The politics of the subject-object dialectic in Adorno's aesthetics of music

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    Subjectivity is a key concept in Adorno's aesthetics but his account of its place in music is complex and, arguably, ambiguous. One reading would be that Adorno effectively equates the subjective component with musical content, which, through a dialectical process, subsequently forgets its subjective origins and becomes sedimented as objective musical form. Somewhat differently, musical subjectivity for Adorno has been read as the socially mediated creative process which transforms the historically determined musical material of a given society (Witkin). In both these conceptions, subjectivity is fundamentally social and non-individual in character. But Adorno also regards the subject's emancipation from the social collective as a precondition for the liberation of autonomous art from myth and ritual in the first place, and he is hostile to rhythm and dance for subsuming individual subjectivity under collective synchronisation.

    This paper explores the political implications of Adorno’s conception of musical subjectivity and objectivity and test its consistency with classical Marxism’s understanding of these concepts. It questions the usefulness for a materialist aesthetics of the subject-object pairing, even if recast in favour of the object in the way that Adorno does, by comparing it with the structure-agency dialectic in classical Marxism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Issue number1
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 28 Oct 2019


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