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Benjamin Geer on Fri, 9 Jun 2006 16:29:41 +0200 (CEST)

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Juan Martin Prada's essay reminded me of this talk that Shierry Weber
Nicholsen gave a few years ago and that, to my knowledge, hasn't been
published anywhere.  She takes as her starting point Stjepan
Mestrovic's notion of "postemotional society":

"While emotions would seem to be the inviolable heart of individual
subjective experience, in postemotional society they are
prefabricated, simulated, manipulated externally by, say, the mass
media, triggered by images. They lose their genuineness and become

She then compares this with Theodor Adorno's grim assessment of
emotional life in _Minima Moralia_ to the work of psychoanalytic
theorists including Wilfred Bion, Christopher Bollas and Joyce



Adorno's Minima Moralia: On Passion, Psychoanalysis and the
Postemotional Dilemma
Shierry Weber Nicholsen
September, 2002

The Postemotional
     Let me start with the third of the terms in my subtitle, the
postemotional. The term postemotional was coined by a sociologist,
Stjepan Mestrovic.  When you hear what he means by it you will probably
agree with me that it is somewhat misleading.  But it is catchy, and it
points to a problematic around emotion in contemporary subjectivity and
thus links to the question of passion.
     Mestrovic elaborates his idea of the postemotional in his 1997 book
Postemotional Society.  He conceives his work as an extension of
sociologist David Riesman's analysis of American culture in The Lonely
Crowd (1950), thus in  the tradition of studies in culture and
personality. Riesman analyzed American culture in terms of inner directed
and outer directed personalities. For Mestrovic, contemporary American
society is the further evolution of Riesman's outer-directed society.  He
argues that now it is not only ideas and behavior but also emotions that
are socially determined. For reasons that will not concern me today,
Mestrovic calls this state of affairs "postemotional."
     While emotions would seem to be the inviolable heart of individual
subjective experience, in postemotional society they are prefabricated,
simulated, manipulated externally by, say, the mass media, triggered by
images. They lose their genuineness and become quasi-emotions. The
emotional spectrum becomes limited and individual "emotions" blurred. In
Mestrovic's words,

"Postemotionalism holds that contemporary emotions are 'dead' in the
analogous sense that one speaks of a dead current versus a 'lie wire,' or
a 'dead nerve' in a limb or tooth.  The current is still on, the nerve is
still present anatomically, but neither is functioning as it was supposed
to.  The result is that all of the primal passions discussed from
Aristotle to Hume to the present become shadows of their former selves.
Anger becomes indignation.  Envy ... becomes an objectless craving for
something better. Heartfelt joy is now the bland happiness represented by
the 'happy meal.'  Sorrow, as the manifestation of affliction, anguish,
grief, pain, remorse, trials, tribulations, and sadness, is magically
transformed by the TV journalist's question 'How do you feel?' (after a
death of a loved one to a sniper, or a tornado, or other calamity) into
the typical but vague answer 'I'm very upset.'"
Mestrovic, Postemotional Society, 62-3

     Complement to the prefabricated, quasi-nature of emotions is a cult
of sincerity, genuineness, and quasi-therapeutic self-examination. The
reality of phoniness is masked by the propaganda of the genuine. Because
emotions are not only triggered but generated through the mass-media, they
can not only be manipulated but serve as means of manipulation.  They
serve this purpose all the better in that individuals find themselves
pressed to consider their preformed emotions their very own, genuine and
sincere expressions of self.
     Mestrovic's idea has a very disturbing implication.  For the
individual in such a society is in the grips of what I will call "the
postemotional dilemma."  What do I make of what seems to be my subjective
experience?  How do I know what is real?  How and where can truly genuine
emotional experience survive?  And on what basis can I make these
assertions of external manipulation?  Mestrovic does not speak directly to
this dilemma, but Adorno does.  My focus today will be on how Adorno
formulates and addresses this postemotional dilemma.
     For Mestrovic, "America" exemplifies postemotional society in its
most advanced form.  His work thus also figures in the tradition of
cultural criticism through a description of American society. This
tradition includes Riesman's work as well de Toqueville's  and Veblen's
and Adorno's.

Minima Moralia and Postemotional Society

     Adorno wrote Minima Moralia, the work I will focus on today, while in
exile in the United States in the 1940s. (Minima Moralia, note, predates
Mestrovic's book by some 50 years, though it is roughly contemporaneous
with Riesman's.) He had left Nazi Germany is 1934 and arrived in America
in 1938, moving from New York to Los Angeles in the early 1940s,
returning to Frankfurt in the early 1950s.  Some of his now bestknown and
influential works were written during his American exile  The
Authoritarian Personality, Dialectic of the Enlightenment, and Minima
     First published in German in 1951, Minima Moralia is a collection of
what might be described as aphoristic essays.  It consists of 247 such
pieces, organized into three parts, dated 1944, 1945, and 1946-47  thus
written during the Second World War and continued in its immediate
aftermath. The full title, Minima Moralia, Reflections from Damaged Life,
refers in antithesis to Aristotle's Magna Moralia and his concern with the
nature of the good life.  Minima Moralia is Adorno's reflection on the
thinking individual's existence in exile, during Fascism, in capitalist
society in its particular American form in the 1940s  -- the thinking
individual who retains some intuition of  "the good life" in the midst of
a constellation of power, individual and society that reduces the very
idea of the good life to a mere glimmer.
     For Adorno, the phenomena Mestrovic described were already in full swi=
in the 1940s, and  Minima Moralia explores the dialectic of the individual
in postemotional society from the point of view of an individual
struggling to retain the capacity to think. Of all Adorno's works, it is
the one written most directly from the point of view of subjective
experience, his own  and perhaps for that reason the most popular.
     I want to start with some excerpts from one of the pieces in Minima
Moralia. This is how Adorno speaks to the dilemma of the individual in
postemotional society:

"There is nothing innocuous left. The little pleasures, expressions of life
that seemed exempt from the responsibility of thought, not only have an
element of defiant silliness, of callous refusal to see, but directly
serve their diametrical opposite."

