Monday, July 27, 2009

a Thought from Adorno

“Vice President – Advice to intellectuals: -don’t let yourself be represented. The fungibility of employments and humans and the belief derived from this, everyone must do everything, proves to be a chain around our feet within presently existing conditions. The egalitarian idea of representability is a fraud, if it is not supported by a principle of the ability to impeach and the responsibility before the rank and file. He is the most powerful who has to do the littlest possible himself, and can burden to the greatest extent possible those in whose name he functions and whose benefits he pockets. It seems like collectivism and is in reality only amour propre, one proves to be an exceptional laborer by the ability to manage others. In material production, of course, representation is materially instantiated. The quantification of the labor process tendentially degrades the difference between that done by the general director and that done by the man taking care of the gasoline station. It is a pitiful ideologiccal belief that there is more intelligence, experience, even education needed to run a trust under current conditions than to read a manometer. But as this ideology is stubbornly clung to in material production, the mind submits to the opposite fact. Thus the univeritas literarum is thrown by this doctrine to the dogs, to the equality of all in the Republic of Science, since everyone is not simply put in charge of everyone else, but also is supposed to be enabled to do just as well what everyone else does. Representability subjects the mind to this same procedure as things are submitted to exchange. The incommensurable is excluded.” (My translation)

This is a nice bit from Minima Moralia. It gets to the difference between our present feudalism, with the position of the wealthy supported by the fires of the incredibly rancid populism of a middle management class in the throes of its own obsolescence, and the feudalism of the past. Aspirational equality disguises the inequality of economic circumstances; while the politics within organizations is all about exhausting the energy for and interest in politics.

11 comments:

northanger said...

amour propre, a "facitious passion" (Rousseau). why do i get the sense we're in neuro-linguistic programming mode?

i may be posting this in the wrong place about your theme of women, doctors, Rousseau (you are mashing it up a bit!) but the "transformation of amour de soi into amour propre" sounds - marxian?

but then i can make this jump: Nagarjuna's hendoku-iyaku: "a great physician who can change poison into medicine"

i'm afraid you're going to have to help me sort out what i just saw here. lol

Anonymous said...

Well, north, that was the language of the moralist before Marx - I'd call it more puritan or jansenist. But I like your quote from Nagarjuna, which echoes the Parsifal theme- to be healed by the sword that kills you - and which Rousseau uses in la Nouvelle Heloise as well - only the hand that hurts me can heal me (such, according to Julie, is the state of our vulnerability to love). And of course, this is what Derrida talks about in the Pharmacy of Plato. The pharmakon, that gift of healing that is the other side of poison. Gift in english, Gift (poison) in German.
- Roger

P.M.Lawrence said...

You are using the term "feudalism" in a very loose and metaphorical way that has very little to do with how things were under the feudal system proper.

northanger said...

i agree with PML, that last paragraph is fuzzy. i did read the full paragraph you're quoting here. what point are you making?


One meets less self-interest here than vanity, insatiable amour-propre, and folly. If amour-propre takes aristocratic forms, it does not do so in order to step on those below, like the parvenu or even the servant become master. Nor is the aristocracy actually affirmed; the self-styled seigneur is not class-conscious" [+]

Anonymous said...

North and Mr. Lawrence,
I disagree, a, that there is anything unusual about the definition of feudal going on in that paragraph, or b, that it is particularly fuzzy.

Feudalism, which was romanticized by people like Chesterton and Belloc, was simply what Moeser called dependence - a system in which the social hierarchy was fixed in a ladderlike pattern, with the serfs on the bottom owing their lords at the top good and services, whether they stayed on their land on worked elsewhere. It arose out of a warlord system, and the residue of that system infiltrated feudal culture.

The ladderlike structure was knocked over by the rise of capitalism, which freed the serfs and took away the income from the lords. However, a new ladder has been put in its place - the entrenchment of the plutocracy that protects itself from any modification by appealing to the aspiration of those on the bottom - don't raise the tax on the wealthy because someday you will be wealthy.
-Roger

northanger said...

ok, i'll buy that (unless PML keeps beating you up, which is always fun to watch). what is it with this winning-the-lottery idea about taxes?

but wait…
It seems like collectivism and amounts only to making oneself seem too good, of being exempt from labor by virtue of access to its alienated form.

It seems like collectivism and is in reality only amour propre, one proves to be an exceptional laborer by the ability to manage others.

?

roger said...

north, you are so unpredictable! I aimed to capture your attention with my Gaia post, even put in a pic of the world from space, made it totally North-friendly - and you want to talk about adorno.
It is hard to please the light of my life, obviously.

northanger said...

thanks for the YOU ARE HERE NORTHANGER, Roger

P.M.Lawrence said...

How can I resist an invitation like that?

The thing is, the term "feudalism" - like "democracy" - can be and often is used to convey a freight of incidental associations other than the essential features. This is just such a case.

By chance, I have just been engaged in a discussion at a thread over at Unqualified Reservations, over a different loose understanding of feudalism that confuses its essential and incidental features - there, the idea that feudalism is all about land ownership.

That discussion is unfinished, but you will - I hope - eventually see a full and comprehensible demonstration of what is involved, which should incidentally show that the usage here is certainly not the precise technical one even though it certainly does - loosely and metaphorically - fasten on to many incidental features that people commonly associate with feudalism. However, even at this stage of the discussion it should be clear that Roger (here) and Michael S (there) are not talking about the same thing.

While the two of them cannot both be right they can easily both be wrong, which I believe to be the case. I am reminded of a story about a lunatic asylum where, one day, the director found that there were two different inmates who each believed herself to be Mary, the Mother of Jesus. As an experiment, he locked them in together and let them argue the point. One finally decided that she must in fact be Mary's own mother. That one eventually recovered.

I trust that nobody will read too close a parallel between the situations of Roger (here) and Michael S (there) into that...

roger said...

There's an excellent paper by Kathleen Davis, Sovereign Subjects, Feudal Law,and the Writing of History that you should read, Mr. Lawrence. Davis, a medievalist, recounts the curious history of a term that was inapplicable to European society when it was first supplied by the "twelfth century
Italian Libri feudorum, an eclectic collection of treatises, statutes,
and northern Italian legislation regarding fiefs." Myself, I use feudal the way the French revolutionaries used it, to point to the patchwork of seigneurial systems in existence in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. But even in the 12th century, the notion of vassals had become an anachronism. As Davis points out, this was part of the becoming-feudal of the medieval period - a time when the fief system was definitely dissolved.

northanger said...

ok (definition of feudalism is from the Introduction of E. L. Ganshof's, Feudalism).

Roger, i think Mr. Lawrence may be doing one of those "monopoly on vs. monopoly of" things.