Against Emma Watson’s Speech at the UN
I see some famous actress has made a speech launching the UN’s HeForShe campaign. The speech was aimed at men telling them that feminism is definitely not about man-hating while quoting Edmund Burke and offering such pearls of wisdom as “If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.” I don’t like to say much on feminist theory - too many others are far more eloquent than I can ever be - but maybe it would be more useful if men understood that sometimes feminism is about entirely justifiable (and just) man-hating, and that sure this might not be hugely comfortable for men, but also history is contained within the strains of that hatred. Only an organisation like the UN could come up with a feminist campaign aimed at making men more comfortable.
The anatomy of Proverbs, and a small note on Freud
What are those things in the centre of their mouths, that ringed silence, that crushed clock, screams of dead and flying things: as if all of their verbs, those private plazas, had coagulated, into nouns, and the nouns themselves something subterranean, blind and telescopic, crooked and evil, the paths of the law
This text arose from reading Rebecca Comay’s beautiful essay ‘Adorno’s Siren Song’, which focuses on the figure of honey in the Odyssey, and from Hannah Proctor’s recent essay ‘Death and the Maiden.’ I have failed to make substantive commentary here on either. They, instead, have left some traces.
The anatomy of Proverbs
The fractured text of the Book of Proverbs contrasts with the extended poetry of the other books of Solomon. It is composed according not to the formal demands of poetic material but according to an attempt to transmit wisdom. What is this transmission like? How does wisdom differ from its transmission, and how do the two interact? What is brought to expression?
The book’s nine opening chapters address the transmission of wisdom as the father’s moral teaching of a son. But it is not the son who is to be morally educated, not him as a person. Instead, these chapters proceed by dissection; wisdom is not of the individual but of the organ: the heart; the eyes; the feet that tread the path of life; and the mouth (see 4:23-27). Morality must be taught to each; the moral son is broken apart.
If each organ might stand metonymically for the moral subject, then the mouth in this regard poses a problem. The heart, which connects the ego to his soul, is hidden. The eyes are open to sensation and revelation; the feet may choose a path straight or crooked. Each of these organs plays a simple function: the heart and the feet are untroubled by pleasure. The mouth not so. And it is the mouth on which Proverbs dwells – the title already discloses the orality of this book. The mouth, lips and tongue are mentioned over a hundred times in the book’s 31 chapters. Perhaps Proverbs must be read backwards, not as teaching on how to use one’s mouth to act wisely, but as a critical analysis of the difficulty of the mouth itself. Wisdom becomes a heuristic for this task. The transmission of wisdom occasions the expression of the mouth’s difficulty.
Centrally, in these opening chapters, the father counsels conjugal fidelity. His counsel gives expression to a problem of orality.
My child, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, so that you may hold on to prudence, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a strange woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharper than a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol. She does not keep straight to the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it. And now, my child, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth…” (5:1-7)
Around a description of an archetypal femme fatale three mouths coalesce. The mouth of the father, the son, and the forbidden woman. The proverb strains between the spoken word; the wisdom of the silent, he who guards it with closed lips; the sexually alluring honeyed lips of a strange woman from which emanate unctuous words. Wisdom is to be transferred between these mouths. Its instability – the possibility of folly, is the expression of the difficulty of the human mouth. The transmission of wisdom in proverbs is caught in the complexity of mouths, of tongues and lips and tastes. For proverbs are not the law, the father not the Lord.
What is this wisdom that finds itself in the mouth of the father and not of the Lord? Wisdom enters the text in Chapter 8, through a poem in which it is personified as a woman. “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.” she says. “Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water, before the mountains had been shaped, I was brought forth – when he had not yet made earth and field, or the world’s first bit of soil.” (8:22-26). She closes her poem, “When he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters ought not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” The valences of wisdom both make and defy history: timelessly she works through creation, but she delights before the human race. In wisdom the knowledge of humans is related to the divine, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Yet wisdom is independent of the Lord, made in his first act, externalised by him. As a worker by his side she requires human transmission – instruction from one generation to the next. She requires the human mouth.
In human poetry this personification of wisdom, this timeless woman, is granted her own mouth: “Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right: for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.” (8:6-8) Personified wisdom is also embodied wisdom; embodied wisdom is too dissected. As transmission breaks into poetry, as it reflects upon its own object, it exposes its own problematic condition and proposes a new obscure relation: “Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, an she will guard you.” (4:6) Wisdom as woman is to be loved, exalted, for her lips that sense abomination. But the love of wisdom as woman offers no communion, but only the guarding and security of the ego from death. She is to be loved but not as a person: her lips are not to be loved as an entrance into her, but only as a place of declamation. Her human mouth is merely poetry.
The mouth in the Book of Proverbs contrasts with the heart. Sealed within the person as the mediator of life and soul, the heart is a figure of profound disconnection, the link between life and soul unmediated by an opening on to the world; the heart is without sense. And alongside the heart and the mouth in this text is the path of the feet. Proverbs speaks of the path of life which is not crooked. And in the section describing the son’s temptation by the strange woman, describes her path as a “path to Sheol” as her feet go down to death. Her path does not keep straight; her path is dark, unknowable. But even these paths in the world, Manichean figures of the traversal of reality, lead back to the mouth. For “from the fruit of the mouth one’s stomach is satisfied; the yield of lips brings satisfaction. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (18:20-21) If the heart is shrouded from the world by the body and the paths of life and death mark the fundamental bifurcation of reality illuminated by wisdom, then the mouth which opens on to the world, which can love and taste, speak, eat, and close itself off from the world may govern both. The souls of the good might be damaged not by the badness of the heart but by oral folly. The paths, dark and light, are in the power of the tongue.
The dialectic of the proverb is this: wisdom in the mouths of humans is granted oral expression, but its truth is to try to renounce its orality. The orality of the proverb tends to the closure of mouths, towards the end of orality, of the blocking of paths so that they may be illuminated, of the purity of the heart untroubled by temptation: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech” (10:19); “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives; those who open wide their lips come to ruin.” (13:3) For the human mouth utters not only spoken truth but deals in giving and taking pleasure, in the violence of law and the joy of folly, in the drinking of wine and gnashing of teeth. The human mouth might be governed by each. Wisdom ancient is weak between lips and teeth and tongue.
