“The Metaphysic of Dunces”: Adorno’s Theses Against Occultism


Pic: Victorrrmz (CC)

Theodor Adorno links the occultism of his time with commodity fetishism.  Via the Autodidact Project:

I. The tendency to occultism is a symptom of regression in consciousness. This has lost the power to think the unconditional and to endure the conditional. Instead of defining both, in their unity and difference, by conceptual labour, it mixes them indiscriminately. The unconditional becomes fact, the conditional an immediate essence. Monotheism is decomposing into a second mythology. “I believe in astrology because I do not believe in God”, one participant in an American socio-psychological investigation answered. Judicious reason, that had elevated itself to the notion of one God, seems ensnared in his fall. Spirit is dissociated into spirits and thereby forfeits the power to recognize that they do not exist. The veiled tendency of society towards disaster lulls its victims in a false revelation, with a hallucinated phenomenon. In vain they hope in its fragmented blatancy to look their total doom in the eye and withstand it. Panic breaks once again, after millennia of enlightenment, over a humanity whose control of nature as control of men far exceeds in horror anything men ever had to fear from nature.

II. The second mythology is more untrue than the first. The latter was the precipitate of the state of knowledge of successive epochs, each of which showed its consciousness to be some degrees more free of blind subservience to nature than had the previous. The former, deranged and bemused, throws away the hard-won knowledge of itself in the midst of a society which, by the all-encompassing exchange-relationship, eliminates precisely the elemental power the occultists claim to command. The helmsman looking to the Dioscuri, the attribution of animation to tree and spring, in all their deluded bafflement before the unexplained, were historically appropriate to the subject’s experience of the objects of his actions. As a rationally exploited reaction to rationalized society, however, in the booths and consulting rooms of seers of all gradations, reborn animism denies the alienation of which it is itself proof and product, and concocts surrogates for non-existent experience. The occultist draws the ultimate conclusion from the fetish-character of commodities: menacingly objectified labour assails him on all sides from demonically grimacing objects. What has been forgotten in a world congealed into products, the fact that it has been produced by men, is split off and misremembered as a being-in-itself added to that of the objects and equivalent to them. Because objects have frozen in the cold light of reason, lost their illusory animation, the social quality that now animates them is given an independent existence both natural and supernatural, a thing among things.

III. By its regression to magic under late capitalism, thought is assimilated to late capitalist forms. The asocial twilight phenomena in the margins of the system, the pathetic attempts to squint through the chinks in its walls, while revealing nothing of what is outside, illuminate all the more clearly the forces of decay within. The bent little fortune-tellers terrorizing their clients with crystal balls are toy models of the great ones who hold the fate of mankind in their hands. Just as hostile and conspiratorial as the obscurantists of psychic research is society itself. The hypnotic power exerted by things occult resembles totalitarian terror: in present-day processes the two are merged. The smiling of auguries is amplified to society’s sardonic laughter at itself; gloating over the direct material exploitation of souls. The horoscope corresponds to the official directives to the nations, and number-mysticism is preparation for administrative statistics and cartel prices. Integration itself proves in the end to be an ideology for disintegration into power groups which exterminate each other. He who integrates is lost.

IV. Occultism is a reflex-action to the subjectification of all meaning, the complement of reification. If; to the living, objective reality seems deaf as never before, they try to elicit meaning from it by saying abracadabra. Meaning is attributed indiscriminately to the next worst thing: the rationality of the real, no longer quite convincing, is replaced by hopping tables and rays from heaps of earth. The offal of the phenomenal world becomes, to sick consciousness, the mundus intelligibilis. It might almost be speculative truth, just as Kafka’s Odradek might almost be an angel, and yet it is, in a positivity that excludes the medium of thought, only barbaric aberration alienated from itself, subjectivity mistaking itself for its object. The more consummate the inanity of what is fobbed off as “spirit” — and in anything less spiritless the enlightened subject would at once recognize itself, — the more the meaning detected there, which in fact is not there at all, becomes an unconscious, compulsive projection of a subject decomposing historically if not clinically. It would like to make the world resemble its own decay: therefore it has dealings with requisites and evil wishes. “The third one reads out of my hand,/ She wants to read my doom!” In occultism the mind groans under its own spell like someone in a nightmare, whose torment grows with the feeling that he is dreaming yet cannot wake up.

