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theodor adorno Quotes

Theodor Adorno Quotes

Birth Date: 1903-09-11 (Friday, September 11th, 1903)
Date of Death: 1969-08-06 (Wednesday, August 6th, 1969)



    • 'In general they are intoxicated by the fame of mass culture, a fame which the latter knows how to manipulate; they could just as well get together in clubs for worshipping film stars or for collecting autographs. What is important to them is the sense of belonging as such, identification, without paying particular attention to its content. As girls, they have trained themselves to faint upon hearing the voice of a 'crooner'. Their applause, cued in by a light-signal, is transmitted directly on the popular radio programmes they are permitted to attend. They call themselves 'jitter-bugs', bugs which carry out reflex movements, performers of their own ecstasy. Merely to be carried away by anything at all, to have something of their own, compensates for their impoverished and barren existence. The gesture of adolescence, which raves for this or that on one day with the ever-present possibility of damning it as idiocy on the next, is now socialized.'
    • 'Jazz is the false liquidation of art - instead of utopia becoming reality it disappears from the picture.'
    • 'When I made my theoretical model, I could not have guessed that people would try to realise it with Molotov cocktails.'
    • 'The aim of jazz is the mechanical reproduction of a regressive moment, a castration symbolism. 'Give up your masculinity, let yourself be castrated,' the eunuchlike sound of the jazz band both mocks and proclaims, 'and you will be rewarded, accepted into a fraternity which shares the mystery of impotence with you, a mystery revealed at the moment of the initiation rite.'
    • 'If one is to take Lulu's twelve-tone chord as the integral totality of complementary harmony, then Berg's allegorical genius proves itself within a historical perspective which makes the brain reel: just as Lulu in the world of total illusion longs for nothing but her murderer and finally finds him in that sound, so does all harmony of unrequited happiness long for its fatal chord as the cipher of fulfillment--twelve-tone music is not to be separated from dissonance. Fatal: because all dynamics come to a standstill within it wihout finding release. The law of complementary harmony already implies the end of the musical experience of time, as this was heralded in the dissociation of time according to Expressionistic extremes.'
    • 'Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.' ['Kulturkritik findet sich der letzten Stufe der Dialektik von Kultur und Barbarei gegenuber: nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch, und das fri?t auch die Erkenntnis an, die ausspricht, warum es unmoglich ward, heute Gedichte zu schreiben.']
    • 'A German is someone who cannot tell a lie without believing it himself.'
    • 'A pencil and rubber are of more use to thought than a battalion of assistants. To happiness the same applies as to truth: one does not have it, but is in it.'
    • 'Advice to intellectuals: let no-one represent you.'
    • 'All morality has been modelled on immorality and to this day has reinstated it at every level. The slave morality is indeed bad: it is still the master morality.'
    • 'All satire is blind to the forces liberated by decay. Which is why total decay has absorbed the forces of satire.'
    • 'An emancipated society, on the other hand, would not be a unitary state, but the realization of universality in the reconciliation of differences.'
    • 'And how comfortless is the thought that the sickness of the normal does not necessarily imply as its opposite the health of the sick, but that the latter usually only present, in a different way, the same disastrous pattern.'
    • 'Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth.'
    • 'Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane.'
    • 'Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals.'
    • 'Because thought has by now been perverted into the solving of assigned problems, even what is not assigned is processed like a problem.'
    • 'But he who dies in despair has lived his whole life in vain.'
    • 'Dialectic thought is an attempt to break through the coercion of logic by its own means.'
    • 'Domination delegates the physical violence on which it rests to the dominated.'
    • 'Estrangement shows itself precisely in the elimination of distance between people.'
    • 'Every undistorted relationship, perhaps indeed the conciliation that is part of organic life itself, is a gift. He who through consequential logic becomes incapable of it, makes himself a thing and freezes.'
    • 'Every work of art is an uncommitted crime.'
    • 'Everybody must have projects all the time. The maximum must be extracted from leisure... The whole of life must look like a job, and by this resemblance conceal what is not yet directly devoted to pecuniary gain.'
    • 'Everything that has ever been called folk art has always reflected domination.'
    • 'Everywhere bourgeois society insists on the exertion of will; only love is supposed to be involuntary, pure immediacy of feeling. In its longing for this, which means a dispensation from work, the bourgeois idea of love transcends bourgeois society. But in erecting truth directly amid the general untruth, it perverts the former into the latter.'