     Adorno takes it as a given that contemporary society is one of social
domination. Hence participation in the surface of "ordinary" social life,
daily life, acts to legitimize the injustice and suffering beneath it.

"Mistrust is called for in face of all spontaneity, impetuosity, all
letting oneself go, for it implies pliancy towards the superior might of
the existent. The malignant deeper meaning of ease, once confined to the
toasts of conviviality, has long since spread to more appealing impulses...=

     The very use of language, the medium of social life, carries the dange=
r of
becoming an act of complicity:

"Sociability itself connives at injustice by pretending that in this chill
world we can still talk to each other, and the casual, amiable remark
contributes to perpetuating silence, in that the concessions made to the
interlocutor debase him once more in the person of speaker. The chance
conversation in the train, when, to avoid dispute, one consents to a few
statements that one knows ultimately to implicate murder, is already a
betrayal; no thought is immune against communication, and to utter it in
the wrong place and in wrong agreement is enough to undermine its truth."

     Adorno names this false sociability "affability"  one of the essential
quasi-emotional expressions of postemotional society:

"The evil principle that was always latent in affability unfurls its full
bestiality in the egalitarian spirit.  Condescension, and thinking oneself
no better, are the same. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to
affirm in it the pre-condition of power, and to develop in oneself the
coarseness, insensitivity, and violence needed to exert domination."

     Complicity seems unavoidable; it seems to follow from participation of=

"Every visit to the cinema leaves me, against all my vigilance, stupider
and worse."

    I note the word "stupider" here, and the mentions of thought, truth,
and injustice.  Elsewhere Adorno will refer to the intellectual and the
philosopher. But Adorno is not speaking to matters of morality and
intellect as distinct from matters of emotion, feeling, and human
relationship.  The dilemma he points to concerns the individual's life
which is a personal but also a social life -- in all its aspects and as a
whole:  spontaneity, pleasure, communication, suffering are all implicated
in the postemotional dilemma.
    Adorno gives us a poignant example of this destruction of the
spontaneity and delicacy of human relationships in a piece on gifts and
giving, called "Articles May Not Be Exchanged":

"We are forgetting how to give presents . . . Real giving had its joy in
imagining the joy of the receiver.  It means choosing, pending time, going
out of one's way, thinking of the other as a subject:  the opposite of
distraction.  Just this hardly anyone is now able to do.  At the best they
give what they would have liked themselves, only a few degrees worse.  The
decay of giving is mirrored in the distressing invention of gift-articles,
based on the assumption that one does not know what to give because one
really does not want to...."
"Articles May Not Be Exchanged," Minima Moralia, 42-3

     The dilemma reaches down into the subtlest of expressive physical
actions. The very design of the built environment entraps the individual
in actions which have implications for human relations.  Adorno
demonstrates this in a piece about the contemporary construction of doors
called "Do Not Knock":

"Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men.  It
expels from movements all hesitation, deliberation, civility.  It subjects
them to the implacable, as it were ahistorical demands of objects.  Thus
the ability is lost, for example, to close a door quietly and discreetly,
yet firmly.  Those of cars and refrigerators have to be slammed, others
have the tendency to snap shut by themselves, imposing on those entering
the bad manners of not looking behind them, not shielding the interior of
the house which receives them."
"Do Not Knock," Minima Moralia, 40

     If you are like me, you find these passages from Minima Moralia
disturbing.  On the one hand, they seem true, and it is a relief to hear
someone say these things in such a direct and emphatic way. On the other
hand, they seem to leave no way out.  As Adorno describes it, the untruth
of ordinary life is so pervasive, and complicity with domination thus so
unavoidable, that Adorno the writer, and the reader along with him, are
put in an untenable dilemma. All that is left is holding fast to an
awareness of pain, and trying to remember that something better might have
been, might conceivably still be possible:

"Even the blossoming tree lies the moment its bloom is seen without the
shadow of terror; even the innocent "how lovely!" becomes an excuse for an
existence outrageously unlovely, and there is no long beauty or
consolation except in the gaze falling on horror, withstanding it, and in
unalleviated consciousness of negativity holding fast to the possibility
of what is better."

