SESSION 1: Darmstadt and Its Echoes
“Ligeti and Adorno: The Letter Correspondence,” Peter Edwards (University of Oslo)
During the 1960s, composer György Ligeti engaged with Theodor W. Adorno in public discussions, written correspondence, and met with him in private. The letters between Ligeti and Adorno form the focus of this paper and were presented and studied for the first time in my work on Ligeti’s compositional poetics from 2012. In a style distinctly particular to the formal letter, Ligeti gives an incisive reading of certain elements of Adorno’s musical aesthetics and displays remarkable insight and surprising candidness, and in doing so provides a unique measure of the debate in the creative climate of the time. In reciprocation, Adorno praises Ligeti, both in a letter to the composer and in a letter to musicologist Harald Kaufmann. In his broader corpus, Adorno acknowledges Ligeti’s contribution in the form of more than 12 accreditations to the composer dotted throughout his writings of the 1960s.
In this paper, I shall seek to convey the tenor of the discussions, giving recourse to the letters and the musical examples that Ligeti draws on in both venerating and questioning aspects of Adorno’s writings. Select examples referred to by Ligeti from his own musical œuvre will also be discussed. Ligeti expresses distinct affinities with specific aspects of Adorno’s texts in his letters and takes issue with Adorno’s “conciliatory tone” regarding certain works commented on in “Vers une musique informelle.” These weaknesses in the lecture are, according to Ligeti, rectified in the lecture “Schwierigkeiten beim Komponieren.”
From these letters emerges a new means with which to assess Adorno’s influence on Ligeti and the dominant concerns of the discourse at the time. Moreover, Ligeti’s reading of Adorno—a reading that Adorno would seem to endorse—outlines a unique perspective from which to approach specific themes in Adorno’s writings of the 1960s.
“Material, Language, and Praxis in Adorno’s “Vers une musique informelle”: A Contextualizing Approach,” James Archer (Durham University)
This paper attempts to situate Adorno’s 1961 claims for the possibility of an “informal” music within a twofold context. Firstly, in terms of Adorno’s “language character of music,” as set out by Max Paddison in an influential paper of 1993; secondly, the political and social implications of “language” and the “material” of human communication as explored by the Frankfurt School in the 1960s.
“Vers une Musique Informelle” sets out to “stake out the parameters” of a conceptual model of contemporary music which has ”discarded all forms which are external or abstract or which confront it in an inflexible way” (Adorno, 1961). It is, however, laden with caveats which present a problem for any attempt to assess the possibility of an avant garde “informal” language which resists the historicizing tendency of “praxis.” Moreover, Adorno appears to suggest that it is just as pernicious for a musical language–which may well be the product of musique informelle—to create the “semblance” or “appearance” (Schein) of organicism as it is for formal convention to do so, even without the aesthetic “façade” of the work-concept (ibid.).
A further layer of contextualisation will be added through references to the music and debates of the Darmstadt school in the 1960s, where Adorno fleshed out the claims for musique informelle with particular reference to the music of György Ligeti. By the mid-1960s, Frankfurt school thinkers including the young Jürgen Habermas were engaged in a debate on the role of language in presenting social critique, reshaping the inherited Marxist precept that the forms of thought (Sinn)—including language—could not achieve this, let alone precipitate social change.
This will lead in turn to the central question at stake here: one of the extent to which musique informelle, driven by the demands of its material and resistant to the shared understanding of praxis, can present a meaningful critique of the practices of the culture industry. Here, I will draw on the work of Bruce Andrews (2002), who draws an insightful parallel between “Vers une Musique Informelle” and Jacques Attali’s Noise: A Political Economy of Music (1977) and Frederic Jameson’s contemporaneous critique of “linguistically based structuralism.” (1973)
“Theodor Adorno’s ‘Vers une musique informelle’: Towards a Re-Conceptualisation,” Joris De Henau (Durham University)
My paper will present a reconsideration of musique informelle which builds on Gianmario Borio’s critique of Adorno’s influential concept which he expounded in his celebrated essay of 1963, “Vers une musique informelle.” In the examination of contemporary compositional praxis in his book Musikalische Avantgarde um 1960, Borio noted a shift away from an overriding preoccupation with pitch towards a new concern with texture, which led him to develop the concept of the sound-object. I argue that Borio’s re-conceptualisation can be fruitfully extended by drawing on Adorno’s late thinking on time in which he revisited key concepts evolved by Walter Benjamin, as Susan Buck-Morss and others have shown, and which led him to substantially modify his theory of the artwork. I attempt to pursue the implication of these ideas for the temporal dimension of the modernist artwork, additionally drawing on Benjamin’s concept of the dialectical image. On this basis, I propose a new understanding of the sound-object which enables us to amplify the notion of musique informelle, showing how it can illuminate the treatment of temporality in the work of Morton Feldman. I will additionally draw on Feldman’s concept of the instrumental image as an example of the object-as-image, demonstrating the potential of the concept of the dialectal image as a critical form of reading of musical works of art.
“Conflicting Times: Adorno’s Interpretation of Stockhausen’s ‘New Morphology of Musical Time’.” Eduardo Socha (University of São Paulo, Brazil)
In his Darmstadt lecture of 1961, “Vers une musique informelle,” Adorno calls for an aesthetical programme that should critically reestablish the dialectical tension between subjective expression and objective formal construction within the new techniques of the post-war generation composers. According to Adorno’s fundamental claim, the risk of a “rejection of musical time”, of a “static idea of music”, emerges as a consequence of the release of that tension in favor of a non-dialectical objectivity. Adorno’s refusal in 1961 of the hypostasis of the individual note, of the “fetishism of the row”, as well as of aleatoric procedures can be seen as an unfolding of the 1954 essay “Das Altern der neuen Musik,” where he already had insisted that the “scholasticism” of the “engineers of serial music“ imposed the elimination of subjectivity, the “dialectical essence” of music itself. In “Vers une musique”, though, Adorno states clearly the need of recovering an organic temporal flow to the most advanced material, by taking the compositional gestures from 1910s atonality as paradigmatic for a renewed “music style of freedom.” As a counterpart to his “plea” for an informal music, Adorno addresses the major implications of Stockhausen’s “new morphology of musical time” developed in the 1957 composer’s essay “How Time Passes,” which is recognized in Adorno’s lecture as “the most important text on this matter” among contemporary musical aesthetics.
In my paper, I shall present the overall theoretical distinctions between Adorno’s dialectic concept of musical time, notably deduced from his immanent analysis of Beethoven’s works, and his critical assessments to the one proposed by Stockhausen. In this sense, I expect to point out not only the basic methodological incompatibilities between these conceptions of musical time, but also some aspects of the polemics between Adorno and the avant-garde of the 1950s.
