Adorno - On Pop Music

53 posts / 0 new
Last post
Django's picture
Django
Offline
Joined: 18-01-08
Aug 29 2008 11:02
Adorno - On Pop Music

Why are this guy's racist, elitist cultural views getting promoted on a class struggle website?

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Aug 29 2008 12:13

being in the library doesn't constiute 'promotion,' there's all sorts of stuff in there including Kautsky i think, since it's a pretty wide resource for the history of anarchist/communist ideas (if we only had stuff we all agreed with it would be a very small collection wink). however that piece could probably do with a critical intro (i haven't read it) - do you want to write a few lines?

Django's picture
Django
Offline
Joined: 18-01-08
Aug 29 2008 12:43

Joseph - I was objecting to it being on the front page of the site today.

But yeah, I'll work a critical introduction.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Aug 29 2008 13:00
Django wrote:
Joseph - I was objecting to it being on the front page of the site today.

oh :embarassed:

there should be something i can un-tick to kill that

Django's picture
Django
Offline
Joined: 18-01-08
Aug 29 2008 13:22

I've thrown together a brief overview of the criticisms, hope it is of some use:

Adorno's cultural criticism has been heavily criticised, and his writing on popular culture perhaps more than anything else. We feel it is necessary to lay out the basic substance of objections from a class perspective.

These views can be best criticised on two fronts:

His criticisms of Jazz and popular music are at best uninformed, at worst based on racist prejudice. Adorno would often use 'Jazz' and 'Popular Music' as synonyms, reflecting his racialised understanding of the phenomenon. His dismissal of Jazz is notoriously prejudiced, being based on a strawman understanding of 'cheap', 'primitive' black music: “Considered as a whole, the perennial sameness of jazz consists not in a basic organization of the material within which the imagination can roam freely and without inhabitation, as within an articulate language, but rather in the utilization of certain well-defined tricks, formulas, and clichés to the exclusion of everything else.” His viewpoint is also dubiously eurocentric, as repetition is part of the musical language of many societies, including the 'serious' music of non-Western cultures.

His views on popular culture feed into a wider critique of “the culture industry”-the capitalist domination and production of popular culture- and the concurrent defence of “serious culture”, especially Art. In his view the latter was being subsumed into the former, to its detriment. The view that Art has a criticality which popular culture does not can be read as a repetition of the foundation myths of art as a specialised activity. It was not until bourgeois relations of production assumed hegemony that an identifiable singular conception of Art emerged, between the 18th and 19th centuries. Central to it was an insistence on Art as unmediated, free activity, as opposed to the activity of workers coerced by wage slavery. This split reflects the division of labour entailed in capitalist production, and obviously, overcoming the division between 'creativity' and 'work' is core to the communist project. The split between 'serious' and 'popular' culture is indicative of this bourgeois ideology. The view that autonomy is possible within capitalism, which is a total system, should be criticised, especially when the autonomous space is an elitist institution.

In practice, Adorno's views actually led him to condemn the attempts at criticality undertaken by 20th century artists. He said of Duchamp, for instance, “it would border on anarchism to revoke the reification of a great work of art in the spirit of immediate use-values.”

Angelus Novus
Offline
Joined: 27-07-06
Aug 29 2008 16:54

I hear Adorno liked to kick dogs and push old people down stairs!

Django wrote:
The split between 'serious' and 'popular' culture is indicative of this bourgeois ideology.

OK, you really haven't done any extensive reading of Adorno, otherwise you'd know that "popular" culture, as in folk culture, isn't the issue, but rather the culture industry, which Teddy and Max regard as supplanting popular culture.

That doesn't mean that one has to subscribe 100% to anything that Frankfurters wrote on cultural matters (I certainly don't), but it does mean that you really haven't read much, if at all, by these thinkers and are just looking to vent a little populist spleen.

Also, I wouldn't be too sure about the idea of a separation between "high" and "low" culture resulting from "bourgeois" ideology. It's arguably a phenomenon with at least roots in pre-bourgeois aristocratic culture.

off-topic
Oh, and on Adorno's _Introduction to Sociology_ and _History and Freedom_: best. fucking. university. lectures. ever.

Angelus Novus
Offline
Joined: 27-07-06
Aug 29 2008 17:03

Teddy-loving fanboys of the world, unite!