     A particularly cruel aspect of this dilemma is that while awareness
reveals a society of injustice, violence, and suffering, the postemotional
dilemma means the individual is left with a solitary struggle to maintain
awareness of collective suffering:

"For the intellectual, inviolable isolation is now the only way of showing
some measure of solidarity.  All collaboration, all the human worth of
social mixing and participation, merely masks a tacit acceptance of
inhumanity.  It is the sufferings of men that should be shared: the
smallest step towards their pleasures is one towards the hardening of
their pains."
"How nice of you, Doctor," Minima Moralia, 25-26

     This is a very disturbing thesis, and I think one of the ways we
respond to the suffering Adorno seems to be proposing that we endure  is
to attack Adorno himself as elitist in his critique of ordinary life in
postemotional society. When we think of someone as elitist, we generally
attribute to that person a contempt and disdain for the other.  But part
of the strength of Adorno's critique is that it is written from intimate
knowledge of his own complicity and his own frailty. He is no more exempt
from the dilemma than anyone else. "We point at the decline of
civilization into illiteracy, and ourselves forget the art of
letter-writing." (27), he notes. Though his formulations are emphatic, the
essayistic form, the focus on detail, and the dialectic form, work to
qualify anything that might sound like absolute knowledge or definitive
solution..  Just as Minima Moralia is the negative inversion of Magna
Moralia, every stance proposed also has its dialectical antithesis.  In
fact, the piece that follows the one you just heard is called
"Antithesis," and it begins this way:

"He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others
and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private
interest.  While he gropingly forms his own life in the frail image of a
true existence, he should never forget its frailty, nor how little the
image is a substitute for true life. Against such awareness, however,
pulls the momentum of the bourgeois within him.  The detached observer is
as much entangled as the active participant; the only advantage of the
former is insight into his entanglement, and the infinitesimal freedom
that lies in knowledge as such."
  "Antithesis," Minima Moralia, 26.

     Adorno's perception may seem not only elitist but also unbearably
pessimistic and painful.  That is a strange conjunction, for we do not
think of elitists as suffering pain.  But it speaks to the nature of the
postemotional dilemma.  From what standpoint can an individual articulate
the nature of postemotional society?
     The defining characteristic of postemotional society is that there is
no longer a mediating factor between the individual and the society. The
power relations in the society as a whole shape what appears as the
individual. For Adorno the individual is precisely the reflection of the
totality, and increasingly the direct crystallization of social forces.
"The monadological principle conceals the dominant universal," he writes
(26), and "the whole is the false." Formerly, the bourgeois individual
served as a mediating term. At this point in history, the thinking
individual is both the last enemy of the bourgeois and the last bourgeois.
(27) Adorno identifies himself with both these aspects.
     Adorno's friend and colleague Walter Benjamin spoke in his Theses on
the Philosophy of History of a "weak Messianic power." Adorno emphasizes
the frailty and weakness of his own capacities "gropingly forming his own
life in the frail image of a true existence" and the "infinitesimal
freedom that lies in knowledge as such." The truth of powerlessness is
conjoined to the frail possibility of thought. As a "bourgeois" -- Adorno
is a product of upper-bourgeois European culture in the days of its
transition into fascism -- Adorno is enabled to see the more naked version
of oppression in fascism and the more affable and phony version of it in
America by contrast with the more nuanced version he grew up within.  As
the last bourgeois, and thus the product of something that is
disappearing, what was positive in the nuances remains only as glimmers
and memories. As the last enemy of the bourgeois, Adorno like Walter
Benjamin is mindful that "the ugly movement of history is not in fact air
tight," and thought needs to address itself to the remnants of the
defeated, "the waste products and blind spots that have escaped...."
("Bequest," Minima Moralia, 151)
     Historically, Adorno is not our contemporary.  But insofar as the
last bourgeois is an image for the remaining capacity for individual
awareness and reflection, it points to the dilemma we are all enmeshed in
under the attack of the unmediated whole in postemotional society. If
Adorno's formulations strike us exaggerated, dogmatic, opinionated, and
repetitive, if we are irritated by the paradoxes, the negations, and the
antitheses, those qualities reflect, I think, and convey to us emotionally
the desperate struggle to simultaneously reflect on complicity and hold
fast to the capacity for awareness and the memory and hope of something
different under conditions where thinking itself is under attack, and to
make that struggle visible to others similarly under attack.

Adorno and Psychoanalysis

     Let me now turn to the second of the three terms in my subtitle:
psychoanalysis. I think it is obvious that psychoanalysis as both a
practice and a body of theory is relevant to the investigation of the
postemotional. Psychoanalysis aims at an investigation of the deepest
springs and workings of individual experience.  At the same time, if a
quasi-therapeutic culture  is an essential part of  postemotional society,
no doubt psychoanalysis has played a role in its creation.
     For Adorno, psychoanalysis is a key endeavor in the current phase of
society.  But for him psychoanalysis is a crucially ambivalent enterprise.
With its analysis of destructive social forces and their internalization
in the individual on the one hand, and its adaptive therapeutic endeavors
on the other, it manifests the same combination of progressive potential
and complicity with social domination as other important human endeavors.
"In psychoanalysis, nothing is true but the exaggerations," he says.
     To my knowledge, Adorno's familiarity with psychoanalysis is limited
to Freud's work on the one hand and American adaptations of psychoanalysis
on the other. All his references to psychoanalysis use Freudian
terminology.  He seems to have been unaware of the work of Melanie Klein
and her followers in England from the 1920s on, which has important
implications for an understanding of postemotionality.  In Minima Moralia
Adorno illuminates the way the American psychoanalysis of the time has
become complicitous in postemotional society, but he also anticipates the
ways in which later analysts will try to address postemotionality.
    We have seen Adorno's portrayal of affability is a mask of tolerance
and egalitarianism that hides impersonal social violence. Its
postemotional complement is an indignation that threatens violence. In
Adorno's analysis, the rage the indignant person indulges represents the
coercive thuggery of the social forces, and he uses portrays it in
psychoanalytic terms:

