Is music a language? Adorno, Voloshinov, and the language character of music

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Marxists regard works of art as meaningful, and look for political meanings in apparently non-political literature, films and paintings. But where does music’s meaning lie? The conventional view is that music is non-referential, capable only of supporting other artforms or of expressing emotions. Adorno rejects the idea of music as a language of emotions, and does not believe that music has universal grammatical and syntactical rules. Yet he claims that music has language characteristics which make it as political as other artforms. What does he mean, and is he right? To answer those questions, we need to know how he understands language. This article examines how Adorno's view compares with the Marxist theory of language and consciousness developed by Valentin Voloshinov, and explores the extent to which approaching music from this direction might clarify a Marxist understanding of music and contribute to solving the thorny question of musical meaning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-86
Number of pages28
JournalHistorical Materialism
Volume26
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2018

Fingerprint

Music
Language
Emotion
Theory of Language
Syntax
Conventional
Works of Art
Musical Meaning
Consciousness

Cite this

@article{f97a021f2a054d178b47aa4d931c0b84,
title = "Is music a language?: Adorno, Voloshinov, and the language character of music",
abstract = "Marxists regard works of art as meaningful, and look for political meanings in apparently non-political literature, films and paintings. But where does music’s meaning lie? The conventional view is that music is non-referential, capable only of supporting other artforms or of expressing emotions. Adorno rejects the idea of music as a language of emotions, and does not believe that music has universal grammatical and syntactical rules. Yet he claims that music has language characteristics which make it as political as other artforms. What does he mean, and is he right? To answer those questions, we need to know how he understands language. This article examines how Adorno's view compares with the Marxist theory of language and consciousness developed by Valentin Voloshinov, and explores the extent to which approaching music from this direction might clarify a Marxist understanding of music and contribute to solving the thorny question of musical meaning.",
author = "Mark Abel",
year = "2018",
month = "12",
day = "17",
doi = "10.1163/1569206X-00001616",
language = "English",
volume = "26",
pages = "59--86",
journal = "Historical Materialism",
issn = "1465-4466",
number = "4",

}

Is music a language? Adorno, Voloshinov, and the language character of music. / Abel, Mark.

In: Historical Materialism, Vol. 26, No. 4, 17.12.2018, p. 59-86.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

TY - JOUR

T1 - Is music a language?

T2 - Adorno, Voloshinov, and the language character of music

AU - Abel, Mark

PY - 2018/12/17

Y1 - 2018/12/17

N2 - Marxists regard works of art as meaningful, and look for political meanings in apparently non-political literature, films and paintings. But where does music’s meaning lie? The conventional view is that music is non-referential, capable only of supporting other artforms or of expressing emotions. Adorno rejects the idea of music as a language of emotions, and does not believe that music has universal grammatical and syntactical rules. Yet he claims that music has language characteristics which make it as political as other artforms. What does he mean, and is he right? To answer those questions, we need to know how he understands language. This article examines how Adorno's view compares with the Marxist theory of language and consciousness developed by Valentin Voloshinov, and explores the extent to which approaching music from this direction might clarify a Marxist understanding of music and contribute to solving the thorny question of musical meaning.

AB - Marxists regard works of art as meaningful, and look for political meanings in apparently non-political literature, films and paintings. But where does music’s meaning lie? The conventional view is that music is non-referential, capable only of supporting other artforms or of expressing emotions. Adorno rejects the idea of music as a language of emotions, and does not believe that music has universal grammatical and syntactical rules. Yet he claims that music has language characteristics which make it as political as other artforms. What does he mean, and is he right? To answer those questions, we need to know how he understands language. This article examines how Adorno's view compares with the Marxist theory of language and consciousness developed by Valentin Voloshinov, and explores the extent to which approaching music from this direction might clarify a Marxist understanding of music and contribute to solving the thorny question of musical meaning.

U2 - 10.1163/1569206X-00001616

DO - 10.1163/1569206X-00001616

M3 - Article

VL - 26

SP - 59

EP - 86

JO - Historical Materialism

JF - Historical Materialism

SN - 1465-4466

IS - 4

ER -