At the very latest since Hegel's Lectures
on Aesthetics, the "end of art"-thesis has kept a firm grip
on the discourse on aesthetics. In the wake of recent critical debate
on "postmodernism" in criticism of art, culture and civilisation,
the "end of art" thesis is now especially in vogue. Arthur
Danto for example has successfully adopted the “end of art” thesis and
demonstrated the vantage this concept offers for the aestheticphilosophical
discussion of both classical modernism and contemporary art production.
While Danto has thus contributed substantially to an adequate understanding
of this art, it remains a surprising fact that Danto, even though his
reflections are heavily indebted to Hegel, does not even mention the
single most influential German aesthetic theorist of the twentieth century,
Adorno, who himself devoted more than marginal attention to the "end
Why this is so is not within the scope of my
knowledge. In any case it is regrettable, since Adorno not only makes
reference to Hegel's so called "end of art" thesis, but has
also, pro and contra Hegel, studied this thesis in a manner which has
yielded valuable results and opened up new aspects of it  . And, in the bargain,
he has tried to come up with an answer to this "end of art".
His answer - if one were to continue his line of thought and venture
a somewhat pointed expression - runs as follows: "generative-destructive
aesthetics". I will explicate this in the course of the paper.
I. The End of "Advancement Modernism"
To begin, in the domain of music aesthetics
the term "advancement modernism" implies criticism of "serialism,"
which "extinguishes the still remaining residues of the conventional
and the negated" (7, 223)  . It also implies
criticism of the dodecaphonic method of composition.
1. Innovation-Fetishism and Exclusion of the Worn-out
A constraint results from the developmental
tendency in occidental culture, a tendency refered to as "aesthetic
nominalism," which places special emphasis on subjectivity and
outlaws the import of any form-in-itself (an sich seiende Form).
This very constraint is a fundamental attack on tradition in general,
condemns tradition as "heteronome," and is intent on destroying
everything conventional and not self-set. Introducing the "new"
into art, this intention is realized. It incorporates the autonomous
new in order to dispose of the heteronome traditional. Once the traditional
is dismissed, the new becomes itself traditional: Art is overcome by
a mania of destuction and renewal, the fury of disappearance mates with
the fetishism for the new (cf. 7, 41) controlled by the laws of the
market: "The new is not a subjective category but results necessarily
from the actual circumstances. It knows no other alternative to realize
itself and free itself of heteronomy." (7, 40)
Advanced art (avancierte
Kunst) is "antithetically related to tradition" (7,
508), a relation which results in a "canon of prohibitions"
(12, 40; 7, 60/456). In brief, there is a "rupture" (7, 517)
between modern conscience and the aesthetic tradition.
Of course, one might see nothing
wrong with this: That which art negates on the one hand - tradition
- is, on the other hand, not only compensated by an avant-garde conquest
of new domains, but also by a considerable extension of its possibilities.
It is this very process, one might claim, which continuously rejuvenates
art, enabling it thus to stay alive.
But according to Adorno this
view is generated only by thinking "from without" (7, 223).
Because from an external point of view "the possible extension
of available material is apt to be highly overestimated. Artists offset
the refusal (die Refus) rendered inevitable not only by
taste but by the state of the material itself" (7, 223). In this
way, the avant-garde creed establishes the dissonance as a veritable
means of expression, yet banning the "worn-out" consonant-tonal
2. The Lethal Potential of Shrinking Means of Articulation
The "exclusion of worn-out
and superseded procedures" (7, 58) shows a reductionism which,
as long as it can continue to break new ground, does not affect the
vital nerve of art. But the territory to be discovered does not extend
into infinity. The process of discovery reaches an "end."
To discover new territory means: to push forward the evolution of the
"material," i.e. that substance with which the artist works.
