well, yes, I knew you would contest a lot. And in the interests of not having a thousand comments, Im going to try to not argue so much as try to tweeze apart what is being actually said here. So….
    I guess I will try to go top to bottom:
    “Contempt for those who dont consume European modernism…”
    Id say this is something that on the face of it you would have a very hard time finding evidence for. Its a sort of projection based on an analysis of what Adorno and Horkheimer were feeling. Its not a totally irrational assumption, but its still just that. Also….its important, as I tried to point out, that Adorno and Horkheimer are quite different in their positions, notwithstanding co-writing D of E. But that is a very minor work in Adorno’s oeuvre. Even if the one he is best known for by the general public.

    Shifted blame…………? Hardly. Where? I mean this is an extension of your first point and Id have to say this one I just think is wrong, but the degree to which it is, is a degree further along the logical train from the first. But……”hork and adorno;s class turned on them…”. This is a very curious perspective. We’ve argued it before I think. And its also missing the point made in D of E. The idea of the dialectic of enlightenment is being distorted here by mixing imposing your own narrative on their intentions again. This is YOUR story, not hork and adorno’s.

    But yes, its a fable. All such propositions are, finally, fables. That makes them neither more or less true. But this leads to Freud. And the idea of regression, well, in fact to the entire psychoanalytic model. But if we are going to discuss that, it has to be discuss accurately. Now….the species wouldnt reproduce……huh? Why? Of course it would. And its weirdly confusing what Freud said to suggest otherwise. Why wouldnt it? Society is, for Freud, a system based on sublimation. Thats what allows those bridges to be built, or pilots to learn how to fly, instead of …running about like packs of wild dogs. Now perhaps that would be preferable, I dont know. But it has nothing to do with impairing reproduction.

    Now, there are certainly a lot of things to criticize in Freudian anthropology. Ive said as much frequently. However, your conclusions are based again, on your own fable about Freud. Now on what Freud said. And its most important to note that no victims are being blamed. Thats pure invention on your part. And a sort of willfull distortion ……..where does that occur exactly? Where did freud ever say, or imply, that those who are murdered by fascism somehow wanted it? thats absurd.

    But….one thing I will argue……..but leaving aside these misreadings….and that is this rebuilding you seem to see everywhere, seems to have consistently failed. Freud and Adorno both were pretty eloquent about what resistance meant to defeating fascism. But where we differ I think is that in spite of this class warfare, and these fights against domination of the ownership class, despite all this struggle against a system of inequality …. we now live in an ever more vicious and predatory society. And please dont do this thing where you suggest something was said that wasnt. Communists like Celan and Neruda did not somehow embrace the sentimental and hackneyed. Or that red politics were trite ….I mean the premise has to do with the experience of artworks. Not with only specific artworks….not only with whatever passes for the western canon now….but with the exercise of the imagination. There is nothing magical about that. People create and people spend a huge amount of effort and life energy to create and experience cultural objects. And certainly people continue to write. And if that doesnt matter, if that is all just one huge clump of unimportant drivel, then there is no point to discuss any of it at all. From any direction. Now nobody said, i didnt say anyway, that art about revolution was sentimental. I said…………IF a piece whose content was about revolution was trite and cliched, then it ceased being revolutionary. There is great didactic art….perhaps not a lot as it happens, but certainly enough to provide countless examples. There is also a huge amount of terrible *revolutionary* didactic art. And its important to know this. Its important to differentiate. Because if you cease to discriminate, the experience of cultural objects and narratives falls away, and that largely is what has happened. And to not discriminate…even if the art is superficially red, is to assume a very reactionary position.

    Adorno believed great art was always politically radical. He said that in very clearly. And said it several times. Also, nobody said art emancipated anyone. But…the application of aesthetic discipline and the cultivation of memory …as adorno said, the transcription of human suffering, the HISTORICAL transcription, was what elevated art into a realm that provided autonomy…however we define that (and admittedly that is a pretty nebulous area in adorno) and hence worked to halt the amnesia so embedded in societies of domination. The authoritarian society cannot allow for memory. Why you find that so dastardly I dont know. Your position always seems to end up in a contempt for culture, which I dont believe you really think, but its just logically where these fables lead.

    As for the death drive….a topic in which it is very easy to dismiss, in facile terms, and yet…it is not just some special elite class that creates mass death. Clearly vast numbers of people work against their best interests in highly self destructive ways. Why? Well, there are various forms of coercion in most societies…which Freud suggested …but that does not entirely explain it. This idea of regression, of the primitive impulses in ourselves, buried, repressed, or deflected, must be active to some degree….or why this catastrophic situation in which we find the planet>? And Im not even interested in defending Freud per se, but only in arguing for his continued importance. Correctives are always necessary.

    Society , Hullot Kentor wrote…” had come to categorically overwhelm the self with real fear and anxiety. The developing self is fragmented and disorganized and, in Adorno’s words, ultimately “suffocated” by the intensity of this anxiety. It is not possible to become a coherent, resilient person in the face of this anxiety, since the self is recurrently split and traumatized.”

    These are attempts to explain the state of humans under a society of domination. The western societies were we both live in. And allow me to say, as a short digression, that stravinsky vs shoenberg is only relevant because of what they represent historically. One can argue that interpretation, but its not some sinister production of an evil myth. Again, to attack the right enemy seems important and to see adorno as the enemy is problematic, I think. You seem fixated on a certain (narrow) class analysis of Adorno and Horkheimer and most european thinkers I guess, of the 20th century. I dont know that you approve of any of them, which leads me to ask who you do approve of….besides (of course) marx…? But back to the point…….either culture has importance or it does not. If it does…..then one needs to develop an understanding of it beyond oh I liked that. Oh that gave me some enjoyment. But perhaps that is all you ask of it.

    Here is Hullot Kentor a recent essay on Adorno:
    ” our thinking, if it is noticed, has acquired, nationally, that peculiar quality that it seems that we can’t even know what we know: whether about the environment, the socio-political situation, or the economy. We know it, and we do not know it. Wherever we touch at the perimeter of our self-enclosure, we recoil in fear of the truth, and so completely that it seems that knowledge itself amounts to that fear. We can all recite statistics and say what we have read, but it is as if we are waiting to hear from others that what we know is actually the case. And exactly this being unable to know what we know carries the felt quality—cognitively—of being system-immanent. If the problem of contemporary philosophy is how reality can be made to break in on the mind that masters it, we are now ineluctably elements of the vulcanized internal surface of that mind that has made itself impervious to reality. We are, in the broadest social terms, an intelligence that cannot take in reality that is other to itself. This is not a critical failure to grasp otherness in the sense of a confrontation with the cosmic winds—though it is that as well; it is the mundane failure to comprehend otherness as the mundane, as what is closest, as what we ourselves are and what actually is happening.”
    End part one.

  6. John Steppling says:

    part two.

    Allow me to continue the hullot kentor for a second…

    “This all-encompassing immanence of society to itself is the social transformation that Theodor Adorno saw occurring in the United States when he lived here as a refugee in New York City between 1938 and 1941. In those years, he was writing a study of the transformation of music in radio broadcast transmission. The book, Current of Music, wanted to understand how the critical content of music was being dissolved in the blurry, inadequate transmission of radio sound of those years. As part of that volume, which Adorno did not finish, he wrote a brief essay, “A New Type of Human Being,” in which he summed up the metamorphosis that he thought Americans of those years were starting to go through as amounting to the production of a population that was by any historical standard and in the most profound sense uneducable, that is, characterized by an objectless intelligence. This transformation paralyzed critical consciousness. Adorno’s brief essay on this new type of human being would be worth considering even if only for what it described in the essay’s own moment in 1941. But Adorno’s study is considerably more important than that because it soon becomes apparent in reviewing it that we are the progeny of this new type of human being. By magnitudes this is who we really are more than any glance at the heavily loaded magazine racks of journals of critical studies possibly indicate. At least in part, those many publications must themselves be marked by this transformation. And it is only with an eye to whom we really are that it is possible at all to find some indication for what critical theory must now concern itself with.”

    Now, a couple postings back I alluded to that essay of Adorno’s. Its quite fascinating and prescient. For i think that in some ways, this is a post freudian, post dialectic of enlightement society…….that horizon has disappeared. If the enlightement were regression…which you seem to debate……..then I think the regression is now maxed out. For this is the state of manifest regression now…or the primitive in us, and I have come to feel that there is some weird state the fungible. Everything feels increasingly the same even when its different. The capacity to discriminate has been so eroded that now its residue remains only………..and so, this is why I think art and culture are important. Emancipatory in some way. Because without that, with only a constant negation of taste and discernment, only a constant attack on nearly everything…even Adorno….as somehow failing to provide the perfect truth, we are left in a truly dismal landscape. And its what depresses me. The mass violence, the shocking and almost unbearable carnage of the world, of mass militarism, enviromental decay, means that somehow some form of giving that the right narrative, not just the correct *interpretation*, but the right narrative, to instigate the allegorical, an expression for it, an imagined alternative….means to stimulate the creative, not dismiss it. If one can only find fault, and its possible that is all one can do anymore, then what is there to dream about?

  7. .”” This idea of regression, of the primitive impulses in ourselves, buried, repressed, or deflected, must be active to some degree…” I don’t see any evidence for supposing primitive people were like crazy violent ruling class. We have a lot of depression, we don’t explain it as a regression to the primitive age when everybody was depressed, because there was no such age. And there was no Hobbesian primitive war of all against all. Its not what was going on 100k years ago. The same kind of absurd stories about apes still hold power over the imagination, that gorillas are just brutal and violent, even though we know it’s false. Human beings are essentially in captivity in capitalism. I don’t think we can just say this is how human beings were when free any more than you can guess how rats or killer whales are in the wild from how they are in cages. aAlso if this were really true of humanity and you consider women human beings there is really no explanation for babies not all dying of neglect and violence. Why would a primtive mother with no religion or superego and only selfish drives let babies feed on her every few hours for years? Why would (virutally) all mothers (virtually) always allow this for a million years if impulses are dominantly selfish and aggressive? What explains species survival if that is primitive nature? Human babies need much more devotion for much longer than other apes and yet apes who We’re to believe are naturally much more social and compassionate tgasn we are

    This story of the antisocial violent primitive is the assertion that when _free_ people are dangerous and bloodthirsty, and species survival therefore requires a ruling class to control humanity. Freud said so explicitly. This appeals to the ruling class who promote vivid depictions of this nightmare of freedom incessantly, of the fall of the ruling class capitalists as immediately leading to everyone but beseiged stranded bourgeoisie running around raping and drinking blood. This story was told about New Orleans after Kartrina and millions of people believed it despite there being bno pictures and the stories being ludicrous. Its in all apocalypse movies. In children of men, the absence of order and law and berlusconi leads Italians to smash the pietà and try to get into England the last despotism. Its like if Nazism fell everywhere but Auschwitz people would be be clamoring to get in. Oprah loved The Road with it’s a humanity of sadistic and ruthless scavengers who produce nothing in the absence of our capitalist caretakers. This is the ruling class’ favourite story — how without their controlling us we would all kill each other in a festival of gore. In freedom there are no artists. Nobody cooks. Just rape and torture. It wasn’t true in New Orleans but people believed it because it slipped right in to the Freudian fable. Humanity needs despots. Freedom is species suicide.

