Inside and Outside

by Theodor Adorno

Piety, indolence and calculation allow philosophy to keep muddling along within an ever narrower academic groove, and even there steadily increasing efforts are made to replace it by organized tautology. Those who throw in their lot with salaried profundity are compelled, as a hundred years ago, to be at each moment as naive as the colleagues on whom their careers depend. But extra-academic thinking, which seeks to escape such compulsion, with its contradiction between high-flown subject matter and petty-minded treatment, faces a scarcely lesser threat: the economic pressure of the market, from which in Europe the professors at least were protected. The philosopher who wishes to earn his living as a writer is obliged at each moment to have something choice, ultra-select to offer, and to counter the monopoly of office with that of rarity. The repulsive notion of the intellectual titbit, conceived by pedants, finally proves humiliatingly applicable to their opponents. The hack journalist groaning under his editorís demands for continuous brilliance, openly gives voice to the law that lurks tacitly behind all the works on the Cosmogonic Eros and kindred mysteries, the metamorphoses of the gods and the secret of the Gospel according to St John. The life-style of belated bohemianism forced on the non-academic philosopher is itself enough to give him a fatal affinity to the world of arts-and-crafts, crackpot religion and half-educated sectarianism. Munich before the First World War was a hotbed of that spirituality whose protest against the rationalism of the schools led, by way of the cults of fancy-dress festivities, more swiftly to Fascism than possibly even the spiritless system of old Rickert. So great is the power of the advancing organization of thought, that those who want to keep outside it are driven to resentful vanity, babbling self-advertisement and finally, in their defeat, to imposture. If the academics uphold the principle of sum ergo cogito and fall victim, in the open system, to agoraphobia, and in the existential exposure of Being-in-the world, to the racial community, their opponents stray, unless exceptionally vigilant, into the region of graphology and rhythmic gymnastics. The compulsive type there corresponds to the paranoiac here. Ardent opposition to factual investigations, and a legitimate consciousness that scientism overlooks what is most valuable, aggravates by its naivety the split from which it suffers. Instead of comprehending the facts behind which the others are entrenched, it snatches those it can reach in its haste and makes off to play so uncritically with apocryphal knowledge, with a few isolated and hypostasized categories, and with itself, that simple reference to unyielding facts is enough to defeat it. It is precisely the critical element that is wanting in ostensibly independent thought. Insistence on the cosmic secret hidden beneath the outer shell, in reverently omitting to establish the relation between the two, often enough confirms by just this omission that the shell has its good reasons that must be accepted without asking questions. Between delight in emptiness and the lie of fullness, the prevailing intellectual situation allows no third way.

Yet a gaze averted from the beaten track, a hatred of brutality, a search for fresh concepts not yet encompassed by the general pattern, is the last hope for thought. In an intellectual hierarchy which constantly makes everyone answerable, unanswerability alone can call the hierachy directly by its name. The circulation sphere, whose stigmata are borne by intellectual outsiders, opens a last refuge to the mind that it barters away, at the very moment when refuge really no longer exists. He who offers for sale something unique that no-one wants to buy, represents, even against his will, freedom from exchange.


Source: Minima Moralia by Theodor Adorno, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 1978), section 41, pp. 66-68.


Theodor W. Adorno Study Guide


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