Quote:
In the famed unity of theory-praxis, the former was vanquished and the latter became non-conceptual, a piece of the politics which it was supposed to lead beyond; delivered over to power. The liquidation of theory by dogmatization and the ban on thinking contributed to bad praxis; that theory should win back its independence is the interest of praxis itself. The relationship of both moments to each other is not settled for once and for all, but changes historically. Today, since the hegemonic bustle cripples and denigrates theory, theory testifies in all its powerlessness against the former by its mere existence. That is why it is legitimate and hated; without it, the praxis which constantly wishes to change things could not itself be changed.
Django's picture
Django
Offline
Joined: 18-01-08
Aug 29 2008 17:05
Quote:
OK, you really haven't done any extensive reading of Adorno, otherwise you'd know that "popular" culture, as in folk culture, isn't the issue, but rather the culture industry, which Teddy and Max regard as supplanting popular culture.

It is an article about "popular music" , which certainly isnt defined as folk culture.

Quote:
Also, I wouldn't be too sure about the idea of a separation between "high" and "low" culture resulting from "bourgeois" ideology. It's arguably a phenomenon with at least roots in pre-bourgeois aristocratic culture.

Absolutely, but there was no singularised "high" culture as it would be recognised now until the 19th century - there was certainly no singular "art" as a concept with any currency until the 1820s. Larry Shiner has written a good, if not especially radical, book about this.

I also think that reproducing bullshit racist stereotypes isnt a trivial matter.

ernie
Offline
Joined: 19-04-06
Aug 29 2008 17:11

I would agree with Angelus Adorno's writings on culture etc are worth the read, even if in relation to Jazz they can drive you nuts. On popular culture I took his point to be that the culture industry is actively destroying art and the relationship between art and humanity. His pet hate was the way classical music had been reduced to background music, rather than being an active relationship between the listener and the music i.e., a musically educated listener sitting and listening to music. I also found his defense and explanation of New Music ( for him meant Schonberg, atonal etc) very fruitful. His central point here is that the music has to progress and develop and that atonal music represented a major step forwards for music, just as Bach, Beethoven etc had done compared to what had gone before. Adorno felt that by the beginning of the 20th century classical music had become reactionary due to its inability to take forwards music.
There was a strong element of elitism in his work, but there was also some interesting insights into what declining capitalism was doing to culture.
Angelus did he ever comment upon free jazz/creative music, which were/are attempts to take forwards music?

Django's picture
Django
Offline
Joined: 18-01-08
Aug 29 2008 17:42
Quote:
I would agree with Angelus Adorno's writings on culture etc are worth the read, even if in relation to Jazz they can drive you nuts. On popular culture I took his point to be that the culture industry is actively destroying art and the relationship between art and humanity.

I'd still definately be skeptical about claiming any critical autonomy for art, which Adorno gives it, even when recognising its reliance on social exclusion, and even when recognising that it is largely self-perceptual. Certainly the production of the entire cultural environment being an alienated process is important, but Adorno takes bourgeois myths of autonomy of action as having content, which is problematic.

Django's picture
Django
Offline
Joined: 18-01-08
Aug 29 2008 18:53
Quote:
OK, you really haven't done any extensive reading of Adorno, otherwise you'd know that "popular" culture, as in folk culture, isn't the issue, but rather the culture industry, which Teddy and Max regard as supplanting popular culture.

i'd also add that popular is often used to mean mass consumed, not 'of the people' - that is certainly how Adorno uses it in On Pop Music. I may not have read everything they've written, but I have read The Culture Industry collection in English, and some of the writings around it. Theres no need to be completely patronising.

Zazaban
Offline
Joined: 23-10-07
Aug 29 2008 19:10

Adorno seemed to believe that european classical music was the only music of any value whatsoever. That's textbook elitism.

edgewaters
Offline
Joined: 16-08-08
Aug 30 2008 05:45

I find there is something compelling about his critique of popular culture, although I feel he should have been far more categorical about the commodification of culture. He was utterly wrong to grant any exemption - it's not like classical music, experimental music, or any other cultural product produced in a capitalist context, as a commodity, doesn't promote the same pseudo-individualism he criticizes. With a great deal of winnowing, it's possible to rescue a few useful concepts from him, but much must be rejected.