    Here’s the key passage of Freud :

    “The communists believe they have found the path to deliverance from our evils. According to them, man is wholly good [sic] and as well-disposed to his neighbor; but the institution of private property has corrupted his nature. The ownership of private wealth gives the individual power, and waited the temptation to ill-treat his neighbor; while the man who is excluded from possession is bound to rebel in hostility against his oppressor. If private property were abolished, all wealth held in common, and everyone allowed to share in the enjoyment of it, ill-will and hostility would disappear among men. Since everyone’s needs would be satisfied, no one would have any reason to regard another as his enemy; all would willingly undertake the work that was necessary. I have no concern with any economic criticisms of the communist system; I cannot inquire into whether the abolition of private property is expedient or advantageous. But I am able to recognize that the psychological premises on which the systems based are an untenable illusion. In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature. Aggressiveness was not created by property. It reigned almost before property had given up its primal, anal form; it forms the basis of every relation of affection and love among people (with the single exception, perhaps, of the mother’s relation to her male child). If we do away with personal rights over material wealth, there still remains prerogative in the field of sexual relationships, which is bound to become the source of the strongest dislike in the most violent hostility among men who in other respects are on an equal footing. If we were to remove this factor, too, by allowing complete freedom of sexual life and thus abolishing the family, the germ-cell of civilization, we cannot, it is true, easily foresee what new paths the development of civilization could take; but one thing we can expect, and that is that this indestructible feature of human nature will follow at there.

    “It is clearly not easy for man to give up the satisfaction of this inclination to aggression. They do not feel comfortable without it. The advantage which a comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness. I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other — like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of “the narcissism of minor differences”, a name which does not do much to explain it. We can now see that it is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier. In this respect the Jewish people, scattered everywhere, have rendered most useful services to the civilizations of the countries that have been their hosts; but unfortunately all the massacres of the Jews in the Middle Ages did not suffice to make that period more peaceful and secure for their Christian fellows. When once the Apostle Paul had posited universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community, extreme intolerance, part of Christendom towards those who remained outside its became the inevitable consequence. To the Romans, who had not founded their communal life as a State upon love, religious intolerance was something foreign, although with them religion was a concern of the State and the State was permeated by religion. Neither was it an unaccountable chance that the dream of a Germanic world-dominion called for anti-Semitism as its complement; and it is intelligible that the attempts to establish a new, communist civilization in Russia should find its psychological support in the persecution of the bourgeois. One only wonders, with concern, what the Soviets will do after they have wiped out their bourgeois.

    “If Civilization imposes such great sacrifices not only on man’s sexuality but on his aggressivity, we can understand better why it is hard for him to be happy in that civilization. In fact, primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of instinct. To counterbalance this, his prospects of enjoying this happiness for any length of time were very slender. Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities of happiness for a portion of security. We must not forget, however, that in the primal family only the head of it enjoyed this instinctual freedom; the rest lived in slavish suppression. In that primal period of civilization, the contrast between a minority who enjoyed the advantages of civilization and a majority who were robbed of those advantages was, therefore, carried to extremes. As regards the primitive peoples who exists to-day, careful researches have shown that their instinctual life is by no means to be envied for its freedom. It is subject to restrictions of a different kind but perhaps of greater severity than those attaching to modern civilized man.”

    In fact, everybody loved life in Greece after they kicked out the Nazis and before the British invaded. No collapse into maurading rape and torture bands. People devoted themselves to social reproduction. Without a whip. Same is true the historians say when the romasn empire lost control of celtic regions. The Encounter between Jesuits and Huron in the early modern era show society very different and much less violent thann the catholics. Ruling class masscult teaches us to treat history and anthropology as sentimental fantasies unless it resembles colonial mythology of horror

  8. PatrickL. says:

    John: “Great art has included violence, since man began making art.”

    I don’t think this is true, at least not demonstrably so. The earliest surviving individual artworks, everywhere, are in fact depictions of women — of mothers, to be exact. It’s very striking, because it is universal. Artists depicted mothers. That demonstrates an “original” preoccupation, a fascination, that is not — or at the very least, not obviously — the result of trauma. And these individual human figurines, whether clearly female or (much more rarely) ambiguous in gender, are often depicted in conjunction with plants (especially mushrooms) and with the moon. But there’s no *violence* visible anywhere in any of them. There is a visually-punning quality to some of them that I think has to be called *witty*. If they express respect and even awe, they appear to me to express it with delight rather than dread.

    As for the earliest surviving *large-scale, communal* creations — the upper palaeolithic cave paintings and carvings, from Lascaux to Altamira to Algeria (Tassili n’Ajjer) to South Africa — it’s far from clear that any kind of “violence” is depicted anywhere in any of them. Certainly no warfare. And the recent discovery of Göbekli Tepe (ca. 9,000 BC) has changed / is changing everything (it’s still being excavated):

    — i.e., separate bands of nomadic people were choosing to come together freely, year after year, even before agriculture began, for the specific purpose of creating careful & complex & delicate & time-consuming artworks, none of which depict any kind of violence at all. What they mainly depict is animals — NB, not even primarily huntable animals! — and plants. Not fights, not murders, not monsters, not gods, not wars. And nothing even remotely suggesting any kind of “primitive” “oedipal conflict” or the like, any kind of battle-of-the-drives.

  9. Exir Kamalabadi says:

    Heya, Molly, John, I do want to chip in with my two cents, one for Freud and one for Adorno:

    In terms of Freud: Molly, I see the passage you quoted there does have some Hobbesian overtones there, and I can see how the death drive can be extrapolated to very fascistic and problematic conclusions. However, I don’t think Freud actually takes that step, and I recall for example in Civilisation and its Discontents that he actually talks about things like Art and Love being ways in which one can at least sublimate Eros and the death drive in non-destructive ways, however imperfectly. Even though the prevailing tone of that book is pessimistic about human nature, he still on occasion, as a hypothetical, allows himself to posit some utopian possibilities as open-ended questions. But his main point — that the death drive is a *problem* that needs to be tackled, I actually agree with. I don’t think he means that the drive HAS to be our fate. Sometimes in his career he does come up with paternalistic ideas about how to manage that death drive — he IS bound by his time after all — but he also at times contradicted himself. For example, in the passage you quoted, I think his observation that the possession of property satisfies a form of violence is a great piece of psychological observation. And when he finally does get himself to that point of that career — Civilisation was written quite late after all — he abandons that form of paternalism, because he recognizes that it’s untenable. What does it mean to have a ruling class keep the masses in control when the ruling class themselves are just as bound by the same death drive? He recognizes that it no longer makes sense. In fact he revises his earlier ideas — now he suggests that there isn’t really such a thing as being of a higher level of self-control. In fact, in a sense, his idea explodes the old myths that served as the rationale of the aristocratic class. The aristocrats always justified their position by saying that unlike the masses they’ve mastered their base desires. And Freud pointed out, look, actually your base desires are the same, they’ve just been sublimated. And early on sublimation had some sort of value judgement to it, as being “better”, so the aristocratic myth still got preserved albeit in a much less sexier and flattering form (hence the uproar against him in Viennese circles), but as he revised that estimate and arrived at a more objective, non-value assessment of sublimation, even those last vestiges of that aristocratic myth was also dissolved. That’s my reading, anyways. Of course he reverts to the prejudices of his times in less lucid moments. But I think when he does tackle the question head on, he often sees through those same prejudices.

    Now on Adorno, I think that I got the totally opposite impression?? WHen he talks about the decay of culture, he often talked about the ruling class, directly. I don’t think when he says that the barbarity of Nazism was the result of a decay of culture, he excluded the ruling class from his target. In fact, he explicitly talks about ruling class philistinism, ruling class barbarity in culture. And neither does he follow the myth, actually, that the ruling class used to be benign and then they went crazy — the opposite! The whole point of his dialectic of enlightenment is that domination was ALWAYS part of Enlightenment. He and Horkheimer explicitly says that Enlightenment IS dictatorial.

    And there’s this image of Adorno, but actually he dearly loves “lower class” culture — if it’s genuine and not part of the capitalistic distortion of such. IN Aesthetic Theory and other writings (Minima Moralia for example, I recall) he speaks fondly of folk songs, folk stories, fairy tales, lullabies, just as much as Stefan George. He loved those things and didn’t exclude them in ANY way form the sphere of culture

  10. John Steppling says:

    ok, but you are misreading the concept of regression again. First off, there was never …certainly not in adorno, and really not in Freud, though its often hard to know because he changed position on this a lot….but there is no claim to universal truth….there are elements that shape historical conditions, outside of just material relations. Birth is traumatic. Maturation is a process involving various compensatory mental adaptations to that trauma…and much of that of course changes over history because the nature of the family changes, drought, famines…etc.. So when you say…oh this isnt what was going on a hundred thousand years ago….well, firstly, we dont know what was going on, but clearly there was some variety in early human societies. Second, there was no simple pure Rouseauian savage who lived in harmony with nature and others. There has never been a society without privilege. Kingship and totemic worship etc……..which rene girad built his entire theory around…..the primal scapegoat….that seems to have been the basic model. And human sacrifice, and slavery. So…uh…..its not like that primitive stage in human society was exactly free of violence and cruelty. Now…what part was played by scarcity, what part by those components in human psychology that adjust and sublimate…..I suspect is hard to know. But look at the majority of ancient societies…..Aztec, Inca, viking, Han china, Mayan, Persian/zoorastrian, and before these…one had only the Huang He, and Indus valley……….before that people were hunter gatherers. So agriculture formed the impetus to gather in groups. Where in all this was there an absence of violence, sacrifice and privilege???

    Egypt and Aztec were obsessively violent and death obsessed in fact.

    but ok, moving on……………so, no, the history of violent civilization is not a story made up to justify free people being labeled dangerous. Thats absurd. No, there is actual archeological evidence of human violence. The earliest skull found now was one that had been crushed by an ax or club. So i mean…that is the tension in civilization; and birth and mothering are part of the great conflicted narrative of instinct, repression, sublimation. You dont have to buy it, as is, but you better come up with some alternative then. Because you will be hard pressed to find, with very few exceptions….proving the rule…..socities that did not practice violent rituals, go to war, or exhibit privilege. And the places where that happened…the very few without evidence of violence…..were usually geographically isolated. Island socities usually.

    Saying that, I agree there is no reliable anthropology……but some are clearly better than others. And one needs do more than just say…oh, we dont know how humans acted in year zero.

    and give up.

    Now….its specious to suggest (and a change in category) that because people were happy after nazis left that this disproves freud. Of course they were happy. Look. Im a communist. I m a marxist. I just dont cling to a fairy tale that communist social organization is going to solve cruelty, sadism, and violence. There is no evidence for that. none. Now…..the native american tribes….excepting the southwestern desert tribes….and not all of them (Hopi were quite non violent) were the closest to cooperative societies I think one can find. Remarkably so. But not totally. Nobody suggests people devolve into maurading hordes without a whip to coerce them. Thats silly. Its simply irrelevant in fact. Capitalism is hyper coercive. It is a form of slave society under another name. It is psychic slavery (hey, good title for a blog post)….and mostly socialist and communist societies left people far better off. But even within any of them, there are tensions because human beings are inherently fraught with psychic instinctual contradictions. And yes history is taught as if Native tribes were being civilized when the European hordes brought slavery (though some in the new world had their own slaves) and small pox and conquest and barbarism. The real barbarians were the spanish, french, english, and dutch…and belgian. But…the civilizations of the new world is a huge panoramic mix of very cruel, to very enlightened. But none were free of privilege …hence none were free of aggression. Is cooperative socialist planning better? Yes. YES! Is it idyllic and free of trauma. No. Hence…its worth finding ways to understand that fact.

    If people were born so inherently good………..where do the ruling class from in the first place?

  11. PatrickL. says:

    One of the most haunting things about Göbleki Tepe is that it appears to have been buried — very carefully and deliberately and without damaging a single stone — after thousands of years of continuous use, by the people who had created and used it. They didn’t destroy it, they protected it. Changes were afoot.

  12. John Steppling says:

    i was more speaking of narrative. But ….if everything was so wonderful, what caused the change?

    I mean Id argue that cave paintings were free of violence, but i consider hunting violent. Where did man begin eating his fellow creatures?

