Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Minimal Maxims

After watching the latest debacle featuring the Cal men's basketball team -- "Oregon State?" -- I naturally returned home in a mood to read some Adorno. There's nothing like disappointment in one register des Alltagslebens to inspire a desire to be disappointed in another. I opened the English translation of Minima Moralia by E. F. N. Jephcott to the perfect entry too, a little number called "Damper and Drum" in Part II. The first sentence, which I did not recall from previous readings, is the sort that the theorist of taste in me will surely return to again and again: "Taste is the most accurate seismograph of historical experience." You go, Teddy Wiesengrund!

As anyone familiar with Adorno might expect, however, this is easily the most hopeful sentence of the whole piece. By the penultimate Satz his aphoristic mind is once again seeing the glass, not only as half full, but hopelessly cracked and filled with a toxic liquid to boot: "The aporia of responsible work benefits the irresponsible." The final sentence seals the deal, imagining a time when, "no herbicide will prevail against the renascent springtime of song, and the national front extending all the way from barbaric Futurism to the ideology of the cinema, will go entirely unopposed." Maybe Walter took that fatal dose, not only out of fear of being captured, but because he knew that another takedown from Gretel's hubby was bound to come his way sooner or later. That sounds uncharitable, I suppose, but charity was never one of Adorno's strengths either.

Further enhancing the brood in my mood after reading reflections like these is my realization that the translation seems to be flawed in that special way that translations from Adorno invariably seem to be. Take that final comma in the final sentence. I can't imagine a scenario in which it corresponds to the sense of the original German. It seems clear to me that we're dealing with two separate subjects and predicates, coupled with a coordinating conjunction. But I can't be certain because I'm unable to locate my German edition.

In addition, I have a slithering suspicion that the bit about herbicide is a play on the idea of Ausrottung, the Nazi term that conceives of genocide as a "rooting out" of weeds im Garten des deutschen Volkes. But I can't tell how overtly Adorno is troping on the concept without seeing which term he uses. Incidentally, any doubt about the horror implicit in this weeding metaphor will be immediately laid to rest by a visit to a German "wilderness" area, in which the trees are all pruned to the same height and the leaves are vacuumed up by a diligent forester. Needless to say, gardens are subject to even more stringent Reinigung in the Heimat.

Hmmm. Have you ever seen one of those "gunslinger" commercials for that product called Roundup? I wonder why they gave the herbicide that name. I swear, if you think too hard about anything in Adorno you start seeing the world through his thick-rimmed Brille, no matter how hard you try to peer through Buddy Holly's instead. I can see him watching the next Monsanto ad campaign, nodding in bitter recognition: "Roundup: the final solution for all your gardening problems."

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