adorno on the decay of human relationships

“The fear of the secret decay of relationships is almost always caused by those involved allegedly or really finding things ‘too hard’. They are too weak in the face of reality, overtaxed by it on all sides, to muster the loving determination to maintain the relationship purely for its own sake. In the realm of utility, every relationship worthy of human beings takes on an aspect of luxury. No one can really afford it, and resentment at this breaks through in critical situations…“…If the subject is deeply involved while the relationship’s outward aspect prevents him, with good reason, from indulging his impulse, the relation is turned to permanent suffering and thus endangered. The absurd significance of trivia like a missed phone call, a stinted handshake, a hackneyed turn of phrase, springs from their manifesting an inner dynamic otherwise held in check, and threatening the relationship’s objective concreteness. Psychologists may well condemn the fear and shock of such moments as neurotic, pointing out their disproportion to the relationship’s objective weight. Anyone who takes fright so easily is indeed ‘unrealistic’, and in his dependence on the reflexes of his own subjectivity betrays a faulty adjustment.

“Only when one responds to the inflection of another’s voice with despair is the relation as spontaneous as it should be between free people, while yet for that very reason becoming a torment which, moreover, takes on an air of narcissism in its fidelity to the idea of immediacy, its impotent protest against coldheartedness. The neurotic reaction is that which hits on the true state of affairs, while the one adjusted to reality already discounts the relationship as dead. The cleansing of human beings of the murk and impotence of affects is in direct proportion to the advance of dehumanization.”

~ Theodor W. Adorno, Messages in a Bottle

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