    Earliest figures were mother figurines. True. I think anyway. But…

    if such bliss existed….again, what happened? Because it sure didnt last long…life was quite fragile then. Its hard to imagine in fact. Darkness, predators, finding food….cold….etc. And…predating those cave drawings…so one theory goes….was musical instruments. Simple flutes. Which is remarkable. People danced before anything else.

    And in turns of earliest oral traditions, most certainly violence was part of the narrative.

  13. John Steppling says:

    @exir….correct about adorno.

    His famous quote was…..’that you could hear the sound of the cafe fiddler in shoenberg’. Which was seen as a very good thing.

    The font of creativity was always from below.

    this is also sort of interesting

  14. “Egypt and Aztec were obsessively violent and death obsessed in fact.”

    – I ancient Egypt’s interim periods – ie. without a central pharoah to demand wars of conquest or further enslavement – it was in fact very peaceful (“life taking a timeless rhythm”), and these periods lasted for a century or more, without any recorded collapse into ‘barbarism’ (also worth noting that rule under female ‘pretenders’ was relatively peaceful, but traces of *their* rule was actively erased by Big Bad Boys who took the throne after their deaths, the type of guys who’d title themselves “the great”).

    As for the Aztecs – do you mean the *ruling class of a city-state*, or the vast majority of people in central America at the time, who had virtually no interest in mass slaughter or enslavement? And more to the point, how much of the “death-obsessed” image came from one of the most genocidal imperial regimes in human history – namely, the Spanish royal family?

    Are you making the common mistake of confusing *national propaganda* for a national attitude (or ‘pysche’), like your guru Adorno?

  15. PatrickL. says:

    John: ” in turns of earliest oral traditions, most certainly violence was part of the narrative”

    Well, the plain fact is that the *earliest* oral traditions have vanished without definite trace! All we have is what was recorded or (half-)remembered of them in writing, i.e. very very recently in human history, well after the first emergence of agriculture, surpluses and cities. And it’s not clear how much of this “early” narrative was inherited from the long pre-citified past and how much was invented anew to fit the new circumstances. Certainly the earliest writing was used to record (and therefore to protect) stored & guarded surpluses, mainly of grain. I am tempted to say that the earliest writing was itself an act of violence.

    “But ….if everything was so wonderful, what caused the change?”

    The most plausible explanation I know of is: Abrupt climatic changes (sudden desertification of the Sahara & other previously green temperate regions, plus (mini-) ice age further north) created population pressures that made gathering/hunting increasingly unfeasible as a way of life and forced the development of settlements and agriculture, the fruits of which in turn had to be guarded while growing as well as after harvest. Then come the “earliest” recorded stories, the stories of conflict and violence: Enkidu & Gilgamesch. Cain & Abel. Etc. The “lazy” “carefree” (“savage”) nomad and the frightened defensive farmer.

  16. Molly Klein says:

    it;s not that people are born inheremntly “good.” We evolved from another species. TYhe ruling class is formed by history, just as the species is. We evolved from primordial soup. We are not the expression of an essence. Its like saying if [people are born inherently mothers thjen where did males come from? Nobody is born from scratch. We are all part of a mother who is part of a mother. There is no origin of the Individual Man. There is is no essence, no moment of creation, for the species or the individual. We are organic process who are what long historical totality has made of us and what we make of ourselves in those conditions. Tbe whole idea that the mother that the male is a part of is inherently aggressive is so incompatible with reality that Freud makes this exception for mothers. Just dogmatically. Mothers don’t count. But we are all mothers. We are physical pioeces of pregnan tmothers. Nothing is added from Heaven. But tFreud represses this fact and just assumes without assertiong (because he knowsn it would sound absurd) a kind of divine creation of psyche and ho,munuculs, and makes these statements about how we are all born one way, except mothers!

  17. Molly Klein says:


  18. I’m inclined to believe that if Schoenberg and Adorno truly served the interests of the bourgeois elite John would hate them the way he hates Breaking Bad and dismisses Stravinsky.

  19. I apologize. I don’t have an essay to contribute, but I’m really getting tired of this same staid argument from the modern-day left. Art is elitist and bourgeois and sexist and the radicalism is merely purported and blah blah blah. If it’s so elitist, then why is it attacked from both sides, by both the left and the bourgeois elite? Molly, I can assure you, the bourgeoisie is not listening to Schoenberg or watching Godard. They never have and never will. They’ll sooner see The Imitation Game. The socio-economic elite has always been thoroughly *middlebrow* in its tastes.

  20. And the ruling class is an extremely recently phenomenon for our species which lived many many generations without one arising. As killer whales lived many many generations without there arising the phenomenon of collapsed dorsal fins and early death we see in the species in captivity. We human beings lived many generations before we became the captor species who gave killer whales a new nature. You can’t say we’re all born inherently zookeepers with no compassion for animals tho killer whales must think that about us.

  21. I’m sorry, but I just find this argument that all your “high brow” bete noirs merely sought to preserve the waning values of some socio-economic elite ludicrous.

  22. Nobody is saying that life is idyllic or free of trauma just because your not living in a cage. US Killer Whale Life Idyllic and free of trauma in The ocean? No but that doesn’t mean it’s their nature to live short horrific lives in SeaWorld tanks. Freud is insisting it’s human nature to live in a prison camp, to be worked to death or tortured to death by a ruling class. He says he would support any effort to change these relations. Because he’s in a good position and because he thinks there’s no point. His life’s not going to improve and other people’s lives are just what nature decrees.

  23. He, says he Would NOT support the effort to change relations of property, or free ppl capTivity

  24. “e that communist social organization is going to solve cruelty, sadism, and violence.”

    But communism HAS solved cruelty, sadism and violence very sibstantially, as my example of communist Greece between Naismith and Brit invasion shows.

    Yes getting rid of Nazis DOES eradicate cruelty and sadism. YES it does. Liberation from Auschwitz liberates people very substantially from pain and trauma and cruelty. being liberatedo just from a workplace into a funded leisure almost always is a substantial reduction of suffering of sadism, cruelty. The idea that communism is impure because it won’t be a heaven if eternal life…I thought you sniffed at that kind if purity. So expropriating the, expropriators will never completely eradicate sexual rivalry so Freud says the status quo shouldn’t be challrnged. He starts the chief anticompetitive myths tgere, who will the evil volume books slaughter after they’re done slaughtering the bourgeousie! But antisemitism of maxis us healthy Potentially. Solidifies the volk. Whyour do you admire this? It’s reactionary and wrong about history, based in colonial mythology.the idea also that rejecting this is some kind of sin against genius in search for purity…I mean he subscribed to the worst imperial supremacism.

  25. Anticommunist. Not anticompetetive

  26. Thanka Exir. Longer reply in a minute but:
    “HE is bound by his time”

    His time was the Era of bolshevik revolution and a strong international communist movement. It was a much more communist time than now. It would be much more timely to favor despotism of capitalist class now than in Freud a day. He was more odd and in the minority for rej ed citing communism and democracy then than he would be now. We don’t have the advantage on thus — democracy and egalitarian ideas were much more prestigious thrn. The German working class carries out a failed commie revolution in Freud day, with much if his own class of intellectuals believing socialism was inevitable. Excusing him for living in a time supposedly less friendly to democratic and socialist ideas than ours is a bad historicism – the intell ed tial elites who are white male supremacists make their time what it is, the revolutions if earth around sun don’t determine what craziness people invent to rationalize their power — but most important not to rewrite the history to make it seem that humanity always “knew” women were more animalluy and communism was barbaric murderous tyranny.

  27. Egypt and Aztec were obsessively violent and death obsessed in fact.

    These, are civilizations. No not very destructive compared to nuclear capitalism but like civilizationa with ruling classes are, there was a violent ruling class. There no suggestion the majority were violent and agressive au contraire obVs. Not violently agressive enough to slaughter their ruling class despite having the power to do so. Humanity us undone very often by our compassion and aversion to killing. That’s how a violent minority is able to repeatedly enslave ppl without totally shutting down social production. People care too much about each other, and that’s how the sociopathic minority of proprietors controls humanity. We have too many vulnerable pojbts, hostages to fortune.

  28. PatrickL. says:

    It’s not the least of the reasons why I so much prefer Reich to Freud — his active communism, his rejection of self-serving fairytales & received ideas about “human nature”, his impatience with resignation & bourgeois wordly-wisdom, his (near-)indomitable optimism, his incredible *curiosity* (about everything), his undying capacity for anger, his hatred of “sitting”. His determination to take risks, not out of bravado but out of an insistence on remaining open to experience . His bravery, in short. In the execrable generations to come, no honoured name for him. He was not assimilable.

    I highly recommend, to those who can find it, Reich Speaks of Freud, a set of interviews he conducted late in life with Kurt Eisler for the Freud archives. His desperation botht to do Ffreud justice and to set the record straight… In many ways (like his near-contemporaneous The Murder of Christ) the book makes heartbreaking reading, especially if you know the circumstances of Reich’s life* and the fate that would soon overtake him in his last refuge, the USA.

    *See also Myron Sharaf’s great biography, Fury on Earth.

  29. John Steppling says:

    No molly, getting rid of nazis improves relations, doesnt solve violence. Reduces much of it by the state, but hardly eliminates it. Im sorry, but this is puerile fantasy. And its a pernicious fantasy from the left. Communist paradise. except there hasnt been one. Never, ever. There are always conflicts and rivalries. And you continue to change the topic by sleight of hand.

    lets go back. So, without a ruling class…created , as you put it, by history….but how? How does that happen, over and over again. Its not true that people lived for long periods without rulers, without privilege. When was this? Where???? Because im not aware of it. There were always privileged classes, priests, serfs, aristrocracy, kings and queens and courts.
    If human nature is basically free of rivalry, why do such hierarchies emerge?
    My answer is that they emerge differently in different epochs, but emerge they do. Because people sublimate. Sublimation causes psychic rifts, tension, etc etc. They are shaped by material conditions, but they are also shaped by certain forces that shape all socities and civilizations. The human maturation process is not universal, but there is a trauma with birth, infancy and childhood. It varies, but humans are a tension between self preservations and procreation and nuturing, and violence, rivalry, jealousy, and resentment.

    I am not the one suggesting purity. Im the one saying there is no purity. Im asking you…..communism improves suffering. Doesnt eradicate it. Im a communist…how many times do i have to explain this? But im aware that suffering exists … matter what. The human condition includes suffering. No society has not had privilege. Less inquality under socialism or communism, less inequality and suffering….but its still there ….in substantial measure. Why?


    I also never said it.

    Nobody is saying live in a cage. Do you not read my blog at all?? Seriously. yes, we live in world of increasingly domination by a few, a world of militarism and violence. But….one of the points Im making here, in this post, is that the new rise of ANTI violence in art and film and TV and literature starts to feel like simply another form of violence…a puritan repressive policing of personal expression. It smacks of bowlderizing and Cromwell and the thought police. So you see that violence appears dialectically.

    Freud is not suggesting its human nature to live in a prison camp. STOP./ Quote me where he says that. Or wait, dont. Because you will attach some wild twisted fable atop a quote that means, probably, the opposite.

    Now molly; you say this long historical process has made us what we are. True. But how is it we do not live in paradise? There is plenty of food, space, water…..what happened? And i asked patrick…..

    Climatic change etc. So we went from happy fucking and bathing in streams to grain bureaucrats jotting down what to steal? There is a rather big leap in there. Im sorry, but all who think man is born in peace and bliss may not have been at many births. And i dont believe the earliest cave dwellers were free of competition and rivalry and jealousy. I think aspects of that stuff come with birth, with Oedipal mechanisms, and they change, they are historically meidated to a huge degree. But its a fantasy, i think, to believe those people in caves danced and were utterly content and peaceful.

