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However hard one tries, it’s hard to understand what Theodor Adorno wanted to say when he wrote that “cultural criticism follows the synopsis of society’s reactionary critics, who employ creative capital against vulture capital”.
It is well known that the complexity of Adorno is amplified by the difficulty of translating it from the German original. Some of its meaning can be derived from its context. This phrase can be found in the essay “Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft” (“Cultural Criticism and Society”), where the philosopher reconsiders the contradictions that arise when criticism is subject to the dictates of culture, which in turn can’t escape being part of the market. What draws one’s attention in this sentence are the two opposing concepts, “creative capital” against “vulture capital”.
This other elusive and journalistic concept, so-called contemporaneity, would seem to be the place where both ideas acquire a first consistency. Contemporaneity is a necessary yoke for criticism, being entirely dependent on it in order to exist. Without contemporaneity, maybe criticism could exercise a function that specifically originated in pre-capitalist times.
Nowadays, creative capital is at the service of power and the useless creativity that inundates social networks, like Facebook, becomes the only available place for the old concept of the town, or the more recent and technical citizen, to manifest its critique of power through irony, mockery, and the symbolic derision of political and economic authorities. Its uselessness ends up being indispensable as far as the public sphere is concerned. With regards to vulture capital, the thread of corruption in Spain is sufficient to discover its meaning.
Age-old pillaging, or theft with violence, now seems like that other phase, that of the accumulation of capital, the phase of capitalist expansion, where the accumulation of capital by just a few out of necessity responded to the subsequent exploitation of many others. The violence in theft is now highly subtle, and vulture capital the abstract súmmum of rape and pillage.