By Adorno & Horkheimer.
Freud’s theory that belief in ghosts stem from the evil thoughts of living people about the dead, and from the memory of old dead wishes, is too limited. Hatred of the dead is made up of envy no less than a feeling of guilt. The living individual feels deserted and attributes his pain to the dead person who caused this state of affairs. At the stages of humanity in which death appeared as the direct continuation of existence, the desertion in death necessarily seems to be a betrayal, and even the enlightened individual has not completely overcome the old belief. It is not possible for the consciousness to conceive of death as absolute nothingness, since absolute nothingness is inconceivable. If the burden of life weighs on the living, the position of the dead may easily seem preferable. The manner in which many people reorganize their lives after the death of someone close to them as an active cult of the dead, or as rationalized oblivion, is the modern counterpart of the belief in ghosts which lives on in unsublimated form as spiritualism. Only the conscious horror of destruction creates the correct relationship with the dead: unity with them because we, like them, are the victims of the same condition and the same disappointed hope.
The disturbed relationship with the dead – forgotten and embalmed – is one of the symptoms of the sickness of experience today. One might almost say that the notion of human life as the unity in the history of an individual has been abolished: the life of the individual is defined only by its opposite, destruction, but all harmony and all continuity of conscious and involuntary memory have lost their meaning.
Individuals are reduced to a mere sequence of instantaneous experiences which leave no trace, or rather whose trace is hated as irrational, superfluous, and “overtaken” in the literal sense of the word. Just as every book which has not been published recently is suspect, and the idea of history outside the specific sphere of historical science makes modern men nervous, so the past becomes a source o anger. What a man was and experienced in the past is as nothing when set against what he now is and has and what he can be used for. The well-meaning if threatening advice frequently given to emigrants to forget all their past because it cannot be transferred, and to begin a completely new life, simply represents a forcible reminder to the newcomer of something which he has long since learned for himself. History is eliminated in oneself and others out of a fear that it may remind the individual of the degeneration of his own existence – which itself continues. The respect for something which has no market value and runs contrary to all feelings is experienced most sharply by the person in mourning, in whose case not even the psychological restoration of labor power is possible. It becomes a wound in civilization, asocial sentimentality, showing that it has still not been possible to compel men to indulge solely in purposeful behavior. That is why mourning is watered down more than anything else and consciously turned into social formality; indeed the beautified corpse has always been a mere formality for the hardened survivors. In the funeral home and crematorium, where the corpse is processed into portable ashes – an unpleasant item of property – it is not considered proper to show emotion, and the girl who proudly described the first-class burial of her grandmother, adding “a pity that Daddy lost control” (because he shed a few tears), accurately reflects the situation. In reality, the dead suffer a fate which the Jews in olden days considered the worst possible curse: they are expunged from the memory of those who live on. Men have ceased to consider their own purpose and fate; they work their despair out on the dead.