    You are demanding I admire YOUR fable, which is a fiction. So, no, sorry. Read exir’s comment actually.

    The point is that Adorno hated the ruling class. He never blamed the poor, he was an advocate for those imprisoned and hurt and powerless. You need to read more of him. Ok, Freud….see, this is the problem with so many leftists. And its my problem with maybe the majority of my communist / socialist friends: this demand that somehow communists themselves are not as utterly fucked up as anyone else. That doesnt mean I wont cooperate. Doesnt mean i wont work against a system of class oppression. Im from the poorest background of anyone on this thread, i guarantee you. Abject welfare poverty. And i see the injustice of class, the humiliations and violence. Im the one went to jail. I know first hand how it works. So do not presume to tell me about that. I also know that the smug sadism of the ruling class. Their indifference to the pain of others.
    None of that however means I think that a change to a communist system solves everything. Its not close. But i fight for it because it vastly improves it.

    Nobody should live in a cage, real or psychic .

    However, the telling of fantasy narratives as a means to ……what…..organizing the revolution, is counter productive. I dont like any policing ….the bare minimum. I also think all censorship is bad. Harmful.

    Anyway, this was a defense of adorno. And honestly, you continue to impose a story, a fable, a myth, about his work without, clearly, having read enough. But i get why you do it, and its to fit in neatly with a large master narrative about communist dreams. In fact adorno is on your side basically. As am I. The need to pick at thinkers who are basically marxist and radical critics of the ruling class is very strange and perhaps a symptom of masochism on some level, of self sabotage. Another thing Ive found with far too many leftists I know.

  30. John Steppling says:


    I agree about Reich. Mostly anyway. My education in politics came from hard core Reichians. I suspect it still shapes my perceptions, more than I realize in fact.

    Compulsory sex morality: this is crucial reading I think. The Reichian woman i knew best…my former mother in law in fact….was trained by a student of reichs. She was an old communist intellectual. Marxist. And that was her bible. But she also saw that Freud was not wrong. In essence. But she believed reich had taken freud a few steps further. She was very big in women’s movements….advocated home birth, breastfeeding, and helped a lot of young poor women learn to mother — she hated doctors. But we used to talk a lot about self sabotage. On the left, on the right. And thats a huge topic I should probably post about. Be a good discussion.

    But I still think Freud hasnt been disproved. I dont see it as fairy tales. I see though a huge resistance to those narratives. And again, there we sit in the cave. Happy. No shortages of anything, presumably.

    what went wrong? Oh,..climatic change led to shortages? Then what>? See….THEN WHAT?

  31. John:

    I feel the inescapable phenomenon that baffles leftists is the reality of who actually listens to Schoenberg or reads say Beckett. If you were to go to some exhibit of let’s just say DeKooning at Beaubourg or to the Antonioni exhibit that just opened at the Cinematheque, I doubt many people from the “banlieu” would be attending. Everyone there would likely be of a certain socio-economic status and breeding. And I think Molly is asking, “Why?” If this work is so radical, and I don’t doubt that it is, why nine times out of ten are the people this work purports to undermine the ones most likely to cross paths with it? Why is a Swiss banker more likely than a construction worker to attend the Antonioni exhibit, even if Antonioni is allegedly on the side of the construction worker? In short, if all great art necessarily undermines the rich and powerful, why are the rich and powerful the most likely willing audience?

  32. John Steppling says:

    oh addendum:|
    The reichian woman i knew. She and her husband set up a commune in the sixties. He was a hard core radical commie…..charismatic , brilliant. She would ruminate later..when i knew her…the early 80s……about how it fell apart and why. It was when she became most sympathetic to freud.

  33. John Steppling says:

    well, this is a complex topic. But worth discussing at length probably. I come from the banileus as it were, and i went to see Antonioni. Im a minority exhibit though. But i was lucky to be exposed to it.

    When ive showed bresson to inner city kids, they loved him. Seriously. LOVED him. They felt him.

    perhaps i can post a whole post about that topic soon.

  34. Molly Klein says:

    Ok Exir: yes I in fact agree with Adorno a lot more I think ironically, than John does – certainly about mass culture. But on the enlgihtenment; the “dialectic” of enlightenment is progress and regress. That Reason that is in the rationalist sense the order and totality of the universe with which human action should strive for harmony, and that entails liberalism and ability to compromise, somehow generates “instrumental rationality”, which is in fact a name for something kind of unrelated that happens to be named with a homophone – reason. Horkheimer goes through this carefully step by step in that other piece, the Eclipse of Reason. “Enlightenment” as systemization and calculation is a tool of domination explicitly from the start, but the rationalist worldview of the universe as being Reaon to which social order should conform is for H and A the seed of “progress”. They assume the ideological product was guiding the social development.

    so they lay out two driving developments – one is the mastery of nature that comes with ability to calculate, and the bad exploitative subjectivity that they see as resulting from this, and “reason” as “:reasonableness” in the sense of being able to totalize, to relate socially, and to favour the harmony and peacability of the whole human and natural world. This latter drives progress that is in a way hijacked bu the former exploitative capacities and the individualist proprietor instrumentality. Somehow the reasonableness of the rationalist bourgeoisie, of whom Hegel’s universe is the culmuination, becomes Auschwitz, which is rational or an expression of rationality of some kind but is obviously unreasonable.

    So their question is is Reason which had been so much a part of “progress”: and the socialist project ince the 17th century really secretly this instrumental rationality of the rapacious capitalist ruling class (as Burke for example claimed, in slightly differently directed attack, about the Jacobins and their revolutionary reason). And then they kind of suggest that it is, that the impulse of reasonableness as directed toward the reconstruction of social relations was inevitably bound toward Nazism. They are cadsting a kind of commonplace perception of this history as somehow the proof of a doomed human project or the telos of a a sinful utopianism in this hegelian language. Victor Klemeperer and others said look Hitler is just a modern John of Leyden. H and A found “reason” to be the motif that was going to make that kind of observation – that Auschwitz is the doom awaiting humanity striving to remake its relations and society for the better, which is always a project run by fanatical egoist lunatics in the bview of the bourgeois intellectuals — sort of seem very logic and scientific. They replace kind of sinful hubris with an authoritqrian essence of enlightment but its the same story with the same kind of slant – that “progress” (which the international labour movement saw as pointed toward socialism, the winds of history in thesails of communism rhetoric of exhortation that was ubiquitous) ends actually in Auschwitz….

  35. PatrickL. says:

    John: “And i asked patrick….. Climatic change etc. So we went from happy fucking and bathing in streams to grain bureaucrats jotting down what to steal? There is a rather big leap in there. Im sorry, but all who think man is born in peace and bliss may not have been at many births. And i dont believe the earliest cave dwellers were free of competition and rivalry and jealousy. I think aspects of that stuff come with birth, with Oedipal mechanisms, and they change, they are historically meidated to a huge degree. But its a fantasy, i think, to believe those people in caves danced and were utterly content and peaceful. ”

    Why do you feel the need to parody what I actually wrote? I said none of the things your parody pretends I said. Nothing even remotely like it. This is worth remarking on, not because I’m interested in a comments-box battle, but because it is such a widespread response to certain lines of argument (and certain pieces of evidence) that it deserves to be called typical*. Why is any suggestion – and any evidence – that humankind is not inherently vicious, tormented and fratricidal immediately parodied as Kumbaya and happy-happy-flowers? [sarcasm] What *drive* can possibly explain it? [/sarcasm]

    “all who think man is born in peace and bliss may not have been at many births.”

    I’ve been present at one. Peace and bliss were certainly among the most striking and memorable aspects of it, after all the effort (which itself was *not* mere unimitigated unbearable senseless agony, as I’m very reliably informed). Maybe you’ve been present at five or fifty births, I don’t know. But what is the point you’re making?

    For the record: I have no doubt that pre-citified humans were also acquainted with floods, fires, rockfalls, accidents, injuries, illnesses, frustrations, disagreements, disappointments, griefs, losses, stubbed toes and rainy days. Nor does anyone else here. Nor is it the point at issue (obviously), so perhaps we can move on.

    *Typical of men, to be exact.

  36. Molly Klein says:

    As for Adorno on popular culture (as opposed to mass culture), yes of course he liked what he called “authentic” culture. But his case for the danger of cinema and televbision – the mass culture — was not that it made the ruling class vicious but that it had a bad effect on the working class (it was an inauthetic substitute for authentic popular culture, which is not pure art, that is which doesn’t have the purpose of expressing the subject’s disharmony with the capitalist reality). Now Adorno of course took swipes at the ruling class but he was among the principle creators of this posture now thaty sees instead of class war, everybody is equally controlled by “The System”. His aesthetic preferences for serious art that only alienates and expresses alienation, and his rejection of lUkacs and inisstence that art can’t grasp or convey anything concrete about reality and the human condition but can only reproduce this uneasy disharmonious subjectivity kind of void of consciousness of antyhing but the formal, arise from this politics, this mechanistic picture of all humanity in the grip of an abtract calculating machine of Enlightenment, which is a kind of paranoid fantasy that covers up the reality of human beings in history, divided into class locked in struggle. This is what Lukacs meant by “the Grand Hotel Abyss”. Adorno is profoundly pessimistic because he doesn’t believe the masses of humanity can emancipate themselves or do anything wroth doing. Popular culture is amost fetishized by hum as this arftifact of the lost autheniticity. And yes his horror of Heidegger produced that great laceration of this “jargon of authenticity”, where he is able to see its woo woo is a euphemism for Nazi race and destiny theories, but he remained basically locked in this complaint about massification, elaborating all the details of it, and concluding that the only thing that can escape are works of gallery art which they boourgeoie can benefit from the experuience of psychologically, which will have to stand in for the politics of emancipation focussed on redistributing the wealth.

    Of course he liked folk music (I do think that was kind of a swipe at Schoenberg for what had to be percieved as his self hating german nationalistic complicity with Nazi antisemitism) but as this relic that could be materials for art that expressed nothing but the alienation from that which it is a relic of.

  37. Molly Klein says:

    ANother thing is, its not Adorno’s fault of course but from his maximalist idealism about Auschwitz arisese the style of the Hollywood Auschwitz which has a contempt for the prisoners, who are seen as either ruthlessly sneaky rats or submissive broken cowards. The necessity that bourgeois historians feel to erase the revolts and resistance in the Nazis camp system, and the selflessness with which masses of prisoners protected children when they could, is all to give the untenable Freudian anthropology an appearance of plausibikity. You know I noticed when people see the poctyures of the liberated children of these camps, and not all of them are skeletal dead eyed doomed, they oiften take this as evidence that the Nazis weren’t all so bad and simply rule out the acknowledgemenbt of the fact that it was the resiatnce of the prisoners and their underground network in the camp that fed the children. Auschwitz becomes after Adorno this fabulous setting of moral experiments and the reality of this as human history with human protagonists, is hidden behind that screen. It’s a move like Freud’s with Oedipus or his fable of how the hobbesian beasts at war with eachother suddenly changed and establushed a society. Adorno and Horkeheimer’s handling of Odyssues is similar in its strange mock-historicism

  38. John Steppling says:

    I wasnt parodying what you wrote. I think your points on Reich are very good. I think a whole discussion of Reich would be quite useful here. But…Im asking what I thought was a real question. I had asked it before, above. Im not even suggesting man is inherently vicious or aggressive, per se. Though that seems possibly true. I apologize if I sounded snide.

    What caused the deterioration of early socieities? If one even assumes there was stability, clearly it didnt last. Im not sure what you are suggesting.

