Geulen_Eva_No Happiness Without Fetishism_Adorno and Art of Love_ From Fem Int of Adorno_Comay-2

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Adorno and the art of love
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  5 ‘‘No Happiness Without Fetishism’’ Minima Moralia as Ars Amandi Eva Geulen Theodor Adorno’s greatest success is a book on failure, in which he fa-mously decreed that ‘‘there is no right life in the wrong one.’’ 1  Numerousformulations play on Minima Moralia ’s pervasive theme of inevitable fail-ure. ‘‘There is no way out of entanglement’’ (27), for example, althoughperhaps less familiar, is certainly no less clear. However, Minima Moralia is also Adorno’s most intimate book. The dictate ‘‘no way out’’ disclosesa negative freedom in its own right; the categorical impossibility of any‘‘right life’’ brings to the surface those mundane details of daily life thatusually fall below the threshold of philosophical, or even literary, dignity.In the light of world historical injustice, Adorno seems to be able to  98 Feminist Interpretations of Theodor Adorno afford a worldliness that is missing in most of his other writings. 2 As withany good vade mecum, among the entries of  Minima Moralia readers mayhope to find something appropriate for any occasion. But Adorno’s con-cern with individual experience also increases the level of exposure; no-where else is he more vulnerable to critique and ridicule.On the pain and glory of love, Minima Moralia proves to be a particu-larly rich, and particularly embarrassing, source. 3 The somewhat datedslogan, according to which ‘‘the private is the political,’’ can hardly legiti-mize prolonged indulgence in Adorno’s rather ubiquitous romantic mus-ings. Nevertheless (and, perhaps, even therefore) it is likely that manya line from Minima Moralia has found its way into lovers’ discourse. Aproposition such as ‘‘You are being loved only where you may show your-self weak without provoking strength’’ (192) strikes just the right balancebetween banality and profundity that is required of such tokens of love.In contradistinction to those few readers who are acutely in love, themajority of lucid professionals have long since unmasked Adorno’s notori-ously romanticizing speculations and banned them accordingly. AlbrechtWellmer, for example, stigmatized what he termed Adorno’s ‘‘somatic’’tendencies as remnants of dubious theologisms that ought to be surrend-ered. 4 Most recently, Clemens Pornschlegel heaped ridicule on the entrytitled ‘‘Constanze,’’ which portrays the loving couple as a dormant revo-lutionary cell: ‘‘Perhaps the secret of success of the young republic’s best-selling author is nowhere more graspable than in his sentimental lines onlove . . . 19th century through and through.’’ 5 Indeed. Not much can besaid in defense of Adorno’s anachronistic sentimentality. Moreover, heso unabashedly assumes the point of view of a male heterosexual thatthis perspective tends to cloud even his once poignant insights into thedialectics of the women’s movement, the pitfalls of the so-called sexualrevolution, and other potentially redeeming features of his thoughts onlove in particular and gender relations in general. 6 Yet the reasonable suggestion to forego further examination of the‘‘somatic’’ underpinnings of Adorno’s thought runs the risk of castratingthe entire oeuvre. For none of Adorno’s theorems—neither those per-taining to art and aesthetic experience or to history and social relations,nor those addressing problems of literary or musical expression—can besustained at all if their roots in erotic desire are severed, ‘‘because eventhought’s remotest objectifications are nourished by the drives’’ (122). Nietzsche’s claim that ‘‘the degree and kind of a man’s sexuality extendsto the highest pinnacle of his spirit’’ figured among Adorno’s deepest  ‘‘No Happiness Without Fetishism’’ 99 convictions (122). In particular, his scant, strained references to utopiatend to be modeled on sexual fulfillment: ‘‘Only he who could situateutopia in blind somatic pleasure, which, satisfying the ultimate intention,is intentionless, has a stable and valid idea of truth’’ (61). The very ideaof happiness, Adorno suggests, is ‘‘sexual union’’ as ‘‘blissful tension’’(217). Similarly, his most succinct formula for the specific quality of aes-thetic experience unequivocally recalls the peculiarities of ‘‘la petitemort’’: ‘‘If anywhere, then in this respect, aesthetic experience resemblessexual experience, in particular its culmination. As the beloved imagetransforms itself, as petrification is united with the most vivacious, it isas if culmination were the incarnation of the srcinal idea of aestheticexperience.’’ 