Reflections from damaged life

Despite of having made myself a promise last year NOT to teach anything before I have the draft my dissertation finished, I agreed this week to doing a seminar in anthropology this fall in Tallinn. And although the idea is exciting right now I can already see myself wondering somewhere down the line in October that HOW THE HELL did I get myself into this once again. I guess my excuses are that 1) it is only two months and not the full semester, and 2) I was given a free reign to choose the texts and approach. Besides, it’s a graduate seminar so I really don’t feel that I’d need to overly restrain myself in choosing the reading material – both in terms of volume as well as difficulty. So I will pick three ethnographies (Jackson, Mahmood and Klima) and read them side by side with theoretical texts that have inspired as well as provided a structural framework for them (such as Adorno, Benjamin, Butler, Merleau-Ponty, and Sontag). All this should amount to a fun and interesting experience, at least for those who are able to consider reading ethnographies, critical theory and philosophy as fun.

One of the texts I will assign is Adorno’s “Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life” and thus I braced myself to re-read it with attention. I must say that, now having managed to almost completely detach myself from what would normally be my quotidian existence, this is probably the perfect book for me to read at the moment. It consists of short but incredibly rich and allusive reflections on everyday matters, something that results from a towering intellect such as Adorno taking a step back and looking at life in a critical yet almost Proust-like (who also gets a formal nod at the very beginning of the book), slightly nostalgic and deeply ironic way.

Here’s a small sample for you:

Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men. It expels from movements all hesitation, delibration, civility. It subjects them to the implacable, as it were ahistorical demands of objects. Thus the ability is lost, for example, to close a door quietly and discreetly, yet firmly. Those of cars and refrigerators have to be slammed, others have the tendency to snap shut by themselves, imposing on those entering the bad manners of not looking behind them. The new human type cannot be properly understood without awareness of what he is continuously exposed to from the world of things about him, even in his most secret innervations. What does it mean for the subject that there are no more casement windows to open, but only sliding frames to shove, no gentle latches but turnable handles, no forecourt, no doorstep before the street, no wall around the garden?

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