Adorno & Defoe

“The whole is the false.”

—Theodor Adorno, from Minima Moralia (29)

“In the most general sense of progressive thought, the Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant.”

—Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno, from The Dialectic of Enlightenment (3)

“Enlightenment, according to Kant, is ‘… man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without the guidance of another person.’ ‘Understanding without the guidance of another person’ is understanding guided by reason. This means no more than that, by virtue of its own consistency, it organizes the individual data of cognition into a system … In the Enlightenment’s interpretation, thinking is the creation of unified, scientific order and the derivation of factual knowledge from principles, whether the latter are elucidated as arbitrarily postulated axioms, innate ideas, or higher abstractions. Logical laws produce the most general relations within the arrangement, and define them. Unity resides in agreement.”

—Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno, from The Dialectic of Enlightenment (82)

“In the relating what is already past of my Story, this will be the more easily believ’d, when I shall add, that thro’ all the Variety of Miseries that has to this Day befallen me, I have never had so much as one Thought of it being the Hand of God, or that it was a just Punishment for my Sin; my rebellious Behaviour against my Father, or my present Sins which were great; or so much as a Punishment for the general Course of my wicked Life.”

—Daniel Defoe, from Robinson Crusoe (65)

“Myth turns into enlightenment, and nature into mere objectivity. Men pay for the increase of their power with alienation from that over which they exercise their power. Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them. The man of science knows things in so far as he can make them. In this way their potentiality is turned to his own ends.”

—Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno, from The Dialectic of Enlightenment (9)

“Both Odysseus and Crusoe, the two shipwrecked mariners, make their weakness (that of the individual who parts from the collectivity) their social strength. Delivered up to the mercy of the waves, helplessly isolated, their very isolation forces them recklessly to pursue an atomistic interest … Both realize totality only in complete alienation from other men, who meet the two protagonists only in an alienated form—as enemies or as points of support, but always as tools, as things.”

—Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno, from The Dialectic of Enlightenment (61-62)

“My island was now peopled, and I thought my self very rich in Subjects; and it was a merry Reflection which I frequently made, How like a King I look’d. First of all, the whole Country was my own meer Property; so that I had an undoubted Right of Dominion. 2dly, My People were perfectly subjected: I was absolute Lord and Lawgiver; they all owed their Lives to me, and were ready to lay down their Lives, if there had been Occasion of it, for me.”

—Daniel Defoe, from Robinson Crusoe (174)

“The outrage over atrocities decreases, the more that the ones affected are unlike normal readers, the more brunette, “dirty”, dago-like. This says just as much about the atrocity as about the observers. Perhaps the social schematism of perception in anti-Semites is so altered, that they cannot even see Jews as human beings. The ceaselessly recurrent expression that savages, blacks, Japanese resemble animals, or something like apes, already contains the key to the pogrom. The possibility of this latter is contained in the moment that a mortally wounded animal looks at a human being in the eye. The defiance with which they push away this gaze – “it’s after all only an animal” – is repeated irresistibly in atrocities to human beings, in which the perpetrators must constantly reconfirm this “only an animal”, because they never entirely believed it even with animals. The concept of human beings in repressive society is the parody of the notion that human beings were created in the image of God. The mechanism of “pathic projection” functions in such a manner that the power-brokers perceive only their own mirror image as human beings, instead of reflecting back what is human as precisely what is different. Murder is thus the attempt to displace, again and again, the madness of such false perception into reason, through greater madness: what is not seen as a human being and yet is a human being, is turned into a thing, so that it can no longer rebut the manic gaze through any sort of impulse.”

—Theodor Adorno, from Minima Moralia (68)

“Those savages of whom it is recounted that they have no other longing than to die, or rather, they no longer have even that longing, but death has a longing for them, and they abandon themselves to it, or rather, they do not even abandon themselves, but fall into the sand on the shore and never get up again—those savages I much resemble, and indeed I have fellow clansmen round about, but the confusion in these territories is so great, the tumult is like waves rising and falling by day and by night, and the brothers let themselves be borne upon it. That is what, in this country, is called ‘giving someone a leg up’; everyone here is always ready with such help. Anyone who might collapse without cause and remain lying on the ground is dreaded as though he were the Devil, it is because of the example, it is because of the stench of truth that would emanate from him. Granted, nothing would happen; one, ten, a whole nation might very well remain lying on the ground and nothing would happen; life in all its might would go on just the same; the attics are still chockablock with flags that were never unfolded; this barrel organ can only play one tune, but it is eternity in person that turns the handle. And yet the fear! How people do always carry their own enemy, however powerless he is, within themselves.”

—Franz Kafka, “The Savages”

“Had Robinson Crusoe never left the highest, or more correctly the most visible point of his island, from desire for comfort, or timidity, or fear, or ignorance, or longing, he would soon have perished; but since without paying any attention to passing ships and their feeble telescopes he started to explore the whole island and take pleasure in it, he managed to keep himself alive and finally was found after all, by a chain of causality that was, of course, logically inevitable.

—Franz Kafka, “Robinson Crusoe”

“The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in Crusoe; the manly independence; the unconscious cruelty; the persistence; the slow yet efficient intelligence; the sexual apathy; the practical, well-balanced religiousness; the calculating taciturnity. Whoever rereads this simple, moving book in the light of subsequent history cannot help but fall under its prophetic spell.

“Saint John the Evangelist saw on the island of Patmos the apocalyptic ruin of the universe and the building of the walls of the eternal city sparkling with beryl and emerald, with onyx and jasper, with sapphire and ruby. Crusoe saw only one marvel in all the fertile creation around him, the print of a naked foot in the virgin sand. And who knows if the latter was not more significant than the former?’

—James Joyce, from “Daniel Defoe” (323)

“Unreal city,

“Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

“A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

“I had not thought death had undone so many.

“Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

“And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

“Flowed up the hill and down King William Street

“To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

“With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

“There I saw one I knew, and stopped him crying: ‘Stetson!

“‘You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!

“‘That corpse you planted last year in your garden,

“‘Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

“‘Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

“‘Oh keep the dog far hence, that’s friend to men,

“‘Or with his nail he’ll dig it up again!

“‘You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!’”

—T. S. Eliot, from “The Waste Land”

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