Deleuze and Adorno (with Berg), or: Militancy and dignity

Some thoughts after reading Nick Nesbitt’s article ‘Deleuze, Adorno, and the Composition of Musical Multiplicity’:

Deleuze as the proper thinker of the autonomous work (but without the Marxist narrative of future recuperation by democratisation). Adorno’s negative dialectics is equivocal: it recognises the falsehood (the semblance character) of pre-abstracted forms under the reign of total commodification, but wants to preserve them (see writings on Berg) but in their truth and as critical moments that resist the totalising logic to of the commodity qua abstraction. This is, of course, a very complex challenge. My difference with Adorno-Berg is both historical-geographical – I come at a later stage of capitalist abstraction, when ‘the damage is done’, and I personally have a far weaker link to the tradition of Western Art Music – as well as aesthetic-ideological – where Adorno-Berg presents this thought in an unhappy way, a kind of mourning and preservation, mine is a militant one, a kind of pointing to those things that continue against the system and for a better world (as much as this can be done in the medium).

Both Adorno-Berg’s approach and that of my own suggest that there is an internal or necessary link, between pre-abstracted forms on the one hand, and contrapuntal tension on the other. That is to say, a work’s dissonant relation to history is linked – tangibly! – to the dissonant relations between parts in the work. A work of total abstraction, a work that submits itself entirely to the truth of the commodity form, is a work of total tensionlessness, especially in an advanced age such as our own, when such abstraction is more or less complete (i.e. will not be spontaneously related to a tradition, but will instead be seen ‘on its own terms’ or its ‘plane of immanence’).

This is a movement of extreme importance, and shows the dialectical unity of my nascent approach, which is best summarised in the two terms: contrapuntal dignity and political militancy (exemplified in use of folk materials, political songs and texts, etc). Which is to say that the contrapuntal dignity depends on the strength of the parts within it, a strength given by the political militancy (qua ‘uncommodified’), and the political militancy relies on the contrapuntal dignity (qua ‘total commodity’) for its formal concretisation – a non-dialectically posited militancy would remain abstract and unfit for the art music domain. The two parts depend on one another.

This largely resolves my issue of homogeneity and heterogeneity. Funnily enough, whereas I thought Deleuze would be a better thinker of the heterogeneous, it is once again Adorno who I feel closer to, with the slightest shift: from a negative affect to an affirmative one. This latter point is, as I said, partly a political decision: I think the world can fundamentally change for the better and it is the people ‘as the rest of us’ (Jodi Dean) that can change it, through struggle. But it is also a question of history: the autonomy of my work is now guaranteed by its successful abstraction from the original context (including my alienation from Europe, geographically and culturally). Therefore the reinsertion of unabstracted materials (more from folk traditions than art traditions) is a different process to that of Berg’s preservation.