    • 'Exuberant health is always, as such, sickness also.'
    • 'Fascism is itself less 'ideological', in so far as it openly proclaims the principle of domination that is elsewhere concealed.'
    • 'For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live.'
    • 'Freedom would be not to choose between black and white but to abjure such prescribed choices.'
    • 'Genuine things are those to which commodities and other means of exchange can be reduced, particularly gold. But like gold, genuineness, abstracted as the proportion of fine metal, becomes a fetish.'
    • 'Happiness is obsolete: uneconomic.'
    • 'He who has laughter on his side has no need of proof.'
    • 'He who has loved and who betrays love does harm not only to the image of the past, but to the past itself.'
    • 'He who integrates is lost.'
    • 'He who matures early lives in anticipation.'
    • 'He who says he is happy lies, and in invoking happiness, sins against it. He alone keeps faith who says: I was happy. The only relation of consciousness to happiness is gratitude: in which lies its incomparable dignity.'
    • 'He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private interest.'
    • 'History does not merely touch on language, but takes place in it.'
    • 'Horror is beyond the reach of psychology.'
    • 'If across the Atlantic the ideology was pride, here it is delivering the goods.'
    • 'If time is money, it seems moral to save time, above all one's own, and such parsimony is excused by consideration for others. One is straight-forward.'
    • 'In his state of complete powerlessness the individual perceives the time he has left to live as a brief reprieve.'
    • 'In many people it is already an impertinence to say 'I'.'
    • 'In psycho-analysis nothing is true except the exaggerations.'
    • 'In the abstract conception of universal wrong, all concrete responsibility vanishes.'
    • 'In the age of the individual's liquidation, the question of individuality must be raised anew.'
    • 'In the clock's over-loud ticking we hear the mockery of light-years for the span of our existence.'
    • 'In the end the tough guys are the truely effeminate ones, who need the weaklings as their victims in order not to admit that they are like them.'
    • 'In the end, glorification of splendid underdogs is nothing other than glorification of the splendid system that makes them so.'
    • 'In the nineteenth century the Germans painted their dream and the outcome was invariably vegetable. The French needed only to paint a vegetable and it was already a dream.'
    • 'Insane sects grow with the same rhythm as big organizations. It is the rhythm of total destruction. '
    • 'Intelligence is a moral category.'
    • 'It is not man's lapse into luxurious indolence that is to be feared, but the savage spread of the social under the mask of universal nature, the collective as a blind fury of activity.'
    • 'Lies are told only to convey to someone that one has no need either of him or his good opinion.'
    • 'Life has become the ideology of its own absence.'
    • 'Life has changed into a timeless succession of shocks, interspaced with empty, paralysed intervals. '
    • 'Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar.'
    • 'Love you will find only where you may show yourself weak without provoking strength.'
    • 'Metaphysical categories are not merely an ideology concealing the social system; at the same time they express its nature, the truth about, and in their changes are precipitated those in its most central experiences.'
    • 'Mind arose out of existence, as an organ for keeping alive. In reflecting existence, however, it becomes at the same time something else. The existent negates itself as thought upon itself. Such negation is mind's element.'
    • 'Modernity is a qualitative, not a chronological, category.'
    • 'No emancipation without that of society.'
    • 'No harm comes to man from outside alone: dumbness is the objective spirit.'
    • 'None of the abstract concepts comes closer to fulfilled utopia than that of eternal peace.'
    • 'Normality is death.'
    • 'Not only is the self entwined in society; it owes society its existence in the most literal sense.'
    • 'Once the last trace of emotion has been eradicated, nothing remains of thought but absolute tautology.'
    • 'Only a humanity to whom death has become as indifferent as its members, that has itself died, can inflict it administratively on innumerable people.'
    • 'People at the top are closing ranks so tightly that all possibility of subjective deviation has gone, and difference can be sought only in the more distinguished cut of an evening dress.'
    • 'Perhaps the true society will grow tired of development and, out of freedom, leave possibilities unused, instead of storming under a confused compulsion to the conquest of strange stars.'
    • 'Proletarian language is dictated by hunger. The poor chew words to fill their bellies.'
