American Civilization

April 18, 2009

Additional Paper Guidelines

Filed under: PSAs — equiano @ 8:48 am

The final paper is, in a sense, a summation of your work for American Civilization this year. Here are some additional guidelines:

No title page.

All pages numbered. 

MLA format works cited and in-text citations. Note: NOT something approximating MLA, but MLA. 

It is STRONGLY recommended that you use outside (scholarly) sources in the writing of your paper using sources such as JSTOR or Project Muse.

Papers should be not only the product of meaningful reflection but careful attention to detail. Grammar, diction and syntax are important features of a final draft. Be sure to workshop your paper, either with a knowledgeable assistant or  at the writing center.

April 16, 2009

2nd Paper Prompt

Filed under: PSAs — equiano @ 8:01 pm

Paper #2, American Studies 1B, Spring 2009

Professors Connelly, Daly, Georges

Paper #2, worth 20% of your course grade, is due April 23, 2009, at 12 noon in the lecture hall.  Choose one of the prompts below.  Articulate a coherent thesis—i.e., a non-trivial claim based on your analysis of the specific material referred to in the prompt—and substantiate it with well-organized, accurate, and richly detailed references to course material.

The paper must be double-spaced with normal margins.  Use an easily readable font of approximately this size (Palatino 12-point).  The paper should be four to five (4-5) pages long, or a minimum of 1000 words.  We do not accept emailed or faxed papers.  

Your own thinking should constitute the core of the essay, but you are permitted to use outside resources to support your analysis IF they are meticulously cited following MLA guidelines.  Citations of scholarly articles may be helpful, but you may not cite sources like Wikipedia, Sparknotes, and Cliff Notes; if you have questions about the appropriateness of any sources, talk to your seminar instructor or a university librarian.


Write an essay which explores the contours of modernity through the characteristics and experiences of two of the following literary protagonists: Yank, from O’Neill’s Hairy Ape; Delia Jones, from Hurston’s “Sweat;” Brigid O’Shaunessy, from Hammett’s Maltese Falcon, and Walter Younger, from Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun. You must articulate a thesis which connects or relates the characters in some substantive way, and you must ground your discussion in a close reading and analysis of the texts, and in an historical understanding of modernity.  

What does it mean to be an America patriot? Does being patriotic imply that American citizens cannot publicly criticize national policies, systems, or culture? Are American citizens who seek to overthrow what they perceive as unjust political, economic, religious, or cultural institutions unpatriotic? Is the United States government ever justified in trampling on the civil liberties of Americans? Formulate a definition of patriotism and address these questions in terms of the issues and social conditions that arose in American society during the early Cold War period. Incorporate into your answer contextual material from Norton, analyses from the lectures, and from your own ideas about corresponding readings/films on the Cold War culture and McCarthyism.

Both Dashiell Hammett and Theodor Adorno focus on the condition of modernity in the opening decades of the 20th century. Compare and contrast their ideas, paying particular attention to the issue of the effects of this phase of capitalism on social relations. You may find it useful to consider “-izations”: modernization, standardization, routinization, etc.

April 9, 2009

The Culture Industry

Filed under: Mass Society — equiano @ 10:08 am
Tags: , ,

“Dialectical thought is the attempt to break through the coercion of logic by its own means.”

— TW Adorno, “Bequest” in Minima Moralia (150)

“Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men. It expels from movements all hesitation, deliberation, civility. It subjects them to the implacable, as it were ahistorical demands of objects. Thus the ability is lost, for example, to close a door quietly and discreetly, yet firmly. Those of cars and refrigerators have to be slammed, others have the tendency to snap shut by themselves, imposing on those entering the bad manners of not looking behind them. The new human type cannot be properly understood without awareness of what he is continuously exposed to from the world of things about him, even in his most secret innervations. What does it mean for the subject that there are no more casement windows to open, but only sliding frames to shove, no gentle latches but turnable handles, no forecourt, no doorstep before the street, no wall around the garden? And which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of his engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, pedestrians, children and cyclists? The movements machines demand of their users already have the violent, hard-hitting, unresting jerkiness of Fascist maltreatment. Not least to blame for the withering of experience is the fact that things, under the law of pure functionality, assume a form that limits contact with them to mere operation, and tolerates no surplus, either in freedom of conduct or in autonomy of things, which would survive as the core of experience, because it is not consumed by the moment of action.”

–TWA, “Do Not Knock” in Minima Moralia (40)

As the first of the quotes above implies, rationality occupies a vexed position within the work of Theodor Adorno. Since the advent of the Enlightenment project, reason– as his most widely known book The Dialectic of Enlightenment argues– has been instrumentalized, put in the service of the domination of Nature and humanity. Positivism in particular is guilty of reifying both the world and human consciousness, ossifying our thought and transforming nature and society into a collection of dead objects– tagged, measured, and classified. 

What might seem strange about Adorno’s position is that it pits him– a sociologist of sorts for at least part of his life– against sociological method, arguing that the core of social science– quantification in the form of statistical research, for example– is a falsity which flattens out the qualitative characteristics of social life.

The second quote above should be taken for what it is: an instance of Adornian comedy, a mode of engagement intended to elicit dour laughter at a situation that is deadly serious. What this passage describes is a world at odds with those who live in it, a built space which is fundamentally inhuman, where design has been subordinated to efficiency. The “dominative rationality” undergirding that Procrustean architecture has resulted in an alienation so profound that many of those who experience it are oblivious to its effects (Eagleton). Reason, twisted to the demands of capital, has produced an environment which deforms its inhabitants.

Writing during the second World War, an exile from Fascist Germany living in Los Angeles, Adorno looked around and saw that Reason itself was irrational, that the rise of Mass Society– a product of modernity’s sweeping processes of rationalization, industrialization, standardization, etc.– brought with it a dangerous impulse to destruction. He located this tendency not only in Germany and Italy, where “totalitarian” regimes held power, but also in the United States.

“Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. Yet the wholly enlightened earth is radiant with triumphant calamity” (Dialectic 1).


From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Born on September 11, 1903 as Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund, Adorno lived in Frankfurt am Main for the first three decades of his life and the last two (Claussen 2003, Müller-Doohm 2005). He was the only son of a wealthy German wine merchant of assimilated Jewish background and an accomplished musician of Corsican Catholic descent. Adorno studied philosophy with the neo-Kantian Hans Cornelius and music composition with Alban Berg. He completed his Habilitationsschrift on Kierkegaard’s aesthetics in 1931, under the supervision of the Christian socialist Paul Tillich. After just two years as a university instructor (Privatdozent), he was expelled by the Nazis, along with other professors of Jewish heritage or on the political left. A few years later he turned his father’s surname into a middle initial and adopted “Adorno,” the maternal surname by which he is best known.

“Adorno left Germany in the spring of 1934. During the Nazi era he resided in Oxford, New York City, and southern California. There he wrote several books for which he later became famous, including Dialectic of Enlightenment (with Max Horkheimer), Philosophy of New Music, The Authoritarian Personality (a collaborative project), and Minima Moralia. From these years come his provocative critiques of mass culture and the culture industry. Returning to Frankfurt in 1949 to take up a position in the philosophy department, Adorno quickly established himself as a leading German intellectual and a central figure in the Institute of Social Research. Founded as a free-standing center for Marxist scholarship in 1923, the Institute had been led by Max Horkheimer since 1930. It provided the hub to what has come to be known as the Frankfurt School. Adorno became the Institute’s director in 1958.”

The Frankfurt School

Adorno is closely associated with the Frankfurt School. From Douglas Kellner’s website Illuminations:

The “Frankfurt School” refers to a group of German-American theorists who developed powerful analyses of the changes in Western capitalist societies that occurred since the classical theory of Marx. Working at the Institut fur Sozialforschung in Frankfurt, Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s, theorists such as Max Horkheimer, T.W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Lowenthal, and Erich Fromm produced some of the first accounts within critical social theory of the importance of mass culture and communication in social reproduction and domination. The Frankfurt School also generated one of the first models of a critical cultural studies that analyzes the processes of cultural production and political economy, the politics of cultural texts, and audience reception and use of cultural artifacts (Kellner 1989 and 1995). 

Moving from Nazi Germany to the United States, the Frankfurt School experienced at first hand the rise of a media culture involving film, popular music, radio, television, and other forms of mass culture (Wiggershaus 1994). In the United States, where they found themselves in exile, media production was by and large a form of commercial entertainment controlled by big corporations. Two of its key theorists Max Horkheimer and T.W. Adorno developed an account of the “culture industry” to call attention to the industrialization and commercialization of culture under capitalist relations of production (1972). This situation was most marked in the United States that had little state support of film or television industries, and where a highly commercial mass culture emerged that came to be a distinctive feature of capitalist societies and a focus of critical cultural studies. 

During the 1930s, the Frankfurt school developed a critical and transdisciplinary approach to cultural and communications studies, combining political economy, textual analysis, and analysis of social and ideological effects of. They coined the term “culture industry” to signify the process of the industrialization of mass-produced culture and the commercial imperatives that drove the system. The critical theorists analyzed all mass-mediated cultural artifacts within the context of industrial production, in which the commodities of the culture industries exhibited the same features as other products of mass production: commodification, standardization, and massification. The culture industries had the specific function, however, of providing ideological legitimation of the existing capitalist societies and of integrating individuals into its way of life.

Adorno’s analyses of popular music, television, and other phenomena ranging from astrology columns to fascist speeches (1991, 1994), Lowenthal’s studies of popular literature and magazines (1961), Herzog’s studies of radio soap operas (1941), and the perspectives and critiques of mass culture developed in Horkheimer and Adorno’s famous study of the culture industries (1972 and Adorno 1991) provide many examples of the Frankfurt school approach. Moreover, in their theories of the culture industries and critiques of mass culture, they were among the first social theorists its importance in the reproduction of contemporary societies. In their view, mass culture and communications stand in the center of leisure activity, are important agents of socialization, mediators of political reality, and should thus be seen as major institutions of contemporary societies with a variety of economic, political, cultural and social effects.

Furthermore, the critical theorists investigated the cultural industries in a political context as a form of the integration of the working class into capitalist societies. The Frankfurt school theorists were among the first neo-Marxian groups to examine the effects of mass culture and the rise of the consumer society on the working classes which were to be the instrument of revolution in the classical Marxian scenario. They also analyzed the ways that the culture industries and consumer society were stabilizing contemporary capitalism and accordingly sought new strategies for political change, agencies of political transformation, and models for political emancipation that could serve as norms of social critique and goals for political struggle. This project required rethinking Marxian theory and produced many important contributions — as well as some problematical positions.

The Frankfurt school focused intently on technology and culture, indicating how technology was becoming both a major force of production and formative mode of social organization and control. In a 1941 article, “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology,” Herbert Marcuse argued that technology in the contemporary era constitutes an entire “mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships, a manifestation of prevalent thought and behavior patterns, an instrument for control and domination” (414). In the realm of culture, technology produced mass culture that habituated individuals to conform to the dominant patterns of thought and behavior, and thus provided powerful instruments of social control and domination. 

Victims of European fascism, the Frankfurt school experienced first hand the ways that the Nazis used the instruments of mass culture to produce submission to fascist culture and society. While in exile in the United States, the members of the Frankfurt school came to believe that American “popular culture” was also highly ideological and worked to promote the interests of American capitalism. Controlled by giant corporations, the culture industries were organized according to the strictures of mass production, churning out mass-produced products that generated a highly commercial system of culture which in turn sold the values, life-styles, and institutions of “the American way of life.”

Understanding Adorno requires a certain intellectual sympathy, at least initially. In general, our first reaction to his sort of (neo-marxist!) criticism– given the name Critical Theory– might consist of a mere affirmation of our training. Such responses will tend to be either flatly wrong or insufficient, and in the worst case will take the form of statements such as “there is no alternative” or “that’s just how it is.” No effort of thought is required to reassert ideas that have become second nature through repetition. We can do better than that. As Fredric Jameson writes, Adorno’s work “insists relentlessly on the need for modern art and thought to be difficult, to guard their truth and freshness by the austere demands they make on the powers of concentration of their participants, by their refusal of all habitual response in their attempt to reawaken numb thinking and deadened perception to a raw, wholly unfamiliar real world” (Marxism and Form 3).

The Culture Industry and Mass Society

THE sociological theory that the loss of the support of objectively established religion, the dissolution of the last remnants of pre-capitalism, together with technological and social differentiation or specialisation, have led to cultural chaos is disproved every day; for culture now impresses the same stamp on everything.

Against the standard interpretation of modernization as the fragmentation of social life, the sort of ceaseless disruption we discussed in terms of The Maltese Falcon, Horkheimer and Adorno posit a massive uniformity. This is not chaos, but a completely undifferentiated cultural landscape.

Films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part. Even the aesthetic activities of political opposites are one in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system. The decorative industrial management buildings and exhibition centers in authoritarian countries are much the same as anywhere else. The huge gleaming towers that shoot up everywhere are outward signs of the ingenious planning of international concerns, toward which the unleashed entrepreneurial system (whose monuments are a mass of gloomy houses and business premises in grimy, spiritless cities) was already hastening. Even now the older houses just outside the concrete city centres look like slums, and the new bungalows on the outskirts are at one with the flimsy structures of world fairs in their praise of technical progress and their built-in demand to be discarded after a short while like empty food cans.

A cultural system characterizing not only fascist nations but capitalist democracies. A massified cityscape of  engineered obsolescence. 

Yet the city housing projects designed to perpetuate the individual as a supposedly independent unit in a small hygienic dwelling make him all the more subservient to his adversary – the absolute power of capitalism. Because the inhabitants, as producers and as consumers, are drawn into the center in search of work and pleasure, all the living units crystallise into well-organised complexes. The striking unity of microcosm and macrocosm presents men with a model of their culture: the false identity of the general and the particular. Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through. The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows. Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. They call themselves industries; and when their directors’ incomes are published, any doubt about the social utility of the finished products is removed.

The ideology of individualism conceals the totalizing force of capital, its spatial logic, in which city centers draw in masses of workers and shoppers. “The false identity of the general [universal] and the particular”: we are the system, or at least we think so, yet this relationship, this identification is false. 

The culture industry has dropped any pretense. We use the phrase “entertainment industry” today, as do its investors and managers.

Interested parties explain the culture industry in technological terms. It is alleged that because millions participate in it, certain reproduction processes are necessary that inevitably require identical needs in innumerable places to be satisfied with identical goods. The technical contrast between the few production centers and the large number of widely dispersed consumption points is said to demand organisation and planning by management. Furthermore, it is claimed that standards were based in the first place on consumers’ needs, and for that reason were accepted with so little resistance. The result is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger. No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself. Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered. It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardisation and mass production, sacrificing whatever involved a distinction between the logic of the work and that of the social system.

To the argument that the very scale of the CI demands industrial methods, Adorno and Horkheimer assert that these methods belong to “those whose economic hold over society is greatest.” In other words, technology grows in power over the social to the extent that economic elites, the organizers of technology, its investors, exert their own power.

The issue of “retroactive need”: the standard interpretation argues that need gave rise to the system when in reality it is the system itself, and the forces which govern it, which generates need. Here is an example of a kind of critical inversion, an intellectual jiu jitsu, which flips the statement dialectically.

Note what keeps “the whole thing together”: consumer durables and industry; a military apparatus; the CI– three components of social domination. Not bread and circuses but what some have come to call the military-industrial-entertainment complex after Eisenhower’s prescient warning at the end of his presidency.

Also, the category of the (art) work is important.

This is the result not of a law of movement in technology as such but of its function in today’s economy. The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness. The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same. No machinery of rejoinder has been devised, and private broadcasters are denied any freedom. They are confined to the apocryphal field of the “amateur,” and also have to accept organisation from above.

Here we encounter an equality of subjection, a democratic form of control from above. The example of radio, which ensures that we are all equally compelled to listen and never speak.

But any trace of spontaneity from the public in official broadcasting is controlled and absorbed by talent scouts, studio competitions and official programs of every kind selected by professionals. Talented performers belong to the industry long before it displays them; otherwise they would not be so eager to fit in. The attitude of the public, which ostensibly and actually favours the system of the culture industry, is a part of the system and not an excuse for it. If one branch of art follows the same formula as one with a very different medium and content; if the dramatic intrigue of broadcast soap operas becomes no more than useful material for showing how to master technical problems at both ends of the scale of musical experience – real jazz or a cheap imitation; or if a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely “adapted” for a film sound-track in the same way as a Tolstoy novel is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air.