This dialectic is not merely a matter of difficulty, of the complexity of the mouth, its rivenness with hunger, sex and law, but also a question of authority, and the unity of the mouth as a figure of sovereignty. How does the learned mouth of the father compare to the honeyed mouth of this strange woman? How do the closing lips of the wise compare with the lips of personified and embodied wisdom to which wickedness is an abomination? Proverbs consistently presents the authority of the father as moral. “Listen, children to a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, and my mother’s favourite, he taught me, and said to me, ‘let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live. Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.’” (4:1-5) His lips, following his own father’s, have already forsworn sex and hunger for speaking of proverbs. He who guards his mouth appears as the desexualised shadow of personified wisdom. Since his mouth has already renounced pleasure, since it speaks a tasteless archaic wisdom without sense, is the father not a tragic figure – a figure of sublime emasculation and anaesthesia? In the proverb does he not renounce his sensuous sovereignty and announce his weakness? Is the pronouncement of the proverb not the expression of the ambivalence of his own position?
And what of our two women? And why might not, for the misogynist Solomon, real women’s mouths speak wisdom? Why must women appear as these two archetypes: one forever dark and fallen, treading her dark, deathly path; the other a mere figuration of an idea who cannot be loved for her figure? The one with her slippery mellifluous words, the other whose lips feel abomination but who speaks without passion? These were always the female archetypes portrayed by the father who claims to teach the son about the world but betrays instead his own interest.
A note on Freud
One of the changes in Freud’s thought between his Three essays on Sexuality and his 1914 essay ‘On Narcissism’ is that in his early thought ‘erotogenic zones’ are limited to the mouth, the anus and the genitals; while by the time of his revision of metapsychology in the mid-1910s, he will claim that, “we can decide to regard erotogenicity as a general characteristic of all organs.” The energetics of psychic mechanism is in this thought libidinalised; organic life itself eroticised. If life in general was eroticised, this would not straightforwardly lead to a lessening of Freud’s interest in the oral, anal, and genital, but it would transform their role in psychic life. No longer were they centres or ‘sources’ of erotic energy and excitement, but became instead centres of psychic organisation in the sense of governance. Demeaned in this transformation is the privilege of the mouth, anus, and genitals as sites of intercourse – not only sexual intercourse, but intercourse with the world. They are openings of the soma on to what is beyond the limits of the organism (although not necessarily what might be intojected or cathected, as though an organ of the ego, organised by the psyche.) In this movement of Freuds thought, these zones become transformed into references to moments in ontogenetic development, standing for moments of governance in the maturing psyche.
When Freud, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle returned to the question of the limit of the organism, the edge or frontier of the soma on to the world, he was less concerned with the somatic opening on to the world than how the organism might come to close itself off from the world, and how it might make its skin inorganic as a defensive measure. This interest in a deathly exterior rests on Freud’s earlier move in which it is not merely the case that “internal organs” can be erotogenic zones, but that there is a generalised internalisation of erotogeny that in itself becomes the seal of the organic qua life.
 All biblical quotations from NRSV.
 I am interested too in how close this figure is to writing of revelation, in the shifting of an oral mode to an optical one. In the apocalypse many of these figures and archetypes reoccur in distorted form in a different type of writing. Is the mouth of this strange woman not akin to the book given by the Angel to John in Rev. 10? “So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me ‘Take it, and eat; it will be bitter in your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.’ So I took the little scroll and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. Then they said to me, ‘You musy prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’” (10:9-11) Meanwhile, famously in revelation the strange woman reappears as the Whore of Babylon becoming a cosmic force, or in a most extreme expression she is “the great city that rules over the kings of earth.” (17:18). I was reminded of this relation by a reference to Rev. 10:10 in the Adorno – Mann correspondence, of this book or scroll that tastes like honey. There is a wonderful woodcut by Dürer of this scene, and it was close to their minds as Adrian Leverkühn, the protagonist of Mann’s Doktor Faustus writes an oratorio based on Dürer’s series of woodcuts of the apocalypse of John.
"The entire Teutonic history is recapitulated in miniature in crisps, which, in Germany, are available in only two flavours: Natural and Hungarian."
Fragment from last night’s dream
We met again in the street where we last met. Neither of us could remember how long it had been. It was night again. You had aged a lot and I was a little younger than I had been. In one hand you had so many poppy seeds, the other hand was coated in honey. I tasted both. I told you I thought it was like the famous Celan poem: Mein Aug steigt hinab zum Geschlecht der Geliebten: wir sehen uns an, wir sagen uns Dunkles, wir lieben einander wie Mohn und Gedächtnis [My eye goes down to the loins of my lover, we stare at each other, we say dark things, we love each other like poppy and memory.] Maybe I had been dragged to this thought by the eating from your hand. The poem starts with that, not that you knew. You berated me. You told me I had it all wrong, that you had brought me everything sensuous: the night and the poppy and the honey. And all I could think of was this stupid poem. I was sorry that it had lodged there. It had lodged there with the memory of hamantaschen, purim sweets with poppy seeds and honey about which I had nothing to say. And anyway, you said, honey was memory made myth. Honey was a preservative, it stopped memory being explosive by forcing things to unnaturally endure. Honey was the enemy of transience. I asked about your age. Honey you said was a force of light. I told you that the poem wasn’t without sensuousness, that Celan wasn’t all deserted landscapes of death, without even flowers. I told you to listen to its rhythm, to its persistent trisyllables. You were having none of it. We sat for a while in silence, your one hand full of poppy seeds and the other covered in honey.
"Keep your mind in Hull and despair not."
Preparing myself for a weekend in London.