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17 Comments on "“The Metaphysic of Dunces”: Adorno’s Theses Against Occultism"

  1. Craig Bickford | Jan 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm |

    I don’t think many people on here will enjoy this comment, but I’m not sure I disagree with any of this to be honest (not for the reasons you would assume though, if you are in fact in the business of assuming thing much of the time). I studied Wiccan/ Pagan systems for years in my youth/teen years, and after a long hiatus have jumped back into chaos and thelemic currents in the last year or two after deciding I needed a paradigm shift after years of an endlessly empty trek into a strictly atheistic and rational thinking world view. You know what I found? A confirmation bias that fell apart upon stress applied to it, and a new discernment about the occult that has morphed into a totally new world view, one that also rejects much of the occult theory I read as pure and utter misinformed nonsense. Not only have I continually rejected astrology and spiritualism since day one, I have now abandoned atheism and strict rationalism and most of the newly picked up garbage related to occult practice as well (well not completely true, I still embrace some elements of thelema and chaos magick), in favor of an informed trajectory that is aiming me straight for a collision with alchemical Hermeticism, a mixed bag of philosophies that appear to resembles ancient applied self psychology and psychiatry. Know thy self. Much of this I credit Mark Passio’s podcast, What On Earth Is Happening, for clarifying. Most occult science is art in disguise to some extent, and is allot of it is fairly useful once the paranormal aspect is stripped away. But a large amount of modern occult writing appears to me to be some pretty sinister misinformation that is clever mind control written by our masters. One more opposition dialectic to confuse the other side with. Well that’s my crap two cents, fire away internet.

    • It seems to me that much of what’s out there appear to to be 50% BS/fantasy to sell the product (e.g. The Secret,books, concepts).

      With varrying percentages of self help/Mind (NLP, self hypnosis, psychology).

      Exercizes/Body (yoga, tantra, meditation, Chi gong, Tai chi).

      And finally Abstract thinking, seriously not to be taken too seriously (symbolism, correlations, etc). With a fragmant of foreign chemicals.

      All to varying degrees, at varying times depending on the system/approach and the source.

      There are groups out there that may facilitate personal growth and synergy in co-creating through conectedness, or personal gain through individuality through self worship.

      However some of these groups may be risky, and or an excuse to manipulate people.

      I will refrain from sharing which groups/communities I feel are potentillay beneficail or pitfalls.

      • In my opinion the groups that practice or encourage self worship are not among those which are beneficial.

  2. Calypso_1 | Jan 9, 2014 at 6:42 pm |

    Part of the reason may be that it is translated from German. Considering the level of work he produced in musicology, philosophy & social theory, I doubt he oft reached for a thesaurus.

  3. jasonpaulhayes | Jan 9, 2014 at 6:58 pm |

    I’m a Nihilist but I have metaphysical and Psychic experiences all the time that I cant deny, have throughout my life and so does my entire family. Just because you don’t understand the connections doesn’t mean you’re being lied to, you’re criticizing what you don’t understand. I’ve experienced things in this realm few ever will and that even fewer could accept.

    I was seeing 9:11 am and 9:11 pm on the clock almost every day for a month, even when I thought it might be around that time I would avoid looking at the clock but I couldn’t escape it and when I did look, it was indeed 9:11… this was the month before NYC was hit and I told my ex-wife and close friends something would happen that day… I was right. I also had a reoccuring dream character lend me a vision of Fukushima (among many other things) a month before it happened and I described the 4 reactor buildings that were in ruins to my friends and family. I was even able to described the blue and white checker patterns on them … which I saw also correct about.

    My Mother (Reiki Healer) for example… knows what gender her grandchildren will be before their mothers do, shes been correct about all 5 of her grandchildren genders. She also can describe people in the lives of her children, she has no rational way of knowing who they are or what they look like. She knows when any of her children are troubled or in pain and literally calls every time, right on time. My father had this ability too (rest in peace), for example… he was a fireman and was awoken by lucidity moments before a fire call came in over the radio, giving my address as a structure fire, he knew his families was in danger intuitively.

    My fondest memory of such phenomenon was from when I was just a child. I was hanging wallpaper with my grandmother (Worthy Grand Matron) and asking her (with my jaw on the floor) why the food was putting itself away in the kitchen… she just sent a reassuring smile to me and let me know it was okay.

  4. Tchoutoye | Jan 9, 2014 at 7:34 pm |

    Even if you don’t value the occult, you need to understand it in order to defend yourself against attacks of an occult nature.

    Giordano Bruno would probably have agreed with Adorno about the link between magic and commodity fetishism. Bruno’s treatise on the nature of (black) magic De Vinculis in genere (1591) explains perfectly how advertising works.

  5. By god, that piece is redolent with the stench of academia; smells like bullshit.

  6. “The bent little fortune-tellers terrorizing their clients with crystal
    balls are toy models of the great ones who hold the fate of mankind in
    their hands. Just as hostile and conspiratorial as the obscurantists of
    psychic research is society itself. The hypnotic power exerted by things
    occult resembles totalitarian terror: in present-day processes the two
    are merged. The smiling of auguries is amplified to society’s sardonic
    laughter at itself; gloating over the direct material exploitation of

  7. a thing among things.

  8. Richard Frith | Jan 11, 2014 at 3:56 pm |

    Little known fact: this guy does a thigh-slapping rendition of “The Aristocrats.” It’s a real hoot. This guy must have been ripped off by a flea market tasseomancer once and this was the resulting equivalent of a pre-Internet era scathing LiveJournal™ post.

  9. Adorno was correct. The occult/astrology/magick is absolute bullshit in the same way religion is. Two sides of the same shitty coin.

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