Thursday, September 15, 2011


In his quirky little essay, ``Discussion of War Aims, `` D.W. Winnicott regards the problem of opposing morality in times of war (in which friend and enemy lines are drawn with a thick black Sharpie market) as a matter of complacency. Complicity, which is often regarded as a condition of guilt, is here only a kind of psychic fact, something like a condition for existing in such times:

At the present time we [Englanders] are in the apparently fortunate position of having an enemy who says, ‘I am bad; I intend to be bad’, which enables us to feel, ‘We are good’. If our behavior can be said to be good, it is by no means clear that we can thereby slip out of our responsibility for the German attitude and the German utilization of Hitler’s peculiar qualities. In fact, there would be actual and immediate danger in such complacency, since the enemy’s declaration is honest just where ours is dishonest. (211-212)
Complicity is the very movement of identifying and dis-identifying that comes to define the status of individual ambivalence in relation to group or collective identification. In most writing about guilt in the context not only of Holocaust studies but also, and potentially more problematically, in the context of contemporary Human Rights discourse and problems of ethics, complicity, however, remains the defining paradigm for thinking about the relationship between guilt and responsibility. Adorno`s statement on Auschwitz is often interpreted as one that identifies the inevitable complicity of art (and poetry), as for example Nouri Gana`s (nonetheless beautiful and compelling) essays on post-elegaic, post-Nabka, post-catastrophic film and poetry. Still others have attempted to shift the discussion away from such issues of guilt by turning to the theoretical notion of shame. For these individuals, including Ruth Leys and Timothy Bewes, shame is preferable because it provides a way of talking about conditions of vulnerability as ontological states, in contrast to the ethics that guilt seems to proscribe.

It is however, particularly difficult to want to talk about Adorno without talking about guilt, since the notion of guilt is so central to his conceptualization of both the artwork and individual experience after Auschwitz. Guilt--the ``guilt of the artwork,`` the ``encompassing context of guilt [umfassende Schuldzusammenhang], the ``guilt of society``--is pervasive. Winnicott`s
idea that complacency figures into guilt highlights something which is also there is Adorno`s writings on the society of the artwork in postwar culture. One does not, in fact, have to look far. In his revision of his (by now tired) Auschwitz statement, Adorno noted that he was speaking about culture particularly (this is evident when one reads ``Cultural Criticism and Society``) , but about the ``resurrected [auferstanden]`` culture of postwar Europe ( Metaphysics: Concept and Problems 112).

The idea complacency [Wohlbehagen] is also resonant with Freud`s discussion of the sense of guilt, which he suggests is ultimately the same as (or maybe a ``close up`` of) the discontents [Unbehagen] of civilization [Kult

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