Sunday, 14 February 2016

Since the nineteen seventies Adorno has occupied my life only as the voice of a young man, an acquaintance I met once in Patrick Street, Daunt Square, to be precise, with a serious, crepuscular voice dropping down with his glance in the middle syllable of Adorno's name. From that moment Adorno, along with Habermas and Althusser and Heidegger, lay in other people's seriousness. I read none of them, as later I read none, or, worse, a bit of, Derrida, Lacan and the lads. It was enough to know their surnames. Nietzsche is the only philosopher I ever read with pleasure.

Adorno's Dream Notes is the first of his writing I have read. I have been writing down my dreams since I was a teenager, more recently trying to find a form(lessness) that rattles rather than soothes their strangeness. Dreams make great re-reading. You do not read the same dream twice. I prefer to write a dream fasting rather than after breakfast; or at least, later in the day, to recover the fasting state into which dreams fall. Adorno reads more like an after-breakfast man.

What did Adorno dream about? He dreamed about brothels more than you'd think (as harlots figure in the dreams of his friend Walter Benjamin) and several different forms of death (plunged in boiling water like a pig, decapitation, drowning); he had conversations with characters in Proust; he dreamed about Trotsky and Hitler and an alter ego called Louische.
'Louische, would you like a glass of water?'—'No, thank you, I shall be drowned this evening anyway.' Woke up laughing. 
He sets out his dreams as a botanist would, qualifying, contextualising; and as a chronicler, conferring solidity via the reasonableness of grammar, as if this were a novel in waiting, or a Hollywood movie. It's a relief when he allows a dream its rapidity, its slipperiness. When he laughs.

Here he is in Los Angeles in 1944.
In an arena, under my command, a large number of Nazis were to be executed. They were to be beheaded. There was a hitch for some reason or other. To simplify matters it was decided to smash the skulls of each of the delinquents individually with a pickaxe. I was then informed that the victims had been overwhelmed by an indescribable terror at the prospect of this uncertain and excruciating form of execution. I was myself so disgusted by this atrocity that I awoke feeling physically sick.
What does a philosopher/sociologist/composer do with his dreams once he's written them down? Does he enjoy their resilience, their opacity, their insanity? Does he see himself and run like mad? We don't know, he doesn't say. I imagine he sees them as a climbing wall but not the real mountain.

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