What happens when belief is sundered from content, when conviction no longer attends to its material conditions? Adorno attempts to answer this question in The Jargon of Authenticy. The Jargon is a direct assault on the Existentialist movement; particularly it’s German variants (Hediegger, Jaspers, Buber, et. al.). According to Adorno, all talk about the authentic self is fodder for the culture industry. Conviction-as-more-important-than-content is commodified belief. So much is this the case for Adorno that the entire diction of the newly formed authentic self is the language of the advertising industry – the language of “the representatives of business and administration” (6).

The following are a few brief quotations:

The Aura of the Jargon:

The fact that the words of the jargon sound as if they said something higher than what they mean suggests the term ‘aura.’ It is hardly an accident that Benjamin introduced the term at the same moment when, according to his own theory, what he understood by ‘aura’ became the impossible to experience. As words that are sacred without sacred content, as frozen emanations, the terms of the jargon of authenticity are products of the disintegration of the aura. The latter pairs itself with an attitude of not being bound and thus becomes available in the midst of the demythified world; or, as it might be put in paramilitary modern German, it become einsatzbereit, mobilized. The perpetual charge against reification, a charge which the jargon represents, is itself reified… Those who have run out of holy spirit speak with mechanical tongues” (10).

“The stereotypes of the jargon support and reassure subjective movement. They seem to guarantee that one is not doing what in fact he is doing – bleating with the crowd – simply by virtue of his using those stereotypes to guarantee that one has achieved it all himself, as an unmistakably free person. The formal gesture of autonomy replaces the content of autonomy” (18). 

The authentic self as a broken dialectic:

The jargon takes over this transcendence destructively and cosigns it to its own chatter. Whatever more of meaning there is in words than what they say has been secured for them once and for all as expression. The dialectic has been broken off: the dialectic between word and thing as well as the dialectic within language, between individual worlds and their relations. Without judgment, without having been thought, the word is to leave its meaning behind” (12).

The Jargon is secularized Christianity:

“Ever since Martin Buber split off Kierkegaard’s Christology, and dressed it up as a universal posture, there has been a dominant inclination to conceive of metaphysical content as bound to the so-called relation of I and thou. This content is referred to the immediacy of life. Theology is tied to the determinations of immanence” (16).

I don’t know what to do with this section, but I think I love it:

“In the man-to-man relationship there can be no eternity now and here, and certainly not in the relationship of man to God, a relationship that seems to pat him on the shoulder. Buber’s style of existentialism draws it transcendence, in a reversed analogia entis, out of the fact that spontaneous relationships among persons cannot be reduced to objective poles. This existentialism remains the Lebensphilosophie out of which it came, in philosophical history, and which it abnegated: it overelevates the dynamism of morality into the sphere of immortality (16-7).

Ultimately, the jargon occludes material being:

“The jargon likewise supplies men with patterns for being human, patterns which have been driven out of them by unfree labor, if ever in fact traces of free labor did exist” (17).

“The jargon guides the petit bourgeois to a positive attitude toward life. It fastidiously prolongs the innumerable events which are to make attractive to men a life by which they otherwise would be disgusted – and which they would some come to consider unbearable. That religion has shifted into the subject, has become religiosity, follows the trend of history. Dead cells of religiosity in the midst of the secular, however, become poisonous” (22).  

‘Living the questions,’ so favored by the jargonsit, is anything but radical. In response to keeping the door open with no conclusion, Adorno sarcastically writes,

“A concerned tone is ominously struck up: no answer would be serious enough; every answer no matter of what content, would be dismissed as a limiting concretization. But the effect of this remorseless intransigence is friendly; the man never pins himself down: the world is all too dynamic (28).

Heidegger’s talk of sheltering space is anything but an actual shelter:

“However, that which announces itself, in the game about the need for residences, is more serious than the pose of existential seriousness. It is the fear of unemployment, lurking in all citizens of countries of high capitalism. This is a fear which is administratively fought off, and therefore nailed to the platonic firmament of stars, a fear that remains even in the glorisou time of full employment. Everyone knows that he could become expendable as technology develops, as long as production is only carried on for production’s sake; so everyone senses that his job is a disguised unemployment” (34).