Adorno. Minima Moralia. Mammoth.

Mammoth– Some years ago, the report circulated in American newspapers about the discovery of a well-preserved dinosaur in the state of Utah. It was emphasized that the specimen in question had outlived its species and was a million years younger than any hitherto known. Such reports, like the repulsively humorous craze for the Loch Ness monster and the King Kong film, are collective projections of the monstrous total state. One prepares for its horrors by getting used to giant images. In the absurd willingness to accept these, a humanity mired in powerlessness makes the desperate attempt to grasp the experience of what makes a mockery of every experience. But this does not exhaust the notion that prehistoric animals are still alive or at least went extinct just a few million years ago. The hope excited by the presence of what is most ancient, is that animal creation might survive the injustice done to them by human beings, if not humanity itself, and bring forth a better species, which finally succeeds. Zoological gardens originated from the same hope. They are laid out on the model of Noah’s ark, for ever since they have existed, the bourgeois class has been waiting for the Biblical flood. The use of zoos for entertainment and instruction seems to be a thin pretext. They are allegories of the possibility that a specimen or a pair can defy the doom which befalls the species as a species. That is why the all too richly outfitted zoological gardens of major European cities seem like signs of decline: anything more than two elephants, two giraffes, and a hippopotamus is a bad sign. Nor is there any mercy in Hagenbeck’s layout with trenches and without bars, which betray the ark, by masquerading as the salvation called Ararat. The more invisible the boundaries become, the more completely the freedom of the creatures is repudiated, whose gaze could be ignited by the longing for the wide distance. They relate to proper zoos what botanical gardens are to palm leaf gardens. The more that civilization preserves and transplants unspoiled nature, the more implacably the latter is controlled. One can afford to encompass ever greater units of nature and to leave the interior of such tracts seemingly intact, while previously the selection and domestication of particular pieces still testified to the necessity of conquering nature. The tiger which paces to and fro in its cage, mirrors back negatively through its confused state something of humanity, but not however those who frolic behind impassable trenches. The antiquated beauty of [Alfred] Brehm’s Animal Life rests on this point, that it describes all animals as if they were behind the bars of a zoo, even and precisely when citing the reports of imaginative researchers on life in the wilderness. The fact however that animals in cages really do suffer more than in open layouts, that Hagenbeck in fact represents the progress of humanity, attests to the unavoidability of imprisonment. It is a consequence of history. Zoological gardens in their authentic form are products of 19th century colonial imperialism. They blossomed following the opening up of the wild regions of Africa and Central Asia, which paid symbolic tribute in the form of animals. The value of the tribute was measured in terms of its exoticism, of its rarity. The development of technics cleared this away and abolished exoticism. The lion bred on the farm is as domesticated as the horse, which has long since become subject to birth-control. But the millennium has not dawned. Only the irrationality of culture itself, the nooks and crannies of the city, in which the walls, towers and bastions of zoos are crammed, are capable of preserving nature. The rationalization of culture, which opens a window to nature, thereby completely absorbs it and abolishes along with difference also the principle of culture, the possibility of reconciliation.