Boris Badenov
Offline
Joined: 25-08-08
Aug 30 2008 06:59

I guess they didn't play much jazz in the Grand Hotel Abyss...

ernie
Offline
Joined: 19-04-06
Aug 30 2008 08:21

Edgewaters

I am not too sure about this

"it's not like classical music, experimental music, or any other cultural product produced in a capitalist context, as a commodity, doesn't promote the same pseudo-individualism he criticizes"

Can it not also produce pleasure, reflection, emotional stimulation. I have no great knowledge of art or art theory, but surely there is some form of dialectic going on. Yes music and art is produced as a commodity, and can produce pseudo-individualism, but there are other aspects as well: the sheer human joy of playing an instrument, being part of a group, orchestra etc. There is also the joy of being part of an audience at a concert etc. I apologize for rambling a bit but the question of the meaning and function of culture, art etc is fascinating.

Whilst on about art I have been raking my brains recently trying to remember a quote from one of Marx's daughters concerning his attitude to one of his poet friends and Marx's saying something about poetry expressing something deep about human emotions. Does anyone know the quote?

Zazaban I agree about his elitist vision of European music, but the development of classical music was one of humanities great achievements and something humanity will always treasure. This does not mean music from elsewhere or in other genres are worthless.

Has anyone the history of European Music in the 20th Century: All the rest is noise? What did you think. I have read it dismisses Jazz as well, but does do a good job at explaining the cultural and historical context of atonal music etc.

Django's picture
Django
Offline
Joined: 18-01-08
Aug 30 2008 09:30

Edgewaters:

Adorno's argument is that in the same way in which bourgeois culture created the means of its own criticism, through inventing the individual and the critical subject, it also created "autonomous" cultural spaces premised on the pursuit of disinterested aesthetic practice and inquiry. These spaces, like the critical subjectivity which allows for the critique of capitalism, become subsumed through the alienation of all cultural production in the culture industry, which brings in line both critical subjectivity and autonomous spaces - which had themselves offered a position from which to suspend or criticise the above processes. So capital develops the means of self-critique but through development into "late capitalism" it destroys these means. He did argue that at some point thanks to late modernism aesthetic autonomy and critical comment become impossible, but that it was possible earlier on by definition.

So he would say that all "serious" culture does become subject to the culture industry, becomes a commodity, but it loses its potentially critical premise on aesthetic inquiry which "popular" music, or music from anywhere else in the world never had.

If i remember right, he argued that the working class had ceased to be a revolutionary subject due to subjectivity being completely invested, through the culture industry, in the needs of capital, but that this happened before the complete domination of the aesthetic sphere. He ends up in defence of serious culture as a sort of last stand. He defends early bourgeois culture against the inevitable development of bourgeois society. In practice of course, this means rubbishing a racist stereotype of pop music in defence of Beethoven. Theres better stuff of his on the site, but putting that on the front page is pretty mental.

Django's picture
Django
Offline
Joined: 18-01-08
Aug 30 2008 09:50
Quote:
"it's not like classical music, experimental music, or any other cultural product produced in a capitalist context, as a commodity, doesn't promote the same pseudo-individualism he criticizes"

Can it not also produce pleasure, reflection, emotional stimulation. I have no great knowledge of art or art theory, but surely there is some form of dialectic going on. Yes music and art is produced as a commodity, and can produce pseudo-individualism, but there are other aspects as well: the sheer human joy of playing an instrument, being part of a group, orchestra etc. There is also the joy of being part of an audience at a concert etc. I apologize for rambling a bit but the question of the meaning and function of culture, art etc is fascinating.

I agree that it is much more complicated. There certainly is a dialectic involved in the production and consumption of culture under capitalism. I'd say that yes, the entire cultural environment is alienated, and there is no way to escape the general reification of consciousness which capitalism engenders other than through revolution or death. At the same time, I think that the material antagonisms capitalism creates, which become highly pronounced during crisis, prevent people becoming simply puppets of capital. In the same way, culture will be affected by its alienation, but that doesnt prevent the conscious creation of amazing work. Though his writing can be frustratingly thin, I much prefer Debord on these matters. Though capitalism only allows pseudo-participation, the possibility of creating a real human community through its overthrow remains.

I'd be wary of swallowing the premises of certain institutions whole. The granting of "creativity" to certain privileged individuals is a crowning product of early capitalist development, I think looking at the historical trajectory of Art as an idea confirms this. Even etymologically, the word went from describing the work of a skilled artisan in any rule bound activity to the non-instrumental work of an aesthetic minority. I think this is completely bound up with the process of seperating society into two classes (in fact someone like Adorno would agree, but defend them nonetheless). Overcoming this is absolutely central to communism, and unlike Adorno I don't preclude that possibility.

edgewaters
Offline
Joined: 16-08-08
Aug 30 2008 16:50
ernie wrote:
Edgewaters

I am not too sure about this

"it's not like classical music, experimental music, or any other cultural product produced in a capitalist context, as a commodity, doesn't promote the same pseudo-individualism he criticizes"

Can it not also produce pleasure, reflection, emotional stimulation. I have no great knowledge of art or art theory, but surely there is some form of dialectic going on. Yes music and art is produced as a commodity, and can produce pseudo-individualism, but there are other aspects as well: the sheer human joy of playing an instrument, being part of a group, orchestra etc. There is also the joy of being part of an audience at a concert etc.

