Lecture 18

Grimms’ Fairy Tales


Professor Peltcher is writing a book on this!

  • We have ideas that are “material.” Ideology is not just ideas inside a head, it’s actions, bureaucratic systems, city zoning, etc out in the real world.
    • Not thoughts and ideals, it’s how thoughts and ideals are manifested in the real world.
    • It doesn’t matter whether people think they have these ideologies or not.
    • There is no “doer” behind the deed, there’s a series of interconnected deeds, and behind those deeds the material actions in the material world are what’s important.
      • This is how ideologies spread.
  • We don’t know whether Wilhelm Grimm was misogynist in his brain. But we can make an argument that his actions are misogynist.
    • You can’t say what kind of person someone is, but you can say what they do in the world.
  • Often we think think these actions are natural or self-evident.
    • It’s the stuff that’s assumed for a power dynamic to take hold.
  • Connections to fairy tales
    • “Of course women spin in the home”
    • “Of course the black bride is ugly and white bride is beautiful, that’s just the way it is”
    • Beauty is a social construct, but in Snow White it’s presented as objective.
  • Example: some people crush every hand that they shake in the real world, and that repeats and reproduces a particular dynamic of power (one that values physical strength, manliness, big-handedness, etc).

Ideology isn’t a value judgement. Homophobia is as much an ideology as queer liberation. Ideology is a way to examine things that are usually overlooked, because they just seem right.


  • Adorno and Horkheimer in 1944 (additional context: they were Jews in exile): why has the Enlightenment not fixed the world? Why didn’t it deliver on its promise?
  • You need a borgia education and German+French language and access to someone who’s a publisher.
  • Enlightenment forces us to alienate parts of ourselves in search of rationality, and nature.
  • We’ve given rationality so much power over us, so we feel like it’s the only way to face our problems.
    • “If you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”
  • Rationality:
    • “It’s not a good night’s sleep, it’s a good sleep score on your phone”
    • “It’s not a nice walk, it’s 10,000 steps”
    • “It’s not a pretty star, it’s JR-1412”
    • “They’re not people with real hopes and feelings, they’re Covid fatality numbers / voting blocs / etc”
  • Rationality turns everything into numbers and data such that it becomes mythological again.
    • All we’ve gained through the Enlightenment is data.
    • “We know them only in so far as we can manipulate/master them.”
    • ★ People used to create myths to explain things. We create data-driven quantitative analysis to explain things.


Dialectics: a system has within it, its own opposite or the potential for its own opposite.

  • Example: “The master needs a slave to be a slave. The slave has the power to determine whether they’re a master or not.”
  • Capitalism has, in itself, the ability to turn back into feudalism if it keeps running.
  • ★ If we let the Enlightenment run wild, rationalization and reason will estrange us from ourselves and the real natural world to such a degree that we’ll eventually revert back to mythological thinking.
    • We only know something to the degree that we can control it.
    • But this is exactly what Enlightenment thought was supposed to be better than.