"If society, as a contemporary theory teaches, is really one of rackets,
then its most faithful model is the precise opposite of the collective,
namely the individual as monad.  By tracing the absolutely particular
interests of each individual, the nature of the collective in a false
society can be most accurately studied, and it is by no means far-fetched
to consider the organization of divergent drives under the primacy of an
ego answering the reality principle as, from the first, an internalized
robber band with leader, followers, ceremonies, oaths of allegiance,
betrayals, conflicts of interest, intrigues and all its other
appurtenances.  One need only observe outbursts in which the individual
asserts himself energetically against his environment, for instance rage.
The enraged man always appears as the gang-leader of his own self, giving
his unconscious the order to pull no punches, his eyes shining with the
satisfaction of speaking for the many that he himself is.  The more
someone has espoused the cause of his own aggression, the more perfectly
he represents the repressive principle of society.  In this sense more
than in any other, perhaps, the proposition is true that the most
individual is the most general."
"Plurale tantum," Minima Moralia, 45

     In Freud's thought, the reality principle is the principle of social
forces, opposed to the pleasure principle which only bows to reality under
coercion. In Adorno's extrapolation the reality principle is opposed to
the recognition of individuals as subjects, and to Utopian promise of
happiness.  The unifying forces of society acting within the individual
the reality principle are ruthless gangland principles in which
individuals are objects.  Rage then becomes the equivalent of socially
instituted violence.
     While Adorno's portrayal of the reality principle is perhaps
consonant with Freud's view, as Marcuse would argue in Eros and
Civilization,  for Adorno psychoanalysis in America, as represented by
American ego psychology or by  the seemingly liberal work of Erich Fromm
and Karen Horney, contributes directly to the ideology of the
postemotional society.
     In his critique of American psychoanalysis, Adorno speaks as the
advocate of the gaze fixed on horror and suffering.  American
psychoanalysis, he says, serves domination by purveying adaptation to
postemotionality. It  promulgates false happiness, false pleasure and the
denial of suffering. The mechanization and conventionalization of
pleasure, happiness, and sexuality as the signs of mental health excise,
in effect, the individual's capacity for truth.  Here is how Adorno makes
this point:

"Psychoanalysis prides itself on restoring the capacity for pleasure, which
is impaired by neurotic illness.  As if the mere concept of a capacity for
pleasure did not suffice gravely to devalue such a thing, if it exists.
As if a happiness gained through speculation on happiness were not the
opposite, a further encroachment of institutionally planned
behavior-patterns on the ever diminishing sphere of experience....
Prescribed happiness looks exactly what it is; to have a part in it, the
neurotic thus made happy must forfeit the last vestige of reason left to
him by repression and regression, and to oblige the analyst, display the
indiscriminate enthusiasm for the trashy film, the expensive but bad meal
in the French restaurant, the serious drink and the love-making taken like
medicine as 'sex.'"
"Invitation to the Dance," Minima Moralia, 62

     What psychoanalysis should enable people to have is consciousness of
unhappiness and pain:

"As people have altogether too few inhibitions and not too many, without
being a whit the healthier for it, a cathartic method with a standard
other than successful adaptation and economic success would have to aim at
bringing people to a consciousness of unhappiness both general and
inseparable from it  personal, and at depriving them of the illusory
gratifications by which the abominable order keeps a second hold on life
inside them, as if it did not already have them firmly enough in its power
from outside."

     The push to deny pain demonstrates complicity with the culture industr=
and the violence underlying it:

"The admonitions to be happy, voiced in concert by the scientifically
Epicurean sanatorium-director and the highly strung propaganda chiefs of
the entertainment industry, have about them the fury of the father
berating his children for not rushing joyously downstairs when he comes
home irritable from his office.  It is part of the mechanism of domination
to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces." (62-3)

Normotic Illness
     In contributing to what Adorno calls "the bottomless fraud of mere
inwardness,"  psychoanalysis is failing its own potential.  In the
situation of postemotionality, psychoanalysis could help to elaborate the
truth of social domination that lies within neurotic pain and suffering.
Notions like "normality" and "psychological health" serve to legitimize
postemotionality. They serves both to mutilate the individual's capacity
for experience and finding truth and to disguise the mutilation.
Psychoanalysis could and should expose this. Hence Adorno's program for a
psychoanalytic analysis of postemotional culture.  He lays it out in a
piece called "The Health unto Death":

"If such a thing as a psychoanalysis of today's prototypical culture were
possible; if the absolute predominance of the economy did not beggar all
attempts at explaining conditions by the psychic life of their victims;
and if the psychoanalysts had not long since sworn allegiance to those
conditions  such an investigation would needs show the sickness proper to
the time to consist precisely in normality.  The libidinal achievement
demanded of an individual behaving as healthy in body and mind, are such
as can be performed only at the cost of the profoundest mutilation...
The regular guy, the popular girl, have to repress not only their desires
and insights, but even the symptoms that in bourgeois times resulted from
repression.  Just as the old injustice is not changed by a lavish display
of light, air, and hygiene, but is in fact concealed by the gleaming
transparency of rationalized big business, the inner health of our time
has been secured by blocking flight into illness without in the slightest
altering its etiology." (58)

