standing up to the bullshitters: Theodor Adorno, a critique

Adorno is currently one of the most widely read philosophers of the 20th century, so he is a force to be reckoned with. Is he a philosopher like Hegel who has managed to dupe thousands with his confused thinking, or has he made some genuine insights?
I will analyze about 10 of his assertions, leaving none of the text deleted. After a careful look, it should become obvious that Adorno bears the hallmark traits of a charlatan: he claims to have discovered deep truths, for which he offers almost no evidence and he primarily does this through inventing the existence of things that simply do not exist. I do no believe he is deliberately deceptive. He is simply one of those intellectuals who see things that do no exist.

Adorno begins his work, Minima Moralia, with the statement, that the teaching of the good life has fallen into disrepute:

The melancholy science, from which I make this offering to my friend, relates to a realm which has counted, since time immemorial, as the authentic one of philosophy, but which has, since its transformation into method, fallen prey to intellectual disrespect, sententious caprice and in the end forgetfulness: the teaching of the good life.

Whether that statement is true or false does not matter all that much. Philosophical questions go in and out of fashion. It is his next statements which are much more sweeping and which proclaim to have discovered much more important truths.

What philosophy once called life, has turned into the sphere of the private and then merely of consumption, which is dragged along as an addendum of the material production-process, without autonomy and without its own substance.

So all of life has turned into the private? That’s a rather grand assertion and completely false. Even if he were to somehow prove that public life is really just a form of private life, he makes no effort to prove this.

Whoever wishes to experience the truth of immediate life, must investigate its alienated form, the objective powers, which determine the individual existence into its innermost recesses.

How does he know that “objective powers determine the individual existence into its innermost recesses”? How does he know that one has to investigate the alienated form of life in order to experience the truth of immediate life? What is immediate life and what is alienated life? What are objective powers? None of this is clear and it only exists in Adorno’s imagination.

To speak immediately of what is immediate, is to behave no differently from that novelist, who adorns their marionettes with the imitations of the passions of yesteryear like cheap jewelry, and who sets persons in motion, who are nothing other than inventory-pieces of machinery, as if they could still act as subjects, and as if something really depended on their actions.

Adorno above does provide some explanation as to what it means to be immediate, he says that it is similar to the novelist creating characters. Again, why should experiencing the truth of immediate life be similar to a novelist placing their characters on puppet strings? Why are people nothing more than inventory-pieces of machinery?

The gaze at life has passed over into ideology, which conceals the fact, that it no longer exists.

And what ideology is that? Whatever this ideology is how can he prove that it conceals the fact that the gaze at life (I think the final “it” refers to life but it might refer to ideology) no longer exists?

But the relationship of life and production, which the latter degrades in reality into an ephemeral appearance of the former, is completely absurd. Means and ends are interchanged. The intuition of this ludicrous quid pro quo has not been totally expunged from life.

Adorno offers no evidence that production degrades life. I actually think production enhances life. Production makes us feel more human, it certainly makes us feel more human than lying around. Perhaps, being a cog in a factory, where your job is to hammer nails on a door would be dehumanizing, but to produce a computer from scratch, as Steve Jobs, with the help of others, has done, represents one of the great achievements of mankind. Irregardless of the truth of my statements, the fact remains that Adorno provides no evidence for his sweeping generalizations and merely accepts them as givens.

The reduced and degraded essence bristles tenaciously against its bewitchment in the façade. The change of the relations of production itself depends more than ever on what befalls the “sphere of consumption,” the mere reflection-form of production and the caricature of true life: in the consciousness and unconsciousness of individuals.

Why does “the relations of production itself depend more than ever on what befalls the sphere of consumption”? One would like to know more about what the relations of production is and why it depends on the sphere of consumption. One would also like to know more about the sphere of consumption and how it plays such a key role in life today. Adorno ignores these questions completely. He seems to attempt to describe the sphere of consumption in greater detail, but “the mere reflection-form of production,” and “caricature of true life,” illuminates nothing.

Only by virtue of opposition to production, as something still not totally encompassed by the social order, could human beings introduce a more humane one.

So production itself is different from production which is not totally encompassed by the social order? What does it mean to be encompassed by the social order? What is the social order anyhow and how can we be sure that we all agree what the social order is?

If the appearance [Schein] of life were ever wholly abrogated, which the consumption-sphere itself defends with such bad reasons, then the overgrowth of absolute production will triumph.

Let’s just imagine for the sake of argument that absolute production could triumph. What would it triumph over? What would that triumph look like? Adorno, of course, is vague on details because such triumph does not even exist.