Any cultural practice which is organic, spontaneous, authentic is immediately routed into the system. Even further the public itself is a part of CI. The fascination with fame, the cult of the celebrity, “popular” tastes– all are constituents of the CI rather than expressions of desire for its products.

Jazz, Beethoven, Tolstoy: a single principle at work across different cultural forms (genres)– what they share in common is their mutilation via the CI.

We are closer to the facts if we explain these phenomena as inherent in the technical and personnel apparatus which, down to its last cog, itself forms part of the economic mechanism of selection. In addition there is the agreement – or at least the determination – of all executive authorities not to produce or sanction anything that in any way differs from their own rules, their own ideas about consumers, or above all themselves.

The owners/managers of CI produce only that which mirrors themselves, which is to say a false reflection of (identity with) the system. Is this an infinite loop?

In our age the objective social tendency is incarnate in the hidden subjective purposes of company directors, the foremost among whom are in the most powerful sectors of industry – steel, petroleum, electricity, and chemicals. Culture monopolies are weak and dependent in comparison. They cannot afford to neglect their appeasement of the real holders of power if their sphere of activity in mass society (a sphere producing a specific type of commodity which anyhow is still too closely bound up with easy-going liberalism and Jewish intellectuals) is not to undergo a series of purges. The dependence of the most powerful broadcasting company on the electrical industry, or of the motion picture industry on the banks, is characteristic of the whole sphere, whose individual branches are themselves economically interwoven. All are in such close contact that the extreme concentration of mental forces allows demarcation lines between different firms and technical branches to be ignored.

First sentence of the paragraph is speaking of what Althusser would call “capitalist subjects”– i.e., those whose identification with the universal (“the objective social tendency”) is complete. 

“Jewish intellectualls”: in other words, it is suspicious. Adorno and Hork. make a gesture at themselves.

The ruthless unity in the culture industry is evidence of what will happen in politics. Marked differentiations such as those of A and B films, or of stories in magazines in different price ranges, depend not so much on subject matter as on classifying, organising, and labelling consumers. Something is provided for all so that none may escape; the distinctions are emphasised and extended. The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality, thus advancing the rule of complete quantification. Everybody must behave (as if spontaneously) in accordance with his previously determined and indexed level, and choose the category of mass product turned out for his type. Consumers appear as statistics on research organisation charts, and are divided by income groups into red, green, and blue areas; the technique is that used for any type of propaganda.

Rationality instrumentalized to feed the machine. 

“Something is provided for all so that none may escape”

Quality is transformed into quantity, the primary operation of positivism, of post-Enlightenment reason. As a way of understanding this process, think of grades.

How formalised the procedure is can be seen when the mechanically differentiated products prove to be all alike in the end. That the difference between the Chrysler range and General Motors products is basically illusory strikes every child with a keen interest in varieties. What connoisseurs discuss as good or bad points serve only to perpetuate the semblance of competition and range of choice. The same applies to the Warner Brothers and Metro Goldwyn Mayer productions. But even the differences between the more expensive and cheaper models put out by the same firm steadily diminish: for automobiles, there are such differences as the number of cylinders, cubic capacity, details of patented gadgets; and for films there are the number of stars, the extravagant use of technology, labor, and equipment, and the introduction of the latest psychological formulas. The universal criterion of merit is the amount of “conspicuous production,” of blatant cash investment. The varying budgets in the culture industry do not bear the slightest relation to factual values, to the meaning of the products themselves.

Sameness, camoflauged by meaningless distinctions, is achieved through quantification. In terms of box office receipts or production costs all films may be judged according to the same measure.

“Conspicuous production”: a play on Thorstein Veblen’s “conspicuous consumption.”

Even the technical media are relentlessly forced into uniformity. Television aims at a synthesis of radio and film, and is held up only because the interested parties have not yet reached agreement, but its consequences will be quite enormous and promise to intensify the impoverishment of aesthetic matter so drastically, that by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, derisively fulfilling the Wagnerian dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk – the fusion of all the arts in one work.

A prediction: television will accelerate and deepen the crisis of aesthetic degradation. A mockery of Wagner’s notion of a total art work. More like a sandwich that contains every ingredient– sardines, butterscotch, cottage cheese. A monstrosity.

The alliance of word, image, and music is all the more perfect than in Tristan because the sensuous elements which all approvingly reflect the surface of social reality are in principle embodied in the same technical process, the unity of which becomes its distinctive content. This process integrates all the elements of the production, from the novel (shaped with an eye to the film) to the last sound effect. It is the triumph of invested capital, whose title as absolute master is etched deep into the hearts of the dispossessed in the employment line; it is the meaningful content of every film, whatever plot the production team may have selected.

Its unity– i.e., the sum of its techniques– which is governed by the logic of capital, IS its content. Thus every CI product is really about capital. 

The man with leisure has to accept what the culture manufacturers offer him. Kant’s formalism still expected a contribution from the individual, who was thought to relate the varied experiences of the senses to fundamental concepts; but industry robs the individual of his function. Its prime service to the customer is to do his schematising for him.

A crucial distinction, which will be developed later, is implied here: leisure vs. free time. In mass society, leisure, a fundamentally passive affair, has the character of work.

Kant said that there was a secret mechanism in the soul which prepared direct intuitions in such a way that they could be fitted into the system of pure reason. But today that secret has been deciphered. While the mechanism is to all appearances planned by those who serve up the data of experience, that is, by the culture industry, it is in fact forced upon the latter by the power of society, which remains irrational, however we may try to rationalise it; and this inescapable force is processed by commercial agencies so that they give an artificial impression of being in command.

Welcome to dialectics. The winding path of the latter sentence is an effort to tease out the falsities of the CI and its self-proclaimed role. Read the sentence carefully and we’ll discuss what it means.

There is nothing left for the consumer to classify. Producers have done it for him. Art for the masses has destroyed the dream but still conforms to the tenets of that dreaming idealism which critical idealism baulked at. Everything derives from consciousness: for Malebranche and Berkeley, from the consciousness of God; in mass art, from the consciousness of the production team. Not only are the hit songs, stars, and soap operas cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but the specific content of the entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears to change. The details are interchangeable. The short interval sequence which was effective in a hit song, the hero’s momentary fall from grace (which he accepts as good sport), the rough treatment which the beloved gets from the male star, the latter’s rugged defiance of the spoilt heiress, are, like all the other details, ready-made clichés to be slotted in anywhere; they never do anything more than fulfil the purpose allotted them in the overall plan. Their whole raison d’être is to confirm it by being its constituent parts. As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished, or forgotten. In light music, once the trained ear has heard the first notes of the hit song, it can guess what is coming and feel flattered when it does come. The average length of the short story has to be rigidly adhered to. Even gags, effects, and jokes are calculated like the setting in which they are placed. They are the responsibility of special experts and their narrow range makes it easy for them to be apportioned in the office.

If “everything derives from consciousness” then there is a disconnect from materiality, from society. Culture then is based not on life but on “types,” forms. 

CI formulas. The standardization of aesthetic experience, a category debased into leisure.

The development of the culture industry has led to the predominance of the effect, the obvious touch, and the technical detail over the work itself – which once expressed an idea, but was liquidated together with the idea. When the detail won its freedom, it became rebellious and, in the period from Romanticism to Expressionism, asserted itself as free expression, as a vehicle of protest against the organisation. In music the single harmonic effect obliterated the awareness of form as a whole; in painting the individual colour was stressed at the expense of pictorial composition; and in the novel psychology became more important than structure. The totality of the culture industry has put an end to this.

If avant-garde artists emphasized the detail of a work over its unity as a form of protest, the CI adopts and apotheosizes this tactic thus precluding its use as a gesture of rebellion. What was daring becomes commonplace, its force blunted. This idea developed in the following paragraph.

Though concerned exclusively with effects, it crushes their insubordination and makes them subserve the formula, which replaces the work. The same fate is inflicted on whole and parts alike. The whole inevitably bears no relation to the details – just like the career of a successful man into which everything is made to fit as an illustration or a proof, whereas it is nothing more than the sum of all those idiotic events. The so-called dominant idea is like a file which ensures order but not coherence. The whole and the parts are alike; there is no antithesis and no connection. Their prearranged harmony is a mockery of what had to be striven after in the great bourgeois works of art. In Germany the graveyard stillness of the dictatorship already hung over the gayest films of the democratic era.

What does the striking image of the last sentence mean?

The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry. The old experience of the movie-goer, who sees the world outside as an extension of the film he has just left (because the latter is intent upon reproducing the world of everyday perceptions), is now the producer’s guideline. The more intensely and flawlessly his techniques duplicate empirical objects, the easier it is today for the illusion to prevail that the outside world is the straightforward continuation of that presented on the screen. This purpose has been furthered by mechanical reproduction since the lightning takeover by the sound film.

The paragraphs above and below seem to suggest a condition of what has come to be known as hypperreality. The division between the experience of life and CI product becomes increasingly vague. This muddy sense of what is real– life as an extension of the film– is troubling precisely because “the sound film… leaves no room for imagination or reflection on the part of the audience”– i.e., the audience has no autonomy.

Real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies. The sound film, far surpassing the theatre of illusion, leaves no room for imagination or reflection on the part of the audience, who is unable to respond within the structure of the film, yet deviate from its precise detail without losing the thread of the story; hence the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality. The stunting of the mass-media consumer’s powers of imagination and spontaneity does not have to be traced back to any psychological mechanisms; he must ascribe the loss of those attributes to the objective nature of the products themselves, especially to the most characteristic of them, the sound film. They are so designed that quickness, powers of observation, and experience are undeniably needed to apprehend them at all; yet sustained thought is out of the question if the spectator is not to miss the relentless rush of facts.

Film is not without its demands, yet these demands are trivial. (ex. your grandmother is dazzled by the rapid cuts of a blockbuster trailer while your little nephew follows them exactly. Not a matter of thought but of perception)

Even though the effort required for his response is semi-automatic, no scope is left for the imagination. Those who are so absorbed by the world of the movie – by its images, gestures, and words – that they are unable to supply what really makes it a world, do not have to dwell on particular points of its mechanics during a screening. All the other films and products of the entertainment industry which they have seen have taught them what to expect; they react automatically.

We might think about continuity editing here, a set of methods intended to conceal from the audience the fact that they are watching a series of still images projected at the rate at which the “flicker fusion effect” occurs, cobbled together to give the illusion of reality.

The might of industrial society is lodged in men’s minds. The entertainments manufacturers know that their products will be consumed with alertness even when the customer is distraught, for each of them is a model of the huge economic machinery which has always sustained the masses, whether at work or at leisure – which is akin to work. From every sound film and every broadcast program the social effect can be inferred which is exclusive to none but is shared by all alike. The culture industry as a whole has moulded men as a type unfailingly reproduced in every product. All the agents of this process, from the producer to the women’s clubs, take good care that the simple reproduction of this mental state is not nuanced or extended in any way.

“Leisure… is akin to work.”

Here again is the strange relationship between macrocosm and microcosm, an ersatz identification.

The art historians and guardians of culture who complain of the extinction in the West of a basic style-determining power are wrong. The stereotyped appropriation of everything, even the inchoate, for the purposes of mechanical reproduction surpasses the rigour and general currency of any “real style,” in the sense in which cultural cognoscenti celebrate the organic pre-capitalist past. No Palestrina could be more of a purist in eliminating every unprepared and unresolved discord than the jazz arranger in suppressing any development which does not conform to the jargon. When jazzing up Mozart he changes him not only when he is too serious or too difficult but when he harmonises the melody in a different way, perhaps more simply, than is customary now. No medieval builder can have scrutinised the subjects for church windows and sculptures more suspiciously than the studio hierarchy scrutinises a work by Balzac or Hugo before finally approving it. No medieval theologian could have determined the degree of the torment to be suffered by the damned in accordance with the order of divine love more meticulously than the producers of shoddy epics calculate the torture to be undergone by the hero or the exact point to which the leading lady’s hemline shall be raised. The explicit and implicit, exoteric and esoteric catalogue of the forbidden and tolerated is so extensive that it not only defines the area of freedom but is all-powerful inside it. Everything down to the last detail is shaped accordingly.

This marvelous passage describes the total routinization of the CI.

Like its counterpart, avant-garde art, the entertainment industry determines its own language, down to its very syntax and vocabulary, by the use of anathema. The constant pressure to produce new effects (which must conform to the old pattern) serves merely as another rule to increase the power of the conventions when any single effect threatens to slip through the net. Every detail is so firmly stamped with sameness that nothing can appear which is not marked at birth, or does not meet with approval at first sight. And the star performers, whether they produce or reproduce, use this jargon as freely and fluently and with as much gusto as if it were the very language which it silenced long ago. Such is the ideal of what is natural in this field of activity, and its influence becomes all the more powerful, the more technique is perfected and diminishes the tension between the finished product and everyday life. The paradox of this routine, which is essentially travesty, can be detected and is often predominant in everything that the culture industry turns out. A jazz musician who is playing a piece of serious music, one of Beethoven’s simplest minuets, syncopates it involuntarily and will smile superciliously when asked to follow the normal divisions of the beat. This is the “nature” which, complicated by the ever-present and extravagant demands of the specific medium, constitutes the new style and is a “system of non-culture, to which one might even concede a certain ‘unity of style’ if it really made any sense to speak of stylised barbarity.” [Nietzsche]

CI as “nature” or at least with a naturalizing function. The realization of the CI– the perfection of its falsity– becomes a kind of nature. As the distinction between CI product and life diminishes the infection of this “nature” spreads.

The universal imposition of this stylised mode can even go beyond what is quasi-officially sanctioned or forbidden; today a hit song is more readily forgiven for not observing the 32 beats or the compass of the ninth than for containing even the most clandestine melodic or harmonic detail which does not conform to the idiom. Whenever Orson Welles offends against the tricks of the trade, he is forgiven because his departures from the norm are regarded as calculated mutations which serve all the more strongly to confirm the validity of the system. The constraint of the technically-conditioned idiom which stars and directors have to produce as “nature” so that the people can appropriate it, extends to such fine nuances that they almost attain the subtlety of the devices of an avant-garde work as against those of truth. The rare capacity minutely to fulfil the obligations of the natural idiom in all branches of the culture industry becomes the criterion of efficiency. What and how they say it must be measurable by everyday language, as in logical positivism.

Yet a deviation from that “nature” is permissible and perhaps even desirable in that it confirms the former. We should also consider the significance of the last lines of the above paragraph which seem to indicate that there is no remainder, no excess, that might provide a space for reflection. 

The producers are experts. The idiom demands an astounding productive power, which it absorbs and squanders. In a diabolical way it has overreached the culturally conservative distinction between genuine and artificial style. A style might be called artificial which is imposed from without on the refractory impulses of a form. But in the culture industry every element of the subject matter has its origin in the same apparatus as that jargon whose stamp it bears. The quarrels in which the artistic experts become involved with sponsor and censor about a lie going beyond the bounds of credibility are evidence not so much of an inner aesthetic tension as of a divergence of interests. The reputation of the specialist, in which a last remnant of objective independence sometimes finds refuge, conflicts with the business politics of the Church, or the concern which is manufacturing the cultural commodity. But the thing itself has been essentially objectified and made viable before the established authorities began to argue about it. Even before Zanuck acquired her, Saint Bernadette was regarded by her latter-day hagiographer as brilliant propaganda for all interested parties. That is what became of the emotions of the character. Hence the style of the culture industry, which no longer has to test itself against any refractory material, is also the negation of style. The reconciliation of the general and particular, of the rule and the specific demands of the subject matter, the achievement of which alone gives essential, meaningful content to style, is futile because there has ceased to be the slightest tension between opposite poles: these concordant extremes are dismally identical; the general can replace the particular, and vice versa.

What is indicated here is an absolute uniformity. With no friction between form and content style evaporates.

Nevertheless, this caricature of style does not amount to something beyond the genuine style of the past. In the culture industry the notion of genuine style is seen to be the aesthetic equivalent of domination. Style considered as mere aesthetic regularity is a romantic dream of the past. The unity of style not only of the Christian Middle Ages but of the Renaissance expresses in each case the different structure of social power, and not the obscure experience of the oppressed in which the general was enclosed. The great artists were never those who embodied a wholly flawless and perfect style, but those who used style as a way of hardening themselves against the chaotic expression of suffering, as a negative truth. The style of their works gave what was expressed that force without which life flows away unheard. Those very art forms which are known as classical, such as Mozart’s music, contain objective trends which represent something different to the style which they incarnate.

