Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Theodor W. Adorno, born Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund

German Sociologist, Philosopher and Musicologist

"Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality."

"A German is someone who cannot tell a lie without believing it himself."

"A pencil and rubber are of more use to thought than a battalion of assistants. To happiness the same applies as to truth: one does not have it, but is in it."

"Advice to intellectuals: let no-one represent you."

"All morality has been modeled on immorality and to this day has reinstated it at every level. The slave morality is indeed bad: it is still the master morality."

"All satire is blind to the forces liberated by decay. Which is why total decay has absorbed the forces of satire."

"A successful work of art is not one which resolves contradictions in a spurious harmony, but one which expresses the idea of harmony negatively by embodying the contradictions, pure and uncompromised, in its innermost structure."

"And how comfortless is the thought that the sickness of the normal does not necessarily imply as its opposite the health of the sick, but that the latter usually only present, in a different way, the same disastrous pattern."

"An emancipated society, on the other hand, would not be a unitary state, but the realization of universality in the reconciliation of differences."

"Anti-Semitism is the rumor about the Jews."

"Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane."

"Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth."

"Art is the social antithesis of society, not directly deducible from it."

"Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals."

"Because thought has by now been perverted into the solving of assigned problems, even what is not assigned is processed like a problem."

"Beauty today can have no other measure except the depth to which a work resolves contradictions. A work must cut through the contradictions and overcome them, not by covering them up, but by pursuing them."

"But far from finding anything inimical in the prohibitions on thinking, the candidates - and all scientists are candidates for posts - feel relieved. Because thinking burdens them with a subjective responsibility which their objective position in the productive process does not allow them to meet, they renounce it, shiver a bit, and run to join their opponents. Dislike of thinking rapidly becomes incapacity for it: people who can effortlessly discover the most sophisticated statistical objections when it is a question of sabotaging a piece of knowledge, are unable to make ex cathedra the simplest predictions. They hit out at speculation and in it kills common sense. The more intelligent of them suspect the sickness of their intellectual powers, since it first appears not universally but in the organs whose services they sell. Many wait in fear and shame for their defect to be discovered. But they all find it publicly acclaimed as a moral achievement, and see themselves recognized for a scientific asceticism which to them is none, but the secret contour of their weakness. Their rancor is socially rationalized with the argument: thinking is unscientific. At the same time, their mental power has, in a number of dimensions, been prodigiously increased by control mechanisms. The collective stupidity of research technicians is not simply an absence or regression of intellectual faculties, but a proliferation of the thinking faculty itself, which consumes thought with its own strength. -"

"But he who dies in despair has lived his whole life in vain."

"Behind every work of art lies an uncommitted crime."

"Dialectic thought is an attempt to break through the coercion of logic by its own means."

"Culture is only true when implicitly critical, and the mind which forgets this revenges itself in the critics it breeds. Criticism is an indispensable element of culture."

"Dissonance is the truth about harmony."

"Estrangement shows itself precisely in the elimination of distance between people."

"Domination delegates the physical violence on which it rests to the dominated."

"Even at that time the hope of leaving behind messages in bottles on the flood of barbarism bursting on Europe was an amiable illusion: the desperate letters stuck in the mud of the spirit of rejuvenesence and were worked up by a band of Noble Human-Beings and other riff-raff into highly artistic but inexpensive wall-adornments. Only since then has progress in communications really got into its stride. Who, in the end, is to take it amiss if even the freest of free spirits no longer write for an imaginary posterity, more trusting, if possible, than even their contemporaries, but only for the dead God?"

"Everybody must have projects all the time. The maximum must be extracted from leisure ... The whole of life must look like a job, and by this resemblance conceal what is not yet directly devoted to pecuniary gain. -"

"Every undistorted relationship, perhaps indeed the conciliation that is part of organic life itself, is a gift. He who through consequential logic becomes incapable of it, makes himself a thing and freezes."

"Everything that has ever been called folk art has always reflected domination."

"Every work of art is an uncommitted crime."

"Exuberant health is always, as such, sickness also."

"Everywhere bourgeois society insists on the exertion of will; only love is supposed to be involuntary, pure immediacy of feeling. In its longing for this, which means a dispensation from work, the bourgeois idea of love transcends bourgeois society. But in erecting truth directly amid the general untruth, it perverts the former into the latter."

"For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live."

"Fascism is itself less 'ideological', in so far as it openly proclaims the principle of domination that is elsewhere concealed."

"Freedom would be not to choose between black and white but to abjure such prescribed choices."

"Freud made the discovery- quite genuinely, simply through working on his own material- that the more deeply one explores the phenomena of human individuation, the more unreservedly one grasps the individual as a self-contained and dynamic entity, the closer one draws to that in the individual which is really no longer individual."

"He who has laughter on his side has no need of proof."

"Genuine things are those to which commodities and other means of exchange can be reduced, particularly gold. But like gold, genuineness, abstracted as the proportion of fine metal, becomes a fetish."

"Happiness is obsolete: uneconomic."

"He who matures early lives in anticipation."

"He who has loved and who betrays love does harm not only to the image of the past, but to the past itself."

"He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private interest. While he gropingly forms his own life in the frail image of a true existence, he should never forget its frailty, nor how little the image is a substitute for true life. Against such awareness, however, pulls the momentum of the bourgeois within him."

"History does not merely touch on language, but takes place in it."

"He who integrates is lost."

"He who says he is happy lies, and in invoking happiness, sins against it. He alone keeps faith who says: I was happy. The only relation of consciousness to happiness is gratitude: in which lies its incomparable dignity."

"Horror is beyond the reach of psychology."

"If the integration of society, particularly in totalitarian states, designates subjects more and more exclusively as partial moments in the network of material production, then the 'alteration of the technical composition of capital' is prolonged within those encompassed, and indeed constituted, by the technological demands of the production process. The organic composition of man is growing. That which determines subjects as means of production and not as living purposes, increases with the proportion of machines to variable capital."

"If across the Atlantic the ideology was pride, here it is delivering the goods."

"In his state of complete powerlessness the individual perceives the time he has left to live as a brief reprieve."

"In many people it is already an impertinence to say 'I'."

"If time is money, it seems moral to save time, above all one's own, and such parsimony is excused by consideration for others. One is straight-forward."