Session 2: Music at the Barricades
“Fine Utopia: The Legacy of Walter Benjamin in Luigi Nono’s Prometeo (1985),” Pauline Driessen (Ghent University)
Of all the composers of the post-war avant-garde, there is none whose music was so vigorously driven by a socio-political impetus as that of the Italian composer Luigi Nono. Although there is general consensus among Nono scholars that his compositions of the 1980s present a completely new musical language, discussion remains on how this turn ought to be interpreted on a socio-political level—some defining Nono’s sudden musical introversion as a renunciation of his former political commitment, others advocating a more personal approach of the revolutionary issue.
Whereas Gramsci and Sartre were strongly present in Nono’s early communist thought, his acquaintance with the philosophy of Walter Benjamin at the end of the seventies made a lasting impression on the composer. A new understanding of the revolution emerged, and for the first time he noted in one of his sketches: “fine utopia.”
It was a draft for Prometeo, a “tragedy of the listening.” In this work, not only do Benjamin’s Thesen über den Begriff der Geschichte flicker up in the collage-like libretto, but an in-depth study of these same theses clearly affected Nono’s own reading of the Prometheus myth—according to Marx, the first revolutionary in history, according to Nono, an angel announcing a new order, free from any utopia. What is more, Prometeo can be seen as a genuine musical realisation of a Benjamin monad. The work is conceived as an archipelago of fragmentary sound-islands, each giving voice to historical sources that tell about the Greek hero. As such, Nono wants us to listen to the past and remember the “weak Messianic power” given to us. This was his new revolution.
This paper investigates the influence of Walter Benjamin’s thinking on a particular composition such as Prometeo. An analysis of both libretto and score will reveal the presence of his philosophy in the work of an Italian composer some fifty years later.
“The Limits of (Musical) Modernism: Critical Responses to 1968 and the Contradictory Relationship between Music and Social Radicalism,” Lauren Freede (University of Oldenburg)
Theodor Adorno saw the musical avant-garde as an essential response to the conservative romanticism which both characterised bourgeois German culture and made it susceptible to National Socialism. His conviction that aesthetic principles could not be separated from political ideology is reflected in his involvement in the musical summer schools in Darmstadt after the war.
The critic and musicologist Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt knew Adorno well and shared his interest in the musical developments emerging out of Darmstadt and Donaueschingen, while also warning against stagnation. In his 1961 Donaueschingen lecture ”Die Ordnung der Freiheit,“ Stuckenschmidt had sharply criticised the serial composers in particular, arguing that in freeing themselves from tradition, they had simply created a new, restrictive set of rules as musically (and socially) limiting as the previous ones.
Yet this support for progressive musical alternatives existed alongside a deep resistance to any form of radical political discourse. Stuckenschmidt saw what he called the ‘everyday sociology’ of the growing student protest movement as the main reason for the drastic decline in aesthetic judgement and taste. His letters to Adorno portray the student uprising as a cultural catastrophe. Adorno, for his part, withheld written support for Hans Werner Henze’s Medusa when he heard the other written defences were to come from the communists Luigi Nono and Peter Weiss.
This paper takes the written accounts of such attitudes and events as a starting point to look at the generational and ideological conflict as it played out in the music scene in the 1960s. Is the rejection of radical political change in fact ideologically consistent with the tonal response to fascism previously advocated out of Frankfurt and Darmstadt? Or was the modernist musical project an equally unsatisfactory way of dealing with the larger political and social issues of post-war Europe when instead composers were needed at the barricades?
Session 3: The Music of the Other
“The Philosopher’s Bass Drum: Adorno’s Jazz and Metric Regularity,” Maya Kronfeld (University of California, Berkeley)
This paper is about the philosophical and political stakes of metric regularity, or rhythmic periodicity (which can be called “groove” when one is resisting a total equation between keeping a beat and compliance to power). I take Adorno’s problematic critique of jazz, and in particular jazz’s claims to rhythmic subversion, as a point of departure for inquiring after the relationship between rhythmic form and collective experience. I am interested here in how metric regularity works for Adorno as a concept, and its consequences for contemporary thinking about popular music: Adorno’s careful attention to the bass drum raises the question, is a beat always being carried out by being carried on? Adorno’s identification of jazz with European march music reflected a mode of listening that was attentive to the histories encoded in jazz as a form (“Blues March” by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers is a fruitful example)—even if he was deeply wrong to limit what the scope of that engagement could mean. It is important to distinguish between what walking in march step meant in the context of European fascism, and what re-appropriations of the march and marching meant and might mean in the context of African-American history. Adorno’s attentiveness to the political stakes of rhythmic forms invites a larger question about what happens to rhythmic forms (or rhythmic displacements!) as they themselves travel over time. Is a beat always being carried “out” by being carried on? The stakes of metric regularity, Adorno’s analysis implies, should not be determined by reference to the individual work alone, because the scope of iterability is not contained within the individual work. Rather, on this view, the rule that governed the first musical bar carries through not only to the final bar, but also beyond it, bringing further performances into compliance. Is metric regularity, the hegemony of the “beat,” always an instance of borrowed time, or is the rubric of “groove” instead one that provides an alternative time in which to live (and act?). Finally, engaging contemporary musicological scholarship, I argue that Adorno’s critique of rhythmic syncopation indirectly calls for a critical re-evaluation of that very enduring rhythmic concept—by laying bare precisely those forms of polyrhythmic (and historical) interracial experience in the United States that are “in excess” of the concept of syncopation.
“Marcuse, Hip Hop, and Revolution,” Dharmender S. Dhillon (Cardiff University)
I shall examine the relationship between the later work of Herbert Marcuse—An Essay on Liberation (1969), Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972)—and Hip Hop music born out of the ghettos of New York in the 1970s. In particular, I will discuss how this genre of music from marginalized inhabitants of ghettos meets certain conditions that Marcuse posits as necessary for revolutionary action.
For Marcuse, this marginal group has the least to lose from overhauling the status quo, because their consciousness is already at odds with the hegemonic discourse. On that note, Marcuse argues that there is “a black literature . . . which may well be called revolutionary: it lends voice to a total rebellion which lends expression in the aesthetic form’’ (1972). For Marcuse, “black music”—here he was talking in 1972 about blues and jazz, but his comments can be equally applied to Hip Hop—“is the cry and song of the slaves and the ghettos which, born in an exasperated tension, announces a violent rupture with the established white order.” In this way, he identifies black literature, music, argot and slang as a potentially revolutionary language of the “other,” contra the all-encompassing and thus incestuous discourse of the establishment.
