Theodor Adorno on Expiry


Our Long Hot Summer Reading Sale has just started with 40% off ALL our books until the end of June. To celebrate the new edition of Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, we're publishing an excerpt from this beloved collection every day.

Expiry - Sleepless night: so there is a formula for those tormented hours, drawn out without prospect of end or dawn, in the vain effort to forget time's empty passing. But truly terrifying are the sleepless nights when time seems to contract and run fruitlessly through our hands. We put out the light in the hope of long hours of rest that can bring succour. But as our thoughts run wild the night's healing store is squandered, and before we have banished all sights from beneath our burning lids, we know that it is too late, that we shall soon feel the rough shake of morning. In a similar way the condemned man may see his last moments slip away unarrested, unused.

But what is revealed in such contraction of the hours is the reverse of time fulfilled. If in the latter the power of experience breaks the spell of duration and gathers past and future into the present, in the hasteful sleepless night duration causes unendurable dread. Man's life becomes a moment, not by suspending duration but by lapsing into nothingness, waking to its own futility in face of the bad eternity of time itself. In the clock's over-loud ticking we hear the mockery of light-years for the span of our existence. The hours that are past as seconds before the inner sense has registered them, and sweep it away in their cataract, proclaim that like all memory our inner experience is doomed to oblivion in cosmic night. Of this people are today made forcibly aware. In his state of complete powerlessness the individual perceives the time he has left to live as a brief reprieve. He does not expect to live out his life to the end. The prospect of violent death and torture, present to everyone, is prolonged in the fear that the days are numbered, that the length of one's own life is subject to statistics; that growing old has become a kind of unfair advantage gained over the average. Perhaps the life quota allocated revocably by society is already spent. Such fear is registered by the body in the flight of the hours. Time flies.

I.   So muss übervortei!t, / Albern doch  uhcrall  sein  die  L ieba: lines from Hölderlin's ode Tranen.


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