Possible discovery of a critique of fashionable trends in Adorno’s Stravinsky critique

Adorno’s critique of Stravinsky – whatever you might think about it as a critique of Stravinsky’s actual music – offers us a nice early setting of his subject-object epistemology. Stravinsky’s music is criticised for trying to affect the elimination of the subject, in favour of a false objectivity that says to us: “this is what authentically exists, it cannot otherwise be so.” The possibility to think that things might be otherwise than they are is, for Adorno, the possibility of thinking critically, precisely the possibility of freedom and of escaping the prison of the false world of late capitalism. This is a possibility, of course, that the forces of ideological hegemony (understood crudely) would wish to preclude. In order to think it at all, we must understand experience as always resulting from the mediation between subject and object, with truth or meaning not reducing to one or the other. Leaving out the dangers of a reduction to the subject-side for now, what is relevant to this post is: a reduction to the object-side would place truth beyond the concerns of human beings as thinking subjects. We cannot change it because it is timeless, and immutable. We must submit to its demands, as the girl in the Rite of Spring does, who dances herself to death, herself and everyone else around her honestly believing that if she does not, Spring will fail to appear. Obviously this is not a plausible notion of truth: this is in part the point, the fact we might think truth was like this, is if we were under ideology’s veil of Maya. But it is the sort of truth, Nietzsche points out in Twilight of the Idols, that ‘the philosophers’ have always, with but a few exceptions, pursued…

Such is the danger of trying to do without the subject. Something that interests me is the possibility of using this critique to provide missiles against the currently fashionable Deleuze, as well as associated Deleuzianisms, Object-Oriented Ontology and the rest that fight under the ‘speculative realism’ banner. Speculative realism obviously makes the element of speculation in thought about a reality that is radically distinct from thinking subjects. Adorno’s Stravinsky critique suggests that this is not only based on a false epistemology, but is politically reactionary, and also somehow complicit in the domination of nature (I could expand on this, but I’m currently trying to untangle all the knots involved in understanding exactly what Adorno means by/thinks is at issue with the ‘domination of nature’ and I really don’t have the ability to produce a short, easy, accurate summary yet to hand). Given that recent attack on Graham Harman’s politics, I don’t know, someone who knows more about the movement (I only have the vaguest knowledge) might be able to craft this into a powerful attack.

As far as Deleuze goes, there are interesting hints both in the Philosophy of Modern Music and in Adorno’s later essay on Stravinsky in Quasi Una Fantasia that he might somehow have devised a pre-emptive critique of schizoanalysis. Adorno says that, in its purging of the subject, Stravinsky’s music is “schizophrenic.” “The complexion of his music was derived from the lesson of obsessional neurosis and schizophrenia – that is, that he had… constructed schizophrenic models.” In trying to purge his music of all subjectivity, Stravinsky’s music results in “mute deafness as of someone bereft of his organs.” [my italics] My knowledge of Deleuze (and Guattari) is again pretty scant, but as far as I understand the situation, a) Capitalism and Schizophrenia is an attempt to construct a ‘schizophrenic model’ alternative to psychoanalysis somehow directed against capitalism, b) This is somehow also directed against the human subject, c) an important part of this the ‘body without organs’, whatever this amounts to (I’m not going to pretend to have understood anything I’ve ever read by Deleuze & Guattari on this point).

So anyway, the hints of a critique against two related fashionable tendencies in continental philosophy. The idea being that, in trying, for whatever reason, to do away with the category of the human as thinking subject, they will inevitably end up perpetuating barbarism. Would be interested to know what someone better versed in them made of this.

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3 Responses to Possible discovery of a critique of fashionable trends in Adorno’s Stravinsky critique

  1. iain says:

    capitalism and schizophrenia is more of a careful and maybe even (small c) conservative project than the buzzwords and hype suggest it to be, there\’s always the warning not to go too far or too quickly with yr deterritorializations – for example the drug user does a good job of dissolving their identity and becoming a body without organs, but in an utterly destructive and essentially unproductive way, deterritorialization as \’black hole\’ rather than as an opening to affectivity. the brief critique of cage\’s prepared piano in there even resonates a bit with adorno\’s critique of cage in e.g. vers une musique informelle – that he\’s broken so far with the tradition, with how we understand things, that we just can\’t effectively relate it to anything or do any real work with it. (also maybe oddly adornian there is the exclusion of non-western traditions, as if music centred on percussion isn\’t something to engage with.)

  2. iain says:

    ermm, maybe! that somewhat safe reading would be the opposite of hallward’s creativity-at-the-expense-of-activity reading of them, and if we were to pretend that there’s a true reading it’d probably be somewhere in between. there’s some kind of pragmatism at work but it’s always in service of being as creative as possible.

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