Did Someone Say, Authenticity?
The basic insight in Adorno’s “The Jargon of Authenticity” is that philosophy cannot return in time to some zero state of “authenticity”, but that this does not mean we live in the most Authentic of all possible worlds. Authenticity, to Adorno, only occurs in freedom, and if we are to credit his lectures on freiheit given in the 1960s, we don’t know what freedom would feel like owing to scarcity+class structure.
Now, on this, I’d say that running without my iPod (for many more times over thirty years than with the thing) is just as spiritually rewarding as running with it. I won’t even say that it’s better without. It is the same, because I do not know Authenticity in the absence of Redemption.
The 1920s and the 1950s were critically pernicious decades, the second of which I experienced first-hand, in which we learned commodity addiction. In the 1960s, that became the false “alternative” culture of reaching for illegal drugs instead of facing life on life’s own terms. The hippies were merely reaching outside commodity addiction for a more exciting and louche commodity.
But as a result, people today, including me of course, can never have a relatively authentic (using it here and not above as a relative and not an absolute term) experience without wondering where it comes from. Oh, no pain. Thank you Valium my god.
“Take a Valium like a normal person!” – Desperately Seeking Susan 1983
If some madcap in some office comes up with a poem that rhymes and makes it into a screen saver, people do not crown him with laurels or even boot him out of town, as Plato recommended. They say what is HE on?
My mistaking 50mg Ibuprofen for 400 taught me that endorphins release during pain along with texts-in-the-head, call them prayers if you like. Then when there is a natural release such as a seat on the MTR or a friend, the endorphins are still there and that feels in my experience great.
I mean…really great. It is spooky you ask me.
But if I get hooked on pain medications then my false God will be, in my case, at the other end of a trip on the ferry. There are no pharmacies on Lamma Island.
Adorno did not suffer from cancer. Instead, he is a warning to older men; you have a very high chance of a heart attack if you work out too intensively. He went hiking at the mountain spa of Sils Maria, developed chest pains on the descent, checked into the hospital and died of heart complications.
He had been under considerable stress owing to harassment by Stalinist jerks at his university but Muller-Doohm his biographer doesn’t document his experiencing heart problems prior to 1970.
But he might agree with me that commodities colonize every minute of our lives. It is paradoxical that relative to my New Age and Outward Bound friends, he’d find that they speak “the jargon of authenticity”, but agree with their program of getting away from commodity addiction.
Adorno and his life long wife Gretel nee Karplus did watch TV, but they preferred animal programs; in childhood, Adorno had loved stories of animals who escaped predators. But it’s not recorded, even in Muller Doohm’s comprehensive biography, that he “liked” jazz despite the fact that a recent collection of his writings (Current of Music, Polity) shows he knew it so much that he must have liked some pop music after all.
Underneath all the New Age talk, which derives I believe from Heidegger, is Marxism of a peculiarly dilute, almost homeopathic, sort, described best by Leszek Kolakowski in Main Currents of Marxism (a real whopper, three volumes which I am almost finished with). The media don’t tell you what I learn orally in Outward Bound and friends on Lamma Island: if it is in a package with a name, it’s probably not good for you.
Whereas when I buy a bunch of fresh vegetables home from our greengrocer, they are so damn beautiful on my kitchen counter.
“Call any vegetable, and the chances are good, that a vegetable will respond to you.” – Frank Zappa.
They are as relatively Authentic as I shall get. And, perhaps a key to understanding Adorno is that sometimes he uses words (“freedom” and “authenticity”) as if they were words like “pregnant”, which have no comparative use.
This is because he naturally thought “dialectically” as a Continental philosopher: to get some freedom in a compromise natural to “democracy” (where that term itself is used rarely in an absolute sense) produces antibodies, anti-freedom. You get public education: but as capitalist competition intensifies, the beautiful schools and their valuable land are taken by the rich (quite simply).
So, Adorno as a Marxist was quite absolute and extreme, but I think he’d agree with Leszek Kolakowski that ANY “revolutionary terror” contradicts and destroys the revolutionary ideal. Che Guevera, who said that the true revolutionary is motivated by the most profound feelings of love, was destroyed by this truth. Whereas Adorno refused to act upon his absolute Marxism. “Start the revolution without me”.
Divorce in 1981, and this cancer diagnosis, changed me. Perhaps there will be no revolution without simultaneous financial and environmental collapse which will simply force us to get to know our neighbors, barter and dance.
My head hurts but not my butt.