The Telos Press Podcast: Robert Miner on the Division of Work and Play in Adorno’s Minima Moralia – Telos Press

Posted: December 21, 2020 at 2:56 am


without comments

In todays episode of the Telos Press Podcast, Camelia Raghinaru talks with Robert Miner about his article Human Joy and the Subversion of Work/Play Distinctions: A Note on Adornos Minima Moralia2.84, from Telos191 (Summer 2020). An excerpt of the article appears below. If your university has an online subscription to Telos, you can read the full article at the Telos Online website. For non-subscribers, learn how your university can begin a subscription to Telos at our library recommendation page. Purchase a print copy of Telos191 in our online store.

From Telos 191 (Summer 2020):

Robert Miner

For those intrigued by the notion of joy and its place within a human life, Theodor Adorno is unlikely to be the first thinker that comes to mind. For many, he will not come to mind at all. This is unfortunate because Adorno was keenly sensitive to the importance of joy and its dialectical relation to both suffering and joylessness. Like any brilliant aphorism, Minima Moralia 2.84 demands that its reader explicate what it contains in highly compressed form. The following note will do just this, illuminating the aphorisms claim that joy and mind have been expelled equally from both work and amusement, so that blank-faced seriousness and pseudo-activity hold sway.

The aphorism begins with a single word: Timetablea reminder of the sign under which we tend to live. It proceeds as follows:

Few things separate more profoundly the mode of life befitting an intellectual from that of the bourgeois than the fact that the former acknowledges no alternative between work and recreation.

The proposed contrast between bourgeois and intellectual will not strike todays reader as an obvious one. Many of those whom contemporary culture regards as intellectuals or thought leadersto use a particularly noxious term that has acquired currencyseem entirely bourgeois in their mode of life. Some thinkers in Adornos own time saw the point clearly. Leo Strauss, for example, uses intellectual as a term of abuse. For him it names neither the philosopher who embraces the radicalism proper to free thought nor the statesman who, however limited as a theorist, has the practical wisdom required for governing. The intellectual in Strausss usage tends to be either a sophist, notable for his verbal cleverness, or a theorist who is reasonably adept at conceptual manipulation, but blind to the unacknowledged assumptions that direct his thinking. He is not a philosopher, statesman, or scholar.

To avoid misunderstanding Adornos proposal, we must put aside the pejorative sense of the term intellectual. Adorno is well aware that many of those regarded as intellectuals are bourgeois, precisely because they operate with a strict dichotomy between work and play. But such intellectuals are counterfeits, pale imitations of the higher type: One could no more imagine Nietzsche in an office, with a secretary minding the telephone in an anteroom, at his desk until five oclock, than playing golf after the days work was done. For intellectual to be more than an abstract label, it must be reserved for those who live a certain mode of life, one befitting an intellectual. What is this mode of life? The aphorism supplies a negative description: it acknowledges no alternative between work and recreation.

In order to understand this denial more clearly, we might compare it with aphorism 94 of Beyond Good and Evil, which supplies its positive correlate. There Nietzsche writes: A mans maturityconsists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play. The bourgeois bifurcation of work and play, far from being grown-up, is essentially immature, a case of arrested development. The alternative to the dichotomy between work and recreation is the integration of seriousness and play, an integration that Adorno takes Nietzsche to exemplify. Without some such integration, our prospects for anything worth calling joyas distinct from an assortment of pleasuresseem dim.

If particular intellectuals fail to live in the manner that befits them, it is often because they have been too quick to accommodate themselves to the conditions of late capitalism, taking for granted the dominant oppositions between work and play. The case of the genuine intellectual proves the possibility of living in a manner that is not determined by these oppositions. Adornos point, however, is not that only the intellectual can live such a life. The possibility of overcoming strong work/play distinctions extends to any form of life in which work conforms to a negative criterion: Work that need not, to satisfy reality, first inflict on the subject all the evil that it is afterwards to inflict on others, is pleasure even in its despairing effort. By this somewhat paradoxical formulation, the aphorism intends to suggest the possibility of work that is at the same time pleasurableand so retains an essential element of play. When work is painful, it is typically because it is work conceived as labor, whose etymological connection to suffering should always be kept in mind. So long as work is meaningless, involving little more than the exploitation of laborers who have nothing to show for their suffering, it will be experienced as painful. Work, however, that is not labor in that sense always carries with it the possibility of being pleasurable, even in its despairing effort. To the extent that it is not judged by the criterion of success or failure at producing something external to itself, such work is simultaneously play. It is enjoyable in itself, regardless of whether or not it succeeds in accomplishing some objective imposed from without.

Such autotelic activity, undertaken for its own sake, is the natural home of joy. Moreover, it suggests the possibility of a certain type of freedom. Its freedom is the same as that which bourgeois society reserves exclusively for relaxation and, by this regimentation, at once revokes. It follows that bourgeois souls are perfectly capable of recognizing the kind of freedom characteristic of the mode of work that is not opposed to play. They have had some taste of such freedom in their leisure activities. What they cannot see is that some things that are correctly described as work can also possess the freedom of play. For the bourgeois conception, the strict opposition between work and play is an unalterable fact, not some questionable idea with a particular genealogy. Just as bad interpretations think they are the only interpretation, or regard themselves as something other than interpretations, the bourgeois conception of the work/play relation supposes itself to be the only possible conception. For those to whom the bourgeois conception is self-evident, nearly every human activity is classified either as done for work or done for pleasure. Consider one example: that of reading. If someone in the grip of the bourgeois conception catches you in the act of reading a text that seems demandingone that requires attention and is not obviously amusingshe will assume that you are reading for work. In the most earnest of tones, she will ask if you ever read for pleasure.

Continue reading this article at the Telos Online website (online subscription required). If your library does not yet subscribe to Telos, visit our library recommendation page to let them know how.

View post:
The Telos Press Podcast: Robert Miner on the Division of Work and Play in Adorno's Minima Moralia - Telos Press

Related Post

Written by admin |

December 21st, 2020 at 2:56 am

Posted in Nietzsche