Marxist music analysis without Adorno: popular
music and urban geography
'One must always try to be as radical as reality itself…' v. i. lenin, quoted in marcu (1927)
The initial task of this essay will be to argue that Theodor Adorno constitutes one of the single greatest obstacles to developing a Marxist analysis of music. Lest such a contention seem paradoxical, it will be helpful, momentarily, to adopt a certain defamiliarizing perspective, and force oneself to be surprised that Adorno retains such prominence as he does nowadays in popular music studies. Even the most strenuous validations of popular music seem, at some point, out of necessity, to look back to Adorno's shadow and exorcise the weight of his critiques. His well-known, perhaps notorious, rubrics of mass production, standardization, false differentiation, and the regression of listening seem to lie inextricably as a foundational trauma in the discipline; and even those of us, perhaps the majority, in popular music studies who contest his descriptions nevertheless find it necessary to confront them. Promoting a music genre or subculture as political resistance and a disruption of discursive consensus entails explaining how that genre or subculture disrupts the deadening conformity of the music industry. Claiming the progressiveness of a community's reception of some mainstream music involves arguing the productive effects of reception against Adorno's seeming
Research for this essay was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. I am grateful to them, and to Robert Fink, Michael Spitzer and Robert Walser for their comments on earlier versions.