Eulogy for Ulrike Meinhof by Klaus Wagenbach - New Translation
This is a rough and ready, and perhaps too literal, translation of Wagenbach’s eulogy for Meinhof, which I don’t think has appeared before in English. It’s not particularly pretty, nor such an important text, but I thought I’d put it out there. The German was published in Peter Brückner, Ulrike Marie Meinhof und die deutschen Verhältnisse, (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1995), pp. 197-199. I include the German below for anyone who wants to offer corrections to the translation.
Eulogy for Ulrike Meinhof
The present political situation in Germany ought to concern itself – so the official assertion goes – with the “threat to democracy from terrorist groups.” Ulrike Meinhof was a symbol for these groups. It is therefore completely absurd that now the authorities act as though the death of Ulrike Meinhof has nothing to do with our situation.
Those in official positions want to try to prove that the death of Ulrike Meinhof was a ‘suicide’. They will therefore not do away with our german situation: a servere ‘emergency law’ created in 1968, long before any ‘terrorist groups’ existed; an even longer standing prohibition on the Communist Party, and the prosecutions related to this ban; the recent act of protection of civil servants from leftists of any sort; and finally the first few weeks of the law against “the endorsement of violence.”
What Ulrike Meinhof had slain were the german conditions. The extremism of whose who describe everything as extremist, which could only be brought into question by the transformation of these conditions.
Ulrike Meinhof, born in the middle of the thirties, was old enough to still perceive the sensuous forms of appearance of Nazism. In the fifties she grew up with Renate Riemeck, an antifascist, who worked for the ‘peace moment’, an organisation that sought to prevent the rearmament. At that time the Social Democrats were also against rearmament. Today – with a Social Democratic Minister of Defence in place – they may be equally unwilling to remember this as they are to remember their first post-war programme. As the German armed forces became widely accepted, the campaign against rearmament was replaced with the “campaign against nuclear weapons”, in which the social democrats were also involved from the outset. Only in the second half of the fifties did the practical split within the left take place: the Social Democrats left the “campaign” and took a course towards NATO and the Godesberger Programme
These were the first political experiences of Ulrike Meinhof. In the following decade – from the middle of the fifties through to the middle of the sixties – Ulrike Meinhof would become, within a few years, the most eminent left journalist in the Bundesrepublik. She was the one who most clearly formulated the disappointments of the reactionary development of social democracy. She struggled against the war in Algeria, against the emergency laws, and against the ‘grand coalition.’ She agitated for the end of the in Vietnam War and for a different ‘eastern politics’ [Ostpolitik]. She dedicated herself finally to two fundamental questions of Marxism: the analysis of class, and the question of revolutionary violence:
Who belongs to the exploited and oppressed class? And consequently, how is the emancipation of this class to take place? Her consideration of these questions eminated from those affected, from real misery, not from theoretical distance. They came from the marginalised groups who with these questions came into view: the encarcerated, those in care, runaways, and crazies. Ulrike Meinhof perceived something very early on, which today we are only beginning to conceive: the psychical costs of capitalism, inner immiseration.
Ulrike Meinhof reported for many years on prisons and care homes, she worked in neighbourhoods, and she was an observer of trials. In 1970 she joined the underground and propagated the armed struggle for the transformation of conditions.
This decision also had everything to do with our conditions: the police had by this point – 1970 – shot the first protestors; the struggle against the emergency laws was futile; the terror bombing in Vietnam was at its peak; and political critique in the media had become ever more stringently censored.
We have all experienced the furious rage of the state authorities against the “Red Army Faction”. The “Baader-Meinhof Gang” were described as ‘public enemy number 1.’ Many boroughs were cordoned off, thousands of people were surveilled day and night by the ‘state security forces,’ hundreds of homes were searched – in the end the police would not even make the effort to ring the bell or to show a search warrant: they would simply enter and take all the occupants and their papers with them. And finally: during the two-year manhunt, the police killed more people than the five who were assassinated by the “Red Army Faction.”
We have experienced how the political intention of the assassinations was denied, and further how the ‘criminals’ were hunted, although already the magnitude of these manhunts disproved this justification. We have experienced how the manifestos of the group were suppressed. We have finally experienced how the trial against Ulrike Meinhof was prosecuted.
Ulrike Meinhof was one of the clearest critics of capitalism in the Bundesrepublik. Those who criticise her deeds as ‘anarchist’ are almost invariably those who in the previous years she, as a critic, had opposed and ridiculed.
We do not want to forget that. They are our conditions, that we do not want to forget. Ulrike Meinhof died on May 8. On this day, 31 years earlier, the war was over. On this day, the Christian Democrats opened their Bundestag election campaign with the slogan “Freedom or socialism”! We say, with Rosa Luxemburg and Ulrike Meinhof: “Freedom and socialism!” And for those of us, to whom the decisiveness and severity of Ulrike Meinhof are perhaps too remote, we remember the two lines by Bert Brecht: “Oh we / who wanted to ready the ground for kindness / could not ourselves be kind.”
Grabrede für Ulrike Meinhof
Der jetzige politische Zustand in Deutschland soll zu tun haben – so die offizielle These – mit der »Bedrohung der Demokratie durch terroristische Gruppen«. Für diese Gruppen war Ulrike Meinhof das Symbol. Es ist deswegen vollkommen absurd, wenn jetzt die Staatsgewalt so tut, als habe der Tod von Ulrike Meinhof nichts mit unsern Zuständen zu tun.
Die Offiziellen Stellen mögen nachzuweisen versuchen, daß der Tod Ulrike Meinhofs ein ›Selbstmord‹ gewesen sei. Sie werden damit nicht unsere deutschen Zustände aus der Welt schaffen: Ein massives, lange vor irgendwelchen ›terroristischen Gruppen‹ - 1968 – geschaffenes ›Notstandsgesetz‹. Ein noch viel länger zurückliegendes Verbot der kommunistischen Partei und die mit ihm verbundenen Verfolgungen. Neuerdings die Verordnung zum Schutz der Beamten vor Linken jeder Art. Und schließlich da erst wenige Wochen alte Gesetz gegen »die Berfürwortung von Gewalt«.
