“Identity” — the bane of the contemporary Left

From a brief exchange

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The following is taken from a recent exchange that took place on Facebook between Michael Rectenwald and myself, and constitutes a reflection on the baleful effect of “identity politics” on contemporary left-wing movements. In a subsequent post, I’ll further specify what “identity” means in this context, because the term “identitarian” as used by Michael, me, and for example Adolph Reed is not identical to the term “identitarian” as used by Theodor Adorno. Both uses are valid, I will contend, but they address different problems.

Michael Rectenwald

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Identity is the bane of the contemporary Left. Should the forces of revolution rise up tomorrow, “leftists” will spot-check them, making sure they are comprised of the “right” identity groups. If they are not properly composed, the Left will call off the revolution, suggesting that more “marginalized” people need to be involved in the leadership, in speaking roles, and so on. It wouldn’t matter that the revolution would’ve benefited everyone, made life bearable and indeed even exhilarating for the entirety of the marginalized, inclusive of all the working class, the overwhelming majority of the social order.

Carole Brémaud, Le ruban blanc  (54 x 72 cm, acrylique)

Carole Brémaud, Le ruban blanc (54 x 72 cm, acrylic)

Nothing impresses the Left unless all of the proper identitarian symbolics are observed and lip-service is paid. The Left today does not offer universal human emancipation. All it offers is tokenism, and merely linguistic emancipation for token groups. Anything that promises more — the Left will check, stop-and-frisk, and put an end to. Continue reading

The tragic failure of Adorno’s emancipatory modernism

Bret Schneider
Platypus Review 21
March 1, 2010

Book review:
Theodor Adorno
Philosophy of New Music (1947)

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Translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor.

University of Minnesota Press.
Minneapolis, MN: 2006..

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The new translation and republication of Theodor Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music is a further clarification of modernism, necessitated by the latest discontents with postmodernism’s vulgarization, which keeps it at a fictitious distance. Perhaps as his remedy for the most fragmented part of the whole of the arts, namely music, translator Robert Hullot-Kentor has in recent years been steadily reintroducing Adorno’s aesthetic philosophy to English readers.[1] Philosophy of New Music continues this process, further introducing readers to Adorno’s complex aesthetic theory, also elaborated recently in Current of Music, which embodies Adorno’s aesthetic hopes for the early emergence of radio transmission. Republishing Philosophy of New Music serves the purpose of clarifying a nexus of art history where the relationship between aesthetics and theory could have been drastically reformulated.

Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), whose works Adorno considers at length in Philosophy of New Music.

Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951), whose
works Adorno considers at length in Philosophy of New Music

Philosophy of New Music is one of Adorno’s more obscure, niche analyses. Split into two sections comprising intricate dissections of Schönberg and Stravinsky, it is tighter and less ambitious than Dialectic of Enlightenment, co-written with Max Horkheimer around the same time. However, New Music can be understood as Dialectic’s complement, its object being entangled with that of the culture industry critiqued generally in the more famous volume from the same period. Operating in an inverse way, Philosophy of New Music seeks to exacerbate and expose the same symptoms from within modernist music itself. American readers may have a difficult entry into the text, not only because the writing styles itself on Schönberg’s esoteric manner of composition, but also because of Adorno’s object of critique, the historical complications provoking the European modernist avant-garde. The text pays strict attention to Schönberg’s music technique, while delving into historical comparisons to previous composers like Richard Wagner and the regressive, constrictive trajectory implied by their music styles. The volume also incorporates some of Adorno’s most sustained ruminations on the changed significance of the musical “material,” one of Adorno’s most pivotal and least understood concepts for approaching new music as a response to rapidly changing social conditions. As a concept, it seeks to articulate possibilities emanating from the split in idealization and materialization in art — possibilities we now identify as reaching a climax with the music of the mid-century avant-garde that Adorno anticipated. Continue reading