Thursday, July 10, 2014

Adorno's Theses Against the Occult


Theses against the occult. – I. The penchant for the occult is a symptom of the regression of consciousness. It has lost the energy to think what is unconditional and to withstand the conditional. Instead of determining both, in unity and difference, in the labor of the concept, it heedlessly mixes them up. What is unconditional turns into a fact, what is conditional becomes immediately essential [wesenhaft]. Monotheism crumbles into a second mythology. “I believe in astrology, because I don’t believe in God,” responded an interviewee in an American social psychological study. The juridically-minded [rechtsprechenden] reason, which raised itself to the concept of a god, seems to be caught up in the latter’s fall. The Spirit [Geist] dissociates itself into spirits [Geister: spirits, ghosts] and thereby forfeits the capacity to recognize, that the latter no longer exist. The veiled tendency of calamity of society cons its victims in the false revelation, in the hallucinatory phenomenon. They hope, in vain, that its fragmentary obviousness will enable them to look at the total doom in the eye and withstand it. Panic breaks out once again after millennia of enlightenment on a humanity, whose domination over nature as domination over human beings surpasses in horror whatever human beings had to fear from nature.
II. The second mythology is even more untrue than the first. The latter was the precipitate of the state of cognition of its epochs, each of which showed its consciousness of the blind natural context to be somewhat freer than the previous one. The former, disturbed and entangled, throws away the cognition it once achieved of itself in the middle of a society, which eliminates through the all-embracing exchange relationship even what is most elementary, which the occultists claim to control. The gaze of the mariner at the Dioscuri [twin guardian deities of sea-voyagers in ancient Greece, rendered as statues on the ship’s prow], the animism of trees and streams, in all the delusory bedazzlement at what is inexplicable, were appropriate to the historical experiences of the subject vis-à-vis its action-objects. As a rationally utilized reaction towards the rationalized society, however, in which the booths and consultation rooms of the spirit-seers of all grades, the reborn animism denies the alienation to which it testifies and on which it lives, and surrogates a nonexistent experience. The occultist draws the most extreme conclusion from the fetish-character of the commodity: threateningly objectified labor springs at them from objects in the guise of countless demons. What is forgotten in a world which has turned into products, its producedness [Produziertsein] by human beings, is recalled in divided, inverted form, as something existing in itself which is added to and equated with the in-themselves of objects [An sich der Objekte]. Because these latter have frozen under the light of reason, losing the appearance [Schein] of being animated, that which animates them, its social quality, makes itself something naturally-supernaturally independent, a thing among things.
III. The regression to magical thinking under late capitalism assimilates thought to late-capitalist forms. The dubious-asocial marginal phenomena of the system, the ramshackle institutions which squint through the cracks in its walls, indeed reveal nothing of what would be outside, but manifest the energies of disassembly [Zerfalls] in the interior that much more. The small-time sages, who terrorize their clients in front of a crystal ball, are toy models of the big-time ones, who hold the destiny of humanity in their hands. The obscurantists behind “Psychic Research” [in English in original] are as quarrelsome and conspiratorial as society itself. The hypnosis exerted by occult things resembles totalitarian terror: in contemporary processes, both converge with each other. The smile of the augury has overgrown itself into the scornful laughter of society; it feeds on the immediate material exploitation of souls. The horoscope corresponds to the directives of bureaus on nationalities [Völker: literally peoples or nations, but meaning a homogenous ethnic group], and number-mysticism is preparation for administrative statistics and cartel prices. Integration proves in the end to be the ideology of the disintegration into power-groups, which exterminate each other. Whoever casts their lot with them, is lost.
IV. The occult is a reflex-movement of the subjectification of all meaning, the complement of reification. When the objective reality seems more deaf to the living than ever before, they seek to worm out its meaning through an abracadabra. Meaning is indiscriminately ascribed to the next worse thing: the rationality of what is real, which is no longer quite convincing, is replaced with dancing tables and rays from heaps of earth. The refuse of the world of phenomena [Erscheinungswelt] turns into the mundus intelligibilis [Latin: world of intelligible realities] of the ailing consciousness. It comes close to being the speculative truth, just as Kafka’s Odradek would almost be an angel, and is nevertheless, in a positivity which leaves out the medium of thought, only barbaric error, the subjectivity which has relinquished [entäusserte] itself and thereby fails to recognize itself in the object. The more complete the disdainfulness of what is passed off as “Spirit” [Geist] – and in anything more animated the enlightened subject would of course recognize itself – the more the meaning sensed there, which in fact is totally absent, turns into the unconscious, compulsory project of the historically – if not necessarily clinically – disintegrating [zerfallenden] subject. It would like to make the world similar its own disassembly [Zerfall]: that is why it deals with stage-props and malicious wishes. “The third reads out of my hand / It wants to read my misfortune!” In the occult, the Spirit [Geist] groans under its own bane [Bann] like those caught in a bad dream, whose torment increases with the feeling, that they are dreaming, without being able to wake up.
