Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"That is a Rolls Royce"

It's a strange thing, I really love Adorno's cultural criticism--it speaks to me!--and yet he always makes me want to laugh, most inappropriately. Here's a bit from "On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening":
The more inexorably the principle of exchange-value destroys use-values for human beings, the more deeply does exchange-value disguise itself as the object of enjoyment. It has been asked what the cement is which still holds the world of commodities together. The answer is that this transfer of the use-value of consumption goods to their exchange-value contributes to a general order in which eventually every pleasure which emancipates itself from exchange-value takes on subversive features. The appearance of exchange-value in commodities has taken on a specific cohesive function. The woman who has money with which to buy is intoxicated by the act of buying. In American conventional speech, having a good time means being present at the enjoyment of others, which in its turn has as its only content being present. The auto religion makes all men brothers in the sacramental moment with the words: "That is a Rolls Royce," and in moments of intimacy, women attach greater importance to the hairdressers and cosmeticians than to the situation for the sake of which the hairdressers and cosmeticians are employed. The relation to the irrelevant dutifully manifests its social essence. The couple out driving who spend their time identifying every passing car and being happy if they recognize the trademarks speeding by, the girl whose satisfaction consists solely in the fact that she and her boyfriend "look good," the expertise of the jazz enthusiast who legitimizes himself by having knowledge about what is in any case inescapable: all this operates according to the same command. Before the theological caprices of commodities, the consumers become temple slaves. Those who sacrifice themselves nowhere else can do so here, and here they are fully betrayed.


  1. Great passage! A pocket summary of White Noise -- I'm guessing it was what Don DeLillo was working from.

  2. all his penchant for dialectical reasoning aside, i feel that ultimately adorno was a reductionist. almost everything he wrote about jazz, for instance, was cartoonish (as your great excerpt shows.) that rolls royce quote is just too good. please say hi to your hairdresser for me!