Was Ulrike Meinhof umgebracht hat, waren die deutschen Verhältnisse. Der Extremismus derjenigen, die alles für extrimistisch erklären, was eine Veränderung der Verhälnisse auch nur zur Diskussion stellt.
Ulrike Meinhof, geboren in der Mitte der dreißiger Jahre, war alt genug, um die sinnlichen Erscheinungsformen des Nazismus noch wahrzunehmen. In den fünfziger Jahren wuchs sie bei Renate Riemeck auf, einer Antifaschistin, die für die ›Friedensbewegung‹ arbeitete, eine Organisation, die die Wiederwbewaffnung zu verhindert suchte. Auch die Sozialdemokraten waren damals gegen die Wiederbewaffnung – heute, angesichts eines sozialdemokratischen Verteidigungsministers, mögen sie ebenso ungern daran erinnert werden wie an ihre ersten Nachkriegsprogramme. Als die Bundeswehr durchgesetzt worden war, wurde die Kampagne gegen die Wiederbewaffnung abgelöst von der »Kampagne gegen den Atomtod«, an der in der ersten Zeit die Sozialdemokratie ebenfalls beteiligt war. Erst in der zweiten Hälfte der fünfziger Jahre fand praktisch der Bruch innerhalb der Linken statt: Die Sozialdemokratie schied aus der »Kampagne« aus und nahm Kurs auf NATO und Godesberger Programm.
Die waren die ersten politischen Erfahrungen Ulrike Meinhofs. Im folgenden Jahrzehnt –von der Mitte der fünfziger bis zur Mitte der sechziger Jahre – wurde Ulrike Meinhof innerhalb weniger Jahre zur bedeutendsten linken Journalistin der Bundesrepublik. Sie war es, die am klarsten die Enttäuschungen über die reaktionäre Entwicklung der Sozialdemokratie formulierte. Sie kämpfte gegen den Krieg in Algerien, gegen die Notstandgesetze und gegen die ›Große Koalition‹. Sie agitierte für die Beendigung des Krieges in Vietnam und für eine andere ›Ostpolitik‹. Sie widmete sich schließlich zwei Grundfragen des Marxismus: der Klassenanalyse und der Frage der revolutionären Gewalt:
Wer gehört zur ausgebeuteten und unterdrückten Klasse? Und, damit verbunden, wie ist die Befreiung dieser Klasse durchzusetzen? Es waren Überlegungen, die von den Betroffenen ausgingen, vom tatsächlichen Elend, nicht von der theoretischen Entfremdung. Und da waren es die Randgruppen, die in den Blick gerieten: Die Eingesperrten, die Fürsorgezöglinge, die Weggelaufenen und Durchgedrehten. Ulrike Meinhof nahm damit sehr früh etwas wahr, was wir heute erst zu begreifen beginnen: die psychischen Kosten des Kapitalismus, die innere Verelendung.
Ulrike Meinhof berichtete viele Jahre über Gefängnisse und Fürsorgeheime, sie arbeitete in Stadtteilen und sie war Beobachterin in Prozessen. 1970 ging sie in den Untergrund und propagiert den bewaffneten Kampf für die Veränderung der Verhältnisse.
Auch diese Entscheidung hat mit unseren Verhältnissen zu tun: Die Polizei hatte zu jener Zeit – 1970 – die ersten Demonstranten erschossen, der Kampf gegen die Notstandsgesetze war vergeblich gewesen, der Bombenterror in Vietnam war auf dem Höhepunkt, die politische Kritik in den Medien wurde immer stärker zensiert.
Die rasende Wut der Staatsgewalt gegen die »Rote Armee Fraktion« haben wir alle erlebt. Die »Baader-Meinhof-Bande« wurde zum ›Staatsfeind Nr. I‹ erklärt, ganze Stadtviertel abgeriegelt, tausende von Personen Tag und Nacht vom ›Staatsschutz‹ überwacht, hunderte von Wohnungen durchsucht – am Ende machte sich die Polizei nicht einmal mehr die Mühe zu klingeln und einen Duchsuchungsbefehl vorzuweisen: Sie trat einfach die Tür ein und nahm sämtliche Bewohner und Papiere mit. Und schließlich: Die Polizei tötete währen der zweijährigen Fahndung mehr Menschen als die fünf, die bei den Attentaten der »Rote Armee Fraktion« getötet wurden.
Wir haben erlebt, wie die politische Zielrichtung der Attentate geleugnet wurde und weiter nach den ›Kriminellen‹ gefahndet wurde, obwohl bereits der Umfang der Fahndungen diese Behauptung widerlegte. Wir haben erlebt, wie die politischen Manifeste der Gruppe unterdrückt wurden. Wir haben schließlich erlebt, wie der Prozeß gegen Ulrike Meinhof geführt wurde.
Ulrike Meinhof war eine der klarsten Kritikerinnen des Kapitalismus in der Bundesrepublik. Diejenigen, die ihre Taten als ›Anarchistin‹ kritisieren, sind fast stets diejenigen, die sie in den Jahren zuvor als Kritikerin bekämpften und lächerlich machten.
Das wollen wir nicht vergessen. Es sind unsere Verhältnisse, die wir nicht vergessen wollen. Ulrike Meinhof starb am 8. Mai. An diesem Tag wurde vor 31 Jahren der Krieg beendet. An diesem Tag eröffneten die Christdemokraten den diesjährigen Bundestagswahlkampf mit der Parole »Freiheit oder Sozialismus«! Wir sagen, mit Rosa Luxemburg und Ulrike Meinhof: »Freiheit und Sozialismus!«
Und diejenigen unter uns, denen vielleicht die Entscheidenheit und Strenge Ulrike Meinhofs zu fremd ist, erinnern wir an die beiden Zeilen von Bert Brecht: »Ach, wir / Die wir den Boden bereiten wollten für Freundlichkeit / Konnten selber nicht freundlich sein.«
Thinking need from California: The 1942 seminars of the Frankfurt School and the Brecht Circle
PREFATORY NOTE: Marx once wrote that men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances. I can add that they do not write history as they please either. This paper was written for the conference „Um Abschied geht es ja nun“ Exil und kein Ende at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 11-13 July 2014. But it was written in somewhat difficult circumstances: the death of a friend in London, and beginning of my own search for spiritual asylum in the archives 600 miles from home. It was composed fast, with access to literature limited to what I had intuitively flung into my suitcase. The consequence is that it is weighted heavily to an account of the Frankfurt School side of the debate. An indication of a possible elaboration of Brecht’s position can be found in footnote 7.