    Here is what you wrote:

    “The most plausible explanation I know of is: Abrupt climatic changes (sudden desertification of the Sahara & other previously green temperate regions, plus (mini-) ice age further north) created population pressures that made gathering/hunting increasingly unfeasible as a way of life and forced the development of settlements and agriculture, the fruits of which in turn had to be guarded while growing as well as after harvest. Then come the “earliest” recorded stories, the stories of conflict and violence: Enkidu & Gilgamesch. Cain & Abel. Etc. The “lazy” “carefree” (“savage”) nomad and the frightened defensive farmer.”

    So climatic change…of some sort…which is reasonable….forced migration to areas more verdant. But thats the question……..population pressures…………development of settlements. Ok, and so in this narrative, that is the point where violence and aggression makes itself felt. But why? Scarcity? Competition for survival…for food, for shelter. But we are talking about very early man here. This is what Im trying to get at. Why are such early, relatively small, settlements unstable? If man is basically not aggressive….then it is only the coercion brought about by sheer survival, that instigates violence. But that returns us to the same question. And one for which I see no answer. And clearly very soon there was enough war and violent confrontation between tribes that it became oral history. No? That seems telling to me.

  39. Exir Kamalabadi says:

    Thanks Molly, I agree with much of your points but I think you misread Adorno at a few points. I don’t have Aesthetic Theory in front of me so I’m paraphrasing his terminology, but, when you say “and his rejection of lUkacs and inisstence that art can’t grasp or convey anything concrete”, I think is simplifying his idea of the autonomy of the artwork. The whole reason he stresses dialectic is because he DOES think art is produced by a very particular set of material circumstances. He always stresses that against this foil of Romanticist subjectivism which he endlessly repudiates. He says that artworks don’t happen in a vacuum — but, he adds, that they convey what they do because of the *distance* from material reality of what they posit. So yes, he does think that the mediation of art content is not straightforward, and maybe it’s partially true that art can’t “grasp or convey” concrete reality, but that is different from subjectivism because he does not say art content has no relation to concrete reality. The term he loved using, “truth content, he makes clear again and again that it’s not some immutable, everlasting Platonic thing, but dialectically related to material history.

    “can only reproduce this uneasy disharmonious subjectivity kind of void of consciousness of antyhing but the formal”

    I think you’re getting at what he’s trying to say about the distance of art, and its striving towards the impossible utopia where art’s failure to achieve what it sets out to do is its very value. And, yes, this view of art does focus on art’s ability to represent “uneasy disharmonious subjectivity”, but I don’t see that as a problem. Surely disharmonious subjectivity IS one of the main reasons why capitalist exploitation is so brutal, and art that chronicles that is valueable? Art is subjective in the way we perceive it — there are sensual and physical elements, but the sensual can’t satisfy our material needs. And so art will naturally do better at representing the disharmonious subjectivity than representing material deprivation. Even when a piece of art depicts material deprivation — say, a character living in poverty and squalor — its effect is subjective, and it becomes part of a material that primarily works on the audience in terms of their subjectivity. It appeals to their subjectivity, not their material reality; it’s their subjectivity that sees or feels the artwork, not their material reality. And so depiction of poverty becomes just another material, same as a musical note — it should be judged, as aesthetic material, for its effect on subjectivity. (Again I don’t think this is too out-there — in fact it’s so tautological I don’t even think Adorno bothers much to clarify this) Now of course a person is a unity — BOTH subjectivity and materiality. But somethings, like art, excite that part of the human experience more, and I don’t find that one-sidedness to be a problem.

    I agree with you that some of Adorno’s aesthetic judgements are questionable. I have problems with some of his critical opinion on specific artworks, but that doesn’t hurt his theoretical scaffolding as much. In that sense his tastes WERE parochial in his own way, but his theory applied in a less parochial way can yield great things.

    “(I do think that was kind of a swipe at Schoenberg for what had to be percieved as his self hating german nationalistic complicity with Nazi antisemitism)”

    I disagree here. Adorno mentioned Schoenberg and the cafe fiddler in an essay about Wagner, by way of introduction. It culminates in an ironic statement to the effect that underneath Wagner is an amateur, a dabbler. His argument goes something like, if Schoenberg is a secret cafe fiddler, and Schubert is a secret bar singer (I forget exactly), and Brahms is a secret academician, then Wagner is a secret amateur. And the other composers, he admired quite deeply, but not Wagner. So I think in context I don’t see what you see at all — I mean, Schoenberg was for him musically the closest thing to Jesus, the way he writes about him. And of course Adorno makes him atone for some of music’s sins, as Jesus should. But in context he definitely meant the cafe fiddler as a compliment — he’s contrasting the groundedness in material reality (!!) of the composers he admires with the floaty abstractness of the dilettante Wagner, who doesn’t ground himself and start from anything more concrete than mythic idealism — which is the point of the rest of his essay, excoriating Wagner for his Idealism (!!)

  40. Molly Klein says:

    “But im aware that suffering exists … matter what. The human condition includes suffering. ”

    yes but the reality of aging and death and suffering does not explain why killer whales’ dorsal fins collapse and they die at 35 in capitivity, and this doesnt happen and they live to 80 in the ocean. The Freudian idea is people are tirelessly violent if free. And that, more importantly, the reason people are not “HAPPY” (Freud’s word) in civilization is because people want to be MORE violent and aggressive and in civilization we are constrained.

    “If Civilization imposes such great sacrifices not only on man’s sexuality but on his aggressivity, we can understand better why it is hard for him to be happy in that civilization. In fact, primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of instinct.” – Freud

    That’s the cause of unhappiness – not the sadism and cruelty in civilization, but the lack of sadism and cruelty and aggression. People are unhappy in civilization because there is not enough aggression. That’s what Freud actually asserted.That people want more aggression, constant aggression, and less cooperation and affection which are unnatural effects of the selfish need for security. So the absence of these constraints will result in much more cruelty and violence. Which is why everybody want’;s liberty – in order to increase crulety, sadism, violence, aggression. And Freud insists this will be the effect in fact.

    Our “instincts” are all egoist, antisocial, violent, so if not controlled by an external force will all torture and kill eachother. Except mothers, they don’t count.

    He naturalizes racism and xenophobia and suggests they’re even beneficial since they assist, he alleges, in social cohesion among the dominant group (no evidence of this actually, Nazi extermination policies went together with massive repression, violence and aggression within the “Aryan” population as well)

    IHe;s just making judgements based on the narrow historically specific class from which his patients came dropped into a background of colonial mythology and the bad Darwinian natural history — all resting on the terrifiying propaganda imnages of the dark continent and vicious apelike black people and apes) that was popular with the bourgeoisie,.

  41. Molly Klein says:

    Patrick, I love reading about this place in Turkey. Amazing

  42. Exir Kamalabadi says:

    @John “But why? Scarcity? Competition for survival…for food, for shelter. But we are talking about very early man here. This is what Im trying to get at. Why are such early, relatively small, settlements unstable? If man is basically not aggressive….then it is only the coercion brought about by sheer survival, that instigates violence.”

    I concur here, it’s something that I’m curious about as well, and I wish I know more solid archaeology and anthropology to be sure about this. But, why does scarcity lead to violence? How? Survival instinct still puts the question of what the psychological embodiment of such in an individual psyche would look like, and there’s the question of why didn’t humans just lie down peacefully and die out if there wasn’t a seed of aggression, somewhere? Plenty of animals have gone extinct because they were meek and mild and just sat there like a punching bag. Humans didn’t do that. So what drive made them?

  43. Molly Klein says:

    Exir, thanks
    I meant to refer to his critique of Lukacs, his rejection of realism, his insistence that art is not a vehicle of knowledge of historical reality. He’s leaning toward the l’art pour l’art pole of the ancient querelle

  44. John Steppling says:


    ” Now Adorno of course took swipes at the ruling class but he was among the principle creators of this posture now thaty sees instead of class war, everybody is equally controlled by “The System”. His aesthetic preferences for serious art that only alienates and expresses alienation, and his rejection of lUkacs and inisstence that art can’t grasp or convey anything concrete about reality and the human condition but can only reproduce this uneasy disharmonious subjectivity kind of void of consciousness of antyhing but the formal, arise from this politics, this mechanistic picture of all humanity in the grip of an abtract calculating machine of Enlightenment…”

    Thats not quite true. Lukacs vs adorno is covered a number of places and Im not sure I need to go into it here. But a good part of adorno’s criticism of Lukacs was that he saw lukacs are too hegelian. In fact Lukacs is guilty of all you are ascribing to Adorno. But….adorno never said or even implied that art cant convey anything concrete. Thats just incorrect. Lukacs valued realism…at the expense of most all else. Read his Theory of the Novel. Adorno was looking to find a way out of that cul de sac. Quite justifiably.
    But your sarcastic description of only gallery art is a willful misreading and misrepresentation…….a hugely simplistic description of what Adorno was writing and I dont know why you keep trying to insist this is what he was saying when its so patently obvious that he was not. I wrote this blog post because it is just such simplification I find so problematic.

    but this raises another question; if as you suggest, adorno was wrong about art and culture….then what is it you see in culture, in art, that is valuable? If anything.

    Also, jameson, while often muddled, it seems to me, when discussing Adorno….remains a huge advocate of Adorno’s importance.

    “Emphasis on the material element, as against the spirit as a lie, gives rise to a kind of dubious affinity with that political economy which is subjected to an immanent criticism, comparable with the complicity between police and underworld.”
    Adorno (Minima Moralia)

    Adorno believed all culture was a lie, but that one must continually perpetuate it…and continue to denounce it. Now when you argue he that he only valued art that reflected alienation…….I think this is partly true, but I think thats probably also true. He was very clear to separate happiness from pleasure; meaning…as he said…”helplessness is the foundation.” That diversions were a form of forgetting…..and that bad kistch art was “a flight from any last thought of resistance …”

    Serious cultural expression transcribes suffering, it is the reminder to resist.

    Artworks of value thereby instill a sense of resistance, not the opposite. This cant be more clear.

    So, you are siding with the Lukacs position? That would explain a lot. And it certainly is what I find in a lot of leftist thinking on culture. But this is all very complex, which is my point in this posting. I did write 5000 plus words above trying to explain what I thought. I think having to do reductive summations in comment boxes is very difficult.

  45. Molly Klein says:

    “And, yes, this view of art does focus on art’s ability to represent “uneasy disharmonious subjectivity”, but I don’t see that as a problem.”

    I wouldnt say it is a problem that he thinks this, but just that it’s not true; its a dogmatic assertion creating an arbitrary hierarchy of objects that excludes most art;. He’s taking a political stance but pretending its a philosophical one,

    That’s funny about Wagner but clearly it’s a kind of joke.

  46. Exir Kamalabadi says:

    I don’t think he rejects realism so much as he rejects realism in THAT particular time and place. Like with music, he thinks that certain forms embodies truth in certain periods but become lies in other periods, and realism is one of these forms. In addition I think he even clarifies that the great realist tradition that we’ve given the name of “realism” and “naturalism” to, isn’t actually that in the vulgar sense of the term — because the materials of realism has an effect, aesthetically, that goes beyond (or rather is categorically different to) mere chronicling. Again I don’t think this is actually that original on his part, I think he inherits the tradition of analysing Realism as a style that is a tool reflecting the “soul” rather than an end in itself.

    And in fact he explicitly names “l’art pour l’art” and attacks it.

    “art is not a vehicle of knowledge of historical reality”

    I agree with that. Not primarily. The study of History gives us direct knowledge and insight into historical reality. Aesthetics primarily stresses other aspects. I don’t find that one-sidedness a problem. It would be like berating metaphysics for not being a vehicle of biological knowledge.