     In recent decades, psychoanalysis has begun on Adorno's program. Drawi=
on developments in both British and French psychoanalysis, in recent years
some psychoanalytic writers  have described what they call "a new kind of
patient"  a kind of patient not anticipated by Freud, but seen more and
more frequently in analysts' offices.  One of those writers, Christopher
Bollas, calls this new type of patient "the normotic."
    Writing on  "Normotic Illness" in his 1987 book The Shadow of the
Object, Bollas portrays a kind of patient who has succeeded in
obliterating his subjective experience and the mental functions that make
it up. "The normotic," he writes,  "flees from dream life, subjective
states of mind, imaginative living and aggressive differentiated play with
the other.... We could say that if the psychotic has 'gone off at the
deep end,' the normotic has 'gone off at the shallow end.' 146
     What takes the place of mental life and subjective experience is
things  attachment to them, interest in them, identification with them.
The normotic person strives to be "a commodity object in the world of
human production." (136)  The normotic person's  sense of isolation,
Bollas suggests,

"is mitigated by virtue of his ability to mingle with objects and to feel
identified with the commodity object world.  For instance, driving a car
that one is proud of may be an unconscious act of marriage.  In this way,
products become part of one's family, and the normotic's family of objects
extends itself throughout the material object world." (155-6)

     The normotic is more an object than a subject.  Such a person, Bollas
comments, echoing Adorno's concern with the attack on thinking, "suggests
that mind itself, in particular the unconscious, is an archaism, a thing
to be abandoned in the interests of human progress." (156)
     The normotic, let me suggest,  is to Bollas the psychoanalyst what
the postemotional is to Mestrovic the sociologist.  And Bollas is not the
only analyst to address this phenomenon. Joyce McDougall, a contemporary
analyst working in Paris, writes on "the anti-analysand" in her 1978 book
Plea for a Measure of Abnormality. Where Bollas talks in terms of the
patient experiencing himself as a commodity object, McDougall focuses on
the lack of relationship.  She gives us  a phenomenological account of the
normotic as an analytic patient, and the reaction this kind of patient
generates in the analyst.
     McDougall describes the anti-analysand as eager for analysis and
apparently having quite appropriate reasons to want analysis.  Once in
analysis, the anti-analysand is a faithful patient, observing all the
rules, cooperating and so on.  But nothing ever seems to happen.  The
analysis is in effect dead. McDougall speaks of the "death of curiosity"
the patient has no interest in his or her self. It is the things that are
missing that define the anti-analysand. The patient talks of people, and
of things, but rarely of relationships between people or things.  Nor does
there seem to be that intermingling of conscious and less conscious layers
of meaning in the patient's communication.  Links between past and
present, links between associations, affective links between people  or
indeed with the analyst or the analytic work, are absent. These patients
seem to speak "a robot language impregnated with clich=E9s." (215).
"In spite of better  than average intelligence," McDougall says,  the
patient is capable of displaying a banality of thought akin to mental
retardation." (225)  The language is dead, and the mind is dead  --
stupefied  as well.
     How might such a condition arise?  McDougall reasons that these
patients, unaware of their own suffering, may have experienced something
like the hospitalized infants Rene Spitz wrote of, physically cared for
but emotionally so neglected that they do not develop.
She compares them to patients suffering from an inability to feel physical
pain, who must construct a set of automatized behavioral habits to protect
themselves from disasters they cannot consciously experience as
threatening. The construction of such an infallible psychic system, she
writes, gives to the ego the strength of a computerized robot which in
turn becomes the invincible guardian of the object's psychic life  but at
the price of a certain inner deadness.
     Survival for these patients thus means precisely making sure that no
affective links are formed.  But the force that cuts emotional links is an
anti-life force, and this is how the analyst experiences these
anti-analysands. McDougall chose the term anti-analysand over the term
robot analysand with its implications of passivity, she tells us, in order
to "the impression of force as implied in the concept of anti-matter, a
massive strength that is only revealed through its negative effect, its
opposition to the functions of cohesion and liaison." (215)
     Bollas too understands the genesis of normotic illness in terms of
deadly forces and the "death instinct":

"I think it is highly likely that the children who give in to the normotic
element perceive in the parents' way of being a form of hate that we might
conceptualize as a death instinct.  Such a hate does not focus on the
personality of the child, so it would be untrue to say that the child
feels hated by the parent.  It may be more accurate t say that the child
experiences the parents' attack on life itself, and that such a parent is
trying o squeeze the life out of existence. . . . Parent and child
organize a foreclosure of the human mentality.  They find a certain
intimacy in shutting down life together, and in mastering existence with
the unconscious skill of a military operation.  Because the normotic
person fails to symbolize in language his subjective states of mind, it is
difficult to point to the violence in this person's being, yet it is
there, not in his utterances, but in his way of shutting life out." 143

    In such thinking, Bollas and McDougall are drawing on the work of
Melanie Klein, who worked with very young children and who elaborated
Freud's notion of the death instinct, and on post-Kleinian notions of an
attack on the linking capacities of the mind.  Adorno, as I have noted,
was unfamiliar with the work of Klein and her followers, but his comments
follow precisely this course. He draws an unforgettable picture of the
deadness implicit in normotic health .  I quote again from "The Health
Unto Death:"