During the summer of 1942 four seminars took place in Los Angeles on the theory of needs. The attendees were drawn from two groups of German intellectuals: the Frankfurt School and the Brecht Circle, along with a number other emigrés. Günther Anders, who attended, remarked in the 1980s, “there really was an attempt made to bring together two chamber ensembles, who would otherwise play separately, into a small orchestra.”
The exile of so many German and Austrian intellectuals to California has become a historical curio. For 40 years an academic industry has discussed this uncomfortable meeting of cultures. Two approaches are today worn out from overuse: the first sees these thinkers as a miniature model for describing the Americanisation of culture in the mid-twentieth century, the disruptive shift from the European avant-gardes to a “culture industry” of skyscrapers and Disney. The emigrés are characterised as hopeless mandarins crashing against a culture they cannot keep pace with, or hapless communists integrated into a movie industry they cannot control. Their critiques of America draw strength from the melancholy of displacement and untimeliness, from their insuperable foreignness. The second approach concerns itself with the inner lives of those emigrés – giving life to their expressions of American experience. “Every intellectual in emigration is, without exception, damaged” writes Adorno. But illuminating a damaged subject often sacrifices the dynamic of history. As history becomes personal anecdote the wound becomes a puzzling scar whose interpretation is lost to the past; the most tender intellectual portrait becomes a nature morte.
Both approaches exemplify the danger faced by intellectual history: the labour of thinking one hopes to describe – itself negative – is transmuted into a positive image. The critical historian must steer a difficult path: to one side lies biographicism with thought reduced to the asocial dispositions of the thinker. Such intellectual history becomes the history of intellectuals. To the other side lies sociologism: thought reduced to its social basis, its difficulties becoming mere reflections of social antagonisms. A deflected strength must be drawn from both positions, doing justice to the autonomy of thought born of its negativity, but registering the frustration of this autonomy in social heteronomy.
My paper today will thus be both modest and speculative. The seminars I will introduce are something small: conversations between a few men, recorded in the hand of a taciturn woman – Gretel Adorno. Despite being available to scholars since the 1980s, they have garnered little attention. Yet they mark a movement of thought regarding Marxism, materialism, and critique. I would like to capture that movement in thinking as a dynamic and negative thing – tied to personal displacement, and to concrete transformations of capitalism. California is lodged within it.
Each meeting was comprised of a presentation followed by a group discussion. In the first week, Ludwig Marcuse would present on culture, the last man, and utopia in Nietzsche’s writing. The second seminar opened with a presentation on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In the third both Horkheimer and Adorno presented theses: Horkheimer, reflecting again on Brave New World, offered a critique of the separation of higher and lower needs; Adorno developing this critique through contemporary American culture. In the final seminar Gunther Anders presented on cultural needs, cultural value, and the relation of need to art.
These were not traditionally Marxist topics, but they provided models against which a critical thinking of Marxism could develop. Significantly, these models revolved around non-Marxist utopias. The basis for addressing these models was the immediate social situation: at stake was an attempt to formulate a Marxism against a capitalist society so profitable that it could offer a generalised social wage high enough that human needs for food, shelter, and clothing, were satisfied. Alongside Nietzsche and Huxley’s theoretical utopias, an idée fixe pervades the discussions: an image of a “pint of milk.” This pint of milk that so purturbed these Marxist emigrés stood for a utopian aspect of American capitalism. It referred to a speech given in May that year by Vice-President Henry A. Wallace. When the war was won, he had said, American would provide each person in the world a pint of milk each day and a pair of shoes.
Appreciating the meaning of this pint of milk to Marxism requires a slightly longer historical view. Germany suffered two major economic crises during the 1920s. Unemployment rocketed and the demand for work suppressed. Workers were unable to reproduce themselves. Within these crises human need and profit seemed to stand in contradiction; the demand for the satisfaction of vital needs against capitalism’s incapacity to reproduce the workforce appeared revolutionary. This was reflected in Marxist theory: the Frankfurt School’s economist Henryk Grossmann’s reconstructed Marx’s Das Kapital with the depression of real wages and final crisis of capitalism at its centre. In crisis, communism appeared as the intention of need from the condition of wretchedness. Communistic action would commit to that need. Brecht’s 1931 play, Die Mutter, to which Eisler composed a score, depicts the struggle for work and against hunger as a communist demand:
If you have no soup
Do you want to fight against that?
You have to turn
the whole State upside-down
Until you have your soup
Then you’ll be your own guest
If there is no work available you
You have to fight agiants that!
You have to turn
The whole state upside-down
Then you will be your own employer
And work will be available to you.
The crises of the 1920s were not the end of capitalism. In the United States the New Deal polices would bring about a return to growth. By the end of 1941, after the United States entered the war, full employment was achieved. To explain this recovery, as well as the development of fascism in Europe, the Frankfurt School’s economist, Friedrich Pollock, developed a theory of “state capitalism.” Under state capitalism the laissez faire market system of private capitals would be replaced by a system of state-controlled monopolies. Ultimately economic domination would be overtaken by political domination, ushering in a new historical epoch.
