[Marxism] Cardew and Marxist aesthetics of contemporary music

Hans G. Ehrbar ehrbar at lists.econ.utah.edu
Sat Aug 6 11:40:29 MDT 2005

From: "Ian Pace" <ian at ianpace.com>

From: "Louis Proyect" <lnp3 at panix.com>
> Ian wrote:
>>The position of Adorno et al was quite different.
> My take on Adorno: 
> http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/modernism/adorno.htm
Well, that's an interesting article, but seems more about some questionable 
outgrowths of the Frankfurters than of the more intricate and evolving work 
of Adorno himself. Both Adorno and later Marcuse were rationalists to a 
fault (Horkheimer was perhaps somewhat different), their view of the 
Enlightenment was dialectical rather than simply condemnatory: rationality 
and science had become appropriated to serve the interests of capitalism, 
whether through the manufacture of weapons to fight imperialist wars or in 
order to dominate mass consciousness through the culture industry. I 
certainly see nothing of the type of quasi-mysticism that Joel Kovel 
advocates in either Adorno or Marcuse's work.

And for all the undoubted fact that the type of writing on cartoons that 
Adorno and Horkheimer produced has been imitated in countless New Left 
writings on popular culture, in a form which often becomes comical, don't 
you see any truth in what they had to say? On the precise means by which 
Hollywood and Disney cartoons work to consolidate an ideological agenda that 
reinforces the notion that the current state of society is inevitable and 
cannot be changed?

However, it is on this issue where in some senses I break with Adorno, and 
find his work can be almost puritanical in an unproductive way. Adorno 
decries the 'sadomasochistic' elements of various forms of mass culture (he 
was particularly vehement on Stravinsky in this respect). God knows what he 
would have made of minimalist music, mass synthetic grief at the death of 
Diana, or trance-like raves and clubbing. Stylised, ritualistic forms of 
entertainment that appeal to barbaric or submissive impulses were something 
he utterly condemned. Knowing more than a little about the sadomasochistic 
scene and culture, I have a different take. Whether deep-rooted impulses of 
domination or submission are a product of capitalist society and as such 
will either cease or take on a radically different form under socialism is 
not something I can possibly gauge or judge. But such forces undoubtedly DO 
exist in most societies today. Adorno simply condemns all forms of cultural 
practice that could be seen to nurture such destructive impulses. He would 
see such things today, whether in the form of tribal ritual incantations, 
football games or ritualised cruelty enacted at sadomasochistic clubs, as 
acting to consolidate and reinforce such impulses, thus making them stronger 
and more immutable, I reckon. This is where I differ: Adorno doesn't seem to 
accept the possibility of culture as catharsis. It is possible (and many 
involved in sadomasochistic practices feel this way) for such culture and 
practices to act as an arena to periodically give expression to and even 
exorcise dominant/submissive forces within, so as to keep them separate from 
the rest of one's existence. And I do believe for many people this is how 
going clubbing, or losing oneself in escapist entertainment (even violent 
films), joining in the primal chanting in a football crowd, or enacting 
forms of stylised sadomasochistic role play, work within their lives. Adorno 
sees such activities as a simple mirror of reality as it exists; I think 
they can instead be the flip-side of such reality, and perhaps are necessary 
in that respect. Crudely put, is it not possible that those who work out 
their inner frustrations, resentments, violent or cruel urges, or wishes to 
eschew responsibility and submit to some form of control, in some controlled 
arena, may be less likely to express these things in a genuinely destructive 
manner in the rest of their lives?

Of course the question remains as to whether such impulses could be put to 
use to serve more productive and revolutionary ends. By this view, those who 
find a sense of purpose and catharsis within a group of football supporters 
are finding a less productive alternative to joining a mass revolutionary 
movement, in which they would achieve a sense of collective identity as part 
of the progressive international proletariat? This sort of viewpoint is 
rather over-romantic to me, relying as it does on a basic assumption that 
all forms of personal alienation are ultimately positive forces (as an 
indictment of the society that alienates people), and are as such to be 
nurtured to help precipitate the collapse of that society. This is the 
viewpoint one gets often from certain types of middle-class liberal who 
glorify gangsters and other criminals as some type of counter-cultural 
elements. I have little truck with this view, believing that alienation more 
frequently serves to make life under capitalism worse rather than better. 
Remember that the far right act as an collective expression of alienation as 
well. Progressive left activism requires hope and belief in progress, not 
simply discontent. While discontent and personal alienation exist, surely 
they are best allowed articulation in ways that cause least harm to fellow 
working people in their day-to-day existence?

I realise there may be some deep contradictions in the above; whatever, I'd 
be very interested in your further thoughts.


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