Refuge for the homeless - Theodor Adorno - Minima Moralia (1951)


Refuge for the homeless - The predicament of private life today is shown by its arena.  Dwelling, in the proper sense, is now impossible. The traditional residences we grew up in have grown intolerable; each trait of comfort in them is paid for with a betrayal of knowledge, each vestige of shelter with the musty pact of family interest.  The functional modern habitations designed from a tabula rasa, are living-cases of manufactured by experts for philistines, or factory sites that have stayed into the consumption sphere, devoid of all relation to the occupant: in them even the nostalgia for independent existence, defunct in any case, is sent packing.  Modern man wishes to sleep close to the ground like an animal, a German magazine decreed with prophetic masochism before Hitler, abolishing with the bed the threshold between waking and dreaming.  The sleepless are on call at any hour, unresistingly ready for anything, alert and unconscious at once.  Anyone seeking refuge in a genuine, but purchased, period-style house, embalms himself alive.  The attempt to evade responsibility for one's residence by moving into a hotel or furnished rooms, makes the enforced conditions of emigration a wisely-chosen norm.  the hardest hit, as everywhere, are those who have no choice.  They live, if not in slums, in bungalows that by tomorrow may be leaf-huts, trailers, cars, camps, or the open air.  The house is past.  The bombings of European cities, as well as the labour and concentration camps, merely proceed as executors, with what the immanent development of technology had long decided was to be the fate of houses.  These are now good only to be thrown away like old food cans.  The possibility of residence is annihilated by that of socialist society, which, once missed, saps the foundations of bourgeois life.  No individual can resist this process.  He need only take an interest in furniture design or interior decoration to find himself developing the arty-crafty sensibilities of the bibliophile, however firmly he may opposes arts-and-crafts in the narrower sense.   From a distance the difference between the Vienna Workshops and the Bauhaus is no longer so considerable.  Purely functional curves, having broken free of their purpose, are now becoming just as ornamental as the basic structures of Cubism.  The best mode of conduct, in face of all this, still seems an uncommitted, suspended one: to lead a private life, as far as the social order and one's own needs will tolerate nothing else, but not to attach weight to it as to something still socially substantial and individually appropriate.  'It is even part of my good fortune not to be a house-owner', Nietzsche already wrote in the Gay Science.  Today we should have to add: it is part of morality not to be at home in one's home.  This gives some indication of the difficult relationship in which the individual now stands to his property, as long as he still possesses anything at all.  The trick is to keep in view, and to express, the fact that private property no longer belongs to one, in the sense that consumer goods have become potentially so abundant that no individual has the right to cling to the principle of their limitation; but that one must nevertheless have possessions, if one is not to sink into the dependence and need which serves the blind perpetuation of property relations.  But the thesis of this paradox leads to destruction, a loveless disregard for things which necessarily turns against people too; and the antithesis, no sooner uttered, is an ideology for those wishing with a bad conscience to keep what they have.  Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.


[p.38-39 of "Minima Moralia" by Theodor Adorno, 1951 (English edition -8th, 1994)

Feb 9, 16 2:45 pm

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