Some Notes on Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)



  • Sociological theory: how culture now impresses the same stamp on everything
  • …the city housing projects [are] designed to perpetuate the individual as a supposedly independent unit in a small hygienic dwelling make him all the more subservient to this adversary –the absolute power of capitalism. Because the inhabitants, as producers and as consumers, are drawn into the center in search of work and pleasure, all the living units crystallize into well-organized complexes.
  • Under monopoly, all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through.
  • The result is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger.
  • A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself.
  • [Adaptation of Beethoen and Tolstoy into film]…these phenomena as inherent in the technical and personnel apparatus which, down to its last cog, itself forms part of the economic mechanism of selection.
  • In our age the objective social tendency is incarnate in the hidden subjective purposes of company directors, the foremost among whom are in the most powerful sectors of industry –steel, petroleum, electricity, and chemicals. Culture monopolies are weak and dependent in comparison. They cannot afford to neglect their appeasement of the real holders of power if their sphere of activity in mass society.
  • The public is catered or with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality, thus advancing the rule of complete quantification. Everybody must behave in accordance with his previously determined and indexed level, and choose the category of mass product turned out for his type.
  • What connoisseurs discuss as good or bad points serve only to perpetuate the semblance of competition and range of choice.
  • The alliance of word, image, and music is all the more perfect… because the sensuous elements which all approvingly reflect the surface of social reality are in principle embodied in the same process integrates all the elements of the production, from the novel to the last sound effect.
  • The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry.
  • The stunting of the mass-media consumer’s powers of imagination and spontaneity does not have to be traced back to any psychological mechanisms; he must ascribe the loss of those attributes to the objective nature of the products themselves, especially to the most characteristic of them, the sound film.
  • The explicit and implicit, exoteric and esoteric catalog of the forbidden and tolerated is so extensive that it not only defines the area of freedom but is all-powerful inside it.
  • Style represents a promise in every work of art. That which is expressed is subsumed through style into the dominant forms of generality, into the language of music, painting, or words, in the hope that it will be reconciled thus with the idea of true generality. This promise held out by the work of art that will create truth lending new shape to the conventional social forms is as necessary as it is hypocritical. It conditionally posits the real forms of life as it is suggesting that fulfillment lies in their aesthetic derivatives. To this extent the claim of art is always ideology too. However, only in this confrontation with tradition of which style is the record can art express suffering.
  • Since all the trends of the culture industry are profoundly embedded in the public by the whole social process, they are encouraged by the survival of the market in this area.
  • Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure, but by signals.
  • …the question [is] whether the culture industry fulfills the function of diverting minds which it boats about so loudly.
  • The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises…it draws on pleasure [that] is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu.
  • The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses. By repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the unsublimated forepleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduced to a masochistic semblance.
  • Works of art are ascetic and unashamed; the culture industry is pornographic and prudish.
  • The mass production of the sexual automatically achieved its repression.
  • The mechanical reproduction of beauty, which reactionary cultural fanaticism wholeheartedly serves in its methodical idolization of individuality, leaves no room for that unconscious idolatry which was once essential to beauty.
  • The stronger the positions of the culture industry become, the more summarily it can deal with consumers’ needs, producing them, controlling them, disciplining them, and even withdrawing amusement: no limits are set to cultural progress of this kind.
  • The industry is interested in people merely as consumers and employees, and has in fact reduced mankind as a whole and each of its elements to this all-embracing formula.
  • The less the culture industry has to promise, the less it can offer a meaningful explanation of life, and the emptier is the ideology it disseminates.
  • Language based entirely on truth simply arouses impatience to get on with the business deal it is probably advancing. The words that are not means appear senseless; the others seem to be fiction, untrue. Value judgments are taken either as advertising or as empty talk.
  • Culture has always played its part in taming revolutionary and barbaric instincts. Industrial culture adds its contribution. It shows the condition under which this merciless life can be lived at all. The individual who is thoroughly weary must use his weariness as energy for his surrender to the collective power which wears him out.
  • The peculiarity of the self is a monopoly commodity determined by society; it is falsely represented as natural.
  • The principle of individuality was always full of contradiction. Individuation has never been achieved. Self-preservation in the shape of class has kept everyone at the stage of a mere species being.
  • The individual who supported society bore its disfiguring mark; seemingly free, he was actually the product of its economic and social apparatus. Power based itself on the prevailing conditions of power when it sought the approval of persons affected by it. As it progressed, bourgeois society did also develop the individual. Against the will of its leaders, technology has changed human beings from children into persons.
  • The bourgeois whose existence is split into a business and a private life, whose private life is split into keeping up his public image and intimacy, whose intimacy is split into the surly partnership of marriage and the bitter comfort of being quite alone, at odds with himself and everybody else, is already virtually a Nazi…
  • The purposelessness of the great modern work of art depends on the anonymity of the market…
  • …in bourgeois art. Those who succumb to the ideology are precisely those who cover up the contradiction instead of taking it into the consciousness of their own production…
  • The principle of idealistic aesthetics –purposefulness without a purpose –reverses the scheme of things to which bourgeois art conforms socially: purposelessness for the purposes declared by the market.
  • The use which men in this antagonist society promise themselves from the work of art itself, to a great extent, that every existence of the useless which is abolished by compete inclusion under use. The work of art, by completely assimilating itself to need, deceitfully deprives men of precisely that liberation from the principle if unity which it should inaugurate.
  • The consumer becomes the ideology of the pleasure industry, whose institutions he cannot escape.

Everything is looked at from only one aspect: that it can be used for something else, however vague the notion of this use may be. No object has an inherent value; it is valuable only to the extent that it can be exchanged. The use value of art, its mode of being, is treated as a fetish; and the fetish, the work’s social rating becomes its use value –the only quality which is enjoyed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s