Sure, of course. The fact of it being a commodity doesn't negate these things - not in classical music, not in popular music. Like any other commodity, it is not rendered of any less use by the state of being a commodity. A delicious dinner is just as delicious, whether it's a commodity or produced some other way; the same is true of music. But neither popular nor classical music are an exception to the social effects of cultural commodification.

Django wrote:
So he would say that all "serious" culture does become subject to the culture industry, becomes a commodity, but it loses its potentially critical premise on aesthetic inquiry which "popular" music, or music from anywhere else in the world never had.

I'd have to disagree with his exceptionalism there too, because popular music has certainly expressed a great deal of criticism about capitalism, albeit ineffectively and subject to the pseudo-individualization effect. Maybe I'm just not that sophisticated but I don't really see how classical music has, at all. It doesn't really express ideas, generally. It may exist in an idea-rich context, it may have certain criticisms attached to it in context, but in a vacuum, there's nothing critical about it. And that contextual criticism, well, it's not unique to classical either.

Global Dissident's picture
Global Dissident
Offline
Joined: 5-01-08
Aug 31 2008 18:45

Jazz music was great until it went mainstream, then it did start to all sound the same. It happens to every art form. It starts by negating all previous forms but can only reach a wide enough audience when it is hyper-reproduced by the Capitalist media. Then the next generation creates another art genre, rejecting the previous one, which then sells out and becomes affected by "sameness". And so on.

yoshomon
Offline
Joined: 19-06-07
Aug 31 2008 19:44
Global Dissident wrote:
Jazz music was great until it went mainstream, then it did start to all sound the same. It happens to every art form. It starts by negating all previous forms but can only reach a wide enough audience when it is hyper-reproduced by the Capitalist media. Then the next generation creates another art genre, rejecting the previous one, which then sells out and becomes affected by "sameness". And so on.

Aside from the swing era, I don't think most jazz has ever been hyper-reproduced (outside of a few large cities, there are almost no jazz radio stations or even radio shows), besides the occasional record or artist. For the most part, jazz has an extremely limited audience. I listen to a fair bit of jazz music, and I don't think "sameness' is the case at all. I don't know much about contemporary jazz, but there is an enormous amount of jazz from the 50's to the 80's that is some of the best music ever recorded. Just the back catalogue of Herbie Hancock alone could give you months of diverse listening.

yoshomon
Offline
Joined: 19-06-07
Aug 31 2008 19:42
revol68 wrote:
"Oh noes, if the stupid proles start dictating culture by their mass consumption us bunch of cultural experts and our tastes are out on our ear."

Do you really think that the proletariat "dictates culture by their mass consumption"?

I think what you are putting forward is called 'market populism'.

juozokas's picture
juozokas
Offline
Joined: 5-11-07
Sep 1 2008 02:29
revol68 wrote:

No i don't think it's as simple as that no, but the fact is that what is mass produced is what sells and makes a proft. Still I see no reason why Britney Spears is any more an upholder of capitalist hegemony than Wagner.

Your line is funny but don't be silly. If anything the middle class dictate what is popular to proles, the record labels, the ones in marketing and advertising, the program directors who decide what gets played (for payola), the A & R's that manufacture the image to hammer to a certain demographic to sell the million Garth Brooks or Britney Spears CD's sitting there. How do you think an album debuts at number 1? Teh prolz buying them off the shelf before they are even there? The record labels buy a certain amount of albums to ensure chart position before it's even released. Why do certain songs get played 40 times per day on radio? Come on man.

juozokas's picture
juozokas
Offline
Joined: 5-11-07
Sep 1 2008 03:10
revol68 wrote:
juozokas wrote:
revol68 wrote:

No i don't think it's as simple as that no, but the fact is that what is mass produced is what sells and makes a proft. Still I see no reason why Britney Spears is any more an upholder of capitalist hegemony than Wagner.