Adorno & Hork tell us something about art.

As late as Schönberg and Picasso, the great artists have retained a mistrust of style, and at crucial points have subordinated it to the logic of the matter. What Dadaists and Expressionists called the untruth of style as such triumphs today in the sung jargon of a crooner, in the carefully contrived elegance of a film star, and even in the admirable expertise of a photograph of a peasant’s squalid hut. Style represents a promise in every work of art. That which is expressed is subsumed through style into the dominant forms of generality, into the language of music, painting, or words, in the hope that it will be reconciled thus with the idea of true generality. This promise held out by the work of art that it will create truth by lending new shape to the conventional social forms is as necessary as it is hypocritical. It unconditionally posits the real forms of life as it is by suggesting that fulfilment lies in their aesthetic derivatives. To this extent the claim of art is always ideology too.

More commentary on art.

However, only in this confrontation with tradition of which style is the record can art express suffering. That factor in a work of art which enables it to transcend reality certainly cannot be detached from style; but it does not consist of the harmony actually realised, of any doubtful unity of form and content, within and without, of individual and society; it is to be found in those features in which discrepancy appears: in the necessary failure of the passionate striving for identity. Instead of exposing itself to this failure in which the style of the great work of art has always achieved self-negation, the inferior work has always relied on its similarity with others – on a surrogate identity.

Real art risks itself, does not possess a machined surface. There is an overlap, an excess.

In the culture industry this imitation finally becomes absolute. Having ceased to be anything but style, it reveals the latter’s secret: obedience to the social hierarchy. Today aesthetic barbarity completes what has threatened the creations of the spirit since they were gathered together as culture and neutralised. To speak of culture was always contrary to culture. Culture as a common denominator already contains in embryo that schematisation and process of cataloguing and classification which bring culture within the sphere of administration. And it is precisely the industrialised, the consequent, subsumption which entirely accords with this notion of culture. By subordinating in the same way and to the same end all areas of intellectual creation, by occupying men’s senses from the time they leave the factory in the evening to the time they clock in again the next morning with matter that bears the impress of the labor process they themselves have to sustain throughout the day, this subsumption mockingly satisfies the concept of a unified culture which the philosophers of personality contrasted with mass culture.

A critique of what in Dialectic of Enlightenment is termed “myth”– part of the larger argument of that text. The key here is that this tendency is exacerbated with industrialization.

And so the culture industry, the most rigid of all styles, proves to be the goal of liberalism, which is reproached for its lack of style. Not only do its categories and contents derive from liberalism – domesticated naturalism as well as operetta and revue – but the modern culture monopolies form the economic area in which, together with the corresponding entrepreneurial types, for the time being some part of its sphere of operation survives, despite the process of disintegration elsewhere.

Adorno is of course referring to economic liberalism. 

It is still possible to make one’s way in entertainment, if one is not too obstinate about one’s own concerns, and proves appropriately pliable. Anyone who resists can only survive by fitting in. Once his particular brand of deviation from the norm has been noted by the industry, he belongs to it as does the land-reformer to capitalism. Realistic dissidence is the trademark of anyone who has a new idea in business. In the public voice of modern society accusations are seldom audible; if they are, the perceptive can already detect signs that the dissident will soon be reconciled. The more immeasurable the gap between chorus and leaders, the more certainly there is room at the top for everybody who demonstrates his superiority by well-planned originality. Hence, in the culture industry, too, the liberal tendency to give full scope to its able men survives.

The argument here concerns classical liberalism vs. Keynesianism (a planned economy).

To do this for the efficient today is still the function of the market, which is otherwise proficiently controlled; as for the market’s freedom, in the high period of art as elsewhere, it was freedom for the stupid to starve. Significantly, the system of the culture industry comes from the more liberal industrial nations, and all its characteristic media, such as movies, radio, jazz, and magazines, flourish there. Its progress, to be sure, had its origin in the general laws of capital. Gaumont and Pathe, Ullstein and Hugenberg followed the international trend with some success; Europe’s economic dependence on the United States after war and inflation was a contributory factor. The belief that the barbarity of the culture industry is a result of “cultural lag,” of the fact that the American consciousness did not keep up with the growth of technology, is quite wrong. It was pre-Fascist Europe which did not keep up with the trend toward the culture monopoly.

A commonplace is inverted.

But it was this very lag which left intellect and creativity some degree of independence and enabled its last representatives to exist – however dismally. In Germany the failure of democratic control to permeate life had led to a paradoxical situation. Many things were exempt from the market mechanism which had invaded the Western countries. The German educational system, universities, theatres with artistic standards, great orchestras, and museums enjoyed protection. The political powers, state and municipalities, which had inherited such institutions from absolutism, had left them with a measure of the freedom from the forces of power which dominates the market, just as princes and feudal lords had done up to the nineteenth century. This strengthened art in this late phase against the verdict of supply and demand, and increased its resistance far beyond the actual degree of protection. In the market itself the tribute of a quality for which no use had been found was turned into purchasing power; in this way, respectable literary and music publishers could help authors who yielded little more in the way of profit than the respect of the connoisseur.

The development of the CI in Germany: with more areas of society free of capitalist influence it was Germany which lagged behind in the rationalization of culture.

But what completely fettered the artist was the pressure (and the accompanying drastic threats), always to fit into business life as an aesthetic expert. Formerly, like Kant and Hume, they signed their letters “Your most humble and obedient servant,” and undermined the foundations of throne and altar. Today they address heads of government by their first names, yet in every artistic activity they are subject to their illiterate masters.

A democratization of manners conceals a social subordination.

The analysis Tocqueville offered a century ago has in the meantime proved wholly accurate. Under the private culture monopoly it is a fact that “tyranny leaves the body free and directs its attack at the soul. The ruler no longer says: You must think as I do or die. He says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your property, everything shall remain yours, but from this day on you are a stranger among us.” Not to conform means to be rendered powerless, economically and therefore spiritually – to be “self-employed.” When the outsider is excluded from the concern, he can only too easily be accused of incompetence.

Whereas today in material production the mechanism of supply and demand is disintegrating, in the superstructure it still operates as a check in the rulers’ favour. The consumers are the workers and employees, the farmers and lower middle class. Capitalist production so confines them, body and soul, that they fall helpless victims to what is offered them. As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. It is stronger even than the rigorism of the Hays Office, just as in certain great times in history it has inflamed greater forces that were turned against it, namely, the terror of the tribunals. It calls for Mickey Rooney in preference to the tragic Garbo, for Donald Duck instead of Betty Boop. The industry submits to the vote which it has itself inspired. What is a loss for the firm which cannot fully exploit a contract with a declining star is a legitimate expense for the system as a whole. By craftily sanctioning the demand for rubbish it inaugurates total harmony. The connoisseur and the expert are despised for their pretentious claim to know better than the others, even though culture is democratic and distributes its privileges to all. In view of the ideological truce, the conformism of the buyers and the effrontery of the producers who supply them prevail. The result is a constant reproduction of the same thing.

A closed system.

A constant sameness governs the relationship to the past as well. What is new about the phase of mass culture compared with the late liberal stage is the exclusion of the new. The machine rotates on the same spot. While determining consumption it excludes the untried as a risk. The movie-makers distrust any manuscript which is not reassuringly backed by a bestseller. Yet for this very reason there is never-ending talk of ideas, novelty, and surprise, of what is taken for granted but has never existed. Tempo and dynamics serve this trend. Nothing remains as of old; everything has to run incessantly, to keep moving. For only the universal triumph of the rhythm of mechanical production and reproduction promises that nothing changes, and nothing unsuitable will appear. Any additions to the well-proven culture inventory are too much of a speculation. The ossified forms – such as the sketch, short story, problem film, or hit song – are the standardised average of late liberal taste, dictated with threats from above. The people at the top in the culture agencies, who work in harmony as only one manager can with another, whether he comes from the rag trade or from college, have long since reorganised and rationalised the objective spirit. One might think that an omnipresent authority had sifted the material and drawn up an official catalogue of cultural commodities to provide a smooth supply of available mass-produced lines. The ideas are written in the cultural firmament where they had already been numbered by Plato – and were indeed numbers, incapable of increase and immutable.


Amusement and all the elements of the culture industry existed long before the latter came into existence. Now they are taken over from above and brought up to date. The culture industry can pride itself on having energetically executed the previously clumsy transposition of art into the sphere of consumption, on making this a principle, on divesting amusement of its obtrusive naïvetes and improving the type of commodities. The more absolute it became, the more ruthless it was in forcing every outsider either into bankruptcy or into a syndicate, and became more refined and elevated – until it ended up as a synthesis of Beethoven and the Casino de Paris. It enjoys a double victory: the truth it extinguishes without it can reproduce at will as a lie within. “Light” art as such, distraction, is not a decadent form. Anyone who complains that it is a betrayal of the ideal of pure expression is under an illusion about society. The purity of bourgeois art, which hypostasised itself as a world of freedom in contrast to what was happening in the material world, was from the beginning bought with the exclusion of the lower classes – with whose cause, the real universality, art keeps faith precisely by its freedom from the ends of the false universality. Serious art has been withheld from those for whom the hardship and oppression of life make a mockery of seriousness, and who must be glad if they can use time not spent at the production line just to keep going. Light art has been the shadow of autonomous art. It is the social bad conscience of serious art. The truth which the latter necessarily lacked because of its social premises gives the other the semblance of legitimacy. The division itself is the truth: it does at least express the negativity of the culture which the different spheres constitute. Least of all can the antithesis be reconciled by absorbing light into serious art, or vice versa. But that is what the culture industry attempts.

Note the dialectical structure of the first bolded sentence.

“Real universality” means a class for itself– the proletariat is the true universal in this context.

The eccentricity of the circus, peepshow, and brothel is as embarrassing to it as that of Schönberg and Karl Kraus. And so the jazz musician Benny Goodman appears with the Budapest string quartet, more pedantic rhythmically than any philharmonic clarinettist, while the style of the Budapest players is as uniform and sugary as that of Guy Lombardo. But what is significant is not vulgarity, stupidity, and lack of polish.

The culture industry did away with yesterday’s rubbish by its own perfection, and by forbidding and domesticating the amateurish, although it constantly allows gross blunders without which the standard of the exalted style cannot be perceived. But what is new is that the irreconcilable elements of culture, art and distraction, are subordinated to one end and subsumed under one false formula: the totality of the culture industry. It consists of repetition. That its characteristic innovations are never anything more than improvements of mass reproduction is not external to the system. It is with good reason that the interest of innumerable consumers is directed to the technique, and not to the contents – which are stubbornly repeated, outworn, and by now half-discredited. The social power which the spectators worship shows itself more effectively in the omnipresence of the stereotype imposed by technical skill than in the stale ideologies for which the ephemeral contents stand in.

The subordination of all activity. 

The social power of capital is easier to recognize in CI forms than their content.

Nevertheless the culture industry remains the entertainment business. Its influence over the consumers is established by entertainment; that will ultimately be broken not by an outright decree, but by the hostility inherent in the principle of entertainment to what is greater than itself. Since all the trends of the culture industry are profoundly embedded in the public by the whole social process, they are encouraged by the survival of the market in this area. Demand has not yet been replaced by simple obedience. As is well known, the major reorganisation of the film industry shortly before World War I, the material prerequisite of its expansion, was precisely its deliberate acceptance of the public’s needs as recorded at the box-office – a procedure which was hardly thought necessary in the pioneering days of the screen. The same opinion is held today by the captains of the film industry, who take as their criterion the more or less phenomenal song hits but wisely never have recourse to the judgment of truth, the opposite criterion. Business is their ideology. It is quite correct that the power of the culture industry resides in its identification with a manufactured need, and not in simple contrast to it, even if this contrast were one of complete power and complete powerlessness.

Think about ipods, myspace, personal computers, etc.– the technology of individualism, of the individual as a social atom disconnected from others in terms of face to face interactions. Not only is domination effected under the rubric of choice but sameness is established in the guise of individuality. 

Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work. It is sought after as an escape from the mechanised work process, and to recruit strength in order to be able to cope with it again. But at the same time mechanisation has such power over a man’s leisure and happiness, and so profoundly determines the manufacture of amusement goods, that his experiences are inevitably after-images of the work process itself. The ostensible content is merely a faded foreground; what sinks in is the automatic succession of standardised operations. What happens at work, in the factory, or in the office can only be escaped from by approximation to it in one’s leisure time.

Pop culture, leisure, as medicine, as dope for the worker yet also as a another form of work. Ex. computer games which exhaust us with their demands on our concentration. 

All amusement suffers from this incurable malady. Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure (which collapses under reflection), but by signals. Any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided. As far as possible, developments must follow from the immediately preceding situation and never from the idea of the whole. For the attentive movie-goer any individual scene will give him the whole thing. Even the set pattern itself still seems dangerous, offering some meaning – wretched as it might be – where only meaninglessness is acceptable. Often the plot is maliciously deprived of the development demanded by characters and matter according to the old pattern. Instead, the next step is what the script writer takes to be the most striking effect in the particular situation. Banal though elaborate surprise interrupts the story-line.

ex. Film trailers that preclude the need to watch the films they advertise because the narrative is already fragmented.

The tendency mischievously to fall back on pure nonsense, which was a legitimate part of popular art, farce and clowning, right up to Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, is most obvious in the unpretentious kinds. This tendency has completely asserted itself in the text of the novelty song, in the thriller movie, and in cartoons, although in films starring Greer Garson and Bette Davis the unity of the socio-psychological case study provides something approximating a claim to a consistent plot. The idea itself, together with the objects of comedy and terror, is massacred and fragmented. Novelty songs have always existed on a contempt for meaning which, as predecessors and successors of psychoanalysis, they reduce to the monotony of sexual symbolism. Today, detective and adventure films no longer give the audience the opportunity to experience the resolution. In the non-ironic varieties of the genre, it has also to rest content with the simple horror of situations which have almost ceased to be linked in any way.

Cartoons were once exponents of fantasy as opposed to rationalism. They ensured that justice was done to the creatures and objects they electrified, by giving the maimed specimens a second life. All they do today is to confirm the victory of technological reason over truth. A few years ago they had a consistent plot which only broke up in the final moments in a crazy chase, and thus resembled the old slapstick comedy. Now, however, time relations have shifted. In the very first sequence a motive is stated so that in the course of the action destruction can get to work on it: with the audience in pursuit, the protagonist becomes the worthless object of general violence. The quantity of organised amusement changes into the quality of organised cruelty. The self-elected censors of the film industry (with whom it enjoys a close relationship) watch over the unfolding of the crime, which is as drawn-out as a hunt. Fun replaces the pleasure which the sight of an embrace would allegedly afford, and postpones satisfaction till the day of the pogrom. Insofar as cartoons do any more than accustom the senses to the new tempo, they hammer into every brain the old lesson that continuous friction, the breaking down of all individual resistance, is the condition of life in this society. Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unfortunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment.

Adorno’s reading of cartoons.

The enjoyment of the violence suffered by the movie character turns into violence against the spectator, and distraction into exertion. Nothing that the experts have devised as a stimulant must escape the weary eye; no stupidity is allowed in the face of all the trickery; one has to follow everything and even display the smart responses shown and recommended in the film. This raises the question whether the culture industry fulfils the function of diverting minds which it boasts about so loudly. If most of the radio stations and movie theatres were closed down, the consumers would probably not lose so very much. To walk from the street into the movie theatre is no longer to enter a world of dream; as soon as the very existence of these institutions no longer made it obligatory to use them, there would be no great urge to do so. Such closures would not be reactionary machine wrecking. The disappointment would be felt not so much by the enthusiasts as by the slow-witted, who are the ones who suffer for everything anyhow. In spite of the films which are intended to complete her integration, the housewife finds in the darkness of the movie theatre a place of refuge where she can sit for a few hours with nobody watching, just as she used to look out of the window when there were still homes and rest in the evening. The unemployed in the great cities find coolness in summer and warmth in winter in these temperature-controlled locations. Otherwise, despite its size, this bloated pleasure apparatus adds no dignity to man’s lives. The idea of “fully exploiting” available technical resources and the facilities for aesthetic mass consumption is part of the economic system which refuses to exploit resources to abolish hunger.

Screen violence is an assault on the audience, which mistakes its brutalization for pleasure.