7 The succession of mutually canceling terms in this sen-tence—‘‘as if’’ (  gleichsam ) but ‘‘incarnate’’ ( leibhaft ), yet inaccessible andunverifiable as a platonic idea ( Urbild ) at the same time—underwriteAdorno’s determined refusal to let anyone decide whether this ‘‘culmina-tion’’ should be understood literally or figuratively. In fact, the momen-tary equilibrium of opposites is precisely at issue here. Adorno’sdescription of the successful artwork as a fleeting instance of  Einstand, or‘‘balance,’’ between utmost tension and complete relaxation also borrowsits evidence from the same phenomenon. (But it is worth pointing outthat on Adorno’s view, an orgasm is not privy to the pleasure he likensto aesthetic experience. It belongs to the onlooker, who observes the rarecoincidence of tension with its opposite. Even ecstasy requires distance:‘‘Contemplation without violence, the source of all the joy of truth, pre-supposes that he who contemplates does not absorb the object into him-self: a distanced nearness’’ [89–90].)The point of these and countless other examples is not that Adorno’stheoretical constructions are, in the final instance, reducible to sexualdesire or sexual fulfillment, respectively. 8 Equally crude would be an inter-pretation that casts sexual pleasure as the last bastion of resistance withinthe ‘‘totally administered world.’’ Yet dismissing Adorno’s persistent allu-sions as mere flourishes on hard-core theory obviously sells short what isoverrated in the other scenario. And mapping Adorno’s obstinate refer-ences onto a grand theory of desire (Lacanian, for example) clearly missesthe point as well. The problem is that the sphere of sexuality has been sogreatly expanded as to become an enveloping presence; it has become sodiffuse as to saturate virtually everything. Sexuality’s impotent omnipo-tence in Minima Moralia is intriguing enough to tempt one to experimentwith a more systematic reconstruction of its theoretical significance.  100 Feminist Interpretations of Theodor Adorno Recourse to Freudian psychoanalysis proves to be of limited help inthis endeavor—for Adorno himself drew the line that separates his workfrom psychological interpretation. Where Freud hovers, hesitating, onthe border, Adorno plants himself firmly on ‘‘ this side of the pleasureprinciple,’’ not because Freud underrated rationality, but ‘‘rather becausehe rejects the end, remote from meaning, pervious to reason, which alonecould prove the means, reason, to be reasonable: pleasure [ Lust ]’’ (61).Since occasional references to Nietzsche cannot adequately explain theidiosyncratic privilege Minima Moralia accords to sexual experience, itseems heuristically sound to assume that in matters of love and sexAdorno went his own way. 9 From this follows the method: to pursueAdorno’s obsessions with comparable determination. Rather than ex-haustively cataloging all references to sexuality—and who is to say whatqualifies in this respect?—one should understand that eclecticism is key.One best proceeds as if  Adorno had left us with a fully developed theoryof love. Against the backdrop of that hypothetical premise it becomespossible to measure the familiar against the unfamiliar. One must isolatethose instances in which Adorno’s claims in matters of love extend be-yond, run up against, or even clash with the accustomed theoretical para-digms of his thought: Nietzschean, Freudian, Marxian. 10 Mimetic Desire ‘‘Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar’’ (191). Not surpris-ingly, love in Adorno tends to appear in the context of mimesis, one of the thorniest theorems in his aesthetic theory, a quasi-anthropologicalconstant in all his reflections, and, above all, a site of great ambivalence.For, on the one hand, mimesis belongs to an archaic level of experiencethat reason and abstraction have long overcome—at least this is how thestory of mimesis is told in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, where the Jewishimposition of the taboo on images thwarts the regressive tendencies of mimetic impulses. 11 On the other hand, all that has been lost, was aban-doned, or remains, for either historical or structural reasons, inaccessible,exerts irresistible attraction over Adorno’s intellectual imagination. Thislatter aspect helps to account for the fact that a passage in Minima Mor-alia joins mimetic heritage and love in the name of humanity: ‘‘Thehuman is indissolubly linked with imitation: a human being only be-
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