That said, I will also examine the problems of this reading in terms of how a great deal of contemporary Hip Hop betrays Marcuse’s conditions in that it emblematises a false consciousness at work, which has appropriated a hard-hitting reductionist version of reality (Fisher, 2011). In this vein, I will also critique the incumbent risk in Marcuse’s analysis of essentialising the marginalized which is indicative of reductive binary thinking (Newman, 2001).
In conclusion, whilst history has not necessarily vindicated Marcuse’s claims, it will be demonstrated that there is still something of them that can be salvaged by way of Hip Hop music and culture which will be demonstrated through drawing upon contemporary examples.
“A Note on Adorno, Jewish Musicians, and Jewish Musics,” Judah Matras (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Alongside disagreements with colleagues at the Frankfurt School and other contemporaries (Jay, 1973; Buck-Morss, 1977; Wolin, 1994; Claussen, 2008;), and whatever their varying explanations and interpretations in Adorno Industry publications over the years (Buck-Morss, 1977, Chap. 2; Paddison, 1993, Chap. 1; Witkin, 1998, Chaps. 9, 10; Klumpenhouwer, 2001, 2002), Theodor Adorno was famously hostile to concepts, theory, and praxis of “use” music (gebrauchmusik) and arts generally and to those of “national,” “racial,” “class,” and “ethnic” musics in particular. (Adorno,  2002;  2002;  1976, Chaps. 3, 9). Whatever the German-Austrian, or Jewish, or bourgeois identities or “elitism” to him, and whatever the anti-Semitic identification, victimization, and attacks on him personally or on the Frankfurt School collectively or on associates and friends, Adorno never explicitly identified himself as “Jewish” just as he never denied Jewish origins or affinities.
Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment ( 1972) reflects a fundamental shift in the Frankfurt School’s treatment and attitude to anti-Semitism, moving away from the traditional Marxist belief in the proletariat as the agent of positive totalization and more toward the conclusion that the best to be hoped for was preservation of enclaves of negation in the present world; and its members paid more attention to the Jewish question (Jay, 1973). It also reflects a much stronger identification of Adorno with Jews, Jewishness, Jewish identity, than anything previously apparent in his writings (Jäger, 2004, Chap. 10). In this paper I interrogate the manner in which remembrance and interpretation of the Holocaust are incorporated in Adorno’s aesthetics and sociology of musics. Though never a champion of “Jewish music,” Adorno’s post-Holocaust writings and lectures did indeed present Schoenberg and Mahler as “Jewish composers” and their musics as “Jewish music” despite his antipathy to “ethnic” or “nationalistic” musics. Using an innovative tabulation I show that he tended to give favorable mention to contemporary or “modern” Jewish composers, musicians, and their musics.
Session 4: Music and the Work Ethic
“Adorno’s Negative Musical Remainder,” Murray Dineen (University of Ottawa)
The aim of this paper is to apply Adorno’s concept of dialectical negation as set forth in Negative Dialectics to music. When a thing equates dialectically with its concept, some aspect will not fit the equation: “Objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder, … they come to contradict the traditional norm of adequacy.” (Adorno 1973, 5) In terms of music, as sounds are equated with the concept of music, some material aspect of sound will not fit in, but instead will function negatively to form a dialectic remainder.
This paper applies the notion of negative remainder to describe the musical commodity. The bourgeoisie see a musical commodity as a complete entity—a thing merged completely with its concept. But as Marx reminds us, the labour expended to produce the bourgeois commodity is left out of the equation. Following Adorno, labour is remaindered negatively in a musical commodity. It is the musical thing left out or repressed. Remaindered thus, musical labour takes on a materiality, as a sign or index of deception and repression, the material aspect of the sound object omitted in the bourgeois musical commodity.
The paper concludes with two applications of this concept of negative musical remainder, both derived from Adorno, both applied to criticism. In the Prisms Schoenberg essay, Adorno describes Schoenberg’s audience as forced to work for its leisure. The confusing aspect of Schoenberg’s music is not its sonorous intractability, but rather the illumination of a negative remainder—that labour is required even of the audience—a fact usually repressed in the bourgeois musical commodity. Secondly, working from Adorno’s Beethoven monograph, this paper shows the excesses of Beethoven’s late style as an attempt to reinsert labour into the commodity equation, after its suppression in the middle-period works.
“The Martyrs of Artworks”: Adorno on Virtuosity, Performance, and Musical Labor,” David VanderHamm (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Though Theodor Adorno never provided a sustained consideration of musical virtuosity, the concept appears throughout his writings on music. Unsurprisingly, he is more likely to praise (or at least acknowledge) compositional virtuosity, while actual performed acts of virtuosity are often treated as either false or potentially troublesome versions of sacrifice. Yet these critiques are not dismissals of virtuosity as such. Adorno’s negative comments on virtuosity, such as those on Rachmaninov in “Commodity Music Analysed,” are not against virtuosity per se, but against the false pretenses of great labor—“the illusion of fluent virtuosity.”
This paper seeks to synthesize Adorno’s comments on virtuosity in order to establish and critique the place of virtuosic skill within his thought and its function within the culture industry. Though Adorno himself ultimately failed to maintain the distinction, one of his most important insights is the difference between virtuosity as a phenomenon (undeniably tied to an individual’s labor) and the virtuoso as a celebrity whose image and success is guaranteed by the culture industry. Relating Adorno’s thought to current scholarship in performance studies with an emphasis on embodiment, I argue for the relevance of performed virtuosity and its usefulness of shifting focus from the musical work to the work of making music. Though Adorno refers to virtuosi as “the martyrs of artworks,” his work also provides a way for viewing virtuosic performers as models of unalienated laborers, as those for whom their skill and their struggle is freely chosen. Though constantly in danger of being reduced to commodified spectacle, virtuosity also presents a potential challenge to the persistent commodification of works of art.
“Beyond the Autonomy Principle: Adorno, Benjamin, and the Challenges of Today’s Musical Experience,” Alessandro Cecchi (Institute for Music of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice, Italy)
While Adorno was a fervent advocate of the autonomy of art, Benjamin in his Work of Art essay went as far as to assert that art only possessed a “semblance” of autonomy. This contrast was a symptom of a different political position, even though Adorno and Benjamin were both influenced by Marxism. In Adorno the political aspect is connected to the artist’s freedom from external (particularly economic) influences and purposes: the artist must be solely oriented to the coherence of the formal construction and the expression of authenticity. On the contrary, Benjamin sees an unexpected political opportunity in the emancipation of the work of art from the illusion of its “autonomy” as a product addressed to the masses such as a film or disc, both intended as “technologically reproducible” works of art.