The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu. In front of the appetite stimulated by all those brilliant names and images there is finally set no more than a commendation of the depressing everyday world it sought to escape. Of course works of art were not sexual exhibitions either. However, by representing deprivation as negative, they retracted, as it were, the prostitution of the impulse and rescued by mediation what was denied.

The work vs. the CI product.

The secret of aesthetic sublimation is its representation of fulfilment as a broken promise. The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses. By repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the unsublimated forepleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduced to a masochistic semblance. There is no erotic situation which, while insinuating and exciting, does not fail to indicate unmistakably that things can never go that far. The Hays Office merely confirms the ritual of Tantalus that the culture industry has established anyway. Works of art are ascetic and unashamed; the culture industry is pornographic and prudish. Love is downgraded to romance. And, after the descent, much is permitted; even license as a marketable speciality has its quota bearing the trade description “daring.” The mass production of the sexual automatically achieves its repression. Because of his ubiquity, the film star with whom one is meant to fall in love is from the outset a copy of himself. Every tenor voice comes to sound like a Caruso record, and the “natural” faces of Texas girls are like the successful models by whom Hollywood has typecast them. The mechanical reproduction of beauty, which reactionary cultural fanaticism wholeheartedly serves in its methodical idolisation of individuality, leaves no room for that unconscious idolatry which was once essential to beauty.

Again, this process is determined to a large extent by the scale of its operations.

The triumph over beauty is celebrated by humour – the Schadenfreude that every successful deprivation calls forth. There is laughter because there is nothing to laugh at. Laughter, whether conciliatory or terrible, always occurs when some fear passes. It indicates liberation either from physical danger or from the grip of logic. Conciliatory laughter is heard as the echo of an escape from power; the wrong kind overcomes fear by capitulating to the forces which are to be feared. It is the echo of power as something inescapable. Fun is a medicinal bath. The pleasure industry never fails to prescribe it. It makes laughter the instrument of the fraud practised on happiness. Moments of happiness are without laughter; only operettas and films portray sex to the accompaniment of resounding laughter. But Baudelaire is as devoid of humour as Hölderlin. In the false society laughter is a disease which has attacked happiness and is drawing it into its worthless totality. To laugh at something is always to deride it, and the life which, according to Bergson, in laughter breaks through the barrier, is actually an invading barbaric life, self-assertion prepared to parade its liberation from any scruple when the social occasion arises. Such a laughing audience is a parody of humanity. Its members are monads, all dedicated to the pleasure of being ready for anything at the expense of everyone else. Their harmony is a caricature of solidarity. What is fiendish about this false laughter is that it is a compelling parody of the best, which is conciliatory. Delight is austere: res severa verum gaudium. The monastic theory that not asceticism but the sexual act denotes the renunciation of attainable bliss receives negative confirmation in the gravity of the lover who with foreboding commits his life to the fleeting moment. In the culture industry, jovial denial takes the place of the pain found in ecstasy and in asceticism. The supreme law is that they shall not satisfy their desires at any price; they must laugh and be content with laughter. In every product of the culture industry, the permanent denial imposed by civilisation is once again unmistakably demonstrated and inflicted on its victims. To offer and to deprive them of something is one and the same. This is what happens in erotic films. Precisely because it must never take place, everything centres upon copulation. In films it is more strictly forbidden for an illegitimate relationship to be admitted without the parties being punished than for a millionaire’s future son-in-law to be active in the labour movement. In contrast to the liberal era, industrialised as well as popular culture may wax indignant at capitalism, but it cannot renounce the threat of castration. This is fundamental. It outlasts the organised acceptance of the uniformed seen in the films which are produced to that end, and in reality. What is decisive today is no longer puritanism, although it still asserts itself in the form of women’s organisations, but the necessity inherent in the system not to leave the customer alone, not for a moment to allow him any suspicion that resistance is possible.

res severa verum gaudium= “true pleasure is a serious matter”

The principle dictates that he should be shown all his needs as capable of-fulfilment, but that those needs should be so predetermined that he feels himself to be the eternal consumer, the object of the culture industry. Not only does it make him believe that the deception it practices is satisfaction, but it goes further and implies that, whatever the state of affairs, he must put up with what is offered. The escape from everyday drudgery which the whole culture industry promises may be compared to the daughter’s abduction in the cartoon: the father is holding the ladder in the dark. The paradise offered by the culture industry is the same old drudgery. Both escape and elopement are pre-designed to lead back to the starting point. Pleasure promotes the resignation which it ought to help to forget.

Even today the culture industry dresses works of art like political slogans and forces them upon a resistant public at reduced prices; they are as accessible for public enjoyment as a park. But the disappearance of their genuine commodity character does not mean that they have been abolished in the life of a free society, but that the last defence against their reduction to culture goods has fallen. The abolition of educational privilege by the device of clearance sales does not open for the masses the spheres from which they were formerly excluded, but, given existing social conditions, contributes directly to the decay of education and the progress of barbaric meaninglessness. Those who spent their money in the nineteenth or the early twentieth century to see a play or to go to a concert respected the performance as much as the money they spent. The bourgeois who wanted to get something out of it tried occasionally to establish some rapport with the work. Evidence for this is to be found in the literary “introductions” to works, or in the commentaries on Faust. These were the first steps toward the biographical coating and other practices to which a work of art is subjected today.

The historical process described in the passages above is referenced again.

We might ask what Adorno means by the “genuine commodity character of art”– he seems to indicate that art works have been made available to all in the form of museums,etc. because their value has been transformed. 

Even in the early, prosperous days of business, exchange-value did carry use value as a mere appendix but had developed it as a prerequisite for its own existence; this was socially helpful for works of art. Art exercised some restraint on the bourgeois as long as it cost money. That is now a thing of the past. Now that it has lost every restraint and there is no need to pay any money, the proximity of art to those who are exposed to it completes the alienation and assimilates one to the other under the banner of triumphant objectivity. Criticism and respect disappear in the culture industry; the former becomes a mechanical expertise, the latter is succeeded by a shallow cult of leading personalities. Consumers now find nothing expensive. Nevertheless, they suspect that the less anything costs, the less it is being given them. The double mistrust of traditional culture as ideology is combined with mistrust of industrialised culture as a swindle. When thrown in free, the now debased works of art, together with the rubbish to which the medium assimilates them, are secretly rejected by the fortunate recipients, who are supposed to be satisfied by the mere fact that there is so much to be seen and heard. Everything can be obtained. The screenos and vaudevilles in the movie theatre, the competitions for guessing music, the free books, rewards and gifts offered on certain radio programs, are not mere accidents but a continuation of the practice obtaining with culture products. The symphony becomes a reward for listening to the radio, and – if technology had its way – the film would be delivered to people’s homes as happens with the radio. It is moving toward the commercial system. Television points the way to a development which might easily enough force the Warner Brothers into what would certainly be the unwelcome position of serious musicians and cultural conservatives. But the gift system has already taken hold among consumers. As culture is represented as a bonus with undoubted private and social advantages, they have to seize the chance. They rush in lest they miss something. Exactly what, is not clear, but in any case the only ones with a chance are the participants. Fascism, however, hopes to use the training the culture industry has given these recipients of gifts, in order to organise them into its own forced battalions.

A complex passage. What seems to be indicated is the conversion of use-value to exchange value. 

Culture is a paradoxical commodity. So completely is it subject to the law of exchange that it is no longer exchanged; it is so blindly consumed in use that it can no longer be used. Therefore it amalgamates with advertising. The more meaningless the latter seems to be under a monopoly, the more omnipotent it becomes. The motives are markedly economic.

One could certainly live without the culture industry, therefore it necessarily creates too much satiation and apathy. In itself, it has few resources itself to correct this. Advertising is its elixir of life. But as its product never fails to reduce to a mere promise the enjoyment which it promises as a commodity, it eventually coincides with publicity, which it needs because it cannot be enjoyed. In a competitive society, advertising performed the social service of informing the buyer about the market; it made choice easier and helped the unknown but more efficient supplier to dispose of his goods. Far from costing time, it saved it.


Today, when the free market is coming to an end, those who control the system are entrenching themselves in it. It strengthens the firm bond between the consumers and the big combines. Only those who can pay the exorbitant rates charged by the advertising agencies, chief of which are the radio networks themselves; that is, only those who are already in a position to do so, or are co-opted by the decision of the banks and industrial capital, can enter the pseudo-market as sellers. The costs of advertising, which finally flow back into the pockets of the combines, make it unnecessary to defeat unwelcome outsiders by laborious competition. They guarantee that power will remain in the same hands – not unlike those economic decisions by which the establishment and running of undertakings is controlled in a totalitarian state. Advertising today is a negative principle, a blocking device: everything that does not bear its stamp is economically suspect. Universal publicity is in no way necessary for people to get to know the kinds of goods – whose supply is restricted anyway. It helps sales only indirectly. For a particular firm, to phase out a current advertising practice constitutes a loss of prestige, and a breach of the discipline imposed by the influential clique on its members. In wartime, goods which are unobtainable are still advertised, merely to keep industrial power in view. Subsidising ideological media is more important than the repetition of the name. Because the system obliges every product to use advertising, it has permeated the idiom – the “style” – of the culture industry. Its victory is so complete that it is no longer evident in the key positions: the huge buildings of the top men, floodlit stone advertisements, are free of advertising; at most they exhibit on the rooftops, in monumental brilliance and without any self-glorification, the firm’s initials. But, in contrast, the nineteenth-century houses, whose architecture still shamefully indicates that they can be used as a consumption commodity and are intended to be lived in, are covered with posters and inscriptions from the ground right up to and beyond the roof: until they become no more than backgrounds for bills and sign-boards. Advertising becomes art and nothing else, just as Goebbels – with foresight – combines them: l’art pour l’art, advertising for its own sake, a pure representation of social power. In the most influential American magazines, Life and Fortune, a quick glance can now scarcely distinguish advertising from editorial picture and text. The latter features an enthusiastic and gratuitous account of the great man (with illustrations of his life and grooming habits) which will bring him new fans, while the advertisement pages use so many factual photographs and details that they represent the ideal of information which the editorial part has only begun to try to achieve.

From SEP:

“Adorno’s diagnosis of the exchange society has three levels: politico-economic, social-psychological, and cultural. Politically and economically he responds to a theory of state capitalism proposed by Friedrich Pollock during the war years. An economist by training who was supposed to contribute a chapter to Dialectic of Enlightenment but never did (Wiggershaus 1994, 313-19), Pollock argued that the state had acquired dominant economic power in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and New Deal America. He called this new constellation of politics and economics “state capitalism.” While acknowledging with Pollock that political and economic power have become more tightly meshed, Adorno does not think this fact changes the fundamentally economic character of capitalist exploitation. Rather, such exploitation has become even more abstract than it was in Marx’s day, and therefore all the more effective and pervasive.”

We might also think of branding as it exists today. The Nike logo, for instance.

The assembly-line character of the culture industry, the synthetic, planned method of turning out its products (factory-like not only in the studio but, more or less, in the compilation of cheap biographies, pseudo-documentary novels, and hit songs) is very suited to advertising: the important individual points, by becoming detachable, interchangeable, and even technically alienated from any connected meaning, lend themselves to ends external to the work. The effect, the trick, the isolated repeatable device, have always been used to exhibit goods for advertising purposes, and today every monster close-up of a star is an advertisement for her name, and every hit song a plug for its tune. Advertising and the culture industry merge technically as well as economically. In both cases the same thing can be seen in innumerable places, and the mechanical repetition of the same culture product has come to be the same as that of the propaganda slogan. In both cases the insistent demand for effectiveness makes technology into psycho-technology, into a procedure for manipulating men. In both cases the standards are the striking yet familiar, the easy yet catchy, the skilful yet simple; the object is to overpower the customer, who is conceived as absent-minded or resistant.

By the language he speaks, he makes his own contribution to culture as publicity. The more completely language is lost in the announcement, the more words are debased as substantial vehicles of meaning and become signs devoid of quality; the more purely and transparently words communicate what is intended, the more impenetrable they become.

Absorbing the jargon generated by the mediascape– “way forward,” “you are the weakest link,” whatever– we become conduits for its promotion.

The demythologisation of language, taken as an element of the whole process of enlightenment, is a relapse into magic. Word and essential content were distinct yet inseparable from one another. Concepts like melancholy and history, even life, were recognised in the word, which separated them out and preserved them. Its form simultaneously constituted and reflected them. The absolute separation, which makes the moving accidental and its relation to the object arbitrary, puts an end to the superstitious fusion of word and thing.

Anything in a determined literal sequence which goes beyond the correlation to the event is rejected as unclear and as verbal metaphysics. But the result is that the word, which can now be only a sign without any meaning, becomes so fixed to the thing that it is just a petrified formula. This affects language and object alike. Instead of making the object experiential, the purified word treats it as an abstract instance, and everything else (now excluded by the demand for ruthless clarity from expression – itself now banished) fades away in reality. A left-half at football, a black-shirt, a member of the Hitler Youth, and so on, are no more than names. If before its rationalisation the word had given rise to lies as well as to longing, now, after its rationalisation, it is a straitjacket for longing more even than for lies.

The blindness and dumbness of the data to which positivism reduces the world pass over into language itself, which restricts itself to recording those data. Terms themselves become impenetrable; they obtain a striking force, a power of adhesion and repulsion which makes them like their extreme opposite, incantations. They come to be a kind of trick, because the name of the prima donna is cooked up in the studio on a statistical basis, or because a welfare state is anathematised by using taboo terms such as “bureaucrats” or “intellectuals,” or because base practice uses the name of the country as a charm.

In general, the name – to which magic most easily attaches – is undergoing a chemical change: a metamorphosis into capricious, manipulable designations, whose effect is admittedly now calculable, but which for that very reason is just as despotic as that of the archaic name. First names, those archaic remnants, have been brought up to date either by stylisation as advertising trade-marks (film stars’ surnames have become first names), or by collective standardisation.

In comparison, the bourgeois family name which, instead of being a trade-mark, once individualised its bearer by relating him to his own past history, seems antiquated. It arouses a strange embarrassment in Americans. In order to hide the awkward distance between individuals, they call one another “Bob” and “Harry,” as interchangeable team members. This practice reduces relations between human beings to the good fellowship of the sporting community and is a defence against the true kind of relationship.

Signification, which is the only function of a word admitted by semantics, reaches perfection in the sign. Whether folk-songs were rightly or wrongly called upper-class culture in decay, their elements have only acquired their popular form through a long process of repeated transmission. The spread of popular songs, on the other hand, takes place at lightning speed. The American expression “fad,” used for fashions which appear like epidemics – that is, inflamed by highly-concentrated economic forces – designated this phenomenon long before totalitarian advertising bosses enforced the general lines of culture. When the German Fascists decide one day to launch a word – say, “intolerable” – over the loudspeakers the next day the whole nation is saying “intolerable.” By the same pattern, the nations against whom the weight of the German blitzkrieg was thrown took the word into their own jargon. The general repetition of names for measures to be taken by the authorities makes them, so to speak, familiar, just as the brand name on everybody’s lips increased sales in the era of the free market. The blind and rapidly spreading repetition of words with special designations links advertising with the totalitarian watchword. The layer of experience which created the words for their speakers has been removed; in this swift appropriation language acquires the coldness which until now it had only on billboards and in the advertisement columns of newspapers. Innumerable people use words and expressions which they have either ceased to understand or employ only because they trigger off conditioned reflexes; in this sense, words are trade-marks which are finally all the more firmly linked to the things they denote, the less their linguistic sense is grasped. The minister for mass education talks incomprehendingly of “dynamic forces,” and the hit songs unceasingly celebrate “reverie” and “rhapsody,” yet base their popularity precisely on the magic of the unintelligible as creating the thrill of a more exalted life. Other stereotypes, such as memory, are still partly comprehended, but escape from the experience which might allow them content. They appear like enclaves in the spoken language. On the radio of Flesch and Hitler they may be recognised from the affected pronunciation of the announcer when he says to the nation, “Good night, everybody!” or “This is the Hitler Youth,” and even intones “the Fuehrer” in a way imitated by millions. In such cliches the last bond between sedimentary experience and language is severed which still had a reconciling effect in dialect in the nineteenth century. But in the prose of the journalist whose adaptable attitude led to his appointment as an all-German editor, the German words become petrified, alien terms. Every word shows how far it has been debased by the Fascist pseudo-folk community.