In spite of this, considerations which begin from the subject have as much that is false in them, so much as life becomes appearance [Schein].

I don’t even know what “considerations which begin from the subject” are, nor do I think anyone else does and if they do, they cannot prove it.

Because the overwhelming objectivity of the contemporary phase of historical movement consists solely of the dissolution of the subject, without a new one appearing in its stead, individual experience necessarily relies on the old subject, the historically condemned one, which is still for itself, but no longer in itself.

He doesn’t even attempt to prove that the “contemporary phase of historical movement consists solely of the dissolution of the subject,” nor does he attempt to prove that there is something called objectivity of the contemporary phases, a concept which I do not accept. He then posits that the old self, since there is no new self to replace the disolved old self, remains “for itself” but not “in itself,” but again what it means to be “for” rather than “in” itself, is by no means an agreed term.

It thinks of its autonomy as still secure, but the nullity, which the concentration camps demonstrated to subjects, already overtakes the form of subjectivity itself.

How did the concentration camps demonstrate nullity? It is not a very controversial idea, and I’m willing to be sold on the idea. This is probably as close as Adorno comes to a correct statement.

Something sentimental and anachronistic clings to the subjective consideration, no matter how critically sharpened against itself: something of the lament about the way of the world, which is not to be rejected for the sake of its good intentions, but because the lamenting subject threatens to harden in its being-just-so [Sosein] and thereby to fulfill once again the law of the way of the world.

He is attempting to prove that “something sentimental and anachronistic clings to subjective consideration,” however, he provides not one example of what is sentimental or anachronistic. Even if he did provide examples he would then have to prove that they “cling to subjective consideration.”

The fidelity to one’s own state of consciousness and experience is forever in temptation of falling into infidelity, by denying the insight, which reaches beyond the individuated [Individuum] and which calls the latter’s substance by name.

How can one not be faithful to one’s own consciousness? Adorno also claims that there is an insight which “reaches beyond the individuated.” Really? I don’t even think there is a such thing as “beyond the individuated,” and even if there was I doubt it would cause me to become unfaithful to my consciousness.

Hi Kyle. Thought I’d drop in. Seen your post. Knew it was going to be a long one. Never read any of it so here I am now. Hang on. Hang on lad, I 'll just go and read the first couple of sentences. Then I’ll know if its crap or not. Hang on then. Here I go.

Wasn’t good man. First you said that the best read people are forces to be reckoned with because they are the best read people, then you walked past Adorno to say what a bastard Hegel was.

That’s Adorno then. Slowly, but I got there.

I know this post is over 3 years old, but some clarification is needed for whomever might read it because despite your confident tone it is obvious you have absolutely no experience reading Adorno. I do not mean to be confrontational, but if you are going to attempt to publicly decry any major thinker you had better do your homework a little better. Adorno is not a bourgeoisie philosopher, he is a Marxist philosopher, something that you need to research. He is not after universal truths, so to speak. His philosophy is one of historical situatedness. This is a Marxist principle, found in Capital Vol. 1 and elsewhere, that philosophy itself is historically contingent. The rationale follows that Plato himself did not give us universal truth, though his philosophy has often claimed that as its potential, but rather it was an historically contingent expression of truth based on the mode of production of the time. Greece had slaves–Plato didn’t have to work–his truth can only reflect that of free Greek man from a few hundred years before Christ. So, your critique of Adorno is one of a person not respectful to just how radical the Marxist lineage is. In it, all artforms to this point in time are expressions of human suffering, plain and simple, becuase the world has yet to establish a truly free order. Once this order is established, human beings will be able to reach their true potential. Adorno is lamenting upon the monstrous capacity that capitalism has in regards to the alienation of the human being (whose primary characteristic that differs from other animals is his ability to presuppose his labor, i.e. through his capacity for abstract thought his labor is an expression of something sublime, in a way). To be alienated means to not only be forced to do work that does not feel natural to a given person, but that this labor is repetitive and has a dulling effect. Absolute production means the division of labor has successfully alienated the entire human race for the benefit of a few bourgeoisie. It is important to remember that after Adorno escaped Nazi Germany he relocated to Los Angeles and famously noted that it wasn’t all that different. The point here for Adorno would be that if people truly had control of their own minds, they would not have so easily joined in the extermination of 11 million people. For Adorno, the same principles that has you deciding whether to like Coke or Pepsi are responsible for maintaining the world system power structure. In short, you cannot simply take a marxist text and critique it as you would normally because its arguments are part of a broader discussion that typically runs counter to all philosophies outside of it.