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Adorno: Prisms

Posted on August 16, 2009 in Reading Project

I made some vague allusions to reading only “the musicology,” but in truth I only read the infamous “Perennial Fashion — Jazz” essay. Luckily, this was not out of laziness, but because I found it more intriguing than I remember it being. This is not to say that it isn’t still hilarious (because boy howdy), but there is something interesting to it.

The upshot of the piece is that jazz is quite shit, and also boring and repetitive. For the most part, he seems to be talking about commercial/big band jazz which, to be fair, is awful and banal. Still there is a lot of snobbery at work here, and Adorno is always talking about “real music” and the degree to which jazz isn’t it. To give you a little context that may explain what he means by that, I’m pretty sure that Adorno would have called Schoenberg the greatest musician of all time. Take that how you will.

So aside from simple snobbery, Adorno is concerned with letting you know that enjoying a commercial product in a non-critical way makes you prone to fascistic thought. There’s a lot of stuff about how dancing to syncopated rhythms is one (dance) step away from marching at a rally. It is tempting to greet this with a facepalm, but he presumably had musical numbers in films in mind when he wrote this, and it’s hard to say that there is nothing there. Further, Adorno makes much of a commercial product’s ongoing effort to efface history in order to present recycling as innovation.

Also, the article ends comparing the victims of commercial culture to “one of those Russians, accused of a crime, and who, although innocent, collaborates with the prosecutor from the beginning and is incapable of finding a punishment severe enough.” Presumably this is a reference to Bukharin, who will be making at least one appearance later in this process.

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