By now, of course, this kind of language is already universal, totalitarian. All the violence done to words is so vile that one can hardly bear to hear them any longer. The announcer does not need to speak pompously; he would indeed be impossible if his inflection were different from that of his particular audience. But, as against that, the language and gestures of the audience and spectators are coloured more strongly than ever before by the culture industry, even in fine nuances which cannot yet be explained experimentally.

Today the culture industry has taken over the civilising inheritance of the entrepreneurial and frontier democracy – whose appreciation of intellectual deviations was never very finely attuned. All are free to dance and enjoy themselves, just as they have been free, since the historical neutralisation of religion, to join any of the innumerable sects. But freedom to choose an ideology – since ideology always reflects economic coercion – everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same. The way in which a girl accepts and keeps the obligatory date, the inflection on the telephone or in the most intimate situation, the choice of words in conversation, and the whole inner life as classified by the now somewhat devalued depth psychology, bear witness to man’s attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry.

The most intimate reactions of human beings have been so thoroughly reified that the idea of anything specific to themselves now persists only as an utterly abstract notion: personality scarcely signifies anything more than shining white teeth and freedom from body odour and emotions. The triumph of advertising in the culture industry is that consumers feel compelled to buy and use its products even though they see through them.

March 30, 2009

Modernity and the American Roman Noir

Filed under: Mass Society — equiano @ 6:10 pm

Key Terms


Roman/Film Noir





Value (exchange, use)

Finance capital

Mass Society (Mass Culture)

Realism/Naturalism/Roman Noir/Hard-boiled

The hard-boiled style has roots in literary naturalism, a genre of writing most often associated in American literature with authors such as Frank NorrisStephen Crane andTheodore Dreiser. Naturalism, in turn, is generally considered to be an outgrowth of realism, and in a rough approximation of its difference from that cultural mode we can argue that if realism’s mise-en-scene is the bourgeois parlor then naturalism plays out in the ghetto among urban lowlife. William Dean Howells, one of the major figures of 19th century American fiction, is easily the most famous praciticioner of realism (though movie studios have been kinder to Henry James) and novels such as The Rise of Silas Lapham and A Hazard of New Fortunes are essentially stories of the vicissitudes of social mobility told with a genial warmth that a younger generation of writers– notably the above-mentioned Norris and Crane– found claustrophobic. Norris in particular, ambitious and cocksure, sought to transform the American literary scene and so borrowed quite heavily from perhaps the absolute master of naturalism, Emile Zola. Naturalism, then, was in a sense an import, but one that morphed– as do all cultural products and practices– in translation.

Scholars and aficionados often date the inception of hard-boiled fiction with the publication of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest— a dirty, violent, and canny first novel featuring a body-count equal to any Jerry Bruckheimer flick and one of the most compelling “dames” of pulp modernism, Dinah Brand. Hammett has long since become an icon, not only for his four magnificent novels (excluding the never-completed Tulip) but in deference to his delinquent charm, political courage, and variegated past. He worked as a detective, served in the Army, wrote ad copy for Samuels’ Jewelers, and helped build Black Mask magazine, a veritable school for crime fiction talent, into a lucrative venture. While working for the notoriousPinkertons in Montana– a company that was essentially a mercenary force against unions– he refused $5000 to murder IWW agitator Frank Little, whose body was later found castrated and shot hanging from a railroad trestle.  Increasingly disillusioned by this sort of ubiquitous reactionary violence and suffering from tuberculosis, Hammett quit the Pinkertons and moved to San Francisco, where he began his writing career. Years later, a success and a celebrity, he went to jail rather than fink on his comrades during the red paranoia of the 50s.

Red Harvest was published the year of the Crash and there followed in rapid succession three more brilliant novels. At the same time James M. Cain was producing classics such as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Serenade, and Mildred Pierce. In the early 40s Raymond Chandler began to consolidate his reputation as a writer of calculated crime fiction. Though Chandler is usually grouped with both Hammett and Cain as one of a triumvirate of seminal roman noir authors, he resisted identification with the latter. To Chandler Cain’s novels were lurid and cheap, and he famously remarked to his publisher that

“Everything [Cain] touches smells like a billygoat.  He is every kind of writer I detest, a faux naïf, a Proust in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking.  Such people are the offal of literature, not because they write about dirty things, but because they do it in a dirty way.  Nothing hard and clean and cold and ventilated.  A brothel with a smell of cheap scent in the front parlor and a bucket of slops at the back door”.

Chandler’s asperions are worth considering not only for their vitriol but for what they tell us about his vision of the hard-boiled style. If “dirty things” are the subject of the American crime novel then the method of execution required to make them interesting– perhaps even render them as art– depends on the writer’s ability to calibrate language, to take control and produce a text that is “hard and clean and cold and ventilated.” The Chandler aesthetic values lowlife– the dingy bar, the slow-witted ex-con, the slatternly cigarette girl, the arid banality of Los Angeles– on the condition that in their representation such tropes and themes become more than the sum of their parts.

For Chandler, Cain’s work fails because it is excessive, a style that relishes extremities– “cheap scent” and “a bucket of slops”– for their own sake. This self-indulgence occurs at a formal level– after all, what would “a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking” write?

Realism sought to represent the world as it was (or seemed to be) yet largely confined itself to a polite social zone. Naturalism revised that impulse to verisimilitude though its obsessive concern for the abject was weighed down by theories of innate depravity and the over-determinism of heredity. The hard-boiled school drew its energy from both of these movements but tended to eschew gentility or over-arching theories of human nature in favor of a style that lingered on the surface of things, that approximated the key values of late modernity: smoothness, functionality and precision.


In its broadest sense modernity is “a certain mode of the experience of space and time” (Harvey 201).  The Communist Manifesto is useful here. In one of his most widely quoted passages Marx characterizes modernity as follows:

“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

Modernity, then, is the experience of this unprecedented expansion of productive power in all of its jarring, dislocative power. The ceaseless social transformations provoked by capitalism are a key trait of modernity. Everyday life accelerates. Tradition yields to innovation. Identities are extinguished and new ones take their place. In general this seething activity has a cosmopolitan character: “Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier. Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange — of the means of communication and transport — the annihilation of space by time — becomes an extraordinary necessity for it.”

That cosmopolitanism comes at the price of alienation.

“The psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli. . . . With each crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational and social life, the city sets up a deep contrast with small town and rural life with reference to the sensory foundations of psychic life. The metropolis exacts from man as a discriminating creature a different amount of consciousness than does rural life. Here the rhythm of life and sensory mental imagery flows more slowly, more habitually, and more evenly. Precisely in this connection the sophisticated character of metropolitan psychic life becomes understandable as over against small town life which rests more upon deeply felt and emotional relationships. These latter are rooted in the more unconscious layers of the psyche and grow most readily in the steady rhythm of uninterrupted habituations. The intellect. . . develops an organ protecting him against the threatening currents and discrepancies of his external environment which would uproot him. He reacts with his head instead of his heart. In this an increased awareness assumes the psychic prerogative. Metropolitan life, thus, underlies a heightened awareness and a predominance of intelligence in metropolitan man. The reaction to metropolitan phenomena is shifted to that organ which is least sensitive and quite remote from the depth of the personality. Intellectuality is thus seen to preserve subjective life against the overwhelming power of metropolitan life. . . .”

–Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903)


Hammett, copywriter

DH’s employment as a Pinkerton agent is well-known, though less widely acknowledged is connection to the lynching of Wobbly Frank Little in Butte, Montana. According to one of his biographers, Barbara Johnson, a substantial offer was made to Hammett if he would participate in criminal acts against the IWW at the behest of copper mining concerns.

Earlier, Hammett had worked as a soldier, freight clerk, stevedore, timekeeper, yardman, and railroad worker. After leaving the Pinkerton’s because of a worsening medical condition (he was a victim of Spanish Influenza while in the army during WWI) Hammett eventually became a copywriter for Samuels Jewelers in San Francisco. It was here that he began to hone his craft as a writer. The constraints of copywriting– limited space, clarity of purpose– influenced his later style, particularly in that the ads he scripted were intended to appeal to potential customers in a ‘soft-sell’ technique and thus often took the form of very short stories.


By 1923 Hammett was supporting his family with copywriting and freelance work for one of the most significant pulps of the era, Black Mask, an activity he called ‘blackmasking’. Hammett’s first story in Black Mask was “The Road Home,” published in December 1922 under name Peter Collinson. It was for this magazine that he created his nameless character, the Continental Op, who would become the protagonist for his first novel, Red Harvest. The Op was an eponymous figure, based on several men Hammett had known as a Pinkerton and is notable for the way he inverts the standard romantic paradigm of the strong-jawed hero. The Op is middle-aged and paunchy, a man who lives for his (poorly compensated) job. He is above all unsentimental, clear-eyed concerning the foibles of human nature. At the same time he is not strictly speaking amoral, for he has a code of professional ethics. The Op will not be bought with sex or money. He won’t, as Sam Spade tells Brigid, “play the sap.”

Hammett himself possessed such a code:

“ In 1951, Hammett was called to testify before the New York State Supreme Court as a trustee of the Bail Bond Committee of the Civil Rights Congress in the wake of the violation of bail by eleven members of the Communist Party for whom the CRC had posted bond, four of whom could not be located. When Hammett refused to testify–even to identify his signature–he was sentenced to six months in federal prison for contempt of court. He served his term between July and December of 1951.

“In April of 1953, Hammett was called to testify before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Joseph McCarthy. His testimony before that committee is often quoted. Asked by McCarthy if he would ‘purchase the works of some seventy-five Communist authors and distribute their works throughout the world, ‘Hammett replied, ‘If I were fighting communism, I don’t think I would do it by giving people any books at all’” (Twayne).


Above: first edition of The Maltese Falcon, currently listed at $136,000.oo

Notes on The Maltese Falcon (1930) by Dashiell Hammett

Ch. 1: Spade and Archer

opening lines: SS is  a man of angles, with a predator’s features. the echo of masculine modernity in the description’s emphasis on his rectilinearity

Effie Perine: a “boyish face”– flapper-esque, modish and thus also a modern figure

Brigid O’Shaugnessy (Miss Wonderly): note her alias, as something not easily accounted for (a wonder) and her true name, which emphasizes her Irish-American roots, stands in for a kind of gritty, urban identity, and evokes Irish-American machine politics.

She’s from NYC, she claims, thus establishing her urbanity.

Note Hammett’s (and by extention Spade’s and O’Shaugnessy’s) emphasis on precise description, a stock in trade of the crime novel, one drawn from a professionalized discourse of detection, police procedure, etc.

Spade’s modernity is leavened with certain symbols of an earlier, 19thC version of masculinity: the roll-your-own cigarettes, the union-suit and garters.  What is being conveyed here? That modern men require some elements of an earlier version of masculinity? Spade in this sense shares something with other male characters in American fiction such as Natty Bumppo. An iconoclast– independent, calculating, ruthless, yet with sense of honor, a moral code.

Note the geography Hammett lays out: “where Bush St. roofed Stockton before slipping downhill to Chinatown”. CT as a sort of nadir, located in the depths of the city.

A clue: “The blast burnt his coat.” ie, the shooter was very close to Archer.

Evidence of Spade’s hard-boiled demeanor: “a tone that was utterly meaningless”. These moments signify his modernity as well, his location outside of a Romantic or Sentimental tradition. Spade is a realist, and the creation of Hammett’s realism.

The Lt.: “A five-dollar gold-piece was pinned to his necktie and there was a small ealborate diamond-set secret-society emblem on his lapel.” What to make of this? IN a sense, the Lt.’s gold-piece appears as a sherrif’s badge, marking him as a figure from an earlier time, while  the emblem indicates his participation in a older brotherhood. He seems to be both Spade’s antagonist and a potential ally. He too, is on the square. He also exhibits machine-like tendencies: his gaze seems as if it were “ a matter of mechanics.” To be real men, this passage seems to indicate, is to be part machine (cf. Terminator). Yet Dundy’s machinery is more reminiscent of Victorian-era gear works than smooth, precision industry of the 20thC?

Spade’s professionalism: he has “clients” who pay him “retainers” and he practices the standardized tools of his trade”

Iva Archer: voluptuous, emotional, even grasping, a woman whose appeal is largely limited to her physical attributes. Spade has already grown bored of her. Not like Brigid, whose beauty is complemented by intelligence and canny instincts.

Iva asks Spade, “Did you kill him?” An important quesiton b/c the world these characters inhabit is one where such a question is not entirely unreasonable. But it is also a crucial misjudgement of Spade for two reasons: he would not kill his partner and he is not the kind of man who kills for passion anyway.

Within 24 hours Spade tells Effie to have Spade&Archer taken off the door: cold and practical, and also a sign that he is anxious to be on his own. Spades characteristics, his practicality, rationality, his sense of professionalism, etc.– are all attributes of the “proper” modern subject, one whose actions are to be guided by a carefully calibrated, “enlightened self-interest.” Other qualities: coolness, skepticism, sharp humor, self-preservation.

Spade goes to meet Brigid. She attempts to play him along, though he’s wise to her tricks: “You won’t need much of anybody’s help. You’re good. You’re very good. It’s chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get into your voice when you say things like ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade.’” Spade recognizes the femme fatale and is simultaneously wary of and compelled by her.

“the Orient”: Brigid came from Hong Kong with Thursby. California as part of the Pacific Rim. “The Orient” as a means of heightening dramatic tension, of giving an exotic aura to the story. We are not in the world of the Western, limited to the back country of the continental US but at the edge of a Asia, with all of the (often stereotypical) “color” that locale implies.

Sid Wise: an urban ‘type’; the sly shyster/lawyer: “a small olive-skinned man with a tired oval face under thin dark hair dotted with dandruff.” Coded as Jewish. Compare with Joel Cairo.

Joel Cairo: note the name, which is “oriental” and his description– Effie says outright “This guy is queer”– marks him as both “foreign” and homosexual. “A small-boned dark man of medium height. His hair was black and smooth and very glossy. His features were Levantine. A square-cut ruby, etc….” Wise and Cairo are virtually identical in some respects, radically different in others. They seem to offer two version of a type.

Our first mention of the falcon: Cairo says “I am trying to recover an– ah– ornament.” What sort of ornament? “the black figure of a bird”. What kind of object is this? What is its significance?

After Spade knocks out Cairo, he goes through the latter’s possessions. Again, note the precision of the descriptions– this is a form of writing that beleives that the visible, the empirically observed, is a key to knowledge and truth. As if by noting each item Spade (and the reader) will be able to discern Cairo’s nature. The material world is evidentiary; it is a realm of objects that reveal something about their possessors. To that extent, detection shares its methods in common with modern science.

From Marling’s The American Roman Noir:

MF as an origin for subsequent crime fiction. Style.

The falcon as an icon, the value of which Spade is unconvinced. A speculative value. No use-value. Pure exchange. But from an earlier period, when wealth consisted of gold and gems rather than stocks and bonds.

Note the “objective” view of the text: we cannot see into the minds of any of the characters. This puts an emphasis on action and events. As in the famed passage on pp. 11-12 where Spade rolls a cigarette. This illusion of objectivity is reinforced periodically as in the passage about the man crouching at the billboard.

Style: allowing readers to fill in the blanks. Understatement “not to deceive but to increase the impression made on reader” (Hammett qtd. in Marling 130). Hypotactical sentence structure: not many conjunctions. Instead, a series of statements.

Spade’s animalism: predatory eyes and features, bear-like, etc.

Spade’s explanation for turning Brigid over to the police. The code, which has 19th century (partner) elements, professional (business) elements  and even class interests.

Those characters who fail to control or regulate themselves are doomed to destruction. The self-management of modernity’s proper subjects.

The problems confronting CA no longer emanate from the east (NY) but the East (Hong Kong, the ME)

Spade’s apt. and office as spaces of modern efficiency: Murphy bed, etc. “embodies an emerging economy” (140).

the chapter entitled “3 Women”: as fates, related to Stein?,


Flitcraft: the knowledge that the world is a place where beams fall doesn’t really make any difference. The Flitcraft parable seems to speak to the radical contingency of everyday life in the modern era.

Two clips:

Joel Cairo

Falcon Lore

Hammett took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley…. [He] gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish.”

