Trader's Shop


Trader’s shop. – Hebbel raises the question, in a surprising diary entry, as to what “would take the magic from life in one’s later years.” “Because we see in all the brightly colored, jerkily moving puppets, the rotor which sets them in motion, and because just for that reason the enticing multiplicity of the world dissolves into a wooden monotony. When a child sees the acrobats singing, the musicians playing, the girl carrying water, the coachmen driving, it thinks to itself, all this is happening due to pleasure and joy in the matter; it cannot even begin to imagine that these people also eat and drink, go to bed and get up again. We however know, what it’s all about.” Namely, about acquisition, which commandeers all those activities as mere means, reducing them to abstract labor-time, as something exchangeable. The quality of things turns from their essence [Wesen] into the arbitrary phenomenon [Erscheinung: appearance] of their value. The “equivalent-form” disfigures all perceptions: what is no longer illuminated by light of one’s own determination as “pleasure in the thing,” pales before the eyes. The organs do not grasp anything sensual in isolation, but observe whether the color, tone and movement is there for itself or for something else; they grow weary of the false diversity and submerge everything in grey, disappointed by the deceptive claim of qualities that they still exist at all, while they are guided by the purpose of appropriation, to which they for the most part owe their existence. The disenchantment of the world of intuition is the reaction of the sensorium to its objective determination as a “world of commodities.” Only things cleansed of appropriation would be simultaneously colorful and useful: neither can be reconciled under universal compulsion. Children however are not so much entangled in illusions about the “enticing multiplicity” as Hebbel thinks, rather it is that their spontaneous perception still comprehends the contradiction between the phenomenon and fungibility, which the resigned one of adults no longer even dares to reach, and seeks to escape it. Play is their counterstrike [Gegenwehr: counter, resistance]. What strikes incorruptible children is the “peculiarity of the form of equivalence”: “Use-value turns into the form of appearance of its opposite, value.” (Marx, Capital I, Vienna 1932, page 61). In their non-purposive doing they deploy a feint on the side of the use-value against exchange-value. Precisely by divesting the things which they handle of their mediated utility, they seek to rescue in their interaction with them whatever has good will towards human beings, rather than towards the exchange relationship which deforms human beings and things in equal measure. The little wagons on wheels lead nowhere, and the tiny barrels on them are empty; but they keep faith with its destination [Bestimmung: determination], by neither practicing nor taking part in the process of the abstractions which level out that destination [Bestimmung: determination], but rather preserve them as allegories of what they are specifically are. They wait, scattered to the winds and nevertheless unentangled, to see if society finally cancels out the social stigma on them; to see whether praxis, the life-process between the human being and the thing, will cease to be practical. The unreality of games announces that what is real, is not yet real. They are unconscious practice exercises of the right life. The relationship of children to animals rests entirely on the fact that in the latter, which Marx even begrudged the surplus value they deliver to workers, utopia is cloaked. Because animals exist without any mission recognizable to human beings, they represent their own names as expression, as it were – as what is utterly not exchangeable. This endears them to children and makes their contemplation a joy. I am a rhinoceros, signifies the form of the rhinoceros. Fairy-tales and operettas know such pictures, and the ludicrous question of the woman, who asked how we know that Orion is really called Orion, rises to the stars.


Minima Moralia (Trans. Dennis Redmond)


Trader's Shop
Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia - 146
Trader's Shop.doc
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