Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Adorno on Auschwitz, Barbarism and Slaughterhouses

The Enlightenment,  Theodore Adorno thought, was among those who perished in Auschwitz. The dream that human progress constantly brings us closer to a better future vanished in the smoke from the crematorium or evaporated in the atomic clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," Adorno stated in a famous quote that has received many interpretations. In the post-Auschwitz world it is no longer possible to think that things have great significance, that there is another purpose to history and that the beauty of poetry can be used to obscure the raw violence in which human beings treat each other.

Years after Adorno, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek proposed that "there can be no genocide without poets", meaning that in order to make people commit atrocities there must always be someone who will train their consciousness and acquire a sublime and noble meaning to violence.
However, it seems that Adorno himself had a different intention in his words, which can be found in another (attributed) quote from him that relates specifically to our relationship to animals. Adorno claims that the sources of human violence are in our exploitative attitude towards animals and therefore he claims that "Auschwitz begins wherever a person looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks to himself: these are just animals."