For T.W. Adorno. —

The daughter of down-at-heel parents who, whether from talent or weakness, engages in a so-called intellectual profession, as an artist or a scholar, will have a particularly difficult time with those bearing the distasteful title of colleagues. It is not merely that her need for work is scorned, the seriousness of her intentions mistrusted, and that she is suspected of being a secret envoy of the established powers. Such suspicions, though betraying a deep-seated sense of entitlement, may occasionally prove well-founded. But the real resistances lie elsewhere. The occupation with things of the mind has by now become ‘practical,’ a business with strict division of labour, departments and restricted entry. The woman who lacks independent means who chooses it out of desire to do more than simply earn money (while also earning money) will be disposed to acknowledge the fact. For this she will be punished. She is not a ‘professional,’ is ranked in the competitive hierarchy as a dilettante no matter how well she knows her subject, and must, if she wants to make a career, show herself even more resolutely blinkered than the most inveterate specialist. The urge to suspend the division of labour which, outside certain limits, her economic situation would prevent her from satisfying, is thought particularly disreputable: it betrays a disinclination to sanction the operations imposed by society, and domineering realism permits no such idiosyncracies. The departmentalization of the mind is a means of abolishing mind where it is not exercised ex officio, on the tenure track. It performs this task all the more reliably since anyone who repudiates the division of labour – if only by taking pleasure in her work – makes herself vulnerable by its standards in ways inseparable from elements of her naïvité. Thus is order ensured: some have to play the game because they could not otherwise live, and those who could play the game otherwise are kept busy believing that they only play the game. It is as if the class from which working intellectuals have been shut out takes its revenge, by pressing its demands home in the very domain where the deserter seeks refuge.

One thought on “For T.W. Adorno. —

  1. thebeard

    Wrong life cannot be lived rightly, but I think its wrongness can be described (and criticized – the same thing for Adorno, no?) rightly and beautifully, like you do, educated ice. So touching.
    I have nothing more to say, except to report what I came across recently. So perhaps this is an appendix and a warning for women-identified job candidates to check their recommendation letters:

Comments are closed.