And once the "potential of innovation is exhausted," says
Adorno, innovations are mechanically sought after in a direction which
tends to repeat them. Therefore, "the direction (Richtungstendenz)
of innovation must be changed, transferred to a new plane" (7,
41). This is easily said. And is in general probably, admittedly, congruent
and reasonable. But what are the actual consequences of such a proposition?
What is to be understood by
a change of direction following the "exhaustion" Adorno has
shown in his analysis of "music on music" (from Mozart to
Stravinsky): The composition of "music on music" results from
narrowly drawn borderlines of the "possibility of ‘invention‘"
within the scheme of tonality. It is, says Adorno, conditioned by a
"shortage of the available," by "the depletion"
of the "scarce material" in such a way that no idea which
had not already appeared at an earlier stage could have thrived any
longer. Hence, due to the "objective wear and tear of the stock-in-trade,"
the "‘quotation‘" as an explicitly subjective relationship
with what is familiar, hence "music on music." But as far
as the state of depletion is concerned, this only entails postponement,
not removal. The latter was realized only through a radical renewal
of the musical material: the emancipation of dissonance. To go ahead
"out into the open..., away from threadbare material," became
possible only through Schönberg's technique: leaving behind the harmonic
and melodic circle and turning to atonality (cf. 12, 167). In doing
so, Schönberg repelled "the emaciated tonal material which had
been used up in all its potentialities" (18, 118).
But what if this direction
has also been tried and no new direction may be taken? What if the material
may not be expanded any further? What if, in the year 1961, one realizes
that "the pure evolution of material has reached an insuperable
threshold value" (16, 425)? What if modernism, fixated on the pure
evolution of material, has "reached its zenith" and "no
discovery, no mere practise can find legitimacy in its novelty alone,"
since "all such discoveries fall within a space already delimited
by the ear" (18, 241)?
In the context of the "aging
of modern music" Adorno himself expressly states "that the
expansion of the musical material itself has progessed to the furthest
point possible" (Diss 147). The possibility of new sounds is said
to be "virtually exhausted." It goes without saying that not
all possible combinations of sounds have been tried. There is, after
all, an infinite number of mathematical possibilities. The point, Adorno
continues, is not quantity but quality. And whithin this realm "the
planes are .... staked off and no sound, if it were to be added, would
change the general impression of the acoustic scenery in its entirety"
Adorno's reasoning is plausible
and more than just idle conjecture: "Perhaps such change was itself
only possible in view of still valid limitations" (Diss 147). Once,
along with the emancipation of the dissonance, all harmonic taboos have
lost their restrictive force, it seems as if "we have reached the
absolute limit of the tonal space handed down through history in occidental
music" (Diss 147).
This stage in the historical evolution is noxious
to the avant-garde claim, to the shock-inducing quality of advanced
composition (avancierter Komposition): avant-garde and
shock turn "comical". The shocking effect "is blunted"
(12, 186) - and not only in Stravinsky's case. This increasing bluntness
hangs in general over the "aging of modern music." And modern
music faces the threat of becoming incorporated into the "culture
industry" (cf. Diss 136). "The concept of avant-garde, which
has been reserved for decades for that direction declaring itself to
be the most advanced, ... has ... acquired something of the pathetic
ludicrousness of aged youth" (7, 44). "The systematized avant-garde,
divided into schools and their respective leaders, has become no less
resigned than the conformist, writing just to please the listeners'
ears" (18, 176)
According to Adorno, this
situation includes a lethal factor: "It reveals ... the deadly
potential of the shrinking of means of articulation" (7, 449).
For commensurate with "impoverishment of means ... poem, painting
and music impoverish" (7, 66). The "canon of prohibitions
... tends to drain ... more and more" (OL 33), "anti-traditionalist
energy turns into an all-devouring maelstrom" (7, 41) which finally
sucks art itself down into the depth. In an age when art turns silent,
art manifests "the impossibility of artistic objectivation"
(7, 51). With this dwindling of means, music has reached the abstract
void of serial composition, for which music itself is but a machine,
bare of any emotion, running on inexorably.