"The very people who burst with proofs of exuberant vitality could easily
be taken for prepared corpses, from which the news of their
not-quite-successful decease has been withheld for reasons of population
policy.  Underlying the prevalent health is death.  All the movements of
health resemble the reflex-movements of beings whose hearts have stopped
beating." 59

     And like the Kleinians, Adorno, while using Freudian terminology, infe=
that the psychic damage that gives rise to postemotionalism must have
occurred very early on, prior to the Freudian Oedipal phase:

"No science has yet explored the inferno in which were forged the
deformations that later emerge to daylight as cheerfulness, openness,
sociability, successful adaptation to the inevitable le, an equable,
practical frame of mind.  There is reason to suppose that these
characteristics are laid down at even earlier phases of childhood
development than are neuroses:  if the latter result from a conflict in
which instinct is defeated, the former condition, as normal as the damaged
society it resembles, stems from what might be called a prehistoric
surgical intervention, which incapacitates the opposing forces before they
have come to grips with teach other...."  59

     Adorno then adds the final link, to larger social dynamics in which
in fact the authority of social dynamics replaces the authority of the
family and programs the individual directly. This "prehistoric surgical
intervention," he continues, has the result "that the subsequent absence
of conflicts reflects a predetermined outcome, the a priori triumph of
collective authority, not a cure effected by knowledge." (59)
    I find this work by Bollas and McDougall extremely interesting and
valuable.  And yet, if we compare it with Adorno's comments, we see that
it is limited in two ways. First, perhaps understandably, as clinicians
they do not make the links to the larger social level that Adorno does.
And second, and more surprisingly, Adorno puts himself even more squarely
within the postemotional dilemma than the clinicians do.  While both
Bollas and McDougall do of course make use of their own
countertransference reactions -- the way the patient has affected them  in
their attempts to understand normotic illness -- they do not seem to feel
personally threatened by the normotic. They do not raise the question of
how the same forces that produced normotic illness might have affected
them and their own ability to recognize what they are dealing with.
Adorno, as we have seen, is much clearer that he is subjected to the same
social forces that "stupefy us."
    These two limitations in the work of Bollas and McDougall are
interrelated, and they make up the crux of Adorno's critique of
psychoanalysis:  that the magnitude of the death-dealing forces we see
cannot be understood unless we see them in relation to the larger social
order and in their impact on ourselves; but their nature is such that it
is extremely difficult as individuals  to reach to this understanding.
Adorno articulates this critique in terms of the paradigm limiting case
for conventional psychoanalytic understanding, Hitler:

"The relation of knowledge to power is one not only of servility but of
truth.  Much knowledge, if out of proportion to the disposition of forces,
is invalid, however formally correct it may be.  If an =E9migr=E9 doctor sa=
'for me, Adolf Hitler is a pathological case,' his pronouncement may
ultimately be confirmed by clinical findings, but its incongruity with the
objective calamity visited on the world in the name of that paranoiac
renders the diagnosis ridiculous, mere professional preening.  Perhaps
Hitler is 'in-himself' a pathological case, but certainly not 'for-him.'
The vanity and poverty of many of the declarations directed against
Fascism by =E9migr=E9s is connected with this.  People thinking in the form=
of free, detached, disinterested appraisal were unable to accommodate
within those forms the experience of violence which in reality annuls such
thinking.  The almost insoluble task is to let neither the power of
others, nor our own powerlessness, stupefy us."
  "Johnny-Head-in-Air," Minima Moralia, 56-57

Adorno on War and the Postemotional
     The experience of violence which in reality annuls free, detached,
disinterested  that is, non dialectical  thinking:  For Adorno, normotic
illness and postemotionality cannot in fact be understood separately from
war. If, for Adorno,  unnecessary pain, suffering, poverty and degradation
are the indicators of and of the destruction of experience, then
death-dealing violence and social domination are the agents of this
falsehood and this destruction, and thus inextricably linked to the
phoniness and propaganda quality of postemotional society. Hence, for
Adorno, the development of Fascism and the development of the culture
industry and the other aspects of damaged life so evident in America are
part and parcel of the same thing. War is thus central to Adorno's picture
of the postemotional society -- not the war of the Good Americans vs. the
Bad Germans, but rather the inextricable presence of killing and
war-making in a society of domination.
     Adorno does not write much about the Second World War in Minima
Moralia, but the one piece he devotes to it, "Out of the Firing Line,"
from summer 1944, demonstrative of his awareness of that link with a
precocity that is painful to see.  He speaks directly to issues which most
of us have recognized more slowly, with Vietnam and post-traumatic stress
syndrome, with Paul Fussell on the role of public relations and propaganda
in the Second World war, with Robert Jay Lifton and the notion of psychic
numbing, with the cycles of revenge, and the media management of war we
are now seeing in the Middle East and between the United States and other
nations.  This piece is so timely that I cannot resist sharing  some
excerpts from it.
     Here is Adorno on the intertwining of business and armaments as
brand-name commodities:

"Reports of air-attacks are seldom without the names of the firms which
produced the planes:  Focke-Wulff, Heinkel, Lancaster feature where once
the talk was of cuirassiers, lancers and hussars.  The mechanisms for
reproducing life, for dominating and for destroying it, is exactly the
same, and accordingly industry, state, and advertising are amalgamated.
The old exaggeration of skeptical Liberals, that war was a business, has
come true:  state power has shed even the appearance of independence from
particular interests in profit; always in their service really, it now
also places itself there ideologically.  Every laudatory mention of the
chief contractor in the destruction of cities, helps to earn it the good
name that will secure it the best commissions in their rebuilding."