V. The violence of the occult, just like Fascism, to which it is linked by thought-schemata of the sort which purvey anti-Semitism, is not only pathic. It consists rather of the fact that in the lesser panaceas, cover-pictures, as it were, the consciousness hungry for truth thinks it can grasp the dimly present cognition, which official progress of every type assiduously withholds. It is that society, by virtually excluding the possibility of the spontaneous recoil, gravitates towards total catastrophe. The real absurdity is the model for the astrological one, which puts forward the impenetrable context of alienated elements – nothing is more foreign than the stars – as knowledge about the subject. The threat which is read out of the constellations, resembles the historical one, which rolls on in unconsciousness, in what is subjectless. They can bear the thought that everyone is a prospective victim of a whole, which is merely formed from themselves, only by transferring that whole away from themselves onto something similar, something external to it. In the miserable idiocy which they propagate, the empty horror, they allow themselves to let out the clumsy misery, the crass fear of death and nevertheless to continue to repress it, as they must if they wish to continue to live. The break in the life-line which indicates a hidden cancer is a fraud only in the place where it is asserted, in the hand of the individual [Individuums]; where it would not give a diagnosis, in the collective, it would be correct. Occultists rightly feel drawn to childishly monstrous natural-scientific fantasies. The confusion they create between their emanations and the isotopes of uranium, is ultimate clarity. The mystic rays are modest anticipations of the technical ones. Superstition is cognition, because it sees all of the ciphers of destruction together, which are scattered on the social surface; it is foolish, because in still clings to illusions, in all of its death-drive: glossing the answer, from the transfigured form of society, displaced into the heavens, which can only be provided by the real transfiguration of society.
VI. The occult is the metaphysics of knuckleheads. The subalternity of mediums is no more accidental than the apocryphal nature and triviality of what is revealed. Since the early days of spiritism, the beyond has announced nothing more portentous than a greeting from a dead grandmother next to a prediction, that a journey is in the offing. The excuse that the spirit-world cannot communicate to feeble human reason any more than this latter is able to take in, is just as silly, the auxiliary hypothesis of the paranoid system: the lumen naturale [Latin: “natural light,” in the sense of everyday human reasoning] achieved greater things than the trip to the grandmother, and if the spirits do not wish to acknowledge this, then they are mannerless kobolds, with whom one had better break off all contact. The obtusely natural content of the supernatural message betrays its untruth. While it hunts outside for what is lost, what it runs into there is only its own nothingness. In order not to fall out of the grey prosaicness, in which they feel right at home as incorrigible realists, they adjust the meaning, on which they refresh themselves, into what is meaningless, before which they flee. The phoney magic is nothing other than the phoney existence, which the former illuminates. That is why it makes itself at home with what is down to earth. Facts, which differ from what is the case, only in that they are nothing of the sort, are worked up into the fourth dimension. Their qualitas occulta [Latin: hidden quality] is solely their non-being. They deliver the world-view of idiocy. Abruptly, drastically, the astrologists and spiritists issue a response to every question, which does not even solve the latter, but cancels any possible solution through crude suppositions. Their sublime realm, conceived as analogous to space, no more needs to be thought than chairs and flower-vases. It thereby reinforces conformism. Nothing pleases the existent more, than the position that existence, as such, is supposed to be meaning.
VII. The great religions have either, as in the Jewish one, kept in mind the salvation of the dead, after the ban on graven images, with silence, or taught the resurrection of the flesh. They have their gravity in the inseparability of what is spiritual [Geistigen] and what is corporeal. There is no intention, there is nothing “intellectual” ["geistiges"], which would not somehow be grounded in corporeal perception and demand corporeal fulfillment. To the occultists, who consider themselves above the thought of resurrection and do not at all wish for actual salvation, this is too crude. Their metaphysics, which even Huxley can no longer distinguish from metaphysics, rests on the axiom: “The soul swings high into the air / the body rests on the couch over there.” The feistier the spirituality, the more mechanistic: not even Descartes separated it so cleanly. The division of labor and reification are driven to the extreme: body and soul are cut from each other in a perennial vivisection, as it were. The soul is supposed to dust itself off, in order to continue, in lighter regions, its eager activity right at the point it was interrupted. In such a declaration of independence, however, the soul turns into the cheap imitation of what it was falsely emancipated from. In place of the reciprocity, which even the most rigid philosophy upheld, the astral body sets up shop, the ignominious concession of the hypostatized Spirit [Geist] to its opponent. Only in the allegory of the body is the concept of the pure Spirit [Geists] is to be grasped at all, and the former simultaneously sublates the latter. With the reification of the spirits, the spirits are already negated.
