Transcendence in Mass Culture

The tremor lives off the excess power which technology as a whole, along with the capital that stands behind it, exercises over every individual thing.  This is what transcendence is in mass culture.  The poetic mystery of the product, in which it is more than itself, consists in the fact that it participates in the infinite nature of production and the reverential awe inspired by objectivity fits in smoothly with the schema of advertising.  It is precisely this stress upon the mere fact of being which is supposed to be so great and strong that no subjective intention can alter it in any way — and this stress corresponds to the true impotence of art in relation to society today — that conceals the transfiguration against which all sober objectivity gestures.  Reality becomes its own ideology through the spell cast by its faithful duplication.  This is how the technological veil and the myth of the positive is woven.  If the real becomes an image insofar as in its particularity it becomes as equivalent to the whole as one Ford car is to all the others of the same range, then the image on the other hand turns into immediate reality.  We no longer even approach the much vaunted aesthetic image-consciousness.  Any achievement of the imagination, any expectation that imagination might of its own accord gather together the discrete elements of the real into its truth, is repudiated as an improper presumption.  Imagination is replaced by a mechanically relentless control mechanism which determines whether the latest imago to be distributed really represents an exact, accurate and reliable reflection of the relevant item of reality.  The only remnant of aesthetic semblance here is the empty abstract semblance of a difference between culture as such and practice as such, the division of labour as it were between different departments of production. (63-64)

Theodor Adorno | “The Schema of Mass Culture” in The Culture Industry