Gender/Domination © Chiara Bottici
Gender/Domination © Chiara Bottici

This post is in relation to the Gender and Domination course in OOPS.

Enlightenment, Adorno tells, according to Kant, is the elimination of dependency on others for understanding, or for anything really. It is the self-legislated progressive deployment of understanding, the systematization of knowledge, through coherence and the elimination of contradiction. This is a process that consists of subsumption under principles towards the unity of thought. He says,

The system the Enlightenment has in mind is the form of knowledge which copes most proficiently with the facts and supports the individual most effectively in the mastery of nature. Its principles are the principles of self-preservation. Immaturity is then the inability to survive (p. 83).

Self-preservation is the only aim. So we have science on the one hand — whose model is essentially Utopian — and the subjugation of the world towards the preservation of man on the other. This is the contradiction, according to Adorno, of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

The interests of science and the interests of man unite and are eventually realized as the interests of industrial society. “Everything — even the human individual, not to speak of the animal — is converted into the repeatable, replaceable process, into a mere example for the conceptual models of the system” (p. 84). Not individuality, but this law that reduces the individual to the will of society, is what recurs in modernity. Kant seals our fate: the scientific system is the model of truth, truth is the scientific system; here is the new religion. Morality based Enlightenment will be theoretically firm, and morally weak, both propagandist and sentimental.

It is at this point that Adorno turns to the Marquis de Sade, who portrays perfectly this “understanding without the guidance of another person”… understanding that refuses to be dependant on anyone, and is, “the bourgeois individual freed from tutelage” (p. 86). Sadism is theoretically firm and morally weak. Reason reverts back to nature to the extent that reason is at the service of any natural interest; men and nature alike, material for society. This fascistic form invites the reappearance of an archaic terror, and quoting Francavilla at the court of King Ferdinand in Naples, “you will find no one in that class who would not submit to the worst tyranny so long as all must suffer it” (p.87-88).

Kant’s hierarchical system is no different from Sade’s orgies: “an organization of life as a whole which is deprived of any substantial goal” (ibid). It is not so much pleasure that is sought, but its regimented pursuit (in Sade, the libertines pursue all that is possible in fantasy in reality, none of which provides much pleasure and in fact turns out rather tedious for the libertines, if not depressing, a bit like pornography today, but which must nevertheless be constantly applied, to force the object to correspond to an infinite production). In other words, planning for planning’s sake; empty form. “Since reason posits no substantial goals, all affects are equally removed from governance, and are purely natural” (See upcoming talk on “Affects” with Safetle and Coelen)— a cult of feeling that it uses as a pull, ideologically, but which it is deeply suspicious of in the end. This conflict makes feelings seem all too vulgar, exiling them all the more.

The true antithesis then is that between Enlightenment and mythology: the autonomy of reason and the autonomy of spirit. It is for this reason that Sade is just ahead of Kant, and Juliette, who draws the conclusion that Catholicism is the most up-to-date mythology, discards religion along with the rest of civilization and busies herself with a systematic work of sacrilege. Juliette is no fanatic, Adorno tells us; she engages in amor intellectualis diaboli, or the pleasure of attacking civilization with its own weapons. She is Immanuel Kant. She is pure reason. She is the incarnation of control. Revenge. Means without end.

Juliette believes in science. Like a good Nietzschean she despises the weak and unsuccessful, who should be helped on their way. Survival of the fittest. Once against reason returns to nature. Compassion and pity are perversions of reason. Compassion is a problem not so much because of its softness but because of the restrictions it places upon reason. Pity as well, as we know, is simply a narcissistic distortion, like that of the philanthropist, and in the end only affirms the distinction once more between the strong and the weak.

Pleasure is relegated to the idea of returning to some primeval time when there were no masters and no discipline — like the dream that marks the space between days. This carnival, from the standpoint of modernity, appears as dissolute and insane, and one wakes from it like the best and worst of dreams. Festival becomes farce as domination secures itself: enjoyment is rationalized, decontaminated, administered when one cannot be fully deprived of it. Enjoyment is the object of manipulation until it can be extinguished in fixed entertainments. Holidays and vacations.

Like enjoyment, women in general, must also be administered, exchanged, decontaminated, which was the role of love and marriage for the bourgeois. But as the world of work is open to women, and the obstacles to love grow, the “independence of the entrepreneur… envelops all” (p. 107). There is no need to subjugate women in marriage. The dissociation of love is the work of progress — to be the rake without illusions. Woman doesn’t even have her previously revered state, something accorded to her in fact, by religion. Hierarchy is returned to what it always was — it is unveiled as brute force. A woman’s defenselessness and weakness is the legal title of her oppression. Woman arouses the contempt of the half-converted man who was always forced to revere her.

The strong, who pay for strength through alienation from nature, must always suppress their fear of nature to which their reason always threatens to return. The weak — women and Jews, for example — are to be attacked because they are the most vulnerable, bringing domination into its full potential. This is the most powerful stimulant, Juliette decrees. Men are misused as things, as they were always ordained to be by the Enlightenment, which is the only idol. Nietzsche and Sade, to the extent that they do not distort the link between reason and domination, are more merciful than “the moralistic lackeys of the bourgeoisie” (p. 119). There is no consolation that isn’t already a lie. The one virtue of Sadism then is the truth of its refusal to console the miserable.