— Raymond Chandler

Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930)


The Geography of the Falcon

As a critique of modernity, the novel not only describes a society whose values have been transformed and deformed, but engages with the mysteries of finance capital and mass production. The world of The Maltese Falcon– its primary setting the city of San Francisco at any rate, a place where “most things… can be bought, or taken”– is cosmopolitan. The Maltese Falcon itself, the strange artifact crafted by medieval knights as a form of tribute, links the Mediterranean, the Near East, and– in the language of the day– the Orient with the US. San Francisco– the notorious Barbary Coast, already a space of exotic figures and a shadow economy– thus becomes a site of confluence. Brigid O’Shaughnessy, whose name evokes the “white ethnic” identity of Irish-American machine politics, claims to have come from New York. Joel Cairo, a “queer” character in more than one sense, is said to be Levantine, though his travels with Gutman and Wilmer have taken him around the world. Jacobi, the captain of a merchant vessel, is also a transnational figure even if readers know little about him beyond his function in the novel– to deliver the bird and then die.

Significantly, the Falcon’s transit around the world establishes a geography of historical events and contemporary trade. Tracking its movements over time and across space produces a map of the development of modernity (and thus capitalism), from the pre-capitalist Mediterranean with its feudal relations of tribute and deference to the Pacific Rim commercial networks of a globalizing world economy.


The Falcon, as a unique object d’art, possesses an unrivaled status, a value that exceeds its material composition (black-laquered gold) and arises from the historical circumstances of its production and its complicated provenance. We could “read” this artifact in at least two ways, as a commentary on the irrationality of finance capital or the culture of the copy. Let’s look at both of these interpretations.


The Falcon and Finance Capital

The criminals in TMF are clearly willing to do whatever it takes to obtain the black bird. Though every murder in the novel takes place off-stage, there is little doubt that Gutman and company have killed or betrayed anyone impeding their acquisition of the Falcon.  Yet what exactly do they seek? As an object, the bird is without use-value with the possible exception of a paperweight or doorstop– it has no purpose other than to exist, to be contemplated or treasured. In this sense the bird is an irrelevance. Its original content– that which it was intended to signify– was simply a gesture of fealty, what a linguist might call “performative” language, a word or phrase which essentially does what it says and communicates nothing more. Torn from its context the bird becomes a curio– Spade calls it “the dingus” (Ger. literally, “the thing”) a name that effortlessly deflates its importance– an expensive piece of medieval kitsch which is valuable because it is held to have value by those who desire it. In this sense the Falcon bears a strong resemblance to the occult instruments of finance– futures, shares, hypothecated bonds– which in and of themselves have no meaning or purpose save what value might be realized upon their redemption. Gutman and the others are chasing a fantasy, a useless article which will in no manner improve their lives.

In this scenario, the Falcon embodies what Karl Marx called the commodity fetish— the notion that value inheres in an object, that value is the product of some inherent property of a given thing rather than the outcome of human activity. The obvious analogy here would be with the rise of a “post-material” economy, one in which wealth comes not from the production of socially useful commodities but from the ballooning yet insubstantial value derived from speculation.

An alternative reading of the Falcon as a fiduciary symbol would emphasize that the figure’s very materiality, gold, locates it within a prior economic formation, the legacy perhaps of mercantile capitalism. Wealth, in this earlier paradigm, consists of precious metals rather than industrial capital and thus depends on extraction rather than production.

The Falcon and the Copy

“[T]hat which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. Both processes are intimately connected with the contemporary mass movements.”

— Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

The contraband article swaddled in paper which Jacobi delivers to Sam Spade’s office turns out to be a forgery, a hunk of lead molded to assume the appearance of the fabled Falcon. Men have died, it seems, for nothing.

Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, quoted above, wrestles with the effects of the age of reproducibility–  later modernity itself– when mass society produces a mass culture. Largely, though not entirely, absent from this scene is the experience of art as a kind of pilgrimage to the original work– imagine traveling hundreds of miles to see a painting in an obscure monastery, for instance– which has been replaced by the mass production of copies with no proper context. A silkscreen of the Mona Lisa seen at the airport or a digitized image of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel only a few keystrokes away on the internet– that sort of thing.  For Benjamin this means the death of the work of art’s “aura”– the mystery of a unique artifact and our encounter with it. This change, it should be said, is a form of alienation, though one with ambiguous consequences. (Indeed, modernity itself, as Simmel argues, can be seen as alienation embodied in everyday life, that sociological conceit “anomie”– a condition of radical individuation and isolation most prominent in urban centers.)

The auratic properties of art have been stripped away by a means of production which relentlessly excretes standardized cultural commodities. Aesthetic experience is now structured according to the same principle that manufactures canned soup or rubber bands or automobiles. Art is product, one size fits all: if you don’t like what’s on offer then simply stroll down to the next shop window.

Populating this uniform landscape of mass-produced images, sounds and artifacts are people whose very insistence on their individuality (as we will see in a week) is the symptom of a deep and abiding conformity. The consumption of culture industry dross regulates our dreams and desires, gives us the pre-packaged rudiments for idle conversation, influences our ability to imagine the world. Yet the transition from one cultural regime to the next is never a neat affair. The rise of mass culture proceeds unevenly, sparking anxiety in its objects (us) a response which creates friction, which can lead to a rejection of the new regime. Perhaps Gutman, the amoral collector, prizes the Falcon precisely because it cannot be copied. Even the forgery delivered by Jacobi is an original of sorts– hand crafted to fool the uninitiated. If this is the case, then Gutman’s quest for the bird is essentially anti-modern, or at least at odds with the prevailing cultural logic. In this sense, Spade, whose apartment, office and habits exemplify the key modern value of efficiency opposes Gutman. Someone who sleeps in a murphy bed and excels in evaluating facts and evidence can have little use for intangible worth. Spade is above all practical; he is a professional, while Gutman most resembles a 19th century aesthete.

Yet Spade bears the marks of an earlier age as well, notably in his union suit, roll-your-own cigarettes, and garters. In this regard he is like Dundy, though with a crucial difference: Spade is modern, we might say, where it counts– in his methods and mental acuity.

Spade’s hard-boiled empiricism is paralleled by the novel’s prose, which never deviates from a purely objective point of view. TMF does not offer its readers any interiority of character– we learn about their motives by speech, action or appearance– and in this regard the world of the text, its mise-en-scene, is a real of surfaces, of physical facts which must be gathered and assessed.

March 24, 2009

I’ll meet you in the park and we can share a can of beans

Filed under: PSAs — equiano @ 3:32 pm

How completely shredded is your economic future? Here’s one take, a bottlerocket of an essay by Matt Talibbi.

March 23, 2009

Modernity and the Falcon

Filed under: modernity — equiano @ 4:06 pm
Tags: ,

The trailer for the 1941 film version of Dashiell Hammett’s novel and arguably the first film noir. As you read the book over Spring Break pay close attention to its style and keep in mind that we’ll be discussing this classic crime novel in terms of modernity.

“Modernity must be understood, in part at least, against the background of what went before. Industrial society emerged only patchily and unevenly out of agrarian society, a system that had endured 5,000 years. Industrial structures thus took much of their characteristic form and colour from the rejection, conscious or unconscious, of preindustrial ways. Industrialism certainly contained much that was new, but it remained always at least partly an idea that in both its theory and its practice was to be understood as much by what it denied as by what it affirmed. The force of the modern has always been partly a reactive force, a force that derived meaning and momentum by a comparison or contrast with, and by rejection or negation of, what went before.

Considered at the most general level, this point suggests a view of modernization as a process of individualization, differentiation or specialization, and abstraction. Put more concretely: first, the structures of modern society take as their basic unit the individual rather than, as with agrarian or peasant society, the group or community. Second, modern institutions are assigned the performance of specific, specialized tasks in a social system with a highly developed and complex division of labour; in this they stand in the sharpest possible contrast with, for instance, the family in peasant society, which is at once the unit of production, consumption, socialization, and authoritative decision-making. Third, rather than attaching rights and prerogatives to particular groups and persons, or being guided by custom or tradition, modern institutions tend to be governed and guided by general rules and regulations that derive their legitimacy from the methods and findings of science. In principle at least, they are not the agents of particular individuals, such as a king or priest, endowed with divine or prescriptive authority, but act according to the rational and impersonal precepts formulated by “experts.”

These contrasts by no means complete the characterization of modern society, nor are they the only ones that might be drawn. Nevertheless, they do illustrate the dependence of the concept of modernity on past structures that form the basis of comparison and exclusion. Indeed, it is such a set of contrasts, not necessarily carefully distinguished, that most people have in mind when they speak of modern as opposed to traditional society.

With regard to the more positive features of industrialism, industrial society can best be thought of as consisting of an economic core around which other, noneconomic structures crystallize. In Marxist terminology, this is rendered in the more deterministic form of an economic base conditioning a noneconomic “superstructure.” This seems unnecessarily rigid and misleading. The relation of the economic to the noneconomic realm is mutual and interactive, as can be seen by considering the impact of scientific ideas on economic and technological development. Still, it is true to say that, fundamentally, it is the economic changes that most dramatically affect industrial society.”

— Encyclopedia Britannica

March 19, 2009

Reading for April 9th

Filed under: PSAs — equiano @ 7:01 pm
Tags: , ,


Above: an image stolen from

The syllabus is changing: the new reading for April 9 is Theodor Adorno’s seminal essay “Enlightenment as Mass Deception”. Make sure to print out a copy and bring it to lecture. Here’s the url:

Be advised that Adorno’s work is often called “difficult.” You will be reading one of the founding texts of Critical Theory and should be prepared to be challenged. You may– imagine!– even need to read the essay twice. And remember: “Dialectical thinking is the attempt to break through the compulsory character of logic with its own means.”

Good luck.

March 16, 2009

sick leave

Filed under: PSAs — equiano @ 5:18 pm

I may have picked up a dose of Dengue fever at the anarchist bookfair this weekend. Whatever it is, I’m prostrate. Seminar is cancelled for Tuesday, Mar. 17.

March 9, 2009

Filed under: IWW,Labor,Machine Age,Revolution — equiano @ 8:26 pm

First Move: A Thought Experiment

Let’s try a little counter-factual history. Imagine that because of some unexpected circumstance the Confederate States of America won the Civil War. We could posit any number of possible scenarios: a train of misfortunes for the Grand Army of the Republic after a crippling victory by Lee at Antietam, the intervention of Great Britain at the behest of the South, a sudden storm in the Atlantic destroying the Union fleet, etc. Whatever the case, the South has won. The US sues for peace and the CSA is now a nation unto itself. Gradually, diplomatic ties are established. Slavery continues for the indefinite future. Given this scenario, would it be fair to say that the abolitionist movement had failed?

2nd Move: The Dialectic of the Affect of Revolution

Maybe this won’t work for you, try listening to Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” as a way of getting inside the affect of revolution:

Now, listen to Billy Bragg’s version of Joe Hill’s classic song “There is Power in a Union”:

The impulse to revolution, I want to argue, springs from the tension between what Malcolm X once called “the gift of anger” and what another revolutionary from the same era described as “great feelings of love.”

Above: the Sabcat, designed by Ralph Chaplin, symbolizing the wildcat strike.
The Industrial Workers of the World, founded in 1905 at what Big Bill Haywood called “the Continental Congress of the working class,” was an industrial union committed to the overthrow of capitalism. Notable for its strikes in Lawrence, Paterson and McKees Rocks, among many other places, the IWW constituted a radical challenge to economic hierarchy in the United States. What follows are key concepts and events which will tell us something about the IWW and the world that produced it.
“We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working-class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism. There is no organization, or there seems to be no labor organization, that that has for its purpose the same object as that for which you are called together to-day. The aims and objects of this organization shall be to put the working-class in possession of the economic power, the means of life, in control of the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters.”
— William “Big Bill” Haywood, opening remarks at the IWW’s founding convention (1905)
“The IWW’s affirm as a fundamental principle that the creators of wealth are entitled to all they create. Thus they find themselves pitted against the whole profit-making system. They declare that there can be no compromise so long as the majority of the working class lives in want while the master class lives in luxury. They insist that there can be no peace until the workers organize as a class, take possession of the resources of the earth and the machinery of production and distribution and abolish the wage system. In other words, the workers in their collectivity must own and operate all the essential industrial institutions and secure to each laborer the full value of his product.
“It is for these principles, this declaration of class solidarity, that the IWWs are being persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, murdered. If the capitalist class had the sense it is reputed to have, it would know that violence is the worst weapon that can be used against men who have nothing to lose and the world to gain.”
— Helen Keller, “What is the IWW?” (1918)
“My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out an starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production….”
— Lucy Gonzales Parsons (1905)
Preamble to the IWW constitution (1905):

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.”

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.


What is Industrial Unionism?

“THE term Industrial Unionism is used to express a modern form of labor organization whose jurisdiction is not confined to any particular trade or craft, but is co-extensive with the industrial development, and embraces the entire working class. Industrial unionism is the outgrowth of trade unionism and expresses the highest form of industrial organization the working class has yet attained. As its name implies this form of unionism contemplates the organization of industries in their entirety, uniting all employees within the same economic body….”

— Eugene V. Debs (1909)

What is syndicalism?

“Syndicalism was a movement committed to destroying capitalism through revolutionary industrial struggle. Parliamentary democracy and working for reforms through the state were rejected as dead ends. Syndicalists instead looked to the power of the working class as exercised through its economic organisations, the trade unions.

Important differences existed on this question. Most European syndicalists saw their task as the conversion of existing unions to a revolutionary position [a position the Wobblies termed ‘boring from within’], while Americans. particularly those influenced by the ideas of Daniel de Leon, believed It was necessary to create new unions [and ultimately, according to the IWW, ‘One Big Union’– also known as ‘dual unionism’]. But all saw the main task as uniting the working class as a whole across racial, craft and sectional divisions. The road to the emancipation of the working class, they said, lay through direct action, solidarity, and finally the general strike which would lead to the working class seizing the means of production.”

— Phil Taylor (1987)

What is direct action?

“It is the action labor takes when it fights in the direct, natural way and that which brings greatest results. When workers rebel on the job and slow down or cease work until their grievances are redressed–that is direct action. When workers, united as a class, conduct a general strike to defend their interests–that is direct action” (

“Direct action means industrial action directly by, for, and of the workers themselves, without the treacherous aid of labor misleaders or scheming politicians. A strike that is initiated, controlled, and settled by the workers directly affected is direct action. . .. Direct action is industrial democracy” (quoted in Zinn. from an issue of the Industrial Worker?).

Defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law was a form of direct action. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Nat Turner’s uprising. Sit down strikes. Whenever a group chooses to circumvent institutions or mechanisms in order to intervene in a situation (political, social, economic) immediately.

What is a General Strike?

“The General Strike, as its name implies, must be a revolutionary or class strike instead of a strike for amelioration of conditions. It must be designed to abolish private ownership of the means of life and to supplant it with social ownership. It must be a strike, not of a few local, industrial or national groupings of workers but of the industrial workers of the world as an entity. If we keep in mind that there are four phases of the General Strike it will help to understand clearly what we mean by using the term:

  • A General Strike in a community.
  • A General Strike in an Industry.
  • A national General Strike.
  • A revolutionary or class strike– THE General Strike.”

— Ralph Chaplin (1933)

What is Syndicalism/ Anarcho-syndicalism?

Syndicalisme (French)= “trade unionism”

“A movement among industrial workers having as its object the transfer of the means of production and distribution from their present owners to unions of workers for the benefit of the workers, the method generally favoured for the accomplishment of this being the general strike” (OED).

“The fundamental difference between Syndicalism and old trade methods is this: while the old trade unions, without exception, move within the wage system and capitalism, recognizing the latter as inevitable, Syndicalism repudiates and condemns present industrial arrangements as unjust and criminal, and holds out no hope to the worker for lasting results from this system.”

— Emma Goldman (1913)

What is “strike on the job”?

“The ‘strike on the job’ would usually come when the formal strike seemed lost. Then the Wobblies returned to work, abruptly ending their formal strike. Announcing that they were ‘taking the strike to the job,’ they continued to harry the employers and to restrict production. They would follow foremen’s order to ludicrous, work-stoppage extremes or stand idle when minor decisions were required. Fired for these dilatory tactics, the Wobblies moved to other jobs and repeated their tactics.”

— Philip S. Foner (1980)

What is sabotage?

