Best Wishes to Subjects and Non-Subjects Alike: An Open Letter from an Obscure Office

A. Teapenny

November 2, 2016

We must take care not to ask too much of the subject. Just imagine the ‘strong, tension-filled’ subject outlined negatively by Adorno’s critique. She would amount to the one who, day and in and day out, has to constantly face expulsion, precarity, alienation, loneliness, and in a word, death, simply so that she does not abandon the possibility that things might be different and the thoughts that surround that hope. To think and live in true nonidentity would be, if it is possible at all, too painful. Such a life would indeed be a damaged one. Adorno himself was not unconscious of the fact that his greatest happiness was due to the fact that, for a number of reasons, he was given the opportunity to think and reflect in a relatively secure way after the catastrophe, and his insights into existential anxiety of such an existence, that at any time one can be thrown out into the streets never left him. Adorno laments the loss of inner tension in the individual. But this state of inner tension is intolerable if it never ends and, indeed, and has no realistic end on the horizon. The accumulated experience of the person who fits this description—who finds no appeal in the small pleasures of the culture industry, who in fact finds almost all of popular music, television, and movies intolerable, who resents her lover for picking up their cell phone to check social media at the most intimate moments and then suffers the guilt of being “too hard” on them, who loses friends because she finds the predominant leisure weekend activities of drug-induced stupor at electronic music totally unsatisfying, who must constantly face the unfortunate fact that she resents the milieu she constantly finds herself in, who in fact appears to most as incapable of “fun”—the accumulation of such experience would be intolerable for anyone paradoxically not rigidified.

Her negativity would be intolerable to the majority for the very fact that her existence might remind them of all they have had to repress to become ‘normal’. The adapted new type, we are told, clings with all their might to the small pleasures and comforts that are, objectively speaking, ersatz, substitute satisfactions, because these pleasures, as bankrupt as they actually are, are also the only things that make life tolerable. Questioning their pleasure meets with aggression and resentment precisely because, as Adorno puts it his essay on the culture industry, the subject is “split between the prescribed fun which is supplied to them by the culture industry and a not particularly well-hidden doubt about its blessings…. Without admitting it they sense that their lives would be completely intolerable as soon as they no longer clung to satisfactions which are none at all”. As another member of this obscure office recently put it, “the culture industry traps us in a web of childish satisfaction, unconscious self-hatred, and a general fear about losing the very fantasies that debilitate us.” And yet this person does in fact exist, perhaps not in as uncompromising a form as outlined here, but probably in large numbers.

So, just as it is fashionable in contemporary philosophy to develop so-called ‘deflationary theory of truth,’ this obscure office endorses a deflationary theory of political hope.

‘Best wishes!’ we say to subjects and non-subjects alike, and ‘Good luck!’

‘Good luck!’ to the world of the non subjects, who give us greater hope for their recent tendency to introduce spontaneous, meandering, disorganized riots and occupations into the public sphere. Perhaps you cannot become aware of your discontent until it is made part of the objectivity you have access to through your mediated technological means, until it emerges into the world of your phone and you discover it there as the uncanny truth of who you are. This office puts great hope in you.

But we do not forget about the subjects, too. ’Good luck!’ we say to those damaged subjects out there with all their discontent. We hope that you continue to find ways of overcoming your loneliness and displeasure with the world, your new tendency to produce small pits of survival where a few of you, here and there, gather amongst books to commiserate over wine, the reading of Kafka, and recent developments in art.

All we can do is wish these two types the best, because they are all we have.


A. Teapenny

— From the Desk of the Unconscious

Automatism Communism critique Dialectic of Conscious and Unconscious Philosophy politics