     And on the incommensurability of bodily, sensory experience and the
mechanical and discontinuous violence of war, anticipating the
obliteration of the psyche's ability to grasp and work through experience
that we now call post-traumatic stress:

"[T]he Second War is as totally divorced from experience as is the
functioning of a machine from the movements of the body, which only begins
to resemble it in pathological states.... Everywhere, with each
explosion, it has breached the barrier against stimuli beneath which
experience, the lag between healing oblivion and healing recollection,
forms.  Life has changed into a timeless succession of shocks, interspaced
with empty, paralyzed intervals. But nothing, perhaps, is more ominous for
the future than the fact that, quite literally, these things will soon be
past thinking on, for each trauma of the returning combatants, each shock
not inwardly absorbed, is a ferment of future destruction."

     And on the preeminence of media representation of war over the war its=
with consequent "withering of experience":

"The total obliteration of the war by information, propaganda,
commentaries, with camera-men in the first ranks and war reporters dying
heroic deaths, the mishmash of enlightened manipulation of public opinion
and oblivious activity; all this is another expression for the withering
of experience, the vacuum between men and their fate, in which their real
fate lies.  It is as if the reified, hardened, plaster-cast of events
takes the place of events themselves."

     And here is the fusion of war and administration, as can be seen in so=
of the technology of Israeli military administration of Palestinian towns:

"Cinema newsreel: The impression is not of battles, but of civil
engineering and blasting operations undertaken with immeasurably
intensified vehemence, also of 'fumigation,' insect-extermination on a
terrestrial scale.  Works are put in hand, until no grass grows.  The
enemy acts of patient and corpse.  Like the Jews under Fascism, he
features now as merely the object of technical and administrative

     And here, finally,  is Adorno on the terrible quandary of revenge, and=
vision of its endless large-scale perpetuation:

"The idea that after this war life will continue 'normally', or even that
culture might be 'rebuilt', is idiotic.  Millions of Jews have been
murdered, and this is to be seen as an interlude and not the catastrophe
itself.  What more is this culture waiting for?  And even if countless
people  still have time to wait, is it conceivable that what happened in
Europe will have no consequences, that the quantity of victims will not be
transformed into a new quality of society at large, barbarism?  As long as
blow is followed by counter-blow, catastrophe is perpetuated.... If,
however, the dead are not avenged and mercy is exercised, Fascism will
despite everything get away with its victory scot-free, and having once
been shown so easy, will be continued elsewhere.  The logic of history is
as destructive as the people that it brings to prominence:  wherever its
momentum carries it, it reproduces equivalents of past calamity.
Normality is death."
"Out of the Firing Line," Minima Moralia, 53-6

Adorno, Bion, and Binocular Vision
     "The almost insoluble task is to let neither the power of others, nor
our own powerlessness, stupefy us." How can we think in such a way as to
be adequate to forms of violence that transcend our previous knowledge?
This is  the question Adorno has set himself. His answer is demonstrated
in the text that is Minima Moralia.  But to conceptualize it I want to
turn again to the evolution of psychoanalytic thought, and in particular
to another post-Kleinian analyst, arguably the most original and
far-reaching in his thinking, Wilfred Bion.  Bion shares with Adorno a
focus on attacks on the mind and a deep awareness of social violence,
gained in part through experience in, in Bion's case, not only the second
but also the first world war.
     During the period in which Adorno was writing Minima Moralia Bion was
serving as a military psychiatrist in the British army and developing a
theory of group relations through working with psychologically disabled
officers in a military hospital.  His work then and immediately after the
end of the war was oriented to linking individual psychological phenomena
to social/collective situations  and to developing a theory of experience
in groups and a practice of group psychotherapy.
     Bion was concerned with the human being's capacity to ignore reality
through received knowledge and falsehood.  Psychoanalytic jargon, he
acknowledged, was quite capable of being used in this way. In his postwar
work as a psychoanalyst, he formulated the idea that destructive forces in
the mind "attacked linking," as he put it, including the links between
thought and feeling and emotional bonds with another, thus preventing
recognition of reality. McDougall's description of the anti-analysand
draws on Bion's notion of attacks on linking.
     In his work with groups, Bion formulated the notion of "binocular
vision." He described the irrational group fantasies that circulate within
a group, such as the fantasy of an omniscient and omnipotent leader on
whom group members are absolutely dependent for guidance and instruction.
In his view, every individual in the group who  is in any meaningful sense
a member of the group is infected by the group's  irrationality and
participates in these group fantasies.
     By "binocular vision," Bion means this:  as an individual within the
group, I am able to perceive the fantasy-based (i.e. delusional) forces in
the group because I am part of them.  I feel them at work in me. At the
same time, as an individual within the group, I am capable, though with
great difficulty, to articulate and speak to these irrational forces,
despite the risk I take that the group will turn on me.  And as a socially
responsible working member of the group, ( in Bion's case, as
psychotherapist to the group), that is in fact my function.
     Bion's  term "binocular vision" speaks to the terribly difficult and
nearly impossible challenge of retaining a hold on thought while feeling
the effect of those irrational collective forces in oneself. It formulates
at the group level the dilemma of entanglement and complicity that Adorno
formulates for ordinary social life in postemotional society. It is
through the terribly difficult, in fact nearly impossible, exercise of
binocular vision that Adorno is capable of writing Minima Moralia.

