Key people.—The self-important type who only thinks himself something when confirmed by the role he plays in collectives which are none, existing merely for the sake of collectivity; the delegate with the armband; the rapt speechmaker spicing his address with wholesome wit and prefacing his concluding remark with a wistful ‘Would that it were’; the charity vulture and the professor hastening from one congress to the next—they all once called forth the laughter befitting the naive, provincial and petty-bourgeois. Now the resemblance to the nineteenth-century satire has been discarded; the principle has spread doggedly from the caricatures to the whole bourgeois class. Not only have its members been subjected to unflagging social control by competition and cooption in their professional life, their private life too has been absorbed by the reified formations to which interpersonal relations have congealed. The reasons, to start with, are crudely material: only by
Legalities.—What the Nazis did to the Jews was unspeakable: language has no word for it, since even mass murder would have sounded, in face of its planned, systematic totality, like something from the good old days of the serial killer. And yet a term needed to be found if the victims—in any case too many for their names to be recalled—were to be spared the curse of having no thoughts turned unto them. So in English the concept of genocide was coined. But by being codified, as set down in the International Declaration of Human Rights, the unspeakable was made, for the sake of protest, commensurable. By its elevation to a concept, its possibility is virtually recognized: an institution to be forbidden, rejected, discussed. One day negotiations may take place in the forum of the United Nations on whether some new atrocity comes under the heading of genocide, whether nations have a right to intervene that they do not want to exercise in any case, and whether in view of the unforeseen difficulty of applying it in practice the whole concept of genocide should be removed from the statutes.
Freedom as they know it.—People have so manipulated the concept of freedom that it finally boils down to the right of the stronger and richer to take from the weaker and poorer whatever they still have. Attempts to change this are seen as shameful intrusions into the realm of the very individuality that by the logic of that freedom has dissolved into an administered void. But the objective spirit of language knows better. German and English reserve the word ‘free’ for things and services which cost nothing. Aside from a critique of political economy, this bears witness to the unfreedom posited in the exchange relationship itself; there is no freedom as long as everything has its price, and in reified society things exempted from the price mechanism exist only as pitiful rudiments. On closer inspection they too are usually found to have their price, and to be handouts with commodities or at least with domination: parks make prisons more endurable to those not in them. For people with a free, spontaneous, serene and nonchalant temper, however, for those who derive freedom as a privilege from unfreedom, language holds ready an apposite name: that of impudence.
Les Adieux.—‘Goodbye’ has for centuries been an empty formula. Now relationships have gone the same way. Leavetaking is obsolete. Two who belong together may part because one changes his domicile; people are anyway no longer at home in a town, but as the ultimate consequence of freedom of movement, subject their whole lives even spatially to whatever the most favourable conditions of the labour market may be. Then it’s over, or they meet. To be lastingly apart and to hold love fast has become unthinkable. ‘O parting, fountain of all words,’ but it has run dry, and nothing comes out except bye, bye or ta-ta. Airmail and courier delivery substitute logistical problems for the anxious wait for the letter, even where the absent partner has not jettisoned anything not palpably to hand as ballast. Airline directors can hold jubilee speeches on how much uncertainty and sorrow people are thereby spared. But the liquidation of parting is a matter of life and death to the traditional notion of humanity. Who could still love if the moment is excluded when the other, corporeal being is perceived as an image compressing the whole continuity of life as into a heavy fruit? What would hope be without distance? Humanity was the awareness of the presence of that not present, which evaporates in a condition which accords all things not present the palpable semblance of presence and immediacy, and hence has only scorn for what finds no enjoyment in such simulation. Yet to insist on parting’s inner possibility in face of its pragmatic impossibility would be a lie, for the inward does not unfold within itself but only in relation to the objective, and to make ‘inward’ a collapsed outwardness does violence to the inward itself, which is left to sustain itself as if on its own flame. The restoration of gestures would follow the example of the professor
Gentlemen’s honour.—Vis-à-vis women men have assumed the duty of discretion, one of the means whereby the crudity of violence is made to appear softened, control as mutual concession. Since they have outlawed promiscuity to secure woman as a possession, while yet needing promiscuity to prevent their own renunciation from rising to an unendurable pitch, men have made to the women of their class who give themselves without marriage the tacit promise not to speak of it to any other man, or to infringe the patriarchal dictate of womanly reputation. Discretion then became the joyous source of all secrecy, all artful triumphs over the powers that be, indeed, even of trust, through which distinction and integrity are formed. The letter Hölderlin addressed to his mother after the fatal Frankfurt catastrophe, without being moved by the expression of his ultimate despair to hint at the reason for his breach with Herr Gontard or even to mention Diotima’s name, while the violence of passion passes over into grief-stricken words about the loss of the pupil who was his beloved’s child—that letter elevates the force of dutiful silence to burning emotion, and makes such silence itself an expression of the unendurable conflict of human right with the right of that which is. But just as amid the universal unfreedom each trait of humanity wrung from it grows ambiguous, so it is even with manly discretion, which is reputedly nothing but noble. It turns into an instrument of woman’s revenge for her oppression. That men have to keep quiet among themselves, indeed, that the whole erotic sphere takes on a greater air of secrecy the more considerate and well-bred people are, procures for women opportunities from the convenient lie to sly and unhampered deception, and condemns the gentleman to the role of dimwit. Upper-class women have acquired a whole technique of isolation, of keeping men apart, and finally of wilfully dividing all the spheres of feeling, behaviour and valuation, in which the male division of labour is grotesquely reduplicated. This enables them to manipulate the trickiest situations with aplomb—at the cost of the very immediacy that women so pride themselves on. Men have drawn their own conclusions from this, colluding in the sneering sous-entendu that women just are like that. The wink implying così fan tutte repudiates all discretion, although no name is dropped, and has moreover the justification of knowing that, unfailingly, any woman who avails herself of her lover’s gallantry has herself broken the trust he placed in her. The lady who is one, and refuses to make of gentility the mockery of good manners, therefore has no choice but to set aside the discredited principle of discretion and openly, shamelessly take her love upon her. But who has the strength for that?