Academic journal article Intersections

Friendly Remainders: Essays in Musical Criticism after Adorno

Academic journal article Intersections

Friendly Remainders: Essays in Musical Criticism after Adorno

Article excerpt

Murray Dineen. 2011. Friendly Remainders: Essays in Musical Criticism after Adorno. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, xi, 248 pp. ISBN 978-0-7735-3884-9 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0-7735-3919-8 (paperback).

Eleven years have passed since the Adorno centennial. The years leading up to that historical marker saw escalated attention to Adorno's writings across disciplines but notably within musicological and music-theoretical circles in North America, where previously his work had been largely neglected or simply unknown. Since 2003, publications on Adorno have continued to proliferate-he remains widely recognized as one of the most important and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century. But although attention to Adorno continues apace in other disciplines, North American music scholarship is noticeably trend-driven in many quarters, so while significant and admirably refined considerations of his musical thought continue to appear, it is being given far less air time by music scholars who seem to feel that, having dealt with Adorno now, it is safe to move on. Unfortunately, in musical-scholarly circles, Adorno's writings devoted specifically to music were focused upon to the virtual exclusion of the rest of his work, including the very major texts; and even within those limitations he has been much more quoted than really studied. It has proven easier to extract pithy aphorisms (and there are so many) from those knotty texts than to engage them; easier also to bristle with indignation at the intellectual elitism their difficulty is supposed to manifest, and then to set them aside altogether, as if on principle.

Murray Dineen's Friendly Remainders: Essays in Musical Criticism after Adorno, then, stands out in several respects. It grapples not only with Adornos music criticism but centrally with his Negative Dialectics, a key text that remains lesser known among music scholars, and one for which we still have only a less-than-adequate English translation (word is that Robert Hullot-Kentor is working on a new translation but we are still waiting for it to appear). Further, Dineen's book comes not only "after Adorno" himself but after the first flurry of North American music scholarship's initial engagement with his writings. It serves therefore as a welcome reminder that we have not yet "done" Adorno, but it is also thus positioned to take a reflective stance on what has, or has not, been done so far. It is a well-considered and evidently long-considered study. The latter remark is not backhanded but points to a quality evident throughout the text, which bespeaks a long engagement: a sense of having lived with Adorno's difficult, often thorny, but ultimately rewarding thought; a sense of familiarity, yes, but entirely without the numbing aspect of cosiness. It is also manifestly a highly composed book, one that exhibits a finely wrought sense of form and of working out, with sincerity-which is not to say always with seriousness, because there is welcome humour here-and simultaneously without pretension. Further, it is a remarkably personal piece of work, overtly and consciously so (of course, Adorno's writings are notably personal, too). Traces of both these latter features are evident on multiple levels: in the use of "after Adorno" as not only a guiding rubric but a textual leitmotif; in the carefully drawn connections between chapters, most of which nevertheless stand on their own for reading as essays; in the codas to select chapters that are, as the author notes, somewhat like Adorno's own Minima moralia, and yet simultaneously not like them, really rather like Dineen (including the final one featuring the author as a latter-day Orpheus with an accordion and Hades as a kind of cheap motelmoralia plus minima "nicely" encapsulated through juxtapositions of the mundane with the monumental).

Friendly Remainders represents a bold endeavour. It tackles real difficulties, including, as already mentioned, Adorno's sometimes daunting yet pivotally influential Negative Dialectics, and also the fraught issue of popular music criticism via an Adornian model, not to mention a strikingly broad range of subjects from Beethoven, Wagner, and Schoenberg through Coltrane, Zappa, and Marilyn Manson. …

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