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Paper Session
Nov 11, 2021 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211111T1000 20211111T1050 America/Chicago CRITICAL THEORIES OF ART AND SOCIETY: ADORNO, BENJAMIN, MARCUSE

Theodor W. Adorno's intensive engagement with certain intellectual traditions--German Idealism, Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis, aesthetic modernism--is the result not only of his personal proclivities, but also of his membership in particular communities, especially those associated with the Institute of Social Research. In its inquiry into the relation between art and society, this panel necessarily spends time with Adorno--one of the most insightful analysts of this relation--but also considers relevant thought by other figures associated with the Frankfurt School, including Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse.

The first paper, "Finding a way back to its folk: Adorno, rationalization and musical 'blind spots,'" makes a case for Black music to occupy a site of resistance to the rationalizing tendencies of an administered society. The second, "Listening (again) to Dissonance, between Realism and Utopia," asks how musicology today might benefit from attending to the debate in 1969 between Adorno and Marcuse over the role of critical theory in a world rife with political conflict and social injustice. The panel closes with "Art, Craft, Commodity: Music in Light of Benjamin's _Arcades Project_." It draws on Benjamin's major study of capitalism to construct an interpretive framework for western art music at the end of the long nineteenth century. 

 

AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org

Theodor W. Adorno's intensive engagement with certain intellectual traditions--German Idealism, Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis, aesthetic modernism--is the result not only of his personal proclivities, but also of his membership in particular communities, especially those associated with the Institute of Social Research. In its inquiry into the relation between art and society, this panel necessarily spends time with Adorno--one of the most insightful analysts of this relation--but also considers relevant thought by other figures associated with the Frankfurt School, including Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse.


The first paper, "Finding a way back to its folk: Adorno, rationalization and musical 'blind spots,'" makes a case for Black music to occupy a site of resistance to the rationalizing tendencies of an administered society. The second, "Listening (again) to Dissonance, between Realism and Utopia," asks how musicology today might benefit from attending to the debate in 1969 between Adorno and Marcuse over the role of critical theory in a world rife with political conflict and social injustice. The panel closes with "Art, Craft, Commodity: Music in Light of Benjamin's _Arcades Project_." It draws on Benjamin's major study of capitalism to construct an interpretive framework for western art music at the end of the long nineteenth century. 

 

Art, Craft, Commodity: Music in Light of Benjamin’s _Arcades Project_
Session 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 16:50:00 UTC

Drawing on the _Arcades Project_ and associated writings, this presentation triangulates Benjamin's notions of art, craft, and commodity to provide a framework for interpreting western music at the end of the long nineteenth century.

According to this body of work, art is neither commodity nor craft, but bears relationships to both that change over time. In the pre-industrial era, the bond between the artwork (_Kunstwerk_) and the craftwork (_Handwerk_) was strong. Both were unique, enduring, shaped by hand, and steeped in makerly traditions.

The advent of capitalism, however, threw into crisis both art and its relation to craft. In particular, the technological ability to reproduce art en masse threatened to deprive it of its uniqueness, durability, authenticity, and authorship. Faced with this crisis, artists had various options. They could, for example, either double down on craft, or produce commodified art, or adopt a more synthetic approach by somehow suffusing craft with an awareness of art's commodifiability.

In his writings on art, Benjamin offers little guidance about how we might apply his insights to music. Nonetheless, the oeuvre of Maurice Ravel immediately springs to mind as a fitting case study. It emerges at the end of the long nineteenth century in France, which is the setting for the _Arcades Project_. It has also long been considered consummate craftsmanship. Less attention has been paid, however, to its participation in commodity culture.

The influence of this culture on Ravel's music is most overt in showpieces such as _Daphnis et Chloé_ and _Tzigane_, as Lawrence Kramer and Steven Huebner have shown. But it is equally perceptible in his piano music. This presentation concludes by demonstrating, through a discussion of the suite _Gaspard de la nuit_ (1908), how a pinnacle of musical craft can still be shadowed so closely by the commodity.  

 

Presenters
MP
Michael Puri
University Of Virginia
Listening (again) to Dissonance, between Realism and Utopia
Session 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 16:50:00 UTC

This paper begins within the entanglement of deeply-felt sympathy and committed disagreement in the 1969 correspondence between Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. Their debate concerning the student protests in Germany and California, begun in late winter/early spring of that year, continued literally until the day of Adorno's death in early August. The urgency of their discussion arose from a historical moment when a longstanding, shared commitment to the aesthetic as precisely a critical, dissident sphere of praxis was sharply confronted with calls, indeed demands, for praxis of another kind. The issues they discussed with such fervour have been repeatedly flagged in recent years as newly relevant for multiple fraught political scenarios today (_FIELD_ journal 2016; Davis 2019; Thorkelson 2019; Gordon 2020); and while nothing returns as it was, as Peter Gordon notes in reference to _The Authoritarian Personality_'s study of traits of fascism (Adorno et al. 1950), the question of "relevance" doesn't rely on all conditions remaining unchanged across time. Indeed, the adherence of Adorno's and Marcuse's Frankfurt School generation to art as a crucial sphere for reflection on the ethical, political, and social dimensions of life might seem to point toward the particular relevance for musicology of Critical Theory's affordances for grappling with manifestations of authoritarianism, ethnocentrism and racism, and the inequities of global capitalism. However, the refusal of normativity by these same thinkers (Angermann 2015) begs the question of whether their focus on details of their contemporary culture cancels the value of their critiques for later historical contexts, when socio-cultural phenomena have unarguably changed. Yet it is partly the persistent belief in the emancipatory capacity of aesthetic experience, philosophy's utopian element (Davis 2019) in the face of a heightened culture of protest as the "realist" realm of action, that draws renewed attention to their discourse. Thus, my talk proposes a necessarily self-reflexive stance in questioning what the notions of dissonance within Adorno's and Marcuse's relation of the aesthetic to social reality (Marcuse 1968) offer for thinking about and practising music in a new context of socio-political dissent.

Presenters
SL
Sherry Lee
University Of Toronto
Finding a way back to its folk: Adorno, rationalization and musical “blind spots”
Session 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 16:50:00 UTC

A central contention to be explored in this paper is that the rationalization of music cannot abide folk. The dialectical movement of music within "exchange society" is unable to take in this orientation, as the folkic reflects a way with time and world that looks to safeguard equivocality. Crucially however, artistic practice, whether popular or art, cannot do away with this aspect, this necessity frustrating processes of standardization and spiritualization in the popular and art spheres, respectively. My interest is in an aspect of music-making that slips outside the "process of rationalization." It is fascination with comportment that "might be [of] the waste products and blind spots that have escaped the dialectic" (Adorno, 1974, 151). The discussion illuminates a predisposition, seemingly indispensable to music-making that reflects "ontological and epistemic instability and incompleteness," (Folayan, 2020, 9) that frustrates self-containment, and so is wholly incompatible with the teleology and "laws of historical movement" (Adorno, ibid.).


Toward this explication, the paper culminates in a juxtaposition of the late Adorno prescription to cure an aging new music, and the contemporaneous blooming of the black "new thing," as I argue that music, however autonomous, seeks to find a way back to its folk, those works and that material that speaks to it, and that it must speak with.

Presenters
FO
Fumi Okiji
UC Berkeley
University of Virginia
University of Toronto
UC Berkeley
The University of Hong Kong
The University of Hong Kong
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