  47. Exir Kamalabadi says:

    “I wouldnt say it is a problem that he thinks this, but just that it’s not true; its a dogmatic assertion creating an arbitrary hierarchy of objects that excludes most art;. He’s taking a political stance but pretending its a philosophical one,”

    See, that’s a consistent misrepresentation that I find, not just here but actually from lots of academics which make me think how on earth they read this stuff for a living, because it seems so glaringly wrong —
    if you read the start of Aesthetic Theory, where he kind of sets out his terms and prepares his axiomatic assumptions, he makes it clear that he’s talking about a very specifical period in the historical development of art. He never talks about “Art in general” — in fact he insists there’s no such thing as “art in general”. Like Benjamin he accepts that Art did different things under different social orders. He’s not a Kantian aesthetician where his aesthetics are idealised norms that exist eternally. The opposite — the whole of Aesthetic Theory, he makes clear, he’s talking about an EVOLVING art IN OUR PARTICULAR TIME AND PLACE. Otherwise his statements about how bourgeois society forced art to be disinterested — or some such, he never says things like “art IS disinterested” — those statements just make no sense. To say art was forced to become this and that, makes no sense if you assume his assumptions about the essence of art is eternalist.

  48. Exir Kamalabadi says:

    Again it might be me misreading Adorno, or overinterpreting him, but I don’t feel like I’m even talking about the *esoteric* parts of his aesthetic theory, just the plain parts! Hence my confusion about academic misrepresentation of Adorno. Heck, his first two chapters, the first one (if I recall) is “Society” and the 2nd (also the longest) is called “Situation”! Telling.

  49. John Steppling says:

    Adorno said that as long as classes exist, the promise of happiness is impossible. And yet the products of the ruling class pretend that its not impossible. Hence a degree of mockery exists.

    “The thought of happiness without power is unbearable” Dialectic of Enlightenment

    . Adorno’s analysis of anti semitism, as an example, suggests the convergence of resentment and a hatred of happiness in the fascist character. He goes so far as to equate a certain philistinism with anti semitism. A hatred of joy.

    “The deeper continuity is precisely secured by this figure, who, anti semite in the nazi social order, is in the US identified as the seemingly more benign figure of the philistine of the culture industry. Both negative embodiements of the deeper resentiment generated by class society.” Jameson

    “meanwhile, the valorization of art now finds its deeper function in precisely this diagnosis, as the guilty and fragile place of a promise of social and personal happiness persisting within a social order deformed by class and tending toward ever more universal bureaucratic control.” Jameson

    The point is that for Adorno, the unmasking of ideology was one of the roles artworks played…but that such unmasking was far more complex and dialectical then just social realism or agit prop. If that makes him parochial in a sense, then fine, perhaps, but I can live with that.

  50. Molly Klein says:

    I’m very surprised you guys say Adorno doesnt insist art has no knowledge of historical reality and no concrete content. It see!s to me one of his major contentions, often repeated.

    Exir, I think Adorno has a lot in common with the l’art pour l’art folk, eg Gautier, above all perhaps the mystical conviction that consumed art impacts consciousness in a one on one relation that seems to exist outside all context including that of the psyches’ own history.

    I’ll quote shortly

    John, A s for valuing what Adorno dismisses as worthless, yes I do. Realism, in novels and even some cinema and even TV. (though I generally agree with what he says aboutthe perniciousness of masscult) strikes me as valuable in myriad ways. the most important difference of criteria that lead Adorno to exclude most art as trash and then define what its not trash in a very specific and homogenous way with regard to its character as art is that for Adorno art is a property of an object that exists in a specific relation to an individual psyche. Its a robinsonade. Art can exist if never seen by anyone but is last creator. He’s abstracting something pretty narrow from the immense social fact we colloquially term art, and which can’t be understood in this kind of mystical isolation. It makes no sense to me as I’ve said before to say this movie is art and that one
    Isn’t. I can’t conceive of art in any meaningful way as a secret demon in individual objects. Art is a social relation and not an essence. What did Adorno really mean by Stravinsky’s fraudulence versus Schönbergs authenticity? Its some quality of the purity of the project and that it adhered to the mood of a certain subjectivity, that becomes the authentic subject in the true relation to what’s exterior to it. That makes authenticity; its something by definition unusual . what’s it value? It is presumed to put everyone into the same state of disharmony, except its also presumed usually not to. Why is that of value? Just cause. The argumernt is a dogmatic assertion that this a cure for reification of human life, which is imagined to be accomplished in the psyche not in the practices of social relations. In contrast there’s not much mysterious — though in the pre Marxist stuff especially much too magical — about lukacs’ defense of realism. It activates a sociality — one would never (unless fanatical new critic) think to discuss a novel as if you could decide alone what it is, or as if it were wholly made by an individual in a failed struggle, its assumed a node of social production, and it produces a social relation of investigation of our shared reality, producing knowledge of those relations and of those who relate and additionally an experience of the production of this social knowledge. Its like sex in some ways. Like the art Adorno admires it also manipulates intellect but doesn’t isolate intellect and doesn’t just produce psychic woe. Its just a dogma it seems to me that the social practice of arts’ real purpose is to reproduce in an intelligible way the psychic woe and unease of a bourgeoisie miserably massified, isolated from every other response and relation to the world. Those practises seem worthwhile to me also but the elevation of them to higher status and the trashing of all else produced in these art customs as fraud seems arbitrary and worse…it really seems demoralizing and defeatest and killjoy just as Freud and Freudianism is ( to women especially) personally insulting and aggressive and geared toward eliciting surrender to subjection

    Exir: I would say this is an intelligble general statement of Adorno’s views about art that he repeats frequently at great length:

    “In spite of the most subtle modifications, bourgeois idealist philosophy has been
    unable epistemologically to break through solipsism. For normal bourgeois consciousness
    the epistemology modeled on it was of no consequence. For this consciousness
    art appears necessary and directly “intersubjective.” This relation of
    epistemology and art should be reversed. The former has the ability through critical
    self-reflection to destroy the spell of solipsism, whereas the subjective point of
    reference in art remains that which solipsism has merely feigned in reality. Art is
    the historicophilosophical truth of a solipsism that is untrue in-itself. In art there is
    no possible willful overcoming of the situation that philosophy has unjustly hypostatized.
    Aesthetic semblance is what solipsism extra-aesthetically confuses with truth.”

    Also john, there is plenty of anthropology that is scientific and persuasive now, but in Freud’s day everything he read was steeped in social Darwinism and colonial mythology. In Freud’s day for example they beliueved the Bible was pretty accurate historically and that the genocide of the canaanites by the hebrews really happened, but now acheologists have discovered that it never happened. Lots of advances in knowledge of the remote past and of social diversity have occurred since the 1900, although of course neuroscience and anthropology is very politicized.

  51. Molly Klein says:

    “In art there is
    no possible willful overcoming of the situation that philosophy has unjustly hypostatized.”

    I just think you guys are either ignoring every time he asserts this or I don’t know.

    Like the l’art pour l’art postures (which have a lot of variation among them), he simply stating as an incontestible fact, something not open for debate, that art produces (he would say “is”) authentic solipsism. And he rejects as bourgeois error the perceptiuon that art is “intersubjective” (social aqnd in relation to a concrete exterior historical reality produced intersubjectively).

    He;’s defining art this way at the outset of the book and he never takes it back, its repeated and assumed throughout.

  52. Exir Kamalabadi says:

    That’s the problem, I think, “I’m very surprised you guys say Adorno doesnt insist art has no knowledge of historical reality and no concrete content. It see!s to me one of his major contentions, often repeated.” It’s precisely because it’s often repeated that I disagree all the more, because it seems like certain popularizers of Adorno (or critics of him) took a slice of what he meant and amplified that aspect of his thought (out of context!) as if it was THE definitive point he made. But, “one on one relation that seems to exist outside all context including that of the psyches’ own history”, in my reading of what he says in Aesthetic Theory, that’s actually not what he says. He definitely DOES care about the history of the psyche. He insists again and again that there isn’t such a thing as a psyche unformed by history, existing as an unmodified a priori ghostly existence. He rejects in toto the idea of a Consciousness-In-Itself. I do think the quote you mentioned very clearly takes a subjectivist view of aesthetic, and I agree wholeheartedly with your explanation of the social component of art, but I disagree that the quote is a good summary of his thought on art. I recall reading something very similar in AT (maybe it’s the exact passage), but the posited subjectivism that Adorno assigns to art seems, to me, clearly one of the steps in his argumentation, rather as the definitive final step of conclusion. I think that’s what peeves me about some presentations of Adorno — that an intermediate “working out” step is presented as if it was THE point. But, Adorno has said very different things about the relation between Art and pure subjectivity in the rest of AT. Maybe I need to read it more carefully.

  53. Exir Kamalabadi says:

    I’m in travel right now and don’t have AT with me, otherwise I can start looking for passages.

  54. Molly Klein says:

    I sould clarify that I refer to Fredu’s fabulous anthropology as dogmatic in contrast for example to his contentions about the chambers of the psyche, which he proceeded in a clinical and concrete way to try to prove, to argue for his conclusions and to give them some basis in observation that’s not just spectulation. In Adorno, his manner of arguing is dogmatic alnmost like a theologian, and I would contrast him to say Merleau-Ponty. Of course one of the things about “critcal theory” is nothing is needed for its products but the individual to sit with an object and consume it personally and take notes on his thoughts, and in this way critical theory reflexts I think something of his presuppositions about the objects of these reflections and culture product in generall.

  55. john steppling says:

    I think I that what Exir just said is clearly correct. Adorno is very difficult. And in large measure because he wrote extensively after D of E. I think one has to read AT ….several times in fact…and then all the late lectures which I particularly admire. But he so often attacks art for arts sake that its silly to debate this. Thats not his position and not one he is even very close to, in any respect. I mean quite the opposite. But what puzzles me is that here we have this extraordinary thinker, a marxist, an anti fascist, a man who spent his life critiquing society as domination, and yet this hostility persists. Its curious and a bit disheartening. And without meaning to be snide or at all disrespectful…..and i apologize again to patrick if i seemed to be snarky, because that wasnt my intention…..but this hostility feels very much like the problem I have with much of the left. I feel it every time i go to meetings of leftists., Its a hostility to culture. Its negative toward culture. And its almost paranoid, actually. Is Adorno in some way the enemy? With Freud i understand more the antipathy, even if I disagree. But adorno? How can anyone claim his analysis is awful (that was the twitter comment that started me writing this post)? I know of no other thinker as perceptive and original as Adorno. None. Certainly not in terms of aesthetics. Nobody else is even in his league. Nobody. What do we have today? Ranciere?? Zizek? Badiou? Ranciere has his moments, but in the end is trivial. And guilty of just what Adorno repeatedly pointed out about mass deception. Ranciere writing about Jaar’s colonialst appropriation….which i blogged about. Thats stunningly short sighted. Is Adorno a product of european bourgeois culture? Yes, of course. Did he have holes in his perception of world culture. Absolutely. But these flaws seem minor to me because I think the whole body of his work is so remarkable.

    But when people ask……why is this movie trash, and why is this one good……I feel as if, yes, that deserves an answer. For if it doesnt, then mass culture has won…the corporate hegemony of mass deception is complete. And if I imagine real social change happening, I hope there is a serious culture attached to it. I hope Lena Dunham isnt seen as the same as Chekov or kafka. And again, I see nothing despairing in Kafka’s depcition of alienation. Of bureaucratic society turning men into insects. That provides a dream of something other than what is. If social change happens without a serious culture then its not going to be a social change that actually changes much for very long.

    Adorno on semblence….per your quote……is one of the most difficult parts of his writing. Along with mimesis. He wrote , Im sure, at least 500 pages on just that. So one isolated quote is pointless to analyse. Thats the problem here. Again, I spent most of 5000 words trying to explain why I think he’s important and that barely scratched the surface. This isnt going to solved with one quote as a form of trick question. Its not that easily analysed.