Your line is funny but don't be silly. If anything the middle class dictate what is popular to proles, the record labels, the ones in marketing and advertising, the program directors who decide what gets played (for payola), the A & R's that manufacture the image to hammer to a certain demographic to sell the million Garth Brooks or Britney Spears CD's sitting there. How do you think an album debuts at number 1? Teh prolz buying them off the shelf before they are even there? The record labels buy a certain amount of albums to ensure chart position before it's even released. Why do certain songs get played 40 times per day on radio? Come on man.

Yes I'm well aware of how the record industry works (less so now with the increasing division into more and more genres and sub genres) that doesn't for one second mean Britney Spears anymore upholds capitalist hegemony than anyother genre of music. Classical music and high art was commisioned and dictated by the ruling classes, classical musicians had to play the game as much as some stupid boy band.

Nevertheless pop music is not some one way ideology fousted upon us by capital, it is fundamentally rooted in our experiences and does carry the contradictions with it.

Yeah you're right but this wasn't really the interesting part of your post , ie. mass consumption dictates culture. This line might be more realistic 20 or 30 years ago in the music business but now it's definitely mass production that dictates what we consume thru marketing/advertising/handshakes/all of the above. Especially since album sales have dropped big time and they have quotas to meet and profits to make. If you have a capitalist with a warehouse full of commodity X you have to sell it or destroy it. Isn't that the game? So they are going to make sure the proles buy that shit. Unless you feel I'm being patronising to the proletariat or soemthing and we're all free to use our critical faculties to choose between MC scratch and DJ doodle without any coercion whatsoever from the record industry - who apparantly don't share this point of view and know shit doesn't sell itself.

Global Dissident's picture
Global Dissident
Offline
Joined: 5-01-08
Sep 1 2008 03:49

This reminds me of a question I was going to forward about Gramsci and Cultural Hegemony. How can the working class create an autonomous Cultural Indentity when the Culture Industry has Cool Hunters lurking in every mall, on every messge board and in every dance club? (or maybe I'm paranoid) Look at Hipsters. Educated , middle-class socially aware people. After consuming Marxism in College they decide to show their solidarity by shopping in thrift stores and adopting vaguely working class values. They wear V-necks and drink Pabst and wear Flatcaps. The Cool Hunters sense the shift and begin selling working class cultural artifacts that have been de-valued of Meaning by the Middle Class back to the proles who made them Cool originally.

How can the Proletariat create a culture that won't be latched on to by the Petty Bourgeois and mass produced by the corporations?

ernie
Offline
Joined: 19-04-06
Sep 1 2008 17:31

Django and Edgewaters

Thanks very much for replies, I will ponder them.

Pepe
Offline
Joined: 26-11-04
Sep 1 2008 17:59
Global Dissident wrote:
How can the Proletariat create a culture that won't be latched on to by the Petty Bourgeois and mass produced by the corporations?

Why would the proletariat want to do that?

Pepe
Offline
Joined: 26-11-04
Sep 1 2008 18:02
juozokas wrote:

Yeah you're right but this wasn't really the interesting part of your post , ie. mass consumption dictates culture. This line might be more realistic 20 or 30 years ago in the music business but now it's definitely mass production that dictates what we consume thru marketing/advertising/handshakes/all of the above. Especially since album sales have dropped big time and they have quotas to meet and profits to make. If you have a capitalist with a warehouse full of commodity X you have to sell it or destroy it. Isn't that the game? So they are going to make sure the proles buy that shit. Unless you feel I'm being patronising to the proletariat or soemthing and we're all free to use our critical faculties to choose between MC scratch and DJ doodle without any coercion whatsoever from the record industry - who apparantly don't share this point of view and know shit doesn't sell itself.

Well its a bit of both isn't it... obviously putting a lot of money into marketing will increase sales, but then again Lisa Scott-Lee couldn't get into the top 10 even when she had her own TV show.

juozokas's picture
juozokas
Offline
Joined: 5-11-07
Sep 1 2008 18:21

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ25-glGRzI

Views: 99,310,885

The proletariat has spoken.

juozokas's picture
juozokas
Offline
Joined: 5-11-07
Sep 1 2008 18:23

I forgot to mention this means we're officially fucked

Pepe
Offline
Joined: 26-11-04
Sep 1 2008 18:30

Just because a lot of people have what I judge to be poor taste doesn't say much about capitalism.

juozokas's picture
juozokas
Offline
Joined: 5-11-07
Sep 1 2008 18:34

im just joking
kind of grin