creation, dialectic, intellectual, madness, music, philosophy, play, production, rationalization, reason, science, sickness, Uncategorized, waste, work

Abolishing Distinction: Adorno and Sense

I should account as the foremost musician one who knew only the sadness of the most profound happiness, and no other sadness at all; but such a musician has never existed yet.
Nietzsche (The Gay Science 183)

The dialectic cannot stop short before the concepts of health and sickness, nor indeed before their siblings reason and unreason. Once it has recognized the ruling universal order and its proportions as sick — and marked in the most literal sense with paranoia, with ‘pathic projection’ — then it can see as healing cells only what appears, by the standards of that order, as itself sick, eccentric, paranoia — indeed, ‘mad’; and it is true today as in the Middle Ages that only fools tell their masters the truth. The dialectician’s duty is thus to help this fool’s truth to attain to its own reasons, without which it will certainly succumb to the abyss of the sickness implacably dictated by the healthy common sense of the rest.
Adorno (Minimal Moralia 73)

For Adorno, dialectical thought is a studied, passionate opposition to reification in several important senses. A fair bit of Minima Moralia is dedicated to analyzing the social regulation leading to the gradual alienation of academic philosophy from positive materialism. Adorno decries the blindness, the manic fixity of professional intellectuals, their degeneration from paragons of reason to the producers of a mass rationalizations.

In a larger historical sense, Adorno believes the unresisting and empty drift of paranoia pays for these absolute judgments by a loss of experience: we might say that the deadening of judgment is directly related to the deadening of emotion. He argues that, in fact, “the appeal to reason invariably occurs most promptly in apologies for unreason.” We see a careful deployment of this position in his analysis of common sense:

Common sense, the correct assessment of situations, the worldly eye schooled by the market, shares with the dialectic a freedom from dogma, narrow-mindedness and prejudice. Its sobriety undeniably constitutes a moment of critical thinking. But its lack of passionate commitment makes it, all the same, the sworn enemy of such thinking. For opinion in its generality, accepted directly as that of society as it is, necessarily has agreement as its concrete content. (Minima Moralia 72)

Common sense is a kind of general or generic opinion, whose sobriety may be critical, but whose lack of energy make it the opposite of real thinking. This echoes a Adorno has argued only a few pages before: that nothing is more unfitting for intellectuals eager to practice what was in earlier centuries called philosophy to wish to be right. This very desire for purely formal truth, founded only on consensus and agreement, is not only naive, a simple desire to persuade, but already paranoid, totalizing, hegemonic.

This desire, or rather naivete, is itself founded on implicit presuppositions — universal literacy, an a priori agreement between minds able to communicate with one another — in short upon what Adorno argues is a complete conformism. Philosophy ought not to desire to possess the pure form of the truth: “The point should not be to have absolutely correct, irrefutable, water-tight cognitions — for they inevitably boil down to tautologies, but insights which cause the question of their justness to judge itself.” He emphasizes that this is still not advocating irrationalism — or the arbitrary postulation of theses justified only by revelatory faith — but rather “the abolition of the distinction between thesis and argument.” (71)

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