    Hullot Kentor translated AT. His writing is, I think, very very good….on Adorno. I think Zuidervaart is very good, and I think at times jameson is good. Wiggerhaus too, in places. And even Gillian Rose. But once you read all of them you realize how complex Adorno’s thinking is. But, the main issue is that he sees in culture….in art..,.aesthetics….something crucial in how man can be liberated from a system of mass suffering, from domination. He and Horkheimer wrote D of E almost as a side project when they got to LA. its not the most important of their work. But it did establish this idea of the Enlightenment. And i have to say that critique seems absolutely correct. But its not perfect. Its not *the truth*….its a format from which one can more easily continue discussions of what hegemonic mass deception means.

    And honestly…….ALL THINKERS write as if they believe what they say. What kind of criticism is that to say, he writes as if its fact>? Of course he does. So does every philosopher I can think of. So did marx. Adorno certainly is self questioning, and one only need read his late lectures to see that. I think that this symptom i sense, on the left often (the right of course is perfectly happy with the status quo) is one that feels too often like resentment and a blanketing negation of most everything. And it comes from a place of HAVING to negate, of being in retreat — I certainly feel that way. On the defensive. One is always in the position of holding unpopular positions. It breeds a kind of scorch and burn mentality about almost everything it seems. Im guilty of it. Probably why I sound snarky when I dont intend to. Its mentally fatiguing. I often wish I could just write crap and be happy collecting my checks. And according to you molly, I probably should because integrity in art doesnt matter, apparently. Because its all just the same. Its a social relation and i have no control over it. And meaning isnt meaning anyway.

    But that cant be true if one takes the time to point out why Zizek is deeply reactionary. Is Adorno deeply reactionary, too? Because there seems a profound difference ….but they are treated the same by much of the left today. Or rather adorno is far more attacked. Its so easy to put down people. Nobody gets to be in the cool kid clique. Nobody. Not even ourselves.

  56. john steppling says:

    and its wrong to say Adorno is dogmatic. Thats just so wrong. SO SO wrong. Im appalled that this idea is even introduced. So now cricial theory is just theology…….and better we read Merleau Ponty? I mean i sort of like MP, but I dont consider him a great thinker. And how he his prose style less dogmatic? Is your position one shouldnt write about the psyche? We should only write about materialism…whatever that might be? See, again, that feels highly reactionary in the end. Its why so many on the left depress me so much. One either ends up with this mechanical marxism, or one ends up Salvage and Bhaskar Sunkara or Richard Seymour. Thats not the left., thats self promotion. its capitalsim, its the new venture capital of the mind.

  57. john steppling says:

    ” The rescue of neccessary semblance is the task of adorno’s aestheics. Driven by the unthinkability of despair, adornos rescue aims at an experience of the possible that exceeds what is currently considered to be possible, and he finds this in autonomous and modernist works of art…..{ } …Like Benjamin, Adorno regards modernist works of art as sensuous particulars that provide us with experience of a world that is constituted by the absence of experience.”
    lambert Zuidervaart.

    Adorno wanted a new horizon for radical historical change. And for people to be able to imagine and enact something other, something unknown under prevailing modes of mass propagandizing and disinformation. As Zuidervaart says….”for such imagintion and such enactment there must be semblances of subjectivity.”

    Mimesis is that which provides a new rationality…the mimetic rationality that runs counter to the instrumental form under capitalism. The society sets up systems and a logic of control….and it is mediated, at its best, by mimetic behavior and labor.

    now one can disagree about what constitutes such rationality, and that is certainly discussed at great length both by adorno and his critics……but I see nothing totalizing or dogmatic in this, and nothing suggestive of what Adorno is being accused of above.

  58. John:

    From my vantage point, the antipathy toward culture on the left, even if I don’t support it, isn’t really antipathy per se. Rather, they feel reading Beckett for instance is tangential to the cause of human suffering. And as an extension of this, supposed radicals such as again Beckett and also Antonioni, let’s just say, aren’t so radical if they’ve been canonized by the cultural elite. In short, their radical intentions are undermined by the fact they’ve been enshrined by the bourgeois intelligentsia. What may have been radical in 1960 has slowly been subsumed by the establishment and no longer serves the purpose it purported to. In short, “liking a canonized writer like Beckett doesn’t make you special”. Do I agree with this attitude? No, not exactly, but I think that’s largely how the left feels. It’s not necessarily an issue of them disliking Beckett but of them feeling he’s just another dead white guy at the end of the day.

  59. Molly Klein says:

    Exir, I agree there are a lot of mutually contradictory ideas in Adorno, and some real changes of vision as he ages, but I also think there is a worldview that emerges; moreover I do think with a lot of the Great Moderns, there are reception habits that insist we ignore what they say because the current intellectual climate wants them to be saying other things, to speak in matephor, to be more uncrertain than they were, to be hesitant and confused so that we can make of them what we wish and ignore the real problems that infuse most of this generation and class’ worldview.

    I find in Adorno something anticipating Derrida for example that you’re putting “grasp” or “communicate” in quotes brought to mind. It’s true Adorno somehow convinces us that we shouldn’t use most verbs or vocabulary that suggest human capacities, deliberate praxis, or self determination,.The language he prefers paints a view of a passive world of passive people — art “is” solipsism, which is a way of avoiding really saying that is inculcates or arises from or produces solipsiusm. It seems more definite but it gives a vision of idnefiniteness and fog. Artworks are psychologized in a kind of metaphoric way in Adorno’s writing but he shys away from any attribution of action and conscious transformative labour to artists or consumers. And we do get the sense that we have to cringe a little when talking of Lukacs’ or any other of the Victor Hugo, socialist realist camp in the literary civil war and the way they attribute definite qualities and actions to the people engaged in the social relation that is art. Understand, grasp, know, transform. All these things belong to Lukacs’ human affairs but Adorno is very hesitant and cagey on these matters. Take for example the discussion of Baudelaire and how Adorno gives us a kind of vision of bad friendshifts, affects, a love affair in the way he discusses how poetry operates in the world — poets go over to the enemy, poets “are” reactionary, but its all quite airy and indeterminate. When a poet by engaging nature in a mood of something less than revujlsion is despised for “going over to the enemy”, it sounds like a concrete observationa and yet to assetr more – to say there were any consequences to this betrayal that happens in the poem and pergaps in the psyche of the poet and his readers — would be to break the spell, and go beyond that kind of glittering mobile world of spirit that he concerns himself with to a concretew histopry that he won’t acknowledge.

    I mean this of course in the discussion of art’s actions. And to an extent his investigation of other ideological product. This is not to say he doesnt care about psyches or other people; I’m just talking about this narrow argument he makes about art and aesthetics, and how he winds up producing an ideology, whichinfluenced Derrida more than he would admit I think.

    John yeah Adorno often makes sweeping statements that I think are kind of gestures and not to be taken really seriously except as a kind of poetry. No poetry after Auschwitz for example, or that the Bourgeoisie wants art to be luxuriant and life to be ascetic [that’s not true, but its a gesture…], or this insistence there can be no happiness while class society exists. And that last is basically true, if we pin down happiness in aq way that makes it true, but then I feel as with poetry Adorno would prefer we didn’t do that. He’s creating impressions often and not arguing. Merleau-Ponty’s stuyff is just as speculative fundamentally but he feels he has to make a case; Adorno seems to me not to care ever to make a case for antyhing, but also not to want his writing to be mistaken for the kinds of assertions for which one has made a case.

    Nonetheless, despite the poetic quality and the dogmatic quality of a lot of this stuff I think a definite intelligible series of assertions are present and also a worldview with a shape about hich certain things can be said and agreed. These texts are not an inkblot. And among those is something John you usuallyt make a point of noting about Adorno, which is this insistence that art’s content is arbitrary and that its the form that makes art art. It seems to me that you usually concede that’s what Adorno says, but now are saying the not so fast. But it strikes me as if the contention is that there is an aesthetic semblance thats indifferent to content, that in order words as we have discussed racist and fascist art is emancipatory, that is art with racist and fascist content is emancipatory because it has this formal aspect he describes that is supposed to – that he insists does — repair in some way the reification of human life by making it intelligble by “being” (producing) solipsism. In plain language this would seem to mean that the racist and fascist content of art is note effective, it cannot do anything of importance in the world, and it can serve as the vehicle, as anything can serve, of this solipsism that brings about restoration of subjectivity. With subjectivity restored, presumably, we will no longer be vulnerable to fascist blandishments (perhaps). For whatrever reason those features of the art will be inert. I leave that last unifinished because Adorno will recede from the assertion at the point when you ask brings the restoration of subjectivity about in whom? At that point you will be condemned as misunderstanding. There is a plane that Adorno’s theorizing remains on that doesn’t allow those exits from the abstract to the concrete historical. The poetry then has to fall back from that position it got to, too close to making a case visible to those concerned with political praxis or social science.

    I think Adorno made a lot of valuable observatiosn that persuade me. But you know I also am put off by the special vitriol and contempt that is reserved for engaged art and communist pedagogy. It’s easy, because of course capitalist empire loves this and all its power of hatred and disesteem backs up any gestures of this sort, to mock Brecht or Picasso’s painting of massacres, or Guttuso’;s funeral of Togliatti, or Eluard’s ode to stalin, but only because the iudiotic and sadistic establishment has designated these targets and shed so much blood to complete the defeat of the project that involved all this art. It’s not because it really is ridiculous, its only because when one attacks it as ridiculous one has the Empiure at one’s back giving one cover, as when caricaturing Muslims as surrounded by flies on the cover of Charlie Hebdo. I think this is something Patrick was noting also about the incredible loathing and contempt that greets the mpst serious and careful scholarship about the remote past of our species if it doesn’t validate neoliberal darwinian mythology and naturalize genocide and race and sadism and male supremacy.

    Finally I think some people feel very spoken to by these modernists. I think some peopel identify with the descriptions Freud gave of struggling with id, and some people don’t. Even Freud would not expect mothers to identify with that vision and he exempts them rather than try to make that case against all this evidence of self sacrifice and attahcment. That feeling of identification and recognition is often standing in for conviction .You and Exir are very sensitive producers of poetry. I am not surprised that Adorno rings truer for you two than for me. But the sense that he;s on to something because one recognizes it creates an allegiance that makes it natural to just say something like well im sure its not what he meant because he keeps insisting on it, I don;t feel very strongly about what Adorno is saying about art and so I feel its perfectly acceptable to engage with a perception he offers over and over even if he also sometimes seem to say things that are incompatible with that. I’m not looking to Adorno to enable a project of mine, that is; it doesnt ring true enough to me about art in my life practises to be that kind of guide or tool, and I’m willing to accept there is actually real human diversity at the bottom of this divergence.

    as regards who else we have writing in the genre of philosophy about aesthetics generally, there’s probably not much new to say now in that genre; I found Galvano della Volpe, working a similar territory with similar influences, more persuasive than Adorno.

  60. Molly Klein says:

    A book I liked btw was Julian Markel’s The Marxian Imagination, an apology for the realist novel but pretty seriouslty engaging with the objections critical theory and its poststructuralist children raised. It’s the kind of thing that anyone touched by Heidegger will lacerate as “humanist” in the contemptible sense; it might end up a convenient cautionary example for you guys, but on the other hand you might like it

  61. But Molly:

    I don’t think it’s possible to separate politics from aesthetics when it comes to literature or painting or music or film. I just don’t think it can done responsibly. Otherwise, we lose sight of the overall raison d’etre of the aesthetic object. Now certainly we can take a Great Modern to task for his dubious politics in spite of the revolutionary merit of his aesthetics, but how is an aesthetically regressive but politically progressive work of art any less pernicious. That question has yet to satisfactorily answered I think. So yes, perhaps Adorno means to say the politically dubious but aesthetically innovative work is the lesser of two evils in such a situation, and I agree with him frankly.