VIII. Occultists fulminate against materialism. But they want to weigh the astral body. The objects of their interest are supposed to simultaneously surpass the possibility of experience and be experienced. Everything is supposed to be done strictly scientifically; the greater the humbug, the more carefully controlled the test arrangement. The pomposity of scientific controls is taken ad absurdum [Latin: to the point of absurdity], where there is nothing to control for. The same rationalistic and empiristic apparatus which put an end to the spirits, is employed to mandatorily foist them off on those who no longer trust in their own ratio. As if any elementary spirit would flee from the trap of the control over nature, which is posited by their fleeting essence [Wesen]. But even this the occultists make use of. Because the spirits don’t like controls, a door must be held open to them in the middle of security precautions, so that they can make their appearance undisturbed. For the occultists are practical types. They aren’t driven by idle curiosity, they seek tips. Things go in a jiffy from the stars to futures trading [Termingeschäft: future transactions, futures, options]. Mostly the information amounts to ill tidings for some acquaintance, who was hoping for something.
IX. The cardinal sin of the occult is the contamination of Spirit [Geist] and existence, the latter of which turns into an attribute of the Spirit [Geistes]. This last originated in existence, as an organ designed to preserve life. Since existence is reflected in the Spirit [Geist], this latter turns at the same time into something else. What exists negates itself as the memorialization [Eingedenken] of itself. Such negation is the element of the Spirit [Geistes]. To ascribe it once more to positive existence, even if it were that of a higher social order, would deliver it to that which it stands against. Later bourgeois ideology had made it once more into what it was in pre-animism, something existing-in-itself according to the measure of the social division of labor, of the break between physical and intellectual labor, and of the planned domination over the former. In the concept of the Spirit [Geistes] which exists in itself, the consciousness ontologically justifies and eternalizes privilege, by making it independent of the social principle, which constitutes it. Such ideology explodes into occultism: the latter is an idealism which has come into itself, as it were. Precisely by virtue of the rigid antithesis of being and Spirit [Geist], this latter turns into a department of being. If idealism had promoted the idea solely for the whole, that being would be Spirit [Geist] and this latter would exist, then the occult draws the absurd consequence from this, that existence means determinate being: “Existence is, according to its becoming, above all being with something non-being, so that this non-being is taken up in simple unity with being. The non-being thus taken up in being, the fact that the concrete whole is in the form of being, of immediacy, comprises the determination as such. “ (Hegel, Science of Logic I, ed. Glockner, Stutgart 1928, page 123). The occultists take not-being as a “simple unity with being” literally, and their kind of concreity is a fraudulent abbreviation of the path from the whole to the determinate, which can claim that the whole, as something once determined, is thereby nothing of the sort anymore. They call to metaphysics, hic Rhodus hic salta[Latin: here is Rhodes, here is where you jump]: if the philosophical investment of Spirit [Geist] with existence can be determined, then, they feel, any random, scattered existence must ultimately justify itself as a particular Spirit [Geist]. Consequently, the doctrine of the existence of the Spirit [Geist], the most extreme exaltation of bourgeois consciousness, would already teleologically bear the belief in spirits, its utmost denigration. The transition to existence, always “positive” and justification for the world, implies at the same time the thesis of positivity of the Spirit [Geist], its arrest as a thing [Dingfestmachung], the transposition of what is absolute into the phenomenon [Erscheinung]. Whether the entire tangible world, as “product,” is supposed to be Spirit [Geist] or any sort of thing any sort of Spirit [Geist], becomes irrelevant and the world-spirit turns into the highest spirit [Geist], to the guardian angel of what exists, of what is de-spiritualized. The occultists live on this: their mysticism is the enfant terrible [French: scandalous young guard] of the mystical moment in Hegel. They drive the speculation to defrauding bankruptcy. By passing off the determinate being as Spirit [Geist], they subject the objectified Spirit [Geist] to the test of existence, and it must turn out negatively. No Spirit [Geist] is there.

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