Adorno and the Erotic

To extol Adorno to a degree worthy of his philosophical genius would be an impossible task.  From Negative Dialectics to The Jargon of Authenticity to The Dialectic of Enlightenment (and many others), Adorno’s works all display his characteristically penetrating insights into and critiques of modern life under late capitalism. 

Of none of Adorno’s books is this truer than Minima Moralia, which consists in a collection of aphoristic “reflections on a damaged life.”  Although much of the work is concerned with broader social themes, Adorno manages to say quite a bit about marriage and sexuality in this philosophico-literary tour de force.  One passage in particular stands out, which is now presented for your intellectual edification:

Inter pares. – In the realm of erotic qualities, a revaluation seems to be occurring. Under liberalism, well into our day, married men from high society who were unsatisfied with their strictly brought up and correct spouses absolved themselves in the company of female artists, bohemians, sugar babies, and cocottes. With the rationalization of society this possibility of unregimented happiness has disappeared. The cocottes are extinct, the sugar babies probably never existed in Anglo-Saxon countries and other lands of technical civilization, while the female artists and those bohemians who exist parasitically in the mass culture are so thoroughly permeated with the latter’s reason, that those who flee in longing to their anarchy, to the free accessibility of their own use-value, are in danger of waking up to the obligation of engaging them as assistants, if not at least recommending them to a film-executive or scriptwriter they know. The only ones who are still capable of something like irrational love are precisely those ladies who the spouses once fled on excursions to Maxim’s. While they are as tiresome to their own husbands, due to the latter’s fault, as their own mothers, they are at least capable of granting to others, what all others have withheld from them. The long since frigid libertine represents business, while the proper and well brought up lady represents yearning and unromantic sexuality. In the end, the ladies of society garner the honor of their dishonor, in the moment when there is no more society and no more ladies.

(The full text of Minima Moralia can be found here: )

One thought on “Adorno and the Erotic

  1. This is quite fantastic: “The long since frigid libertine represents business, while the proper and well brought up lady represents yearning and unromantic sexuality.”

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