In recent decades Adorno’s position has been often singled out as a model by popular music scholars who have introduced the dialectics between “authentic” and “commercial” music into their research field, overlooking the patent inadequacy of Adorno’s approach to popular music. Recent contributions of musicology and analytic philosophy to aesthetics, which have criticized the “aesthetic of autonomy” and the concept of “aesthetic experience” as extraordinary and separated from “non-aesthetic” experiences, seem to directly challenge Adorno’s issues and to favour—implicitly or explicitly—the idea that Benjamin’s position is more adequate to the current situation. Today’s musical experience, which is predominantly conveyed through technological mediation and characterized by increasing ubiquity and nearly continuous accessibility of musical and audiovisual contents via the widespread diffusion of mobile devices, is strictly connected with this changing perception, and offers decisive cues for discussing the aporias of aesthetic autonomy and the ambivalent role played in it by Marxism.
Session 5: Humanism—Secular and Sacred
“Ernst Bloch and the Requiem,” Wolfgang Marx (University College Dublin)
In his opus magnum The Principle of Hope, Ernst Bloch developed a philosophy of hope as the main driver of improvement of the human condition and of human endeavour in general, including references to the arts, literature, philosophy, human sciences and technology. For him, death was the “harshest non-utopia” that was most likely to successfully undermine the concept of utopian hope. Music, on the other hand, he called the “most utopian of the arts.” He thus regarded music as the best tonic to counter the detrimental impact of the harshest non-utopia, and was particularly interested in how these two areas interacted, i.e. in music associated with death and mourning such as the requiem (but also operas, songs or instrumental music), naming particularly Brahms’s A German Requiem as a key work embodying hope in the face of death. In part based on Benjamin Korstvedt’s work on the philosopher (and with reference to his earlier work The Spirit of Utopia), this presentation will investigate how music came to occupy such a central place in Bloch’s thinking, as well as on the role of death in his philosophy, before focusing on the intersection between these two main interests of Bloch’s which culminate in one of the most poetic lines in The Principle of Hope: “das Requiem umkreist die Geheimlandschaft des höchsten Guts” (the requiem encircles the secret province of the supreme good).
“Repudiating Darkness?—Brahms, Iphigenie, and the Frankfurt School,” Nicole Grimes (University College Dublin)
Erich Heller observes that there are three occasions on which “the reality of evil asserts itself poetically” in Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris. One such instance is the “Gesang der Parzen” that Iphigenie sings in her attempt to come to terms with the demands of heavenly decree and worldly practicality. It is precisely this passage that Brahms set as his Gesang der Parzen, Op. 89.
This 1882 composition is the most despondent and dissonant of Brahms’s one-movement works for choir and orchestra. Furthermore, unlike the conciliatory endings of Schicksalslied and Nänie, in Gesang der Parzen, despite a shift to the major mode that coincides with the fifth verse, Brahms’s setting is left intentionally and poignantly unresolved, recalling at its end the jarring juxtaposition of the D minor and F# minor chords heard at the outset. The great “Warum” posed both in this progression, and in this piece, is never answered. One might consider Brahms’s setting, therefore, to resonate with Adorno’s later view of the play, whereby he challenges the notion that Goethe’s Iphigenie “repudiated the experience of darkness, the experience of the force of negativity.”
This paper embarks upon a critical reading of Brahms’s Gesang der Parzen that situates it at the centre of a continuum reaching from the New Humanism of Goethe to the Frankfurt School. This reading of Brahms’s Parzenlied explores the extent to which Brahms captured the radicalism of this poem by viewing the composition in relation to critical writings by Adorno and Benjamin.
“Reading Adorno’s “Sacred Fragment,” Sebastian Truskolaski (Goldsmiths, University of London)
In a piece titled “Sacred Fragment” (1963) Theodor W. Adorno speaks of the impossibility of producing cultic music in the present. This raises questions about the cause of this impasse. With a view to this question, Adorno reflects on Arnold Schönberg’s unfinished opera Moses & Aron. As he argues: “Aufklärung hat, wie man aus autobiographischen Äußerungen Schönbergs schließen mag, das theologische Erbe ins Apokryphe geschoben”. (GS 16, 460) Bracketing momentarily the distinction between cult and theology, we can note that Adorno’s question is as follows: what happens when Schönberg draws on explicitly biblical themes in spite of themselves? The same, however, might be asked of Adorno. After all, references to broken vessels, image bans and a messianic light also abound in his writings. With respect to Schönberg, Adorno notes:
In Schönbergs Entwicklung überschlägt sich (…) Ausdruck als Negativität, als Leiden der Person in sich selbst, wird zur negativen Theologie, zur Beschwörung jenes objektiv umfassenden und versöhnenden Sinnes, welcher der absoluten Subjektivität sich verweigert, die sich doch nicht entrinnen kann. (GS 16, 463)
This passage points in several directions. For one thing, it anticipates the common charge that Adorno too is the proponent of a “negative theology,” as claimed by Jürgen Habermas amongst others. However, as I argue, Adorno’s theological vocabulary cannot be grasped in these terms. Rather, it must be seen in light of an enigmatic formulation from a letter to Walter Benjamin, dated 17.12.1934: as “‘inverse’ theology.” Using “Sacred Fragment” as my point of departure, I hope to show how Adorno’s ostensibly theological terms might be turned against what has been called the capitalist cult religion.
