Theodor W. Adorno was one of the most important philosophers and social critics in Germany after World War II. Although less well known among anglophone philosophers than his contemporary Hans-Georg Gadamer, Adorno had even greater influence on scholars and intellectuals in postwar Germany. In the 1960s he was the most prominent challenger to both Sir Karl Popper's philosophy of science and Martin Heidegger's philosophy of existence. Jürgen Habermas, Germany's foremost social philosopher after 1970, was Adorno's student and assistant. The scope of Adorno's influence stems from the interdisciplinary character of his research and of the Frankfurt School to which he belonged. It also stems from the thoroughness with which he examined Western philosophical traditions, especially from Kant onward, and the radicalness to his critique of contemporary Western society. He was a seminal social philosopher and a leading member of the first generation of Critical Theory.
A musical study by Theodor W. Adorno about string quartet Movement. Adornos work as a composer by far not so good as his theoretical, but it is an interesting experience.
................. all about Theodor W. Adorno and Adornoism
A widespread campaign to cauterise Adorno's thought entails university teachers handing out to their classes a photocopy of the chapter on the mass culture industry from Dialectic Of Enlightenment, followed by a discussion which ends up emphasizing the positive role television and magazines can play in entertaining the young and in improving race relations. The gap between students' experience and Adorno's accusations are so wide that he is easily cast as a blinkered reactionary. Teachers ally themselves with existing society, damning reflection and critique as an elitist pursuit, unprofitable and unproductive. However, even sociologists cannot take this argument too far, since it would obviate the need for academic analysis: the much-battered corpse of Adorno is forever being resurrected for another sparring match.
In this game, Adorno has become a cipher for marxist thought in general. Middleclass commonsense cannot imagine criticism of class society in its totality, and so interprets any charge against commodification and commercial manipulation as mere snobbery.
This text was performed by Ben Watson at Goldsmiths College, New Cross on 18 October 1995, with quotes from Adorno projected on the wall like placards borne aloft in a Brecht play. You have to imagine Watson as a wan trotskyist adornoite gradually waking up from the doom and gloom and tiny sick tears of the repressive intellectual thatcherism of the mid-80s (aka "postmodernism"), dimly craving the glorious yellow cloud-breaks of popular anti-capitalism and anti-war protest soon to occur ... and the ensuing Adorno revival, which this site's mailbag has been registering recently. Matthew Caygill, noted revolutionary, economist, critical marxist and Pepsi and Shirlie fan domiciled in Leeds, told us we ought to have more Adorno on Militantesthetix som time back. so this posting is dedicated to him. OTL 6-iii-2003
Too many people talk about Theodor Adorno, and not enough people go through the difficult but bracing task of reading his texts. He is an easy man to caricature, because he believed in exaggeration as a means of reaching the truth. He said about psychoanalysis that "only in its extremes is it true". The same is true of his own writing.
Adorno was a product of German philosophy, imbued with the language of Kant and Hegel and Marx - though professional philosophers dislike the way that he wrote so much about music and society. They also object to his highly metaphorical, at times poetic style. However, Adorno's images are hardly poetic in the traditional sense - they are frequently anti-romantic and modernist. Professional philosophers are not noted for their appreciation of surrealist shocks either. Musicologists object to the way that Adorno talks about how music actually sounds rather than the logical structure of the score. This might seem to recommend him to champions of non-academic music, yet he spent his whole life denouncing pop music, which he remained old-fashioned enough to call 'jazz'. Sociologists find him too philosophical and philosophers find him too political. Adorno was a thorn in the flesh for people who believe that specialization is the only way forward for knowledge, yet he wrote in a way that baffles and repels the average reader. He's not had a good press.
In England, it's easy to get the impression that Postmodernism has kicked Adorno into the dustbin of history. Since the 70s, when Structuralism was introduced into English academia as the new discipline to get rid of all the old fogies - FR Leavis was a particular target - Paris has been the font of new theory. In a world awash with Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan, it was hard to get hold of books by Adorno. The Parisian contempt for German philosophy was adopted by many English academics who simply hated the "difficulty" of Adorno. If your definition Postmodernism came from Angela McRobbie - pro-Pop, pro-consumption, anti-whingeing - then Adorno was easily made into Enemy Number One. It is somewhat paradoxical for full-time academics use the terms "ivory tower" and "mandarin" as insults, yet these epithets have been applied to Adorno with a vengeance. I want to argue that this characterisation is a smokescreen, and really constitutes a a defence of the social system Adorno criticised.
Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.
