Benjamin, Adorno, etc.

Hinrich Kuhls kls at
Thu Aug 31 10:43:58 MDT 1995

The opening post of this thread (on Mon, 21 Aug 1995) has already caused a
discussion on - as it is called on this list - homophobia.

Well, the discussion in this thread moved on, but I would like to focus on
another point regarding that opening post:

The author starts his contribution telling us that he recently has read some
parts of the book Aesthetics and Politics, published by NLB (pb. edtion by
Verso) in 1977, which contains articles by Ernest Bloch, George Lukacs,
Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno and a conclusion by
Frederic Jameson.

His first resume: The book reminds him "for the precious sophistication and
utter rottenness one find in European culture." He avoids to refer to the
text, but gives "some impressions and maybe some questions".

His impression on Benjamin, towards whom he has "a predisposed sympathy", is
the following: "Benjamin has soul, as befits a Jew, and I'm glad to see
these fusty, morbid Germanophone Europeans didn't all loose it completely,
damn them to hell".

For everybody who can read the message of his post is clear: Benjamin,
Lukacs, Adorno, Bloch, Brecht are representatives of a dying culture, they
are responsible for what he calls euro-manure, and they are part of the
utter rotten forces in Europe.

Some remarks:

1. I am not very familiar with the work of Benjamin, but I think his work is
still of importance for us when analyzing the superstructure of capitalist
society. And his article "Work of Art in the Age of its Technical
Reproducibilty" (1936) is still a challenge, especially for all who rely on
electronic media.

2. Benjamin comitted suizide (one should rather say he had to commit
suizide) in 1940. Waiting in Paris for the immigration permit which was
delayed by the US immigration authorities, he tried to flee from the Nazi
forces but was rejected to enter Spain.

3. Adorno, Bloch, Brecht - one may disagree with their theoretical work at
all - they all were victims, not part of the utter rotten forces in Europe.
Seeing them put together in a line with their tormentors - or whom do you
think of mentioning the "utter rottenness" of the European culture, Ralph
Dumain? - that hurts; that hurts as much that someone like me who for nearly
thirty years has been active in the left-socialist and anti-fascist movement
and who is not unfamiliar with political attacks - could not resist this
provocation and sent a stupid post which I thought an implicite criticism of
this distortion of facts (my apologies to all members of the list who felt
offended by this).

4. Replying to a critic the same author states a few days later (on Thur, 24
"Not only was my critique not compelling, it wasn't even a critique, not an
argument, not an exposition. It was a joke."
Yes, this joke is a deadly one. It kills Benjamin once again. And all the
long-winded waffle on jokes by the same author ("my exasparation concerning
the relation between European theory and American reality" etc.etc.) makes
it even worse: To open up a new thread, to spit on some Marxist
theoreticians without any argument in the worst blasphemous manner, and than
trying to tell us that this all was only a joke.
It's just unbelievable for me, that this can happen on a marxist discussion
list. And I am amazed that the members of the list who are more articulate
in the English language than me do not notice this implications and do not
politically reject those attacks, too.

5. Let me add another point: It looks like that quite a lot of members of
this list only have *postmodernism* in mind when they refer to the European
theoretical discourse of the last couple of decades - as far as
non-English-speaking countries are concerned. But why is the
political-theoretical debate of the left-socialists and Marxists f.e. in
Italy, Germany etc. ignored? Well, we didn't get the results translated into
English, but how do you estimate your efforts to get in touch with those
parts of the international socialist, marxist left? Do we have to wait for
translation-machines? Or do we have the capacities to organize and
accelerate international discussions of the marxist left beyond barriers of

6. I did not intend to start on this list with a contribution like this, nor
at this moment; I would  have prefered to start with a contribution on
class-structure, or with the exchange of views on the economic development,
the social situation and political situation, or on topics concerned with
the reconstruction of scientific socialism, and most of all with
non-sectarian politics - topics, which I see are all raised on this list.  -
But I had to speak out the above criticism.
Unfortunately it will not be possible for me to follow the discussion on
this list during the next weeks,  but I think I'll be back on this
high-speed list in a few weeks - not only listening to the foil-fencing of
arguments, but adding some clumsy comments now and then.

Hinrich Kuhls

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