Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia
“Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.” This enigmatic statement stands at the heart of Theodor Adorno’s mid-20th century masterwork Minima Moralia. Subtitled “reflections from damaged life,” Adorno’s text is a collection of miniature essays, fragments, theses, and aphorisms about modern capitalist life that Adorno argues leaves no aspect of our lives unmarred, no individual undamaged, and no answer easy or satisfying. While other Adorno works – like his Aesthetic Theory, Negative Dialectics, or the multi-author Authoritarian Personality – were massive, systemic studies in different fields, Minima Moralia holds a unique place in both Adorno’s oeuvre and in the larger corpus of sociological and philosophical writing. As the great philosopher and sociologist Gillian Rose has noted, Minima Moralia drips with irony, exaggeration, hyperbole, and an extreme style that is at once pleasurable to read and infuriating to understand. It brings the most mundane aspects of daily life – interior decoration, housing, amusement, art, music, money, sport – into conversation with some of the most towering issues of economics, sociology, politics, aesthetics, and ethics, read alongside the catastrophes of the Second World War and the ongoing horror of capitalist life. It calls into question our reflex actions, common assumptions, and best of intentions. What does Adorno’s text tell us about how we can and can’t live our daily lives today?
In this class, we will read Adorno’s volume alongside commentary from Rose’s brilliant study of Adorno, The Melancholy Science. What kind of life can one lead under capitalist modernity? How can such a life be determined? Why do questions of moral action in modern life turn in on themselves again and again? We will ask whether Adorno’s maxims, dialectical puzzles, and impossible irresolutions are enervating or perhaps, as Adorno hints at the very end of his text, contain a potential for emancipation. And finally, we will examine Adorno’s text from the point-of-view of contemporary culture, politics, aesthetics, and morality, when individual practical perfection is demanded in a world in which, Adorno seeks to remind us, it is sociologically impossible to achieve.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
March 08 — March 29, 2022
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