Adorno and Lane: Can the Heretical Essay be Honest?

Penny Lane says that her video, Voyagers, is “kind of a dare to the cynic in all of us.” Beyond the quirky namings of the essay by essayists like William Cornwallis–“a well befitting of undigested motions (xvi)–and Samuel Johnson’s–“a loose sally of the mind”–I think Lane’s description is a fabulous summation of the essay as a form. For, if the essay is executed properly, it is a dare and a challenge through and through to contradict every thought with a counter thought, to puzzle with every view. As Adorno says, “the essay’s innermost formal law is heresy.” It’s the taking of a thought and seeing to what level it can be rebelled against, and then looking at what has arisen from that rebellion.

The way that Lane goes about this dare to take risks in the small relationship between two people by pairing it with one of the most radical decisions–to go into space–is utterly brilliant. It creates a metaphor where one half of the comparison wrestles against the other–the eternally vast and forever mysterious expanse of space with the simple and finite relationship between two people. The former begs of the latter to be bolder and more radical with life than settling down to dedicate your life to one other person while the latter begs of the former to be mindful always of the discoveries within, not just what can be discovered in the unknown of the universe. The needle and thread that ties these two binaries together? “Annie hung up the phone and screamed. ‘It was a Eureka moment,’ she said. ‘I finally understood what it must be like to make a scientific discovery.’”

While I love the way that Lane has set up this story and metaphor, It does leave me wondering if the heresy of the essay that Adorno declares should be present can be considered a binary at all. For, if all perspectives being relayed, considered and puzzled through first trickle through the filter of the author’s (single) perspective, is Adorno’s heresy and Lane’s pairing of stories really dialectical? Because the author is the orchestrator, he/she has the ability to twist both seemingly opposed perspectives to bind together in a still-contesting, but beautiful conversation as Lane has done, but can one single orchestrator truly be the vessel of two objective pieces of the puzzle? Can a single author truly commit heresy within his/her own thoughts, or is it more of an approach for conciliatory conversation to mold the subjects of the apparently dialectical relationship to result in, still, the perspective of the author?

452 thoughts on “Adorno and Lane: Can the Heretical Essay be Honest?

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