Friday, October 26, 2012

Invitation to the Dance by Theodor Adorno

Psycho-analysis prides itself on restoring the capacity for pleasure, which is impaired by neurotic illness. As if the mere concept of a capacity for pleasure did not suffice gravely to devalue such a thing, if it exists. As if a happiness gained through speculation on happiness were not the opposite, a further encroachment of institutionally planned behavior patterns on the ever-diminishing sphere of experience.

What a state the dominant consciousness must have reached, when the resolute proclamation of compulsive extravagance and champagne jollity, formerly reserved to attaches in Hungarian operettas, is elevated in deadly earnest to a maxim of right living.

Prescribed happiness looks exactly what it is; to have a part in it, the neurotic thus made happy must forfeit the last vestige of reason left to him by repression and regression, and to oblige the analyst, display indiscriminate enthusiasm for the trashy film, the expensive but bad meal in the French restaurant, the serious drink and the love-making taken like medicine as ‘sex’.

Schiller’s dictum that “Life’s good, in spite of it all”, papier-mache from the start, has become idiocy now that it is blown into the same trumpet as omnipresent advertising, with psycho-analysis, despite its better possibilities, adding its fuel to the flames.

As people have altogether too few inhibitions and not too many, without being a whit healthier for it, a cathartic method with a standard other than successful adaptation and economic success would have to aim at bringing people to a consciousness of unhappiness both general and – inseparable from it – personal, and at depriving them of the illusory gratifications by which the abominable order keeps a second hold on life inside them, as if it did not already have them firmly enough in its power from the outside.

Only when sated with false pleasure, disgusted with the goods offered, dimly aware of the inadequacy of happiness even when it is that – to say nothing of cases where it is bought by abandoning allegedly morbid resistance to its positive surrogate – can men gain an idea what experience might be.

The admonitions to be happy, voiced in concert by the scientifically epicurean sanatorium-director and the highly-strung propaganda chiefs of the entertainment industry, have about them the fury of the father berating his children for not rushing joyously down stairs when he comes home irritable from his office. It is part of the mechanism of domination to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces, and there is a straight line of development between the gospel of happiness and the construction of camps of extermination so far off in Poland that each of our own countrymen can convince himself he cannot hear the screams of pain. That is the model of an unhampered capacity for happiness. He who calls it by its name will be told gloatingly by psycho-analysis that it is just his Oedipus complex.

No 38
Minima Moralia

1 comment:

  1. 'Don't Worry, Be Happy". Like Hamlet, Adorno has seen through humanity but his cynicism, however justifiable on the plane of causality and individual responsibility, can be a deadly and venomous thing.