The term culture industry was perhaps used for the first time in the book Dialectic of Enlightenment, which Horkheimer and I published in Amsterdam in 1947. In our drafts we spoke of 'mass culture'. We replaced that expression with 'culture industry' in order to exclude from the outset the interpretation agreeable to its advocates: that it is a matter of something like a culture that arises spontaneously from the masses themselves, the contemporary form of popular art. From the latter the culture industry must be distinguished in the extreme. The culture industry fuses the old and familiar into a new quality. In all its branches, products which are tailored for consumption by masses, and which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, are manufactured more or less according to plan. The individual branches are similar in structure or at least fit into each other, ordering themselves into a system almost without a gap. This is made possible by contemporary technical capabilities as well as by ec....................... MORE
Adorno's writing is so intense and punchy - his aphorisms could be described as punk philosophy - that it is tempting to do without biographical details. However, these do help. Just as the postmodernist attempt to stifle his ideas has a lot to do with the ambitions of a generation of intellectuals who are witnessing the dismantling of the welfare state and the privatisation of education, a generation that desperately wants a philosophy that can justify the market, so an understanding of Adorno's personal history can help explain the genesis of his ideas.
He was born in Frankfurt in 1903 into a prosperous middle-class family steeped in the traditions of Austro-German music: Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner. He adopted his mother's name; she was a professional singer of mixed Corsican-German Catholic parentage. His father, Wiesengrund, was an assimilated Jew and successful wine merchant. He learned to play piano at a very young age and quickly became conversant with the classical repertoire, playing piano-duet transcriptions of orchestral scores with his aunt. He studied philosophy and musicology at Frankfurt, and in 1924 met the composer Alban Berg, who taught him composition in Vienna for three years.
This brief account of Adorno's official existence - gleaned from Max Paddison's book, Adorno's Aesthetic of Music - does little to evoke the reality of German society when Adorno was a teenager. When he was 15 the country he was living in lost a World War, the economy was wrecked and the working class was literally up in arms. From 1918 to 1924, before American money stabilized the economy, the country trembled on the brink of proletarian revolution. Progressive forces in Russia - to be quashed by Stalin and his ideology of "socialism in one country" - actually planned to move the centre of world revolution from Moscow to Berlin, and make German, not Russian, the language of international subversion. In 1933, successively more rightwing governments gave way to Hitler and the Nazi Party. Adorno watched all this with open eyes. He refused to make music or intellectual study a haven from these events: his Marxism brought social ideas into every concept. His longstanding philosophical debate with Martin Heidegger - a much better representative of a theorist who reacted against technology and modernity - seemed writ large in political terms when Heidegger joined the Nazi Party. In 1940 his friend Walter Benjamin committed suicide when fleeing the Gestapo, trapped between occupied France and Fascist Spain.
In 1968 Adorno was besieged by striking students who thought his radical theories would translate into practical solidarity with their actions. They were disappointed. Succumbing to pessimistic cynicism, he declared that their protests were all a product of the culture industry too. His psychosis - such a moving and effective register of the effects of capitalist alienation - rendered him immobile politically, and he even stooped so low as to call the police to remove the protestors from campus. His late essay 'On Resignation', while perceptively enumerating many of the problems involved in forming organisations on revolutionary principles, evolves a defensive mandarin politics out of his defence of subjectivity. That this kind of politics could arrive from someone who had witnessed a failed revolution, a successful revolution betrayed, a Nazi takeover and a genocidal holocaust, was tragic - but represent no judgment on the pugnacious, anti-authoritarian thrust of his many formulations. One is only too aware that the legions of Adorno's postmodern detractors wouldn't even stir the hopes of a student body in revolt.
This review was written for The Wire - then they found they'd already published a review by another writer. The strapline should have read:
IF YOU CAN'T STAND THE CRITIQUE, GOOD GOLLY GET OFF THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL BUS!!!
Ajay Heble launched the Guelph Jazz Festival in the 90s, providing a window for many names in new music (including Pauline Oliveros, William Parker, Misha Mengelberg and Dave Douglas). He's also an academic, though a tribute in the acknowledgements is revealing: Winston Smith's Toronto bookshop Writers and Company "was, until its recent closing, an exciting example of an alternative public sphere, a community-powered space where many of us doing cultural work received our real education" (p. xiv).