Within the model of state capitalism, the satisfaction of need could no longer be identified with the overcoming of class society. The controlled market would see the end of the starvation of old economic crises, but humans would nonetheless remain dominated. In positing this historical integration of capitalism, the old Marxist thinking of need was exposed as requiring transformation. The seminars became an arena both for discussing the capacity to transform the world from within a society in which basic needs would be satisfied, and for developing a critique of an orthodox Marxism that had considered the demand for general satisfaction of needs as truly communist. Yet this thinking was not shared by all of the seminar’s participants in the seminar: Brecht (with the exception of a single remark) appears as an intransigent orthodox Marxist, against whom the Frankfurt School were able to think. He too would notice this, writing in his Arbeitsjournal:
dr pollock, the economist of the institute for social research (previously frankfurt, now hollywood), is convinced that capitalism can definitely make itself free of crises, simply through public works. marx could not have forseen that the regime could one day simply build streets. eisler and I, somewhat weary from this line, ‘sat down in the wrong’ for lack of another seat.
The distinction between Brecht and the Frankfurt School can be elucidated in their understanding of Los Angeles. At the same time as the seminars, Brecht began composing songs with Eisler, the Hollywood Liederbuch. One reads:
This city has taught me
That Paradise and Hell can be one city
For the destitute paradise is hell
For Brecht Hollywood appears as a place of division, through the division of social product and profit between the rich and the poor. There is, for Brecht, no possibility of the universal satisfaction of needs in California. Instead it is a place of extremes. A text written two years later by Adorno in Minima Moralia, which may be read as a direct attack on Brecht’s position:
The most striking example is that of intellectuals whose material situation has changed: no sooner have they only perfunctorily persuaded themselves of the need to earn money by writing and that alone, than they turn out trash identical in all its nuances to what, with ample means, they had most passionately abjured. Just as once-rich emigrés are often as self-indulgently miserly on foreign soil as they always wanted to be at home, so the impoverished in spirit march joyously into the inferno that is their paradise.
For Adorno, California appears as an impoverished paradise, in which needs are at least gratified if not satisfied; an illuson of heaven composed of trash and death. The complete division of the social product is not necessary for Adorno to recognise it as Hell.
These two chamber ensembles play not in unison, but one draws a productive strength from its dissonance with the other.
In the first seminar, Adorno advanced the beginnings of a critique of orthodox Marxism. He says, “[Nietzsche] saw that not only democracy, but also socialism has become an ideology. One therefore has to formulate socialism in such a way that it loses its ideological character.” Both Adorno and Horkheimer would claim, during the seminars, that this ideological character is contained in the notion that human needs are static and constant. Orthodox Marxism considered needs to be a constant and natural aspect of humanity, and socialist thinking and action became something like a demystification, or more precisely a disenchantment [Entzauberung] of capitalism’s irrationality: a revelation that it humans served capital, instead than capital serving their natural needs. The call to materialism by such Marxism, then, had become nothing but the Romantic cry of static nature against a dynamic history that oppressed it. If materialism as an expression of nature revealed the conditions of death and wretchedness underpinning capitalism, it had itself become myth in static and eternal idea of need. For this orthodox Marxism history is not acted against historically, instead being abstractly negated by nature. But precisely in the claim to pure nature, the demand for the truly historical transformation of society separates itself off from history. In this disjunction socialism appears as ideology. Adorno would claim:
‘Need’ is a social category. Nature, the “drive” [Trieb], is comprehended within it. But the social and the natural moment of need are not capable of being split off from each other as primary and secondary moments 
It was in the context of considering state capitalism, Adorno and Horkheimer had recognised that the demand for the satisfaction of purely natural needs was inadequate for the transformation of the world. Those needs could be fulfilled by a society that was “integrated” but not free. The sort of utopia that an orthodox socialism demanded appeared as a Saint-Simonian fully instrumentalised order, a capitalism that had subsumed within its enormous profits the arbitrariness of the market.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World provided a model of such an integrated yet unfree society. This book, conceived after Huxley visited Los Angeles, satirically presents a utopia founded on the principles of Fordism. The stable society rests on the persistence of a class division and the constant “conditioning” of its citizens. Where needs were not satisfied, the citizens were gratified with a drug called “Soma.” They were ultimately enslaved and alienated from one another. All individuals were subordinated to the unity of society; their needs are made absolutely social and can be socially satisfied. They were dominated by their social usefulness, becoming mere shells of individuals, while losing all relation to history.
During the seminars, Brecht quickly recognised Huxley as a bourgeois moralist. He sniped, “Huxley only fears the 10 cent stores because then there would be no Huxley anymore.” And Eisler would follow suit: “The anxiety towards a society in which all needs are satisfied is symptomatic of this type of author.” For Adorno and Horkheimer, the antimoralism of Brecht and Eisler was too stark. It was not that Adorno and Horkheimer would establish a moralist position, but instead they wanted to rescue something in Huxley’s book for revolutionary critique: disgust. In his theses, Adorno would write that
Hunger, conceived as a category of nature, can be satisfied with grasshoppers and gnat-cakes, which many savages consume. The concrete hunger of civilised people has however its own kind of satisfaction. They must get something to eat which they do not find disgusting; and in disgust and its opposite are reflected the whole of history.
Adorno would developed this thought against American culture.
The thought that a revolutionary society would clamour for the execrable acting of Hedy Lamarr or the execrable soup of Campbell is absurd. The better the soup, the more delectable the abstention from Lamarr.
We might then compare Adorno and Brecht’s in their consideration of soup. For Brecht, in Die Mutter, the provision of soup was just a question of satiation. Where people were not sated there was a cause for revolution. But this hunger was not thought historically, even if it was produced historically. The danger for Adorno, of thinking need as detached from history is that it was resigned with regard to utopia. If need was grounded in the imagined stasis of the natural needs of humans then it demanded not freedom, but only stability. Here Huxley’s utopia acts as a utopia against which a Marxist one might think: “‘Stability,’ insisted the Controller, ‘stability. The primal and ultimate need. Stability. Hence all this.’” For Adorno and Horkheimer such an integration was a real possibility for capitalism.
The danger of domination migrating into humanity by way of monopolised needs is […] a real tendency of late capitalism. This ‘danger’ refers not to the possibility of barbarism after the revolution, but to the prevention of revolution through the agency of total society.
Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique rests on two related propositions: the first is the non-identity of need [Bedürfnis] and the instrumental satisfaction [Gebrauch]; the second is that class society not only produces commodities that are capable of satisfying needs, but it also necessarily produces needs themselves that cannot be satisfied without the total transformation of society. To understand the connection between these two thoughts relies on an extended thinking of the problem of need. For Adorno the particular satisfaction of a civilised need contains not only an instrumental satisfaction but also the idea of the total satisfaction of needs, of freedom and happiness. And this particular satisfaction or disgust is recognisable only in the particular commodity and not in a general notion of need. This promise of happiness is lodged in the non-identity of need and use. For Adorno it is precisely in the taste of soup that the historical situation can be registered and acted upon historically.
This thought had a specific effect for how Adorno and Horkheimer were to understand materialism. It was not to be thought dogmatically as a pure and eternal nature suppressed by the ideology of history. Instead, they followed Marx’s thought as it is presented in Volume 3 of Das Kapital:
Just as the savage must wrestle with nature to satisfy his needs, to maintain and reproduce his life, so must the civilized man, and he must do so in all forms of society under all possible modes of production. This realm of natural necessity expands with his development, because his needs do too; but the productive forces to satisfy these expand at the same time. […] But this always remains a realm of necessity. The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself, begins beyond it, though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis.
Adorno would summarise this in his Philosophische Terminologie lectures:
The telos, the Idea of Marxian materialism is to do away with materialism, that is to say, to bring about a situation in which the blind compulsion of material conditions over human beings is broken, and in which alone the question as to freedom could first become truly meaningful.
If Adorno and Horkheimer’s believed that a new age of monopoly capitalism might present a serious challenge to revolution, they were nonetheless not resigned. Instead, they demanded that the old immiseration theory be revised, not in order to allow for a an account of “relative poverty,” but to expand the very definition of wretchedness. For both Horkheimer and Adorno this new poverty was to be found in dehumanisation [Entmenschlichung]. Although they offer no programme from which this new wretchedness might overcome the society that imposes it, they nonetheless believed that the theory and praxis of the dialectic might offer solutions. Horkheimer would say in the third seminar,
The dialectic can in no way be indifferent to the specific form of dehumanisation that is carried out against humans under late capitalism.
This argument was not well received by Brecht. At a crucial moment in the second seminar he unleashed his fiercest critique: “I am interested in abolishing class society because it bludgeons nearly all needs. Why should I rack my brains about what happens then? Despite the simplicity of this critique, its answer is complex. I would like to close by focusing on the answer that Adorno develops. What is important in this question is that it asks about the relation of need, to thought, to the Absolute. Brecht turns away from the Absolute because he imagines an immediate relation between need and historical action. Brechts position is rigged to deter moralism. But Adorno begins to produce an answer to this criticism, that is not moralistic but which arises from the particularity of the quality of need in thought. To understand the argument that he makes another book in the history of the theorisation of need must be opened.
In his early essay, The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy, Hegel argued that apart from the prosaic needs of the everyday, philosophy itself arose from a special need of society:
Dichotomy is the source of the need of philosophy; and as the culture of the era, it is the unfree and given aspect of the whole configuration. In culture, the appearance of the Absolute has become isolated from the Absolute and fixated into independence. But at the same time the appearance cannot disown its origin, and must aim to constitute the manifold of its limitations into one whole
For Hegel this situation of a cultural dichotomy was founded in a thought of modernity as an epoch in which a unity had been lost. But he also considered the development of culture as the hardening of the dichotomies of society:
As culture grows and spreads, and the development of those outward expressions of life into which dichotomy can entwine itself becomes more manifold, the power of dichotomy becomes greater, its regional sanctity is more firmly established and the strivings of life to give birth once more to its harmony become more meaningless, more alien to the cultural whole.
If Adorno was unable to provide a fully worked out solution to Brecht’s question during the seminars, he would begin to do so in the following months in his essay ‘Reflections of Class Theory.’ The solution would be a metacritique of Hegel’s proposition. For Adorno the dichotomies of modern society were produced not from the disintegration of a unified culture, but were determined by the division of labour and class society.
As a philosophy, Marxism remained true to [Hegel’s syllogistic thinking of history]. It confirms Hegelian idealism as prehistory’s existing knowledge of its own identity. But it puts it back on its feet by unmasking that identity as prehistorical. For Marxism, the identical truly becomes the state of need, the need of human beings who are merely articulated by the concept. The irreconcilable power of the negative that sets history in motion is the power of what exploiters do to their victims. As a shackle binding one generation to the next, it functions as an obstacle to both freedom and history.
Adorno, borrowing an argumentative strategy from Marx’s introduction to his Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, designates the moment that Hegel’s need of philosophy and its apparent fulfilment in the actuality of the Absolute as prehistory [Vorgeschichte]. If the divisions of class society create a general need, then it is the strength of capitalism that it consistently also provides an objective thinking of the Absolute that instrumentally fulfils this need both technically and conceptually through integration. In every concept and technology of capitalism, subject and object are synthesised as though free, and as though they in that moment satisfy societies needs. But as prehistory, the objectively thought capitalist Absolute remains false. Its falsity shows through in the non-identity of the satisfaction and freedom, in the perpetuation of the material constraint of humanity. Its true expression is in the particular need, and the subjective act of thinking this need. Hence Hegel’s thesis is dialectically inverted: the presupposed false absolute leads to the expression of need in thinking. The final formulation of this thought for Adorno can be found in the last paragraph of a book he wrote 25 years later, Negative Dialektik:
But thinking, itself a comportment, contains need – primarily the necessity of life [Lebensnot] – within it. Thought arises out of need, even where we disdain wishful thinking. The motor of needs is the exertion that thinking as an act involves. The object of critique is not the need in thinking, but rather the relation between the two. The need in thinking wants, though, to be thought. It longs for its negation through thinking, and must disappear into thought if it is really to be satisfied, and in this negation it endures. Contained in the innermost cell of thought is that which is not like thought. The smallest inner-worldly movements would have relevance for the Absolute, because the micrological gaze shatters the shells of that which is helplessly isolated under the measure of the cover-concept, exploding its identity – the deception that it was merely a specimen. 
