Adorno commenting on Arnold Schönberg’s A Survivor of Warsaw (1947):

The so-called artistic rendering of the naked physical pain of those who were beaten down with rifle butts contains, however distantly, the possibility that pleasure can be squeezed from it.  The morality that forbids art to forget this for a second slides off into the abyss of its opposite.   The aesthetic stylistic principle, and even the chorus’s solemn prayer, make the unthinkable appear to have had some meaning; it becomes transfigured, something of its horror is removed.  By this alone an injustice is done the victims, yet no art that avoided the victims could stand up to the demands of justice.

Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Commitment’, in Can One Live after Auschwitz: A Philosophical Reader, ed. by Rolf Tiedemann, trans. by Rodney Livingston and others (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), pp. 240-58 (p. 252).



C.D.Friedrich, Der Moench am Meer - C.D.Friedrich / Monk by the Sea / 1808 -

C.D.Friedrich, Der Mönch am Meer, 1808

This idea or this affection caused by a word, which nothing but a word could annex to the others, raises a very great degree of the sublime, and this sublime is raised yet higher by what follows, a “universe of death.” Here are again two ideas not presentable but by language, and a union of them great and amazing beyond conception; if they may properly be called ideas which present no distinct image to the mind; but still it will be difficult to conceive how words can move the passions which belong to real objects, without representing these objects clearly. This is difficult to us, because we do not sufficiently distinguish, in our observations upon language, between a clear expression and a strong expression. These are frequently confounded with each other, though they are in reality extremely different. …

The truth is, all verbal description, merely as naked description, though never so exact, conveys so poor and insufficient an idea of the thing described, that it could scarcely have the smallest effect, if the speaker did not call in to his aid those modes of speech that mark a strong and lively feeling in himself. Then, by the contagion of our passions, we catch a fire already kindled in another, which probably might never have been struck out by the object described. Words, by strongly conveying the passions by those means which we have already mentioned, fully compensate for their weakness in other respects.

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)


Women of Color in America have grown up within a symphony of anger, at being silenced, at being unchosen, at knowing that when we survive, it is in spite of a world that takes for granted our lack of humanness, and which hates our very existence outside of its service. And I say symphony rather than cacophony because we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so that they do not tear us apart. We have had to learn to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives. Those of us who did not learn this difficult lesson did not survive. And part of my anger is always libation for my fallen sisters.

‘The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’, in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984), p. 129.


“Literature,” thought of as the interruption of myth, merely communicates – in the sense that what it puts into play, sets to work, and destines to unworking, is nothing but communication itself, the passage from one to another, the sharing of one by the other.  What is at stake in literature is not just literature: in this, it is unlike myth, which communicates only itself, communicating its communion.

[…] literature inscribes being-in-common, being for others and through others.

The Inoperative Community, ed. by Peter Connor, trans. by Peter Conner, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawhney (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), pp. 65-6.


I am an idiot by the suppression of thought, by the malformation of thought; I am vacant by the stupefaction of my tongue. […]

All the terms in which I choose to think are for me TERMS in the literal sense of the word, that is, true terminations, borders of my mental          , of all the states to which I have subjected my thinking. I am truly LOCALIZED by my terms, and if I say that I am LOCALIZED by my terms, I means that I do not recognize them as valid in my thought. I am truly paralyzed by my terms, by a series of terminations. And however ELSEWHERE my thought may be at these moments, I have no choice but to bring it out through these terms, however contradictory to itself, however parallel, however ambiguous they may be, or pay the penalty of no longer being able to think. […]

What I lack is words that correspond to each minute of my state of mind.

‘The Nerve Meter’, in Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings, ed. by Susan Sontag, trans. by Helen Weaver (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 83-84.


Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned.

The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 4.