Originally published in Hans-Jürgen Krahl, Konstitution und Klassenkampf (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Neue Kritik, 1971), pp. 285-288. English translation by Pat Murray and Ruth Heydebrand: Telos Fall 1974 no. 21, pp. 164-167. See also: Hans-Jürgen Krahl (1943-1970) / Für Krahl (Reinicke, 1973) / Krahl oder Adorno.
Adorno’s intellectual biography, even in its most aesthetic abstractions, is marked by the experience of Fascism. The mode in which this experience is reflected—by deciphering from the works of art the insoluble relation between critique and suffering—constitutes the uncompromising claim to negation, while simultaneously setting limits to it. “Damaged life,” through reflection on fascist domination as generated by the natural economic catastrophes of the capitalist mode of production, is aware of its entanglement in the ideological contradictions of bourgeois individualism, whose irrevocable decay it has understood; at the same time, it cannot disengage from it. Fascist terror produces not only the understanding of the hermetic compulsiveness of highly industrialized societies, it also violates the subjectivity of the theoretician and reinforces the class barriers against his cognitive ability. Adorno expresses this awareness of the process in his “Introduction” to Minima Moralia:
The powers that had driven me away also kept me from fully understanding them. I did not yet admit to myself my part in the conspiracy, which enmeshes everybody who even talks about individual matters while confronted by the unspeakable that is happening on a collective level.
It seems as if Adorno’s cutting critique on the ideological existence of the bourgeois individual irresistibly trapped him in its ruin. But this would mean that Adorno had never really left the isolation that emigration imposed on him. The monadic fate of the individual isolated by the laws of production of abstract labor is mirrored in his intellectual subjectivism. This is why Adorno was not able to translate his private compassion for the wretched of the earth into an integral partisanship of his theory towards the liberation of the oppressed.