“Sabotage means primarily: the withdrawal of efficiency. Sabotage means either to slacken up and interfere with the quantity, or to botch in your skill and interfere with the quality, of capitalist production or to give poor service. Sabotage is not physical violence, sabotage is an internal, industrial process. It is something that is fought out within the four walls of the shop. And these three forms of sabotage — to affect the quality, the quantity and the service are aimed at affecting the profit of the employer. Sabotage is a means of striking at the employer’s profit for the purpose of forcing him into granting certain conditions, even as workingmen strike for the same purpose of coercing him. It is simply another form of coercion.”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn “Sabotage” (1916)

This pamphlet, based on a speech by Flynn, was later withdrawn from the IWW”s official literature at her request. In her autobiography, Rebel Girl, Flynn writes,

“Many of the practices I referred to in this pamphlet were not ‘sabotage’ at all, but simply old-fashioned working class practices from time immemorial– such as the Scots system of “ca’ canny’ or slowdown on the job. Another was the ‘Open Mouth’ practice of workers in restaurants, stores, etc., telling the customer the exact truth about the quality of foods or goods…. [I]n Paterson in 1912 we discovered that the silk was unwound from the cocoons, worked into skeins and then dyed after a preliminary process of weighting. This business was picturesquely called ‘dynamiting’– loading with adulterants of tin, zinc and lead. One pound of pure silk would come out from three to 15 pounds heavier in weight…. Our expose explained to the public why the modern silk fabrics cracked so easily. Part of our ‘sabotage’ advice to the workers was to throw the adulterants down the drain and dye the beautiful silk pure and durable, pound for pound…. This loose talk about sabotage opened the door for the most vicious charges against the IWW, such as setting forest fires in California, which had to be proven untrue in the Criminal Syndicalist trials by producing the fire records of the State of California. It was a form of infantile Leftism in a big way, consisting largely of ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ We came to realize that class action and not uncontrolled individual actions is required on behalf of the workers” (163-165).

What is passive resistance?

“[W]e are not going to tell our membership to allow themselves to be shot down and beat up like cattle. Regardless of the fact that they are members of the working class, they still have a duty that they owe to themselves and their class of defending themselves whenever they are attacked and their life is threatened. Violence is not always the choosing of the working class; as a general rule, it is forced on them as a simple act of self-defense. They have to strike back when they are struck at, and that is the spirit and that is the idea the organization is trying to educate the workers into.

“We do not– we do not want to be understood as saying that we expect to achieve our aims through violence and through the destruction of human life, because, in my judgment, that is impossible. The achievement of success… the realization of what it is striving for– depends on one thing only, and that is gaining the control of a sufficient amount of the labor power that is necessary in the operation of industry. Now, when we have that control, then through organization the necessity for violence will be reduced; in fact, it will almost disappear. It will disappear. The necessity for using any tactics that will lead to violence will disappear, and the protection and the safeguarding of human life will increase just in proportion as we have that control.”

— Vincent St. John, testimony before the US Commission on Industrial Relations (1916)

Timeline (borrowed and abbreviated from

Originally Titled, 95 Years of Revolutionary Industrial Unionism, by Michael Hargis—featured in Anarcho Syndicalist Review, #27 and #28. This time line copied from the web site of the Industrial Workers of the World

* IWW Founding Convention—June 27: The “Continental Congress of the Working Class” establishes the industrial Workers of the World with cooperation of elements from Socialist Labor Party/Socialist Trades & Labor Alliance, Socialist Party of America, Western Federation of Miners and survivors of International Working People’s Association.


* Haywood, Pettibone and Moyers, WFM leaders, framed for attempting to kill the governor of Colorado.
* Second Convention of IWW abolishes office of president and ousts “pure and simple” trade unionists.
* Lockout of IWW members in Goldfield, Nevada. Vincent St. John arrested for conspiracy to commit murder in death of a restaurant owner.
* WFM-IWW miners strike against wage cut in Goldfield. Federal troops sent in to crush strike; first stay-in strike (3,000 workers) of the 20th Century carried out by IWW at General Electric plant in Schenectady, NY.


* Founding of National Industrial Union of Textile Workers, 1st chartered IWW industrial union.
* Strike at Marston Textile Mill, Skowhegan, Maine;
* 3,000 IWW sawmill workers strike in Portland, OR;
* IWW smeltermen strike in Tacoma, WA win 8-hour day and 15% pay hike;
* Lumber workers strike in Humboldt County, CA, Missoula, MT and Vancouver, B.C.;
* Bakers in San Francisco strike;
* Lumber workers strike in Montana;
* Textile strike at Mapleville, RI;
* American Tube strike in Bridgeport, CT


* Textile workers strike, Lawrence, MA
* Fourth convention results in split between political actionists, led by Daniel DeLeon of the SLP, and direct actionists, led by Vincent St. John and J.H. Walsh. DeLeonists set up rival IWW in Detroit and accuse Chicago IWW with “anarchism.”


* Industrial Worker begin publishing in Spokane, WA as the voice of the Western branches of IWW.
* Pressed Steel Car Company workers strike in McKees Rock, PA.
* Sheet and tinplate workers strike in New Castle, PA.
* Solidarity begins publishing in New Castle, PA as organ of Eastern branches of IWW.
* Missoula, MT free speech fight.


* Strike against Standard Steel Car Company in Hammond, IN.
* Strike against Hansel & Elcock Construction in Chicago.
* First reference to “direct action” in IWW publications.
* Strike against Lamm & Company, Chicago clothiers.
* First use of terms “sabotage” and “passive resistance” in IWW publications.
* Meat packers strike in Pittsburgh, PA; Show workers strike in Brooklyn, NY.
* Organizing against “job sharks” in Washington State leads to victorious Free Speech Fight in Spokane, WA.
* Brotherhood of Timber Workers, racially integrated union, formed in Louisiana and East Texas.


* IWW Free Speech Fight in Fresno, CA.
* Brooklyn shoe workers strike several shops.
* Strike at American Locomotive.


* Wobblies join Magonistas in insurrection in Baja California, briefly proclaim the Baja Commune. U.S. troops invade Mexico to crush the rebellion; IWW-led General Strike in Tampico, Mexico for release of political prisoners crushed by army.
* William Z. Foster leaves IWW and forms Syndicalist League of North America to “bore from within” AFL.
* Socialist Party forbids those who oppose political action or advocate sabotage to belong to the party.
* Bill Haywood recalled from NEC. Many IWWs leave SPA.
* Bread and Roses Strike—25,000 textile workers strike in Lawrence, MA, call for IWW leadership. IWW leaders Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovanitti arrested for the murder of striker Anna Lo Pizza.
* Formation of Forest and Lumber Workers Industrial Union.
* IWW textile strike in Lowell, MA (18,000 workers).
* Strike at National Malleable Casting in Indianapolis, IN.
* Lumber workers strike throughout Gray’s Harbor region (Hoquiam, Raymond, Cosmopolis and Aberdeen, WA).
* Strike of railroad construction crews against Great Northern and Grand Trunk lines. IWW establishes “1,000 mile picket line.”
* First use of the term “Wobbly” in IWW publications.
* Strike of organ and piano builders in New York.
* Two-week strike against American Radiator in Buffalo (5,000 workers).
* Unsuccessful national lumber workers strike.
* Strikes at Warner Refining in Edgewater, NY and Corn Products Refining in Shadyside, NJ;
* Strike at Avery Implements in Peoria, IL.
* Brotherhood of Timber Workers affiliates with Forest and Lumber Workers Industrial Union, IWW; strikes Galloway Lumber Company in Grabow, LA. Three strikers killed and 58 arrested for defending themselves, acquitted in December.
* Textile strike in New Bedford, MA (11,000) Dockworkers strike in San Pedro, CA.
* Tobacco worker strikes in Pittsburgh and McKees Rock, PA.
* Ettor and Gionvanitti trial ends in acquittal.


Strike instigated by IWW dual-carders in AFL Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union against the Astor and other premier hotels in New York City.
* Paterson Silk Strike—Silkworkers strike in Paterson, NJ (25,000 workers)
*Paterson Pageant

* BTW in 7-month strike against American Lumber Company (1,200 workers)
* Textile strike in Ipswitch, NY
* Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union formed by Philadelphia, PA, longshoremen as a result of spontaneous strike.
* Strike against Studebaker, car manufacturer (6,000 workers); short strikes against Metal Wheel in Detroit and Foyer Brothers in Toledo.
* Strike against Dry Slitz Stogie leads to lockout of 1200 workers in Pittsburgh, PA, 800 IWW cigar workers strike in retaliation.
* Dock workers strike for safety equipment in Duluth, MN set up branch of MTW;
* Wheatland Riots—Hop pickers strike against Durst Ranch in Wheatland, CA. Gun battle results in indictment and conviction of IWW organizers Ford and Suhr who are sentenced to 15 years in prison.
* Textile strike in Baltimore, MD undermined by AFL scabs. BTW strike in Sweet Home, LA.


* World War I begins in Europe.
* 3,000 unemployed demonstrate in Detroit; IWW gains control of Unemployed Convention in San Francisco. New York unemployed, led by Wobbly Frank Tannenbaum, occupy churches; Union Square unemployed riot.
* Sioux City, Iowa, free speech fight.
* IWW Unemployed League organized in Detroit.


* Detroit IWW, aka Workers International Industrial Union, dissolves.
* AWO Established—Agricultural Workers Organization 400 (later renamed Agricultural Workers Industrial Union 110) founded in Kansas City, MO, introduces the job delegate system into IWW.
* Joe Hill Executed—Joe Hill, IWW organizer, executed by copper bosses in Utah.

* BTW dissolves. Victim of 5,000 blacklisted members.
* National Industrial Union of Textile Workers dissolves, its remaining locals affiliate directly to IWW.
* Philadelphia MTW wins recognition at non-union docks without a contract.
* Shoe workers strike 28 shops in Philadelphia; Strike of 700 against Solvay Processing Plant in Detroit, MI;
* Strike of 3,000 against Kelsey Wheel in Detroit, MI;
* Housemaids organized in Denver, CO;
* Iron miners strike on the Mesabi Range in Minnesota (6,000 workers);
* Miners strike, Cayuna Range, MI;
* Dock workers strike in Two Harbors and Duluth, MN;
* Shingle-weavers strike in Everett, WA; Miners strike in Scranton, PA
* Vernillion Iron Range out on strike.
* Everett Massacre—IWWs murdered by hired guns in Everett, WA. Seventy-five held for murder of deputy, acquitted.
* IWW Convention adopts anti-war resolution.


* Oil Workers Industrial Union and Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union chartered.
* Longshoremen strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Lumber Workers Industrial Union established.
* River drivers strike in Fontana River, MT, and win 8-hour day.
* Idaho and Minnesota pass Criminal Syndicalism Laws (pdf) to counter IWW organizing.
* General Construction Workers Industrial Union formed; construction strike in Exeter, CA. Construction strike in Seattle wins IWW hiring hall; Construction strike in Rockford, IL;
* Speculator mine disaster in Butte, MT leads to strike;
* Copper strikes in Arizona in support of Butte;
* Lumber workers strike in Spokane district, WA;
* Miners strike in Virginia, MN.
* Bisbee Deportation—1200 copper strikers deported from Bisbee, AZ.
* Miners strike Gogebic Range.
* Frank Little Murdered—Frank Little, IWW organizer, lynched by copper bosses.
* Australian IWWs tried for treason for opposing conscription, IWW outlawed.
* Federal agents raid IWW halls and offices nation wide, arrest 165 IWW members.
* LWIU 120 Wins 8-Hour Day—Lumber strike in on the job wins 8-hour day in Northwest timber country.
* General Defense Committee formed to defend class war prisoners.


* IWW lumber workers burn bedrolls and mattresses.
* Chicago trial of 100 IWWs for espionage ends in sentences of 20 years for 15 men; 10 years for 35; 5 years for 33;1 year for 12 and nominal sentences for the rest.


* General strikes in Seattle, WA, Butte, MT, Toledo, OH and, Winnipeg, MB.
* MTW strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Mine workers strike in Butte, MT and Oatman, AZ or 6-hour day.
* Lumber strikes on river drives win clean bedding.
* Lumber workers hall in Superior, WI, attacked by mob but show of force by Wobs turns them back.
* Short-log district lumber strikes include demands for release of class war prisoners and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Russia.
* Centralia Massacre—Mob of Legionnaires attack IWW hall in Centralia, WA. IWWs defend hall with force. IWW Wesley Everest, one of the hall defenders, tortured and lynched by mob. Eight others sent to prison on conspiracy charges.
* MTW branch established in Buenos Aires, Argentina
* IWW administrations established in Mexico and Chile.
* Wichita and Sacramento IWW trials. 2000 class war prisoners.


* Palmer Raids—Palmer Raids round up and deport thousands of alien radicals.
* IWW and British Shop Stewards Movement agree on exchange of membership cards.
* MTW strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Chilean IWW conducts strike to protest export of food during famine; Chilean government launched reign of terror to destroy IWW.
* Communist-controlled IWW General Executive Board suspends Philadelphia MTW on false charges of loading arms for Russian counter-revolutionary Wrangle.

* Congress of Red Trade Union International attended by delegates from IWW and Canadian OBU. Their reports of political domination by Communists convinces IWW not to affiliate.
* 46 IWWs out on bail on the espionage convictions start prison terms. Bill Haywood and 8 others jump bail and flee to Russia.
* IWW hall raided in Tampico, Mexico. General strike forces government to allow it to reopen.
* Philadelphia MTW branch reinstated.


* Joint MTW and ILA strike in Portland, OR, against Fink Hall, sold out by ILA.
* Construction strike on Great Northern Railroad.
* Strike on power projects in Oregon and Washington.
* Metal Mine strikes in Bingham Canyon and Butte.
* Oil Workers Industrial Union drive in Southwest.
* MTW strike in Portland, OR.
* ILA-hired thugs attempt to drive MTW out of Hoboken, NJ.
* Railroad shopmen’s strike supported by IWW Railroad Workers Industrial Union.
* MTW in Philadelphia strike against blacklist and for 44-hour week.
* Construction strike in Hetch-Hetchy project near San Francisco and on Edison Power irrigation project near Fresno, CA.


* Two strikes against Warren Construction Co. out of Fresno.
* Police try to shut down IWW hall in Mobile, AL but free speech fight prevails.
* Strikes to free class war prisoners conducted by IWW in San Pedro, Aberdeen, New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Mobile and Galveston, and by Lumber and Construction Unions in Washington and Oregon.
* San Pedro free speech fight


* Emergency Program / Four-Trey Split—IWW splits: Emergency Program-IWW sets up headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
* Thugs raid IWW hall in San Pedro, destroy hall and scald children.


* Philadelphia MTW goes over to ILA due to disillusionment over 1924 split and perceived interference from General Administration.
* IWW coal miners strike in Alberta against UMWA check-off.


* Sacco & Vanzetti Murdered—IWW strikes for Sacco and Vanzetti in Colorado. Sacco and Vanzetti executed in Boston.
* Columbine Massacre—Colorado coal strike leads to Columbine Massacre.


* Police raid IWW hall in Walsenburg, CO, two Wobblies killed.


* IWW drive among coal miners in Illinois gains sizable two-card membership in UMWA.
* Strike against U.S. Gypsum Company near Oakfield, NY.
* MTW branch established in Stettin, Germany.
* The Great Depression Begins—Stock market crashes, beginning of Great Depression.

Repression and Disinformation:

“The popular attitude toward the Wobblies among employers, public officials and the public generally corresponds to the popular notion that they are arch-fiends and the dregs of society. It is the hang-them-all-at-sunrise attitude. A high official of the Federal Department of Justice in one of our western states gave the writer an instance. On a recent visit to a small town in a distant part of the state he happened upon the sheriff. That officer, in reply to a question, explained that they were ‘having no trouble at all with Wobs’: ‘When a Wobbly comes to town,’ he explained, ‘I just knock him over the head with a night stick and throw him in the river. When he comes up he beats it out of town.’ [I]n such a situation almost any poor man, if he be without a job or visible means of support, is assumed to be, ipso facto, an I.W.W. Being a Wobbly, the proper thing for him is pickhandle treatment or– if he is known to be a strike agitator– a ‘little neck-tie party.”
— Paul Brissendon, The I.W.W.: A Study of American Syndicalism (2nd ed. 1920)


“…material was being gathered for a new outbreak in the United States. The casual laborers had greatly increased in numbers, especially in the West. These migratory working men—the “hobo miners,” the “hobo lumber jacks,” the “blanket stiffs,” of colloquial speech—wander about the country in search of work. They rarely have ties of family and seldom ties of locality. About one-half of these wanderers are American born. They are to be described with precision as “floaters.” Their range of operations includes the wheat regions west of the Mississippi, the iron mines of Michigan and Minnesota, the mines and forests of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, and the fields of California and Arizona. They prefer to winter in the cities, but, as their only refuge is the bunk lodging house, they increase the social problem in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other centers of the unemployed. Many of these migrants never were skilled workers; but a considerable portion of them have been forced down into the ranks of the unskilled by the inevitable tragedies of prolonged unemployment. Such men lend a willing ear to the labor agitator. The exact number in this wandering class is not known. The railroad companies have estimated that at a given time there have been 500,000 hobos trying to beat their way from place to place. Unquestionably a large percentage of the 23,964 trespassers killed and of the 25,236 injured on railway rights of way from 1901 to 1904 belonged to this class.