The most extreme predictions of state capitalism were never realised after the War – there was no end to world hunger, no absolute predominance of state monopolies, and no end to the economic basis of domination. But there remains something in Adorno’s thinking learnt in California: capitalism always threatens to integrate need through into an apparently satisfied and stable unfree society. Freedom and happiness are exchanged for regression and gratification. But precisely in that integration, in the apparent utopia of the identity of subject and object that determines every intra-historical movement of the capitalism, need endures in the experience of particularity. It endures as something cognitive but nonconceptual. The task of the dialectic – of the truly aporetic praxis of materialist thought – is to grasp it in its dynamism. For within it lies the relation of history to freedom.
 Horkheimer Gesammelte Schriften, Band 12, pp. 560-561. Trans. mine.
 Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 4, p. 35. Trans. mine.
 Two recent works that struggle hard against these stories are Esther Leslie’s Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde and Anja Kirschner and David Panos’s 2010 film on Brecht in exile in California The Empty Plan. Both have been indispensible to the writing of this paper.
 Henryk Grossmann, Das Akkumulations- und Zusammebruchsgesetz des kapitalistischen Systems, 1927.
 Brecht, Die Mutter, 1931. Trans. mine
[Wenn du keine Suppe hast
Willst du dich da wehren?
Da musst du den ganzen Staat
Von unten nach oben umkehren
Bis du deine Suppe hast.
Dann bist du dein eigener Gast.
Wenn für dich keine Arbeit zu finden ist
Da musst du dich doch wehren!
Da musst du den ganzen Staat
Von unten nach oben umkehren
Bis du dein eigener Arbeitgeber bist.
Worauf für dich die Arbeit vorhanden ist.]
 Pollock, ‘State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations’ in The Frankfurt School Reader, pp. 71-95, especially p. 78.
 At the end of the second seminar, Brecht says “I believe that socialism has never considered that it could ‘satisfy’ material needs. Socialism sees itself opposite a planned deficiency that it wants to abolish.” This sentiment is not responded to, but marks out a revolutionary nihilism as opposed to an orthodox Marxism in Brecht that has often recently been discussed with regard to Benjamin’s essays ‘The Destructive Character’ and ‘Experience and Poverty.’ For reasons of time it cannot be discussed here.
 Brecht, Arbeitsjournal, Band 2, p. 510, trans. mine
 Brecht, Hollywood Liederbuch (1942-1943), trans. mine.
[Diese Stadt hat mich belehrt,
Paradies und Hölle können eine Stadt sein.
Für die Mittellosen ist das Paradies die Hölle.]
 Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 4, p. 31; Minima Moralia, trans. Edmund Jephcott, pp. 29-30.
 Horkheimer Gesammelte Schriften, Band 12, p. 568. Trans. mine.
 Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 8, p. 392; ‘Theses on Need’ in Quid, 16, Trans. Keston Sutherland.
 See David Bradshaw’s introduction to the Vintage edition, pp. xix-xx.
 Hokheimer, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 12, p. 572, trans. mine.
 Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 8, p. 392; ‘Theses on Need’ in Quid, 16, Trans. Keston Sutherland.
 Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 8, p. 394; ‘Theses on Need’ in Quid, 16, Trans. Keston Sutherland.
 Huxley, Brave New World, p. 36.
 Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 8, p. 393; ‘Theses on Need’ in Quid, 16, Trans. Keston Sutherland.’
 Marx, Capital Volume 3, trans. David Fernbach, (London: Pelican, 1981), pp. 958-959
 Adorno, Philosophische Terminologie 2, p. 198. Trans. Simon Jarvis in his essay “Adorno, Marx, Materialism’, in The Cambridge Companion to Adorno.
 Horkheimer, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 12, p. 256. Trans.
 Hegel, Differenzschrift, (1801); The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy, trans. H. S. Harris and Walter Cerf, p. 89.
 Hegel, Differenzschrift, (1801); The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy, trans. H. S. Harris and Walter Cerf, p. 92.
 Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 8, p. 375; ‘Reflections on Class Theory’, trans. Rodney Livingstone, p. 95.
 See Horkheimer, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 8, p. 255 (thesis 5 of his presentation) on this point.
 Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 6, pp. 399-400, trans. mine.
Birkbeck to end 24 hour building access
I got into university today to discover a sign in the library saying that Birkbeck College (one of the big universities that makes up the University of London) is no-longer going to be running its site 24 hours a day. Birkbeck is a slightly unusual institution in that it’s a night school, with classes mostly taking place between 6pm and 9pm. The idea is that people can attend a higher education institution even if they are burdened during the daytime with work or other responsibilities. Since I have been a student at Birkbeck (I started here in late 2010) the overnight provisions have always been relatively meagre. Compared to other universities in London (such as UCL, Goldsmiths, and LSE) Birkbeck has never provided 24 hour library access, but it has always had computer rooms open at night that students can use – and which are used by many students (including myself on occasion.) The night-time security for the building is provided by a number of poorly paid workers outsourced to a company called CIS who run outsourced security at a number of university buildings around Bloomsbury.
The announcement of a reduction in opening hours is a flagrant attack on the resources offered by the university to its students and staff. Although the notice mentions that this is for the sake of “safety and security” this is without doubt a cost-cutting measure, from which the students – and indeed most likely those students who are already busiest and most in need of university resources – will lose out. I will be interested in finding out how the university projects that this change will affect already disadvantaged groups of students. Furthermore there has been no consultation of students about this measure. And it is hardly a surprise that the change is being smuggled through during the summer when many students are not around. The poster kindly omits an email address that people can air complaints to, I have been informed that complaints should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (but I’m also going to be sending mine to the Pro-Vice Master for Research, Stephen Frosh: email@example.com, and the Pro-Vice Master for Teaching and Learning, Sue Jackson: firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll also be talking to the night security staff tonight to find out what is happening with their jobs. But for the moment I recommend that everyone complain about this change.
A famous picture reinterpreted