The way in which a girl accepts and keeps the obligatory date, the inflection on the telephone or in the most intimate situation, the choice of words in con versation, and the whole inner life as classified by the now some what devalued depth psychology , bear witness to man’ s attempt to mak e himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model serv ed up by the culture industry . The most intimate reactions of human beings have been so thoroughly reified that the idea of anything specific to themselv es now persists only as an utterly abstract notion: personality scarcely signifies anything more than shining white teeth and freedom from body odor and emotions. The triumph of advertising in the culture industry is that consumers feel compelled to buy and use its products even though they see through them.

Seems like the conclusion from that article is that our emotional life is being contracted, because our "leisure time" is penetrated by standardised culture.

Standardization implies the interchangeability, the substitutability of parts.

By contrast, "serious music" is a "concrete totality" for Adorno, whereby "every detail derives its musical sense from the concrete totality of the piece." This is a dialectical relationship, whereby the totality is constituted of the organic interrelation of the particulars. In the case of serious music, interchangeability is not possible; if a detail is omitted, "all is lost."

If "seeing through" it is not enough against standardization, what else is Adorno suggesting to (re)gain our particularity (individuality), to emancipate from culture industry?

  • I tried to clarify the question in the way I understood it. Please let me know whether this captures the spirit of the problem you had in mind.
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 7 '17 at 9:08

What makes you think that Adorno is suggesting any solution to the problem? I've not read his entire works, but what I have read provides me with no indication that Adorno saw himself in any way responsible for solving or providing solutions to the problems he laments.

His definition of the role of the culture industry in controlling our emotional and critical responses is no different to the role of a jailor in constraining our freedom of movement. It is not sufficient to simply become aware that you are thus constrained, you are no less restricted.

The phrase, the world wants to be deceived, has become truer than had ever been intended. People are not only, as the saying goes, falling for the swindle; if it guarantees them even the most fleeting gratification they desire a deception which is nonetheless transparent to them. They force their eyes shut and voice approval, in a kind of self-loathing, for what is meted out to them, knowing fully the purpose for which it is manufactured. Without admitting it they sense that their lives would be completely intolerable as soon as they no longer clung to satisfactions which are none at all.

From "The Culture Industry Reconsidered" (1975)

If a solution were in any way implied here (and I'm not sure it is) it would be that consuming the products of modern culture even whilst "seeing through it" is exactly the problem, the solution being no longer consuming those products, but this is akin (in the example of the Jailor) to suggesting "no longer be jailed"as a solution. It is possible to escape a prison but it is not a philosophical act alone.


"Seeing through" is said in quotation marks. Like, this is bad, I know it, but... So that in every serious way one doesn't think it's bad. One is meant to make a kind of secession from the current Enlightenment, to another more satisfactory one. It's obvious, under this thinking, that there is materially an excess. But that the excess false-appetite creates poverty. If one reads Adorno alongside others who are more mundanely, so to say, Marxist, then the strategies of learning where one stands in the class system, and one's true interests, and so on, have to, in Adorno, somehow answer for the fact that Marxism itself is a Marxist false-consciousness. Adorno's short answer: study and think. All are intellectuals, some are more intellectual.


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