“It is not alone these drifters, however, who because of their irresponsibility and their hostility toward society became easy victims to the industrial organizer. The great mass of unskilled workers in the factory towns proved quite as tempting to the propagandist. Among laborers of this class, wages are the lowest and living conditions the most uninviting. Moreover, this group forms the industrial reservoir which receives the settlings of the most recent European and Asiatic immigration. These people have a standard of living and conceptions of political and individual freedom which are at variance with American traditions. Though their employment is steadier than that of the migratory laborer, and though they often have ties of family and other stabilizing responsibilities, their lives are subject to periods of unemployment, and these fluctuations serve to feed their innate restlessness. They are, in quite the literal sense of the word, American proletarians. They are more volatile than any European proletarian, for they have learned the lesson of migration, and they retain the socialistic and anarchistic philosophy of their European fellow-workers.”

— Samuel Orth, The Armies of Labor, from the chapter entitled “The New Terrorism: The IWW” (1921). Jim Crutchfield, from whose website this quote is taken, describes this text as “A disgusting piece of A. F. of L. propaganda. Full of lies and vitriol against the I. W. W., it endorses lynch-law and covers up the crimes of the boss class and its “labor lieutenants” in the A. F. of L. against the authentic organization of the working class. The Everett Massacre is presented as a valiant defense of the town against an invading army, rather than the ambush of peaceful workers by a drunken gang of deputies’.”



“Most of the individuals involved in this movement are aliens or foreign-born citizens. There are some, however, of unquestioned American extraction. Some of the leaders are idealists with distorted minds, many even insane; many are professional agitators who are plainly self-seekers and a large number of potential, or actual criminals whose baseness of character leads them to espouse the unrestrained and gross theories and tactics of these organizations. If there be any doubt of the general character of the active leaders and agitators amongst these avowed revolutionists, a visit to the Department of Justice and an examination of their photographs there collected would dispel it. Out of the sly and crafty eyes of many of them leap cupidity, cruelty, insanity, and crime; from their lopsided faces, sloping brows, and misshapen features may be recognized the unmistakable criminal type.”

— Mitchell Palmer, hearing before the House of Representatives (1920)



Notes on Ahmed White’s The Crime of Economic Radicalism: Criminal Syndicalism Laws and the Industrial Workers of the World, 1917-1927.

Official repression of the IWW included not only “authorities manipulation of laws of general relevance…. for example, with the large scale and totally unfounded prosecution of IWW members for conspiracy to interfere with the war effort” but by the use of “vagrancy laws, ‘tramp acts,’ and other relatively minor laws” (651).

Tens of thousands of wobblies were arrested and charged using these laws.

“Such charges were use time and again to run members out of town, intiate beatings and other indiginties, and preempt organizing and strike efforts.”

“beyond legal artifice and selective prosecution”:

“official lawlessness as well as official complicity in private acts of antiradical vigilantism. Countless members were beaten and on occasion even killed by American Legionnaires, Ku Klux Klansmen, private detectives, and other self-nominated protectors of ‘true’ Americanism.”

“In the late 1910s and early 1920s, almost half of American states and territories enacted criminal syndicalism laws that essentially criminalized any sort of challenge to industrial capitalism. These laws did this under the guise of criminalizing advocacy of ‘political or industrial change’ by means of ‘sabotage,’ ‘terrorism,’ and other criminal conduct” (652).

“key terms… like sabotage, were only vaguely… defined”

“it was the purpose and function of criminal syndicalism laws to effectively criminalize mere membership in the IWW and thereby challenge its continued existence as a functioning institution.”

“these were serious criminal laws concerned far more with destroying the IWW and punishing its members for their radicalism than regulating speech and association rights in any abstractly juridical sense” (654).

Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape:



SCENE—Nearly a month later. An I. W. W. local near the waterfront, showing the interior of a front room on the ground floor, and the street outside. Moonlight on the narrow street, buildings massed in black shadow. The interior of the room, which is general assembly room, office, and reading room, resembles some dingy settlement boys club. A desk and high stool are in one corner. A table with papers, stacks of pamphlets, chairs about it, is at center. The whole is decidedly cheap, banal, commonplace and unmysterious as a room could well be. The secretary is perched on the stool making entries in a large ledger. An eye shade casts his face into shadows. Eight or ten men, longshoremen, iron workers, and the like, are grouped about the table. Two are playing checkers. One is writing a letter. Most of them are smoking pipes. A big signboard is on the wall at the rear, “Industrial Workers of the World—Local No. 57.”
YANK—(Comes down the street outside. He is dressed as in Scene Five. He moves cautiously, mysteriously. He comes to a point opposite the door; tiptoes softly up to it, listens, is impressed by the silence within, knocks carefully, as if he were guessing at the password to some secret rite. Listens. No answer. Knocks again a bit louder. No answer. Knocks impatiently, much louder.)
SECRETARY—(Turning around on his stool.) What the devil is that—someone knocking? (Shouts:) Come in, why don’t you? (All the men in the room look up. YANK opens the door slowly, gingerly, as if afraid of an ambush. He looks around for secret doors, mystery, is taken aback by the commonplaceness of the room and the men in it, thinks he may have gotten in the wrong place, then sees the signboard on the wall and is reassured.)
YANK—(Blurts out.) Hello.
MEN—(Reservedly.) Hello.
YANK—(More easily.) I tought I’d bumped into de wrong dump.
SECRETARY—(Scrutinizing him carefully.) Maybe you have. Are you a member?
YANK—Naw, not yet. Dat’s what I come for—to join.
SECRETARY—That’s easy. What’s your job—longshore?
YANK—Naw. Fireman—stoker on de liners.
SECRETARY—(With satisfaction.) Welcome to our city. Glad to know you people are waking up at last. We haven’t got many members in your line.
YANK—Naw. Dey’re all dead to de woild.
SECRETARY—Well, you can help to wake ’em. What’s your name? I’ll make out your card.
YANK—(Confused.) Name? Lemme tink.
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) Don’t you know your own name?
YANK—Sure; but I been just Yank for so long—Bob, dat’s it—Bob Smith.
SECRETARY—(Writing.) Robert Smith. (Fills out the rest of card.) Here you are. Cost you half a dollar.
YANK—Is dat all—four bits? Dat’s easy. (Gives the Secretary the money.)
SECRETARY—(Throwing it in drawer.) Thanks. Well, make yourself at home. No introductions needed. There’s literature on the table. Take some of those pamphlets with you to distribute aboard ship. They may bring results. Sow the seed, only go about it right. Don’t get caught and fired. We got plenty out of work. What we need is men who can hold their jobs—and work for us at the same time.
YANK—Sure. (But he still stands, embarrassed and uneasy.)
SECRETARY—(Looking at him—curiously.) What did you knock for? Think we had a coon in uniform to open doors?
YANK—Naw. I tought it was locked—and dat yuh’d wanter give me the once-over trou a peep-hole or somep’n to see if I was right.
SECRETARY—(Alert and suspicious but with an easy laugh.) Think we were running a crap game? That door is never locked. What put that in your nut?
YANK—(With a knowing grin, convinced that this is all camouflage, a part of the secrecy.) Dis burg is full of bulls, ain’t it?
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) What have the cops got to do with us? We’re breaking no laws.
YANK—(With a knowing wink.) Sure. Youse wouldn’t for woilds. Sure. I’m wise to dat.
SECRETARY—You seem to be wise to a lot of stuff none of us knows about.
YANK—(With another wink.) Aw, dat’s aw right, see. (Then made a bit resentful by the suspicious glances from all sides.) Aw, can it! Youse needn’t put me trou de toid degree. Can’t youse see I belong? Sure! I’m reg’lar. I’ll stick, get me? I’ll shoot de woiks for youse. Dat’s why I wanted to join in.
SECRETARY—(Breezily, feeling him out.) That’s the right spirit. Only are you sure you understand what you’ve joined? It’s all plain and above board; still, some guys get a wrong slant on us. (Sharply.) What’s your notion of the purpose of the I. W. W.?
YANK—Aw, I know all about it.
SECRETARY—(Sarcastically.) Well, give us some of your valuable information.
YANK—(Cunningly.) I know enough not to speak outa my toin. (Then resentfully again.) Aw, say! I’m reg’lar. I’m wise to de game. I know yuh got to watch your step wit a stranger. For all youse know, I might be a plain-clothes dick, or somep’n, dat’s what yuh’re tinkin’, huh? Aw, forget it! I belong, see? Ask any guy down to de docks if I don’t.
SECRETARY—Who said you didn’t?
YANK—After I’m ’nitiated, I’ll show yuh.
SECRETARY—(Astounded.) Initiated? There’s no initiation.
YANK—(Disappointed.) Ain’t there no password—no grip nor nothin’?
SECRETARY—What’d you think this is—the Elks—or the Black Hand?
YANK—De Elks, hell! De Black Hand, dey’re a lot of yellow backstickin’ Ginees. Naw. Dis is a man’s gang, ain’t it?
SECRETARY—You said it! That’s why we stand on our two feet in the open. We got no secrets.
YANK—(Surprised but admiringly.) Yuh mean to say yuh always run wide open—like dis?
YANK—Den yuh sure got your noive wit youse!
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) Just what was it made you want to join us? Come out with that straight.
YANK—Yuh call me? Well, I got noive, too! Here’s my hand. Yuh wanter blow tings up, don’t yuh? Well, dat’s me! I belong!
SECRETARY—(With pretended carelessness.) You mean change the unequal conditions of society by legitimate direct action—or with dynamite?
YANK—Dynamite! Blow it offen de oith—steel—all de cages—all de factories, steamers, buildings, jails—de Steel Trust and all dat makes it go.
SECRETARY—So—that’s your idea, eh? And did you have any special job in that line you wanted to propose to us. (He makes a sign to the men, who get up cautiously one by one and group behind YANK.)
YANK—(Boldly.) Sure, I’ll come out wit it. I’ll show youse I’m one of de gang. Dere’s dat millionaire guy, Douglas—
SECRETARY—President of the Steel Trust, you mean? Do you want to assassinate him?
YANK—Naw, dat don’t get yuh nothin’. I mean blow up de factory, de woiks, where he makes de steel. Dat’s what I’m after—to blow up de steel, knock all de steel in de woild up to de moon. Dat’ll fix tings! (Eagerly, with a touch of bravado.) I’ll do it by me lonesome! I’ll show yuh! Tell me where his woiks is, how to git there, all de dope. Gimme de stuff, de old butter—and watch me do de rest! Watch de smoke and see it move! I don’t give a damn if dey nab me—long as it’s done! I’ll soive life for it—and give ’em de laugh! (Half to himself.) And I’ll write her a letter and tell her de hairy ape done it. Dat’ll square tings.
SECRETARY—(Stepping away from YANK.) Very interesting. (He gives a signal. The men, huskies all, throw themselves on YANK and before he knows it they have his legs and arms pinioned. But he is too flabber-gasted to make a struggle, anyway. They feel him over for weapons.)
MAN—No gat, no knife. Shall we give him what’s what and put the boots to him?
SECRETARY—No. He isn’t worth the trouble we’d get into. He’s too stupid. (He comes closer and laughs mockingly in YANK’S face.) Ho-ho! By God, this is the biggest joke they’ve put up on us yet. Hey, you Joke! Who sent you—Burns or Pinkerton? No, by God, you’re such a bonehead I’ll bet you’re in the Secret Service! Well, you dirty spy, you rotten agent provocator, you can go back and tell whatever skunk is paying you blood-money for betraying your brothers that he’s wasting his coin. You couldn’t catch a cold. And tell him that all he’ll ever get on us, or ever has got, is just his own sneaking plots that he’s framed up to put us in jail. We are what our manifesto says we are, neither more or less—and we’ll give him a copy of that any time he calls. And as for you—(He glares scornfully at YANK,who is sunk in an oblivious stupor.) Oh, hell, what’s the use of talking? You’re a brainless ape.
YANK—(Aroused by the word to fierce but futile struggles.) What’s dat, yuh Sheeny bum, yuh!
SECRETARY—Throw him out, boys. (In spite of his struggles, this is done with gusto and éclat. Propelled by several parting kicks, YANK lands sprawling in the middle of the narrow cobbled street. With a growl he starts to get up and storm the closed door, but stops bewildered by the confusion in his brain, pathetically impotent. He sits there, brooding, in as near to the attitude of Rodin’s “Thinker” as he can get in his position.)
YANK—(Bitterly.) So dem boids don’t tink I belong, neider. Aw, to hell wit ’em! Dey’re in de wrong pew—de same old bull—soapboxes and Salvation Army—no guts! Cut out an hour offen de job a day and make me happy! Gimme a dollar more a day and make me happy! Tree square a day, and cauliflowers in de front yard—ekal rights—a woman and kids—a lousey vote—and I’m all fixed for Jesus, huh? Aw, hell! What does dat get yuh? Dis ting’s in your inside, but it ain’t your belly. Feedin’ your face—sinkers and coffee—dat don’t touch it. It’s way down—at de bottom. Yuh can’t grab it, and yuh can’t stop it. It moves, and everything moves. It stops and de whole woild stops. Dat’s me now—I don’t tick, see?—I’m a busted Ingersoll, dat’s what. Steel was me, and I owned de woild. Now I ain’t steel, and de woild owns me. Aw, hell! I can’t see—it’s all dark, get me? It’s all wrong! (He turns a bitter mocking face up like an ape gibbering at the moon.) Say, youse up dere, Man in de Moon, yuh look so wise, gimme de answer, huh? Slip me de inside dope, de information right from de stable—where do I get off at, huh?
A POLICEMAN—(Who has come up the street in time to hear this last—with grim humor.) You’ll get off at the station, you boob, if you don’t get up out of that and keep movin’.
YANK—(Looking up at him—with a hard, bitter laugh.) Sure! Lock me up! Put me in a cage! Dat’s de on’y answer yuh know. G’wan, lock me up!
POLICEMAN—What you been doin’?
YANK—Enuf to gimme life for! I was born, see? Sure, dat’s de charge. Write it in de blotter. I was born, get me!
POLICEMAN—(Jocosely.) God pity your old woman! (Then matter-of-fact.) But I’ve no time for kidding. You’re soused. I’d run you in but it’s too long a walk to the station. Come on now, get up, or I’ll fan your ears with this club. Beat it now! (He hauls YANK to his feet.)
YANK—(In a vague mocking tone.) Say, where do I go from here?
POLICEMAN—(Giving him a push—with a grin, indifferently.) Go to hell.


A Working Class Counterculture:



Above: IWW band, Joe Hill, performance of Hill’s The Preacher and the Slave (lyrics below).

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
‘Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they’ll tell you when you’re on the bum:Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.
If you fight hard for children and wife —
Try to get something good in this life —
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.



Above: Cover art for “Rebel Girl,” excerpt of a talk by EGF and the song itself, Flynn agitating in Lawrence.

The World As It Is Today


“The capitalist system, rotten as it is, has resources which cannot be overlooked. The armed forces of the state are not nearly so formidable as the venal press and other avenues of publicity and class mis-education. The capitalist press and class-controlled radio are perhaps the very strongest bulwarks for the established order. By means of these, labor hatred and mob frenzy can be lashed to fever heat at any time and against any individual or group which dares to challenge the capitalist system. ”

Ralph Chaplin, “The General Strike” (1933)

“The wealthiest 5% of the world’s people now earn 114 times as much as the poorest 5%. The 500 richest people on earth now own $1.54 trillion – more than the entire gross domestic product of Africa, or the combined annual incomes of the poorest half of humanity.”

— UK Guardian, 9/3/03


March 7, 2009

The Mask of Empire

Filed under: American rhetoric,Empire & Colony — equiano @ 10:29 am

By way of a follow up to Thursday’s lecture, take a look at this recent article by Tom Englehardt, which seems to echo some of the issues raised in O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Create a free website or blog at