User:Eleanorg/1.3/Thematic/Reading/Adorno

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Adorno, A. & Horkneimer, M. (1993) 'The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception' in Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Continuum).

  • "No medieval builder can have scrutinized the subjects for church

windows and sculptures more suspiciously than the studio hierarchy scrutinizes a work by Balzac or Hugo before finally approving it." p.4

  • rationale is given that wide distribution demands centralizing technology, but the real cause is the needs of capital
  • "A technological rationale is the rationale of domination

itself. ...It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardization and mass production"

  • Shift from telephone (two-way) to radio (broadcast model): "No machinery of rejoinder has been devised, and private broadcasters

are denied any freedom. They are confined to the apocryphal 2 field of the “amateur,” and also have to accept organization from above."

  • Those who attempt DIY broadcast are labelled 'amateurs'. Official broadcasting sates most people's desire for participation with talent scouts (see today's reality tv).

<< How true is this critique today, when techno-utopians claim we are all broadcasters now? Could it perhaps apply to the growth of web 2.0 and the turn away from DIY hosting etc?


  • "...if a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely “adapted” for a film sound-track in the same way as a Tolstoy novel is garbled in a

film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air. We are closer to the facts if we explain these phenomena as inherent in the technical and personnel apparatus which, down to its last cog, itself forms part of the economic mechanism of selection." p.2 << Doesn't this contradict the anti- tech determinist stance on p.1? What role does technology play exactly - is it a cause in itself?

  • All culture industries, being economically weak, depend on their capitalist overlords in, for example, the energy business, so cannot afford to offend them.
  • "Marked differentiations such as those of A and B films, or of stories in magazines

in different price ranges, depend not so much on subject matter as on classifying, organizing, and label- ing consumers." p.2 << v relevnt to FB et al's use of customer data as its product

  • Television will bring even greater homogenisation: "Television aims at a synthesis of radio and film, and is

held up only because the interested parties have not yet reached agreement, but its consequences will be quite enormous and promise to intensify the impoverishment of aesthetic matter so drastically, that by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, derisively fulfilling the Wagnerian dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk—the fusion of all the arts in one work." p.3

  • "the triumph of capital...is the meaningful content of every film, whatever plot the production team may have selected."
  • Talkies deaden audience's ability to respond creatively, doing all the thinking for them:

"Real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies. The sound film, far surpassing the theater of illusion, leaves no room for imagination or reflection on the part of the audience, who is unable to re- spond within the structure of the film, yet deviate from its precise detail without losing the thread of the story; hence the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality. The stunting of the mass-media consumer’s powers of imagination and spontaneity does not have to be traced back to any psychological mechanisms; he must ascribe the loss of those attributes to the objective nature of the products themselves, especially to the most characteristic of them, the sound film." p.4 << But isn't this a bit deterministic? There is nothing inherent in the form of a sound film that causes disempowerment is there?

  • Art is now nothing but imitation; nothing but style.
  • "To speak of culture was always contrary to culture. Culture as a common denominator already contains in embryo

that schematization and process of cataloging and classification which bring culture within the sphere of administration." << is this a problematic conflation of culture with hierarchy? Aren't there any other ways to be free than some ideal of autonomous individualism?

  • Leisure as mirror of labour: "subordinating in the same way and to the same end all areas of

intellectual creation, by occupying men’s senses from the time they leave the factory in the evening to the time they clock in again the next morning with matter that bears the impress of the labor process they themselves have to sustain throughout the day, this subsumption mockingly satisfies the concept of a unified culture which the philosophers of personality contrasted with mass culture." p.6 << what is 'unified culture' vs. 'mass culture'?

  • "It is still possible to make one’s way in entertainment, if one is not too obstinate about one’s own concerns, and proves appropriately pliable.

Anyone who resists can only survive by fitting in. Once his particular brand of deviation from the norm has been noted by the industry, he belongs to it as does the land-reformer to capitalism. Realistic dissi- dence is the trademark of anyone who has a new idea in business." p.7 << where does PZI land in this critique, which remains just as relevant if not more so today?
The critique of a film's content always being "the triumph of capital" applies just as much to the art show, whether white cube or supposedly radical experiment in participatory democracy etc etc. And it's not so easy just to contrast this capital-friendly mode of culture with "real" DIY alternatives - see, for example, all the arists initiatives that have sprung up post-recession claiming to be empowering self-organising responses to funding cuts, but actually validating that very logic. So the question perhaps is, is there a pure politics? Anarchos who have nothing to do with the establishment try to circumvent this critique by refusing funding, using DIY venues, etc. But this situation isn't so easy to differentiate now from the situation of the art school graduates from whom they distance themselves.

  • "Formerly, like Kant and Hume, they [artists] signed their letters “Your most humble and obedient servant,” and undermined the foundations of throne

and altar. Today they address heads of government by their first names, yet in every artistic activity they are subject to their illiterate masters." p.7

  • "As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses

are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities." P.8 << So how to resist in this scenario?

  • "The culture industry can pride itself on

having energetically executed the previously clumsy transposition of art into the sphere of consumption, on making this a principle, on divesting amusement of its obtrusive naivetes and improving the type of commodities." p.8

  • "Its [the culture industry's] influence over the consumers is established by entertainment; that will ultimately be broken not by an outright decree, but by the hostility

inherent in the principle of entertainment to what is greater than itself." p.9 << seems to be articulating a way forward, but what does this mean? Whose hostility and what exactly will be broken?

  • we try, and fail, to escape from mechanised production in leisure/culture goods: "mechanization has such power over a man’s leisure and happiness, and

so profoundly determines the manufacture of amusement goods, that his experiences are inevitably after- images of the work process itself." p.9

  • "The purity of bourgeois art, which hypostatized itself as a world of freedom in contrast to what was happening in

the material world, was from the beginning bought with the exclusion of the lower classes—with whose cause, the real universality, art keeps faith precisely by its freedom from the ends of the false universality. Serious art has been withheld from those for whom the hardship and oppression of life make a mockery of seriousness, and who must be glad if they can use time not spent at the production line just to keep going. Light art has been the shadow of autonomous art. It is the social bad conscience of serious art. The truth which the latter necessarily lacked because of its social premises gives the other the semblance of legitimacy.

" -pp.8-9

<< This is a pretty damning critique, not just of the more blatantly elitist forms of expressionism but of all leftist 'serious' art. How can leftist artists make any claim to meaningful critique - let alone intervention - without addressing the elephant in the room: its "social premises" ie, "the exclusion of the lower classes"?

  • The endless provocation and disappointment of capitalism as a kind of sexual tease: "The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory

note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu. ...There is no erotic situation which, while insinuating and exciting, does not fail to indicate unmistakably that things can never go that far. ...Works of art are ascetic and unashamed; the culture industry is pornographic and prudish." -pp.10-11 << A vivid metaphor to use, but wondering what I make of the unproblematic use of phallocentric Freudian jargon (forepleasure, sublimation vs repression), which embrace wholeheartedly a goal-oriented logic of consummation; teasing/refusal as symptoms of perversion (here presented as the torture of capitalism visited upon its subjects: endless promise, no delivery - a theme continued by the Situationists). Is this really the best logic to use when articulating alternatives to capitalism? Pitting ourselves against a cultural 'prick tease'?