It was very cold and dark on Monday evening, and heading off east on foot from London Bridge in the fluid continental location of subjectivity, it wasn’t my intention to go as far south as the Bermondsea. But by then I was also becoming hungry, and wherever it was I was meant to be getting to by 7pm – the listening station where I hoped to meet a group of other men for a conversation – there wasn’t going to be time for me to go into a sit-down diner for a meal, but equally I did want to sell myself out to fast food either… ‘Teaching of the good life’…
How long do you stay open, I asked in the only shop whose lights were still shining far down the long lane, Until eight o‘clock Mello replied – short for Camello as I found it. Apart from me, only Italian was spoken inside the shop, and three men were talking together in what seemed to me were strong accents from the South. I am from Milan, Mello told me a little later after two of the men had said their goodbyes and left, But one of my friends was from Rome, he added, and he was telling a Roman joke.
Can you make me a Panini? Sure, choose the loaf you want. Cheese? Pecorino. Toasted, and with some salad and prosciutto. Perfetto. Take a seat, I will bring it over to you when it is ready. Want a coffee afterwards? Certo. Of course.
Moral Irony of this sort is also the kind Theodore Adorno is perhaps using at times in Minima Moralis as he conducts an investigation of modernity in the middle of the twentieth century, and what practices survive of being in community with others, which have otherwise lapsed into “neglect, sententious whimsy and… finally oblivion” (‘Dedication to Max’ P 15).
The morality being described here is perhaps the least possible for us still to be call ourselves human – in the sense that it is a morality can still be recognised as meaning anything, and actually belongs to the category of that thing we call ‘morality’. Adorno’s Minima Moralis is structured in three parts – Part one 1944, Part two 1945, and Part three 1946-47 – and each part is written in a long series of apparently disconnected and fragmented sections in several languages (six in all!). And there are no footnotes.
You might think therefore that the book was an experimental novel. For instance, one section (Part one # 36) has the title ‘The Health Unto Death’. It describes the subtle sickness of psychic economy, a “rash printed on the skin in regular patterns like a camouflage of the inorganic”, whose faint but yet not quite invisible tracery has become taken for normality. Such forms of description are not to be found find in the latest International Directories of Medical Diseases, nor are they generally to be found in the theory sections of psychotherapeutic dissertations or even in the texts of analytic philosophers (those mainly coming from the English speaking world).
But despite its experimentation with subjectivity, Moralis Minima is not a novel, and the “rash” which Adorno describes was his way of trying to describe as precisely as possible the modern day disease processes which have infected mass action (along with mass culture and mass consumption) that have resulted in the complete erosion of the ‘alt-weg’ old ways of collective sacrifice, and their replacement with more and more sophisticated forms of advertising.
Look at me! Look at me! The sandwich boards on our chests and backs cry out (front and back), and perhaps we become drunk with our own words. It is at the extremes of these deeply ashamed disgraces, akin to those of an alcoholic journalistic incapacity of a Joseph Roth, and during other rare and fleeting moments that the objectivity (which also used to be called “class struggle) of the long lane can be retraced.