I’ve been meaning to read up on Adorno over the past, oh, year or two, but I’ve really not succeeded so far, so I might be misrepresenting what he says. My idea in sticking the encyclopedia block quote in the last post was that Adorno’s position on art is pretty relevant to how we might think of literary criticism today. At our last meeting, before margaritas, we talked about how much it’s our responsibility to do something actively political with our criticism, or whether it’s even  possible at all. Shouldn’t we be doing something in the real world instead of just talking about Victorian novels? Perhaps Adorno’s answer to this question would be that literary criticism becomes politically effective precisely through its autonomy, its separation from the “real” world.

Or, when it makes such autonomy more generally viable, livible, visible, inhabitable.

If you’re weird enough to read a lot of reviews and blogs and articles about dance music, every once in a while you’ll hear descriptors like “pure” and “uncompromising” to describe techno. What this means is that there’s no hint of those things that most people look for in songs–vocals, melodic lines, harmonic progressions. The language of techno at its purest consists of repetitions of short snippets of sounds for five, ten, fifteen minutes, with long, subtle, gradual shifts in timbre, introducing or taking away an element every so often–with potentially devastating effects. The tracks from the “M-series” of Maurizio (Moritz von Oswald) are giants in the canon of techno. This is my personal favorite, M5:

In Part I of this post, I linked to Steve Reich’s Music as a Gradual Process, the last point of which describes perfectly the aesthetic experience of this music:

While performing and listening to gradual musical processes one can participate in a particular liberating and impersonal kind of ritual. Focusing in on the musical process makes possible that shift of attention away from he and she and you and me outwards towards it.

It was this it I was thinking about when I block quoted the bit on Adorno.

So I think I’ve cleared up, at least for myself, of the kind of aesthetic experience I’m after, of the kinds of aesthetic judgments that I not only make, but that I, in a sense, need to make. Of course, I’m not saying that everybody else in the world has to adhere to these pseudo-Adornian principles. I certainly don’t read and enjoy Victorian literature in this way, although I’m sure it’s possible. Maybe my takeaway point is that instead of dividing lit crit into aesthetics-based and politics-based camps, we could think of the multiple aesthetico-political registers which are available to our reading practices.

I still haven’t talked about Gas, the ambient music project that got me thinking about my own aesthetic judgments. The stuff on autonomy (i.e. from late capitalism) and shifting attention away from “he and she and you and me outwards towards it” might seem most at home in the twentieth century (and maybe C21 too), but Wolfgang Voigt’s use of Wagner and Mahler suggests that the (highly autonomous) aesthetic of electronic music with its samplers, synthesizers, laptops, mixers, turntables, and assorted gear might be thought of as the (similarly autonomous) aesthetic of Romanticism with its emphasis on organicism and Nature, but above all an individual’s experience of Nature. (Voigt has described his work in Gas as an attempt to recreate his feelings as a child walking in the Black Forest.) I guess what I’m saying is that both electronic music and Romantic art are both machines for producing feelings, and that those feelings are self-consciously distanced from the society which produces them.

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