    • 'Psychology repeats in the case of properties what was done to property. It expropriates the individual by allocating him its happiness.'
    • 'Quality is decided by the depth at which the work incorporates the alternatives within itself, and so masters them.'
    • 'Rampant technolgy eliminates luxury, but not by declaring privilege a human right; rather, it does so by both raising the general standard of living and cutting off the possibility of fulfilment.'
    • 'Rather, knowledge comes to us through a network of prejudices, opinions, innervations, self-corrections, presuppositions and exaggerations, in short through the dense, firmly-founded but by no means uniformly transparent medium of experience.'
    • 'Running in the street conveys an impression of terror. The victim's fall is already mimed in his attempt to escape it. The position of the head, trying to hold itself up, is that of a drowning man, and the straining face grimaces as if under torture. He has to look ahead, can hardly glance back without stumbling, as if treading the shadow of a foe whose features freeze the limbs.'
    • 'Society is integral even before it undergoes totalitarian rule. Its organization also embraces those at war with it by co-ordinating their consciousness to its own.'
    • 'Tact is the discrimination of differences. It consists in conscious deviations.'
    • 'Taste is the ability to keep in balance the contradiction in art between the made and the apparent not-having-become; true works of art, however, never at one with taste, are those which push this contradiction to the extreme, and realize themselves in their resultant downfall.'
    • 'Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men.'
    • 'That all men are alike is exactly what society would like to hear. It considers actual or imagined differences as stigmas indicating that not enough has yet been done; that something has still been left outside its machinery, not quite determined by its totality.'
    • 'The almost insoluble task is to let neither the power of others, nor our own powerlessness, stupefy us.'
    • 'The body's habituation to walking as normal stems from the good old days. It was the bourgeois form of locomotion: physical demythologization, free of the spell of hieratic pacing, roofless wandering, breathless flight. Human dignity insisted on the right to walk, a rhythm not extorted from the body by command or terror.'
    • 'The capacity for fear and for happiness are the same, the unrestricted openness to experience amounting to self-abandonment in which the vanquished rediscovers himself.'
    • 'The culture industry not so much adapts to the reactions of its customers as it counterfeits them.'
    • 'The decay of giving is morrored in the distressing invention of gift-article, based on the assumption that one does not know what to give because one really does not want to.'
    • 'The dialectic cannot stop short before the conceptsof health and sickness, nor indeed before their siblings reason and unreason.'
    • 'The division of the world into important and unimportant matters, which has always served to neutralize the key phenomena of social injustice as mere exceptions, should be followed up to the point where it is convicted of its own untruth. The division which makes everything objects must itself become an object of thought, instead of guiding it.'
    • 'The film has succeeded in transforming subjects so indistinguishably into social functions, that those wholly encompassed, no longer aware of any conflict, enjoy their own dehumanization as something human, as the joy of warmth. The total interconnectedness of the culture industry, omitting nothing, is one with total social delusion.'
    • 'The first and only principle of sexual ethics: the accuser is always in the wrong.'
    • 'The gods look in pleasure on penitent sinners.'
    • 'The good man is he who rules himself as he does his own property: his autonomous being is modelled on material power.'
    • 'The hardest hit, as everywhere, are those who have no choice.'
    • 'The human is indissolubly linked with imitation: a human being only becomes human at all by imitating other human beings.'
    • 'The idea that after this war life will continue 'normally' or even that culture might be 'rebuilt' - as if the rebuilding of culture were not already its negation - is idiotic.'
    • 'The ideology of cultural conservatism which sees enlightenment and art as simple antitheses is false, among other reasons, in overlooking the moment of enlightenment in the genesis of beauty. Enlightenment does not merely dissolve all the qualities that beauty adheres to, but posits the quality of beauty in the first place.'
    • 'The individual mirrors in his individuation the preordained social laws of exploitation, however mediated.'
    • 'The intellectuals themselves are already so heavily committed to what is endorsed in their isolated sphere, that they no longer desire anything that does not carry the highbrow tag.'
    • 'The joke of our time is the suicide of intention.'
    • 'The lie has long since lost its honest function of misrepresenting reality. Nobody believes anybody, everyone is in the know. Lies are told only to convey to someone that one has no need either of him or his good opinion.'
    • 'The man for whom time stretches out painfully is one waiting in vain, disappointed at not finding tomorrow already continuing yesterday.'