However, it's as assistant professor of literatures and performances that Heble addresses us here. Of course, antagonism between official and unofficial knowledge is as old as the Church. The conflict usually reaches The Wire's pages in jibes at Pop Sociology and Cultural Studies. The paradox is that the favoured reference points - Benjamin, Adorno, Attali, Deleuze - are identical, whilst not a few self-styled "heretics" are themselves in receipt of fat stipends (come to think of it, some of them look pretty episcopal too). To publish with Routledge - to continue the analogy - is like appearing beneath the rubric of the Church Of England: Routledge are the major player in the lucrative academic market, cognisant that universities crave the spice of fashion as much as the meat of science.
Heble negotiates this paradox by opening with a paper he wrote ten years ago. It applied the structuralist linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure to Bebop. Apparently, before Saussure, "words were held to be important precisely because they were thought to represent things in the external world" (p. 39), whereas after Saussure, words only relate to other words. Heble's daft summary certainly says much about the solipsism of post-structuralist theory. Unfortunately, he's been so busy promoting music, he hasn't had time for a coherent philosophical rethink. Instead of dumping structuralism for Valentin Voloshinov's theory of the sign - whose democratic concept of "concrete social utterance" actually suits improvised music - Heble simply adds apologetic "side bars" written by a sadder and wiser self. Following mainstream academic fashion, bad theory gives way to pragmatism ("ethics" and "worldliness"). Now that Derrida's revelation of "the incapacity of language to represent presence" (p. 47) seems less burningly urgent, Bebop is better understood as an expression of black self-confidence after the war. Such retreats are sensible enough, but they make his essay look like a sophomoric exercise that should have been binned.
Having elevated bending-with-the-wind to the plane of auto-critique (and claiming such revision is somehow on a par with Coltrane's subversion of the Broadway ballad, p. 31), Heble muses on modern music. An analysis of three autobiographies - those of Ellington, Holiday and Mingus - succumbs to the patronising dogma that anything and everything done by black media-figures is sacred: it's all about identity being "reinvented to serve the political needs of the moment" (p. 116). Thus the famous "shock" opening of Holiday's (ghosted) autobiography, which states that her parents were 15 and 13 when she was born (when in fact they were 19 and 17), is an example of "improvising a narrative of origins ... the text's loose disregard for matters factual ... may well be suited to serving the needs of subaltern sensibilities" (pp. 108-9). We've entered that rarefied zone where "respecting the Other" turns into double-think.
In seeking to explicate dissonant jazz, Heble uses Theodor Adorno. Since Adorno's aversion to jazz is notorious, this might seem strange. However, no-one who responds to the avantgarde - in other words, who opens up their subjectivity to experiences outside the commercial consensus - can avoid Adorno. This is because Adorno's theory is unburdened by the usual cultural "oughts", and squarely faces the situation of free art in an unfree and unfair society. However, Heble fails to grasp that Adorno analysed the whole of society and its discontents. Blinded by the liberal myth of individual careers as the solution to mass economic injustice, Heble even claims that Ellington's passing for white was "subversive" (p. 115).
In Heble's postmodernist imaginary, "empowering" - a weasel word coined by state professionals to manage dissent - applies to both collective resistance and individual success. Though Wynton Marsalis is dissed, Heble's description of Sun Ra could equally well apply to the stars of corporate-sponsored neo-con bop: "a jubilant choreography of mobility and social momentum" (p. 138). The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Charles Gayle are recommended as examples of Free Jazz resistance to conformity. Actually, a rigorous Adornian analysis - which entails paying attention to the musical substructure - would reveal that, unlike Muhal Abrams and Albert Ayler, the AEC and Gayle are conformist through and through. They do not derive their current status from technical innovation, but from fulfilling a need for "oppositional" exoticism on the part of consumers. A discussion of art and politics which hinges on Gayle's Biblical outbursts against gays cannot attain the subtlety and depth of Adorno's discussion of Wagner, because Heble is dealing with a problem caused by niche marketing - patronising vaunting of an idiot - not the interior construction of the musical object.
Anyone using "a bit of Adorno" will come unstuck: behind Adorno stands the Marxist project of understanding and changing the totality of nature and history, the Frankfurt School's criticism of both Soviet Communism and Liberal Democracy, and a passionate denunciation of both commodity culture and the "art" that claims to be a worthy alternative to it. Adorno's insights are devastating because he saw that "commercial potential" - the rule that everything must be judged by its ability to extract surplus value from labour - is not a reward for good music, but an oppressive principle which also causes war, starvation, pollution and corrupted consciousness. Despite its nods to critical theory, Landing On The Wrong Note is really just the ethically-challenged tabletalk of today's jazz promoter: accepting today's hierarchies of avant celebrity and the strictures of political correctness, deaf to the social import of the dissonance he professes to admire.
source http://plato.stanford.edu http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/mehome1.htm