Session 6: Adorno’s Schubert
“Adorno and the Negativity of Musical Landscape,” Sebastian Wedler (University of Oxford)
Although thus far scarcely acknowledged, musical landscape is one of the key concepts of Adorno’s music aesthetics. Used as a recurring theme throughout his musical writings, musical landscape in Adorno yields its signification by means of the various contexts in which it is employed: established for the first time in his early essay on Schubert (1928), this concept likewise prominently appears in the context of Adorno’s interpretation of Beethoven, Debussy, Mascagni, Ravel, and Schoenberg, as well as in the section concerning the “Naturschöne” in Ästhetische Theorie. While scattered aspects of Adorno’s concept of musical landscape were productively developed in Burnham’s article on “The ‘Heavenly Length’ of Schubert’s music,” as well as in contributions to the first volume of the 2005 issue of 19th-Century Music accompanying the first English translation of Adorno’s “Schubert,” the full dimension that this concept has in Adorno’s music aesthetics nonetheless still remains to be elucidated. It is against this background that I will address the axiomatic notions by which Adorno’s concept of musical landscape is tied up: (i) the configuration of the subject-object dialectic of Schubert’s landscapes (in relation to Beethoven’s late style); (ii) the ethics or critical implications therein invoked (taking into account Adorno’s early philosophical programme of the “Logik des Zerfalls” as a critical response to Hegel’s Logik); (iii) the temporality of musical landscapes (with reference to Kierkegaard’s “Øieblik” and Husserl’s concept of retention) and its coalescence with the concept of musical lyricism; (iv) the romantic projection of subjectivity onto landscapes; and (v) ultimately the utopian quality of landscape as a “place” of negative dialectics, though this actually makes any “placehood” impossible. In developing Adorno’s theory of musical landscape, this paper provides the tools for a hermeneutic music-analytical practice concerned with the representation of nature in music, one of the crucial music aesthetic topoi of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
“Promesse du Bonheur: Adorno, Musical Landscape and Happiness,” Richard Leppert (University of Minnesota)
Adorno repeatedly associated music with what he termed a promesse du bonheur, a notion he borrowed from Stendahl’s Life of Rossini (“As an art, [music] suffuses the soul of man with sweet regret, by giving it a glimpse of happiness; and a glimpse of happiness, even if it is no more than a dream of happiness, is almost the dawning of hope”), Nietzsche (“Has it been noticed that music liberates the spirit?”), and Bloch (“[Music] is synonymous with hoping . . . [it] is pitted against [death] as the most utopian of all the arts”). As Adorno succinctly put it, “The promise contained in the age-old protest of music [is] the promise of a life without fear.”
While Adorno’s focus on Western music of the 19th and 20th centuries principally encompassed the work of Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Berg and Schoenberg, early in his career (at age twenty-five) he wrote an important essay on Schubert (a composer to whom he later returned only in passing) articulating the argument concerning music’s utopian charge that he would thereafter revisit many times even to the very end of his life. In this essay, Adorno surveys Schubert’s acoustic landscape philosophically, subjectively, formally. He listens to the familiar otherness of Schubert and finds mutuality—empathy. The result is joy, but also tears. “Can music ever be cheerful,” asks Schubert; and Adorno, with tears in his eyes, responds “no, not under current conditions”; yet in the end what he hears in Schubert is less reference to dystopian actualities and more the momentary hint of reconciliation between subject and object. To that end, the paper will consider the andante movement from Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat (Op. 100, D.929) as a nearly perfect example of what Adorno heard as an instantiation of the reconciliatory gesture: a promesse du bonheur.
“Adorno’s Decay and Schubert’s Fragments,” Arabella Pare (Hochschule für Musik, Karlsruhe)
At the beginning of his Schubert essay, Adorno presents the relation of truth and human emotion in Schubert’s music as one of revelation through decay. He first states that the truth itself does not exist in the work, but presents itself through the work. However, the task of revealing it is left to the listener. Here begins a progressive deterioration which is necessary to unveil the truth: the representation of the truth must first decay, taking with it the appearances from its musical content and revealing the transparency of the truth which is referred to by the musical content. The decay of the lyric representation is therefore the decay of the subjective content. The continuation of this process leads to the realisation of the fragility and impermanence of the material-conditioned form itself, the dialectic collision of two powers. The impossibility of coexistence between the deceptive eternity which “is read from the stars” and the substance of the immanent consciousness, indeductibly present, results in a destruction of both and also a destruction of the temporary unity of the work. The work is therefore opened through a presentation of its transience.
Adorno is speaking here of the receptive experience of a listener, one who absorbs and engages with the work as it is presented. However, his discussion of the impossibility of the unity of material-conditioned forms leads directly to the little-known and vitally important fragmentary works of Schubert, particularly those in which his own struggles with the presentation of truth and emotion in a unified form is at the forefront. Through an examination of the unfinished piano sonatas, works in which the dialectic and formal openness lie not only on the side of the receptive listener but remain unresolved and inherent in the works themselves, this paper will illuminate Adorno’s presentation of the dialectical tensions in Schubert’s forms and the timeless Schubertian landscapes with a promise of a Utopian redemption which might be envisioned.
Session 7: Adorno and Other Marxists
“The Other Marxism: Adorno, Lukács, and the Debate over Materialist Music Aesthetics in East Germany,” Golan Gur (University of Cambridge)
The German Democratic Republic gave rise to a distinctive Marxist outlook on musical culture and aesthetics. Precisely at the same time that Western European and American avant-garde composers wrote the most complex scores in the history of music, leading GDR composers and theorists insisted that a truly progressive art must preserve its ties to realism in order to be widely understood. Historically, the chasm between the two camps was anticipated in the “expressionism debate,” provoked in the late 1930s by György Lukács and Alfred Kurella who defended a “realist” form of materialist aesthetics against proponents of expressionism such as Ernst Bloch. The implications of this debate continued to reverberate well after World War Two. Although Adorno played only a marginal role in this controversy, the influence of the Frankfurt School had grown significantly after the war and attracted also the attention of East German authors. My paper explores two overlapping phases in the critical reception of Adorno’s music philosophy in the GDR in view of Lukács’ expressionism-realism dichotomy. Citing East German Marxist (or, rather, Marxist-Leninist) music theorists such as Georg Knepler, Ernst Hermann Meyer and Harry Goldschmidt, I will discuss two distinct notions of the way music engages and affects social reality. In the second stage, I will tackle the more positive assessments of Adorno’s ideas in the years shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This change of attitude, I will show, was closely connected with changes in Soviet cultural politics and developments in New Music in the GDR. Yet, what is revealed by the confrontation of East German critics with Adorno goes beyond purely historical interest. Drawing on the rich but little explored materials left us by East German music theorists, I will argue in favour of a renewed Marxist critique of Adorno’s music aesthetics.
“Re-inscribing Marxism into Adorno: The Work of Hans G. Helms,” Ian Pace (City University London)
Hans G. Helms (1932–2012), a private student of Theodor Adorno, as well as of Max Horkheimer and Siegfried Kracauer, pursued multiple careers as a composer, experimental writer, and historical and sociological scholar from a Marxist perspective. He is best known for his text work Fa:m’ Ahniesgow (1959), a key work in the Sprache als Musik movement (also involving Dieter Schnebel, Mauricio Kagel and György Ligeti) which represented a major shift in focus from the mid-1950s avant-garde, and was also deeply involved with the Contra-Fest in Cologne in 1960, in opposition to the official modernism of the time. Helms was an early supporter of the work of Charles Ives, producing writings and broadcasts for WDR on the composer, and also a prominent supporter of the music of John Cage. In this paper, I give an overview of Helms’ activities and thought (drawing upon Helms’ numerous writings and also archival material from WDR) and consider its relationship to that of the later Adorno, in particular in his Einleitung in die Musiksoziologie (1962, rev. 1968), arguing that Helms’ own sociology of music entails a re-emphasis upon classical Marxist ideas and categories, in some ways closer to the Adorno (and Kracauer) of the 1920s and 1930s. I also consider the relationship between the two thinkers’ constructions of John Cage in the context of post-war West German cultural politics.