Adorno and passion
     There is an intrinsic link between Bion's notion of binocular vision
and his idea of attacks on linking.  For the forces of group fantasy work
to destroy the kinds of emotional and mental links that would allow one to
see the complex truth of what is happening. And with this I arrive at the
third of my triad of passion, psychoanalysis, and the postemotional
dilemma  namely, the subject of passion.
     I take passion to be the incompatible with postemotionality.  For
Mestrovic, postemotionality may very well mean "the end of passion," as he
puts it. If emotions are only quasi-emotions, and are pre-formed, then
they are too dead and artificial to fit the nature of passion. If we think
of passion as a single intense, overpowering emotion, then Adorno's
critique of postemotionality is not based on an advocacy of passion.
Adorno is much more concerned with tact and nuance, the faint glimmer of
possible human happiness, and with the frail capacity for critical
    But Bion, followed by contemporary psychoanalyst Donald Meltzer, has
advanced what to me is a far more interesting theory of passion.  For Bion
and Meltzer, passion is a  form of turbulent emotional  experience, a
clash of competing emotional ties among themselves and with the forces
that oppose and kill emotional ties.  Passion provides the kind of
emotional experience that genuine thought can think about.  Understood
this way, passion provides the fuel for personality development in the
sense of the individual's expanding capacity for truth and relationship.
     Passion in these terms is intrinsic both to Adorno's mode of thought
and to the form of his writings.  It is at work in Adorno's form of
binocular vision, in his struggle with the opposing sides of phenomena,
and in his struggle with the deadly forces of terror and domination that
would kill thought. The very act of creating links, in the face of the
forces that attack linking, as Bion formulated it, is work on the side of
life against death. But the linking must include the negative, recognition
of the power of irrational collective forces, recognition of falsehood and
oppression. The suffering inherent in  damaged life is part of the fuel of
Minima Moralia.
     The passion in Adorno's thought is also reflected in what one might
call the weakly aesthetic form of Adorno's writing, a form he refers to
elsewhere as constellational or configurational. For Adorno, the aesthetic
dimension, as beauty and aesthetic form, is the locus of that Utopian
glimmer, that faint and fleeting promise of happiness, the positive
emotional link:

"What beauty still flourishes under terror is a mockery and ugliness to
itself.  Yet its fleeting shape attests to the avoidability of terror.
Something of this paradox if fundamental to all art; today it appears in
the fact that art still exists at all.  The captive idea of beauty strives
at once to reject happiness and to assert it."
"Auction," Minima Moralia, 121

     This aesthetic dimension can be seen in the way in which each piece
in Minima Moralia pulls together disparate levels of experience and
analysis, and the way the hundreds of small essays, ranging over a wide
variety of aspects of daily life, form a coherent configuration.  As a
piece of writing, Minima Moralia is a tour de force of linking, a product
of intense passion in Bion's sense.  I will end this talk with a small
illustration of that idea.
     The piece called "Gala Dinner" is a piece on the suffocation of
genuine need by the forces of production, in which the productive capacity
dictates a crushing weight of consumption in which one must hurry to keep
up with the new, so that for instance each bestseller must be read through
from beginning to end.
     "Gala Dinner"  begins like this:

"How far progress and regression are intertwined today can be seen in the
notion of technical possibilities.  Mechanical processes of reproduction
have developed independently of what they reproduce, and become

     And ends like this:

"The abundance of commodities indiscriminately consumed is becoming
calamitous. It makes it impossible to find one's way, and just as in a
gigantic department store one looks out for a guide, the population wedged
between wares await their leader."
"Gala Dinner," Minima Moralia, 118-9

     The initial formulation, characteristic of Adorno's dialectical
thought, points to both progressive and regressive elements in a
historical phenomenon. It links technological progress with a detail of
the way the productive forces are organized, the autonomy of the machines
and the need for them to be kept functioning regardless of what might be
the objective need for what is produced. The  final formulation evokes the
emotional state and the subjective experience to which Adorno has access
through binocular vision --  "calamitous"; "impossible to find one's way."
 It couples this evocation of emotion with a double-sided analogy that
links the experience of consumption to the collective political sphere and
the ominous advent of terror:  "Just as in a gigantic department store one
looks for a guide, so the population wedged between wares awaits their
     This is dialectical logic that incorporates subjective experience and
imagination. The emotional impact, to which the final image is crucial, is
what enables the dialectical analysis to hit home and be grasped.  It is
this passionate dimension of Adorno's thought that makes his contribution
unique among social and cultural critics and gives it its particular


Adorno, Theodor (1974).  Minima Moralia, Reflections from Damaged Life,
trans. E. F.N. Jephcott. London: NLB.

Bollas, Christopher (1987).  The Shadow of the Object.  New York:

McDougall, Joyce (1978).  Plea for a Measure of Abnormality. New York:

Meltzer, Donald (1986).  "What is an Emotional Experience" and "On
Turbulence." In Studies in Extended Metapsychology.  Strathclyde,
Perthshire:  Clunie Press.

Mestrovic, Stjepan (1997) .  Postemotional Society.  London and Thousand
Oaks:  Sage.

Riesman, David (1950).  The Lonely Crowd.  New Haven:  Yale.

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