    • 'The most powerful person is he who is able to do least himself and burden others most with the things for which he lends his name and pockets the credit.'
    • 'The new human type cannot be properly understood without awareness of what he is continuously exposed to from the world of things about him, even in his most secret innervations.'
    • 'The only decent marriage would be one allowing each partner to lead an independent life, in which, instead of a fusion derived from an enforced community of economic interest, both freely accepted mutual responsibility.'
    • 'The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.'
    • 'The overbearing matter-of-factness which sacrifices the subject to the ascertainment of the truth, rejects at once truth and objectivity.'
    • 'The poor are prevented from thinking by the discipline of others, the rich by their own.'
    • 'The recent past always presents itself as if destroyed by catastrophes.'
    • 'The scientific industry has its exact counterpart in the kind of minds it harnesses: they no longer need to do themselves any violence in becoming their own voluntary and zealous overseers. Even if they show themselves, outside their official capacity, to be quite human and sensible being, they are paralysed by pathic stupidity the moment they begin to think professionally.'
    • 'The specific is not exclusive: it lacks the aspiration to totality.'
    • 'The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying-glass.'
    • 'The task of art today is to bring chaos into order.'
    • 'The very people who burst with proofs of exuberant vitality could easily be taken for prepared corpses, from whom the news of their not-quite-successful decease has been withheld for reasons of population policy. Underlying the prevalent health is death. All the movements of health resemble the reflex-movements of beings whose hearts have stopped beating.'
    • 'The walk, the stroll, were private ways of passing time, the heritage of the feudal promenade in the nineteenth century.'
    • 'The whole is the false.'
    • 'The world is systematized horror, but therefore it is to do the world too much honour to think of it entirely as a system; for its unifying principle is division, and it reconciles by asserting unimpaired the irreconcilability of the general and the particular.'
    • 'There is no love that is not an echo.'
    • 'There is some reason to fear that the involvement of non-Western peoples in the conflicts of industrial society, long overdue in itself, will be less to the benefit of the liberated peoples than to that of rationally improved production and communications, and a modestly raised standard of living.'
    • 'They are down to earth like their zoological forbears, before they got up on their hind-legs.'
    • 'Thinking no longer means anymore than checking at each moment whether one can indeed think.'
    • 'Those who cannot help ought also not advise: in an order where every mousehole has been plugged, mere advice exactly equals condemnation.'
    • 'To hate destructiveness, one must hate life as well: only death is an image of undistorted life... organic life is an illness peculiar to our unlovely planet.'
    • 'To say 'we' and mean 'I' is one of the most recondite insults.'
    • 'Today it is seen as arrogant, alien and improper to engage in private activity without any evident ulterior motive. Not to be 'after' something is almost suspect.'
    • 'Today self-consciousness no longer means anything but reflection on the ego as embarrassment, as realization of impotence: knowing that one is nothing.'
    • 'True thoughts are those alone which do not understand themselves.'
    • 'Truth is inseperable from the illusory belief that from the figures of the unreal one day, in spite of all, real deliverance will come.'
    • 'Up to our days a man's membership of the upper or lower classes has been crudely determined by whether or not he accepted money. At times false pride became conscious criticism.'
    • 'We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless.'
    • 'What has become alien to men is the human component of culture, its closest part, which upholds them against the world. They make common cause with the world against themselves, and the most alienated condition of all, the omnipresence of commodities, their own conversion into appendages of machinery, is for them a mirage of closeness.'
    • 'Whatever the intellectual does, is wrong. He experiences drastically and vitally the ignominious choice that late capitalism secretly presents to all its dependants: to become one more grown-up, or to remain a child.'
    • 'When all actions are mathematically calculated, they also take on a stupid quality.'
    • 'Without hope, the idea of truth would be scarcely even thinkable, and it is the cardinal untruth, having recognized existence to be bad, to present it as truth simply because it has been recognized.'
    • 'When intellectual formulations are treated simply by relegating them to the past and permitting the simple passage of time to substitute for development, the suspicion is justified that such formulations have not really been mastered, but rather they are being suppressed.'
    • 'Work while you work, play while you play - this is a basic rule of repressive self-discipline.'
    • 'Kafka: the solipcist without ipseity.'
    • theodor adorno

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