“Adorno, Subjectivity, and Collectivity,” Mark Abel (University of Brighton)
Subjectivity is a key concept in Adorno’s aesthetics but his account of its place in music is complex and, arguably, ambiguous. One reading would be that Adorno effectively equates the subjective component with musical content, which, through a dialectical process, subsequently forgets its subjective origins and becomes sedimented as objective musical form. Somewhat differently, musical subjectivity for Adorno has been read as the socially mediated creative process which transforms the historically determined musical material of a given society (Witkin). In both these conceptions, subjectivity is fundamentally social and non-individual in character. But Adorno also regards the subject’s emancipation from the social collective as a precondition for the liberation of autonomous art from myth and ritual in the first place, and a central plank of his critiques of Stravinsky and jazz involves the stifling of the subjective element by the collective. In Philosophy of Modern Music we are invited to associate music’s “expressive-dynamic” aspect (singing) with the subjective ego, and the rhythmic-spatial (drumming) with repressive collectivity. Dance, for Adorno, due to its collective and rhythmic character, also performs this anti-subjective role.
This paper will explore the apparent divergences between Adorno’s conception of aesthetic subjectivity in music and test its consistency with classical Marxism’s understanding of subjectivity, individuality and collectivity. Specifically it will question the usefulness for a materialist aesthetics of the subject-object pairing, even if recast in favour of the object in the way that Adorno does, by comparing it with the structure-agency dialectic in classical Marxism.
Session 8—Panel: Ich bin an mir: Reassessing the Musical Thought of Ernst Bloch
Ernst Bloch’s grand philosophical project was unusually musical. In addition to its subject matter, which addresses music in a wide variety of literary and theoretical connections, Bloch’s analyses feature allusive modes of discourse as well as non-linear modes of logic (grosse Blochmusik, as Adorno waggishly put it). Consequently, his work from Geist der Utopie onward broaches a spectrum of issues of enduring critical concern, even as it stakes out a somewhat Quixotic position and freely participates in a diverse range of discourses: German romanticism, gnostic hermeneutics, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, modernism, humanist theology, and not least, Marxism. For these reasons, Bloch’s musical philosophy is an especially promising, albeit sometimes forbidding, resource for twenty-first-century music scholarship and critique. Nevertheless, despite a recent wave of path-breaking work, Bloch remains undervalued in music studies, still rarely discussed—indeed often barely considered—even in fields where his interventions should have much to offer.
This panel brings together five scholars with expertise in music theory, musicology, history, cultural studies, philosophy, and critical theory who are engaged with Bloch’s work particularly as it relates to music. Our approaches overlap yet move in different directions, some more historical, some more theoretical, and some more critical. Each of the panelists will present a short paper and these papers will serve as the starting point of a collective discussion of salient issues they raise. The scope of Bloch’s lifelong project demands this sort of interdisciplinary, multivalent approach if we are to reconsider and reassess Bloch’s thought in ways that remain alive to the great “not yet” of his project and thus to enrich the critical study of music as a practice that conjoins social, material, historical, and aesthetic concerns.
“The Speculative Tone,” Michael Gallope (University of Minnesota)
The Ton is arguably the central unit of musical writing in Ernst Bloch’s musical thought. Through its “mysteriously translucent body” music is speculatively written, played, theorized, recalled, and heard. After briefly outlining the significance of this concept for Bloch, this paper will compare Bloch’s understanding and usage with two other key instances of a philosophically speculative tone. The first is Hegel’s articulation of the Ton in the Lectures on Aesthetics and the Encyclopedia as a materially vibrating sound or “double negation” mediated by a form of ideality. The second is Adorno’s subsequent proposal that the Ton is the “threshold of [music’s] mere existence” and constitutes the foundation of music’s Versprachlichung—its turn towards language.
“Music and the ‘Fiery Truth’ of Matter,” Benjamin Korstvedt (Clark University)
This presentation outlines ideas about the nature of matter that Bloch developed later in his career, drawing on Aristotelian thought (notably Avicenna) as well as Naturphilosohpie, Marx and Engels, in order to consider how these ideas might be read with and against his earlier musical aesthetics, enshrined in Geist der Utopie, which treats music as a complex interplay of nature and humanity in the structuring of sonic material by means of humanly adapted ratios of order. The conjunction of these early and late streams of Bloch’s thought raises provocative new perspectives on important questions concerning the interplay of musical material and human volition, the materiality of music and its relationship to Nature, and the possibility of aesthetic experience as a mode of knowledge.
“The Not-Yet-Conscious and the Epistemological Value of Esthetic Experience,” Beth Snyder (New York University)
The Not-Yet-Conscious acts as the linchpin of Bloch’s radical epistemology, and examining it affords us insight into his conception of how and what we can know, and how aesthetic (and especially musical) experience can constitute a mode of knowledge. In this paper I examine Bloch’s formulation of the concept, exploring, in particular, its development throughout the Principle of Hope, where it is presented variably as an epistemic space in which the production and reception of the New are possible, as well as a kind of knowledge available through engagement with great works of art.
“Music and Utopian Ground: Breakthroughs in Adorno, Bloch, and Schelling,” Stephen Decatur Smith (Stony Brook University)
This paper will be concerned with figures of breakthrough or Durchbruch in the writings of Adorno, Bloch, and Schelling. Adorno followed Bloch in seeking a mode of thought that might “break through the error of the world,” and for both thinkers, the experience of art, and especially of music, could offer a breakthrough of possibility and an upsurge of promise. I will show that the breakthroughs of Bloch and Adorno may be traced, in turn, to Schelling, for whom music was “nothing other than the primal rhythm of nature and of the universe itself, which by means of this art breaks through into the world of representation.”
Session 9: Berg’s Adorno
“Adorno, Berg, and Composition with Twelve-Tones: Rereading Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music,” Morgan Rich (University of Florida)
Initial impressions of Theodor Adorno’s conception of composition with twelve tones are based on the seminal Philosophy of New Music, thus making Adorno a staunch defender of Arnold Schoenberg and his music. This book alone would justify the view of Schoenberg’s centrality in Adorno’s music criticism, articulated by scholars such as Max Paddison, Lydia Goehr, Richard Leppert, and Susan Buck-Morss. As a polemical, yet historicizing, account of “new music” it is based on Adorno’s own intimate understanding of the musical works and styles he critiques. But to evaluate Adorno’s seminal text, and concurrently his conception of composition with twelve-tones, solely on Schoenberg’s compositional models however, limits our understanding of Adorno. As a composer and critic, well-versed in modernist aesthetics, Adorno chose to study composition not with Schoenberg, but with Alban Berg. With Berg, Adorno learned twelve-tone techniques quite different from those conceived by Schoenberg, especially because Berg was himself indebted to his own student Fritz Klein. Adorno’s compositional techniques and philosophical concepts of twelve-tone music align more closely with those of Berg and Klein than Schoenberg.