  62. You’re essentially saying there’s no justification for art’s existence unless it concretely advances a progressive political agenda.

  63. john steppling says:

    Ok…well……the problem I have encountered for thirty years, pedagogically, is that art….mostly in playwrighting, but in fiction, too (i have less experience with fine arts, painting, but i do have some) is that it is taught very materialistically. There is an instrumental logic, one must know the meaning of an artwork ….and that meaning almost always resides in the content. So, if a play is about something communist say, then the play has meaning as communist and dissident art. However, a good many of these plays….not all…and i can cite you a few communist plays…Brecht for example (Adorno didnt hate brecht by the way, he just thought he became too didactic…and he’s right)…..but a good many of these plays are essentially formulaic melodrama….the form is trite, a cliche, a well know, easily recognized story line. So…to my mind, via Adorno, these plays end up rather reactionary. Because they reinforce a certain way of *reading* plays. An there is an anticipation associated with the worst kistch television or Hollywood film. The mimetic reading therefore, the engagement with the narrative, the experience of that play doesnt reside in the content….or not much… resides in familiar form of it. The familiar form…and that familiarity reinforces the status quo. It is a nice communist play that all communists can agree is so , well, communist. But there is in such work something that neutralizes that communist message.,….because our experience of the play is identical (mimetically speaking) to the worst Hollywood junk. But then you have a film such as Killer of Sheep, for example. The form is unusual, poetic, and unfamiliar. One must pay MORE attention, must grapple with what is being presented…images take on an overdetermination in a sense. The *message* of the film is sort of simple… is hard for the poor. But the film is far more radical because we, the viewer, has never had to engage with this class of african american, never had to track a narrative in which black life, black community is presented without didactic import. This is true of much post colonial writing in which radical messages of independence are coming from a voice that imitates the colonialists voice. Killer of Sheep never indulges those expectations….there is no good black character, no bad black character….there is a poetic vision of urban life, of desire , of unclear disturbing contradictory feelings. Its a masterpiece to my mind. Or another example; Bresson. A catholic. Conservative. But his vision, his film poetry is unique. Its so focused, so attentive, that it triggers a certain sense of memory….of uncanniness. The uncanny remember is disturbing because it is familiar….but forgotten.

    So the form….for Adorno…and for me……tends to subsume the top text. There are films one might read as fascist…….which are most certainly fascist. But there are others, in which that message is mediated. The image contradicts what is being said. Suddenly the image and rhythm is wholly unfamiliar and to follow that, to engage with it, that renarrating that is mimesis….that becomes a sort of self interrogation. Fassbinder for example, presents non political stories often, but they feel subversive somehow. The sexuality is presented in ways we are not familiar with. This film Stranger at the Lake that i like so much….its haunting. Its uncanny. Im not sure there is even a message. Nothing is resolved. But its questioning how we read, it questions the assumptions society has instilled in the general populace. But look………some work speaks to you, some doesnt. Ive never quite grasped chekov. I mentioned him earlier. I get it, i appreciate it. But i just dont feel it. With Strindberg however, I am always surprised. Haunted. I take his plays away with me and replay them, a thousand times. There is some elusive truth in there. But thats me.

    Shakespeare……i mean the first time I directed shakespeare I was literally unable to sleep at night. Lines would repeat themselves in my head. So much was going on. I was being put in touch with something I hadnt known about. Adorno said art was a form of thought. Mednick used to say that, too. Jan Kott as well. Kott’s essay on Lear and Endgame remains hugely important I feel. That the scene of mad tom on the heath with gloucester… cannot explain that scene.You cannot. It only has meaning on stage in a theatre. For me, art IS elusive. It is about things, relations yes, but more than that. And developing a sensitivity to such nuances, that seems actually to me revolutionary. For that is antagonistic to the status quo. You will note that the ruling elite tend to pick artworks that erase such triggers for memory. When adorno speaks of suffering in works….he means that it is work that incorporates something of the past, of historical injustice, but its happening on an emotional level….to be simplistic.

    So its not that content is arbitrary. Its only that content is not the sole criteria. And often is of lesser importance. If Lena Dunham did an episode of girls where she praised communism………would that be radical? Of course not. I remember a film, a junk action film, where the final speech was very communist sounding. Enviromentally radical…..but the film was produced with money from arms dealers. Such is the hegemony of mass culture today. That film ended up, speech notwithstanding, just reactionary junk.

  64. john steppling says:

    addendum: Vis a vis patrick:

    Im only asking about why societies turn violent. The answer was sort of just kicking the can further down the road. At what point, do cooperative friendly human relations turn competitive and violent. I mean assuming one wants to believe in the inherent goodness of humans.

  65. I buy all that.

    So about violence; I think the absurd cartoonish titillating violence of films is really part oif the problem, like porn and cop worship, the conditioning of a class who carries out mass crime on the ruling class orders. This is not though like Macbeth or the vivid depictions of real violence, that have meaning and seriousness, as in Come and See, or the amazing soviet War and Peace. I can’t think of an American film that didn’t present _graphic_ violence as entertaining. Maybe Little Big Man. But even arty American films offer violence for audience sadism. The visions of war are usually as pornographic and geared to thrill as the typical buxom-babe-killing.

    But as for censorship, I am concerned when criticism boif this stuff us assumed to threaten suppression. I think we are able to say if we iwned a TV netwoerk we wouldn’t permit anyone to license or exhibit Orange is the New Black without actually victimising jenji kohan. But these people would not only insist on their right to oiwn all the media they would like it to be illegal — some kind of Cromwellian crime of censorship, blocking their access to your brain – for you to fail to watch their crap.

  66. john steppling says:

    Well, there is no question that the vast majority of corporate studio film and TV treats violence as entertainment. Ohhh, kewl …..explosion, and there is a weird spike in scenes of torture to the degree that I cant think of many shows WITHOUT torture. That is very striking. But there are exceptions. And its important to be able to distinguish those exceptions from the norm. Since your last comment is full of typos……im going to guess…………regarding censorship. But I still maintain there is a creepy puritanical streak in much of the commentary on violence. Of course we can critique it and should. But this is the chris hedges vibe that bugs the fuck out of me because its so visibly creepy — the monseigneur objects. And the problem is, for some like Hedges, he simply cant make distinctions, or probably, rather, just doesnt care to. Henry Giroux has written against it and on it, and Im a big supporter of henry and he’s my friend, but even there I feel like, look, one has to address the reality of violence, in art, without simply condemning it wholesale. Its a complicated topic because you can look at Salo, say, or at Year of 13 Moons, where violence is disturbing. Its meant to reveal something of the fascist character, of scapegoating, of repression and anal sadism. But…there are other examples — as you say, almost every single war film ever made….except perhaps The Victors, the carl foreman film from 1963,. which needs to be revived, because its the sole anti war film of the era. The Hill is the best film about war, and there is no war in it. Battle of Algiers of course, and really, Burn, too. But yes, mostly one gets endless shots of the camera caressing the guns, the weapons, and the narrative and scoring undercut something heroic going on. And look, the same thing happens with all cop shows. So there is no question a sort of weird saturating of consciousness with this stuff. My point though is twofold. One, i dont want any censorship,…..make that threefold…..two, i find stuff like Orange is the New Black MORE disturbing, or The Affair, or House of Cards, or West Wing. I think it has more destructive effect, and three, the approach to critiquing this stuff has to done in a way that is not lodged in a cromwellian inquisition. There are political reasons to make corporate hegemony of mass culture stop, but there are no moral reasons. Not for me.

  67. Molly Klein says:

    sorry about the typos
    one thing is most studio films that depict villence – fight scenes and butchery – use goofy sound effects like video games to make the visual destruction of the body more thrilling and exciting. These cgi things that can show a lot of heads rolling seem to really coddele views and care for them throughbthe sequences, they sting their eyes with a shock, wrap that whole shock in manipulative and reassuring and thrilling sounds, and fly off before the shock even sinks into the mind. I noticed Boyle did this for his scenes of disgustingnessn ijn SLumdog Millionaire…he;d show these nauseating sights in the slum but the camera would move away so fast you were relieved, you were spared, befpore it even sank in what you were seeing, much the way action movies deal with the graphic gore.

    I agree the ownership of the resources needs to be redirtibuted, that’s the only intervention in this industrry that is worth making.; i wouldn’t burn any films that now exist after that happens, not even Orange is the New Black or House of Games, but there’s really I guess in an Aodrnian sense a censorship of the marklet, that is, that if nobody watches Orange is the New Black they effectively kill the show. SO we’re engaged in censorship of the commericial products potentially just in our choices of what we subject ourselves to. Porn of course has and can be censored in the US, but violence is only very lightly censored (restriced to adults, pointlessly with all the home viewing capacities now). Right now communist and antiimperialist ideas are being censored in lots of ways but most effectively in commercial media by the monopolies that anticommie imperialists hold over the means of distribution.,

    And I would think it was much more likely that this is going to get more aggressive and repressive than that any capitalist government is going to suddenly decide to outlaw the slasher entertainments and all the other dehumanizing crap that works so well for them and coheres so well with their dehumanizing political project.

    I wouldnt be surprised if the US goes through another Meesish period about porn though; it kind of generally chills and reasserts the state;s despotic control in a way that a lot of people are afraid to criticize. But then again the social moeurs have changed so much about porn I wonder if there wouldn’t be more of a mass refusal if that kind of thing was tried again. It might be easier to jail people for criticizing US’s fascist paras than for porn.

    Hedges is just horrible.His pulizter winning Sarajevo stuff suggests he’s hooked up with the biggest war criminals of empire. And he even dragged out and dusted off this heinous Ed Meese/Catherine McKinnon canard that waxing or certain girly clothing encourage or express pedophilia, The effect of what he was doing was to spread around the blame for all this ruling class child rape that’s being exposed recently – to say its something in the cultural air, we’re all responsible, yes even the victims themselves, rather than finding the source in class power and the impunity of the superrich. There is also a kind of good progressive liberal posture that is being twisted to make the individual and his personal responsibility vanish when the individual concerned is a very rich criminal caught in flagrante. Then it’s the decadent culture’s fault (that’s almost the new id, now that id is so drained by people no longer having to hide their kinks and parent-hatred, now that its actually socially encouraged to try to monetize that stuff as entertainment) – like Zizek racing to attribute the CIA tortures in Abu Ghraib to an American tradition of hazing and some mishigas and neurosis in the air.’

  68. John Steppling says:

    Yes re: Hedges. But see Im not worried about censorship of violence actually happening. It wont. Im more concerned with an imprinting of this mental mechanism that is akin to the inquisition. Its the normalizing of a Torquemada on the left, or liberal side ….especially left…under cover of something else. This is alongside the zizekian sleight of hand. So that this endless complaint about screen violence begins, quickly, to feel like a sort of moral purity, or superiority. I see it in some mass culture already. Its paternalistic, too. Papa Torquemada. Daddy Cotton Mather. Because if you ONLY keep hammering on about torture scenes….somehow there are two things happeneing. One is that real torture recedes…..and two, there is a valorizing of a Puritanical paternalism.

    And all the while nothing either psychanalytic, marxist/materialist/ or critical theory-like is taking place.

  69. John Steppling says:

    a footnote about porn. The consumption of porn by the very rulers and ownership class that simultaneously wring their hands in public about it is massive. I think pasolini captured something of that fascist self hatred in Salo. The ruling class nihilism finds expression in porn. Its only my anecdotal experience speaking, but I’ve found the underclass, with many obvious exceptions, to be far less interested in porn. There is a sickness in those with power, born of a deep unconscious, or semi conscious knowledge of their own moral turpititude, that must recreate their nausea in this form of objectified and distanced sexual violence. The sado masochism at the center of so much porn certainly seems to speak to this.

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