Saturday, 9 May 2009

Novissimum organum.

By Theodor W. Adorno (in Minima Moralia).

It is long established that wage labour created the hordes of the modern epoch, indeed formed the worker himself. As a general principle the individual is not merely the biological basis, but the reflection of the social process; his consciousness of himself as something in-itself is the illusion needed to raise his level of performance, whereas in fact the individuated function in the modern economy as mere instruments of the law of value.

Yet the inner composition of the individual must be derived in itself, not merely out of its social role. In the present phase, what is decisive is the category of the organic composition of capital. By this the theory of accumulation meant "the growth in the mass of means of production, compared with the mass of labour-power which vivifies it" (Marx, Kapital).

As the integration of society, particularly in totalitarian states, determines subjects ever more exclusively as partial moments in the system of material production, the "transformation of the technical composition of capital" perpetuates itself through the productive-technological demands in those whom it not only encompasses, but constitutes.

The "organic" composition of human beings is increasing. That which determines subjects in themselves as means of production, and not as living purposes, increases with the proportion of machines to variable capital. The pat phrase, the "mechanization of man," is misleading, because it understands the latter as something static, that adapts to conditions of production external to him, and is deformed by external influence. But there is no substrate of such "deformations," nothing ontically interiorized, which social mechanisms merely act upon from outside: the deformation is not a sickness in men, but in the society whose children arrive with that “hereditary taint” which biologism projects onto nature.

Only when the process that begins with the transmutation of labour-power into a commodity has permeated men through and through, and objectified each of their impulses as formally commensurable variations of the exchange relationship, is it possible for life to reproduce itself under the prevailing relations of production. Its consummate organisation demands the coordination of people that are dead. The will to live finds itself referred to the denial of the will to live: self-preservation annuls life in subjectivity. Against this, all the achievements of adaptation, all the acts of conforming described by social psychology and cultural anthropology, are mere epiphenomena.

The organic composition of man refers by no means only to his specialised technical faculties, but – and this is something the usual cultural critique wishes at no price to reveal – equally to their opposite, the moments of naturalness which once sprung from the social dialectic and are now succumbing to it. Even what differs from technology in humans is now being incorporated into it as a kind of lubrication. Psychological differentiation, originally emerging as the dismemberment of man according to the division of his labour and the compartmentalization of his freedom, is finally entering service of production. "The specialized virtuoso," wrote one dialectician [Lukács!] thirty years ago, "the seller of his objectified and substantialized faculties ... ends up in a contemplative attitude towards the functioning of his own objectified and substantialized faculties. This structure shows itself most grotesquely in the case of journalism, where it is precisely subjectivity itself – knowing things, moods, the capacity to express – which turns into something abstract, as divorced from the personality of the 'owner' as from the material-concrete essence of the objects, which are dealt with independently and nomothetically as if by a moving mechanism. The 'disinterestedness' of journalists, the prostitution of their experiences and convictions, is only comprehensible as the apogee of capitalist reification." What was here established as the "phenomena of degeneration" of the bourgeoisie, which it itself still denounced, has meanwhile emerged as the social norm, as the character of full-fledged existence under late industrialism. It has long since ceased to be merely a question of the sale of what is living. Under the a priori of salability, what is living makes itself, as the living, into a thing, into equipage.

The ego consciously takes the whole man into its service as a piece of apparatus. In this restructuring, the "ego as team leader" delegates so much of itself to the ego as "management technique" that it becomes quite abstract, a mere point of reference: self-preservation forfeits itself. Character traits, from genuine kindness to the hysterical outbursts of rage, become capable of manipulation until they shift perfectly into the demands of a given situation. With their mobilization they change. All that is left are the light, rigid, empty husks of emotions, matter transportable at will, devoid of anything personal. They are no longer the subject; rather, the subject responds to them as to his internal object. In their unbounded docility towards the ego they are at the same time estranged from it: being wholly passive they no longer nourish it. This is the social pathogenesis of schizophrenia. The severance of character traits from both their instinctual basis and from the self, which commands them where once it merely held them together, makes man pay for his increasing inner organisation with increasing disintegration. The consummation of the division of labour within the individual, his radical objectification, leads to his morbid scission. Hence the 'psychotic character's, the anthropological pre-condition of all totalitarian mass movements. Precisely this transititon from stable characteristics to push-button patterns of behaviour - apparently enlivening - is an expression of the rising organic composition of man. Quick reactions, unballasted by a mediating constitution, do not restore spontaneity, but establish the person as a measuring instrument deployed and callibrated by a central authority. The more immediate its response, the more deeply in reality mediation has advanced: in the prompt, unresistant reflexes the subject is entirely extinguished.

So too, biological reflexes, the models of the present social ones, are - when measured against subjectivity - objectified, alien: not without reason are they referred to as "mechanical." The closer organisms are to death, the more they regress to such jerking.

Accordingly, the destructive tendencies of the masses that explode in both varieties of totalitarian state are not so much death-wishes, as manifestations of what they have already become. They murder so that whatever to them seems living shall resemble themselves.

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