Beginning with Adorno’s conception of composition with twelve-tones, from as early as 1925–1926, I argue that Adorno’s understanding of twelve-tone compositions, as based on practical engagement with Berg’s music evidenced in his own compositions and writings, complicates our understanding of Adorno’s position on this subject and needs to be reassessed. First, I demonstrate that Adorno’s conceptions for the possibilities of twelve-tone compositions are strongly informed by Berg’s version of the technique. Second, by analyzing Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music in light of Berg’s music we will see that Adorno’s view of twelve-tone composition allows for more nuance and play with compositional materials than previously understood. Throughout his study with Berg, which, I argue, greatly informed the Philosophy of New Music, Adorno concurrently worked out ideas for the book, but also a concept of negative dialectics as a way to understand twelve-tone composition and progress. Adorno found musical elements in Alban Berg’s works that helped him codify his thoughts for Philosophy of New Music and, eventually, Negative Dialectics.
“A Night at the Opera: Benjamin, Adorno, and the Premiere of Wozzeck,” Kevin Mooney (Western University, Ontario)
On 14 December 1925 Adorno attended the Berlin premiere of Wozzeck with Alban Berg. One week later he attended a second performance with Walter Benjamin. The same month his essay “Zur Uraufführung des ‘Wozzeck’” appeared in the pages of the Musikblätter des Anbruch. This was in no sense a review of the work he had heard twice that month; indeed, Berg’s opera was in some ways a stage prompting the review of Adorno’s critical voice. The Wozzeck piece stands out for its new mode of expression—a prose style that voiced solidarity with musical tenets of the Schoenberg School. But things weren’t so simple even then. In a move anticipating later works, Adorno used the occasion of Wozzeck to valorize the Schoenberg School while effectively denying its existence: Berg was an individual, whose art, like Hölderlin’s, was one of solitude, and whose alliance with Schoenberg was a matter of free choice (freie Wahl) or affinity (Verwandschaft) but certainly not dependence. Which brings us back to Benjamin. By the end of 1925 Benjamin had completed his study of Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandschaften and his Habilitationsschrift on the German Trauerspiel. These along with earlier writings on language provoked questions that would circumscribe Adorno’s music criticism. While Adorno’s alignment with Benjamin is generally dated to 1928 (Buck-Morss writes that “before this time there was not a trace of Benjamin’s idiosyncratic terminology”), Adorno had in fact met Benjamin five years earlier and would later reflect that “from the first moment on” Benjamin was “one of the most significant human beings that ever confronted me.” Drawing on my translation of “Zur Uraufführung des ‘Wozzeck’,” this paper will address themes of solitude, affinity, tradition, and transformation. In effect I will return to that night at the opera, listening through Berg’s affinities to the Benjaminian strain in Adorno’s maturing voice.
Session 10: Modes of Listening
“The Beauty is in the Details: Adorno’s ‘Schöne Stellen’ (‘Beautiful Passages’),” Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Seattle Psychoanalytic Society and Institute)
My paper will explore Adorno’s provocative “Schöne Stellen,” a 1965 radio talk in which he played and commented upon some 37 short musical passages by composers from Bach to Schoenberg. Adorno’s choice of topic is heretical coming from the advocate of “structural listening,” he admits. Yet, like the notion of structural listening, Adorno’s focus on short beautiful passages is aimed against what he refers to as an “atomistic” or “culinary” listening that is fixated on a sensuously pleasing bit of music without regard for its context. In fact, Adorno’s choice of topic is true to the essential tenets of his ideas about the trajectory of Western music and how to listen to it. The introductory philosophical section of “Schöne Stellen” elaborates the dialectic of the whole and the parts while at the same time defending the importance of the nonidentical detail against a potentially overbearing constructed musical totality. Adorno, defender of the objectivist tendencies of the second Viennese School, defends subjective experience as an essential component of authentic listening and discloses that the passages he will play are personal favorites. At the same time, in a kind of reverse Karl Krausian manoeuver, he will use these beautiful passages to expose the stupidity of various conventional ideas about music history. The implicit crux of “Schöne Stellen” is the question, in the light of all the above, in what does the beauty of each particular passage consist, and further—for one senses Adorno’s writings on music and language in the background—how can one articulate these particular beauties in words. The core of my paper will be an examination of how Adorno goes about responding to these questions. Passages from “Schöne Stellen” will be played to illustrate points in the paper.
“Adorno’s Tafelmusik,” David Kasunic (Occidental College, LA)
The founding document of gastronomy, Brillat-Savarin’s 1825 The Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, posits fine dining as an experience that should convene all of the senses, including hearing, through music. Brillat’s comments in his treatise suggest that he could have had in mind Telemann’s famous musique de table. By the late 1820s, however, instrumental music such as table music and divertimenti had given way to the music of Beethoven, which required of the listener an unprecedented level of attentiveness. Brillat’s call for a high-art, multi-sensory experience was confounded by this demanding new music.
In his brief 1934 essay “Music in the Background,” Adorno offers a belated response to Brillat’s call for multi-sensory dining by considering a kind of dining experience that includes live music: dining in a café or pub, accompanied by a small band that features a piano and violin and that plays arrangements and potpourris. The little scholarly interest in this essay has focused on Adorno’s affinity for a middle-brow café music that does not command one’s attention: “The first characteristic of background music is that you don’t have to listen to it,” Adorno writes. What has not been attempted, and what this paper seeks to do, is to situate Adorno’s observations about dining and music within a larger historical trajectory, one that includes the histories of dining, of music for the table, and of multi-sensory perception. For if, as Tia DeNora has observed, Adorno situates modern music “at the end of an historical trajectory, one that began with Beethoven,” then we must consider, as well, the related developments of that same era: gastronomy, the institution of the restaurant, and the multi-sensory productions that are French Grand Opera, Wagner’s music dramas, and talking films.
“The Hörender in Hörigkeit: Adorno (and Foucault) Hearing the Sirens’ Song,” Etha Williams (Harvard University)
Adorno and Horkheimer’s treatment of Odysseus’s encounter with the sirens draws a startling connection between musical listening and unfreedom: “[Odysseus] realizes that however he may consciously distance himself from nature, as a listener [Hörender] he remains under its spell. He complies with the contract of his bondage [Hörigkeit] and, bound to the mast, struggles to throw himself into the arms of the seductresses.” Indeed, the story of the sirens suggests that unfreedom is not externally imposed on art by a wrong society, but rather inheres in art’s concept, the dialectical reverse side of its promise of reconciliation. Subsequent commentators, however, have given relatively little attention to how this reading of the sirens complicates an understanding of art’s utopian character and to the episode’s specifically musical resonances.
I thus situate Dialectic of Enlightenment’s reading of the sirens in the contexts of Adorno’s aesthetic project and of two Enlightenment-era musical-historical treatises that treat the story of the sirens at substantial length. On this basis, I argue that the sirens episode extends Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of enlightened reason to the aesthetic sphere, showing art’s autonomous promise of reconciliation to be inseparable from its heteronomous origins in domination. Moreover, I argue, the authors employed the specifically musical figure of the sirens because music’s non-representational and temporally mediated character acutely embed the fundamental dialectical tension within Adorno’s aesthetic theory: that even as art maintains a hope of reconciliation—and a vestige of the aconceptual language of names—it can convey this only negatively, in the sound of a name divorced from its object. Finally, reading Adorno in counterpoint with Foucault (who also discussed the sirens at length), I argue that art’s utopian promise is always mediated through its memory of suffering—of the domination, violence, and unfreedom from which its concept emerged.
Session 11: Aesthetics Beyond Modernism
“Global Capital and the Stakes of Latin American Musical Modernism,” Stephan Hammel (University of Pennsylvania)
One of the most important enduring legacies of so-called Western Marxism of the last century was the development of a critical philosophical aesthetics of musical modernism. Its promise lay in the coincidence of musical hermeneutics on the one hand, and a structural analysis of capitalist society on the other. However, eurocentrism characteristic of Marxism of the time, and the consistent privileging on the part of humanist materialists of the historical over the geographical, led thinkers such as Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno to largely ignore music and society that found itself outside the bounds of Europe and North America. This paper is an exercise in extending and adapting a Marxist critique of musical modernism such that it properly accounts for the geographical dispersal of global capital in the form of colonialism and dependency. Focusing on Latin America, the goal is to show that classic themes such as the dissolution of musical material and the utopian function of formal incompleteness—while indeed determinative of modernist composition at the capitalist periphery—must be understood in terms of a dialectic of native material and imported product relevant to societies whose function in the global economy centered on resource exploitation.
The paper takes up two compositions by Latin American modernists from the first half of the twentieth century: one by the Chilean Pedro Humberto Allende, the other by the Mexican Carlos Chavez. Each self-consciously addresses the kind of alienation specific to (neo-)coloniality while at once formally embodying a figure of liberation. In addition to shedding light on the stakes of modernist aesthetics outside the industrial world, it is hoped that this paper can go some ways toward demonstrating the flexibility and continued relevance of Marxist aesthetics in our post-Cold War moment.
“A Scene is Missing: Ranciére and a Meta-Politics of Music in Rehearsal,” João Pedro Cachopo (New University of Lisbon)
It is undeniable that Adorno revolutionized the way of understanding the relationship between music and society as no other theorist in the orbit of the Frankfurt School, or even Marxism. According to him, music’s ultimate political meaningfulness lies in that music, as art in general, is the social antithesis of society. This antithesis, however, operates within the immanent logic of music, not at the level of social or communicative practices. Hence, Adorno is generally credited with a defence of modernism in music and is often seen as occupying a parallel position to that of Greenberg in visual arts. However, not only his praise of Mahler’s modernity (despite the obsolescence of his material), but also his late account of the relationship between the arts—let alone his criticism of total serialism—do not match the picture of Adorno as a purely modernist thinker of music.
Though the acknowledgment of Adorno’s importance for discussing music politically provides an important background for my paper, my aim is not to reassess his aesthetics of music as such. Rather, I will focus on the question of the politics of music and ask whether/how it is possible to make sense of it beyond the framework of modernism. In order to do so, I will draw on Rancière’s work without losing sight of Adorno’s main insights. Two reasons justify this move: first, the fact that Rancière unfolds his aesthetic-political approach to art (from The Distribution of the Sensible to Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art) against the background of an explicit criticism of both modernist and postmodernist discourses on art (which he blames for illegitimately linking a political understanding of art to a teleological conception of history); second, the conviction that, though Rancière’s pronouncements on music are rare (albeit not non-existent), the way he understands the (meta)politics of the arts as a reconfiguration of the “distribution of the sensible” (i.e., as a displacement of the borders between visible and invisible, intelligible and unintelligible, audible and inaudible) not only may be brought to bear on music, but shares a lot with Adorno’s most challenging claims on the unobvious political features of music.
From this perspective, my paper is an attempt both to discuss the relevance of Rancière’s work in the field of music, and to bring Adorno’s and Rancière’s main insights together so as to open up new paths of inquiry into the political significance of music under contemporary conditions.
“Bloch and the Musical Aesthetics of Utopia,” Luis-Manuel Garcia (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin)
Since Marx and Engels through to the Frankfurt School and beyond, there has always been an uncertainty about what to do with utopianism. Writing from his emigration/exile in the USA during the Second World War, Ernst Bloch’s writings on hope made a compelling argument for the importance of politically engaged, “concrete” utopianism for Marxist political theory. This paper examines Bloch’s landmark work on utopianism, Das Prinzip Hoffnung, seeking to explore its implications for musical aesthetics.
Although other contemporary Marxist scholars have had more to say on music and musical aesthetics (e.g., Adorno, Benjamin), Bloch’s notion of the not-yet-conscious has substantial potential for the musical figuration of hope and utopianism. In particular, his characterization of hope as a “forward-dawning” and “expectant” emotion offers a rich hermeneutic for music’s temporal structures of expectation. Also, Bloch makes frequent use of imagery that is full of musical, aesthetic, and affective potential: outpouring light, distant (but approaching) glowing horizons, swelling feelings, approaching figures, emergent patterns, upwards/expanding motion, and a yearning for an aesthetically-heightened world. Using examples from popular music styles (electronic dance music in particular), this paper will illustrate how this conceptualization of utopian feeling can be articulated through sound.
The emotional/affective dimensions of this utopian musical aesthetics will be further explored through writings on utopia and affect by more recent Marxist critics, Richard Dyer and Jose Estéban Muñoz, who find in both popular “entertainment” culture (Dyer) and marginalized queer life-worlds (Muñoz) important aesthetic-political strategies for articulating utopian yearning through aestheticized and stylized feeling.