This development, according
to Adorno, also casts a "shadow" on the "heroic times,"
the origins of modern music itself (cf. Diss 145). And it was a shadow
that Adorno perceived primarily in the music of Schönberg. To be sure,
seen from the heights of the serial acme it is Schönberg who appears
to have, "in the midst of the dodecimal method, preserved musical
sense, the actual spirit of composition" (Diss 143). But already
in "Philosophy of Modern Music," all the dangers serial composers
- lacking heart and tradition - are likely to encounter, are listed.
For all of the following: the "total rationalization of the material"
(12, 170), the attempt to "seek refuge in advancement towards order"
(12, 108), "placement of everything at one's disposal" (12,
71), the "virtual obliteration" of the subject (12, 70), the
"questioning of the possibility of expression" (12, 27), the
"threat of a specifically musical meaninglessness" (12, 83),
the "steely apparatus" (12, 100), the "meaningless integration"
(12, 195) and "heteronomy" (12, 195) - all of these Adorno
attributes to the developmental stage of the Second Vienna School.
II. Adorno's Deviating Concept of Modernity in the Interpretation
of Mahler and Berg
Without too much difficulty one might demonstrate
- and of course this has already been done - that Adorno himself appears
as a representative of advancement modernism with its accompanying negation
of tradition. And yet this concept of modernism and tradition seems
to deviate remarkably from other references to tradition, as articulated,
for instance, in the following phrase from the interpretation of Mahler:
"From time to time the most advanced (das Fortgeschrittenste)
in art takes refuge in the backlog of the past it drags along, in the
backlog it receives as a task yet to be brought to a close. Art reaches
beyond the sphere of the up-to-date by picking up and rethinking what
has been left along the wayside" (16, 339 cont.). Even if this
"refuge" is said to be only "occasionally" necessary,
still the reader and interpreter will want to pay close attention: obviously,
Adorno's concept of modernism and of advancement in aestheticis
is not so one-track and simplistic. Adorno is not a naive modernist,
but a critic of that "entirely consistent" (Diss 149) position
of modernism. And what is more, Adorno, unlike those who accused him
of modernism  , has diagnosed the overstraining
of the avant-garde approach, the "imperturbable faith in linear
progress" (Diss 137) as a downright deadly factor in art  .
Especially in his interpretation of Mahler
and Berg  ,
Adorno develops a concept of modernism which is different from one of
"progress in the mastery of the material" (19, 628), where
tradition is understood merely as a "canon of the prohibited."
Adorno turns explicitly against a "somewhat narrow-minded understanding
of modernism," against an understanding which "confuses the
paint with the painting (peinture)" (16, 415; see
also 16, 367).
1. Close Links with Material handed down by Tradition
No later than 1938, in his essay
entitled "On the Fetish- Character in Music and the Regression
of Listening," Adorno develops a concept of innovation which is
directly opposed to that of advancement of material. Adorno emphasizes
that Mahler is "progressive not by means of active innovation and
advanced material," that he does "not follow a linear historical
track at all" (13, 167). Adorno even goes so far as to talk about
"customary vocabulary" (16, 327) and of a certain "harmlessness
of the material" (13,167). Mahler, says Adorno, in comparison with
Reger, Strauss and Debussy, is a "conservative" in respect
to melody and color - and yet his music is "eminently modern"
(13, 210), not surrogating a meaningful structure in its
entirety. Mahler links himself to "traditionally inherited material"
(13, 166), to the "victims of advancement", those "elements
of language which are ruled out in the process of rationalization and
command of the material" (13, 166). His characters are drawn from
the "repertoire of traditional music" (13, 197). Here, a treatment
of the subject of tradition announces itself, which is further continued
in the interpretation of Berg.
Interpreting both composers,
Adorno rejects the "cliché of the ‘late romanticists‘" (13,
152; 16, 417). But their romanticism is not fundamentally contested.
On the contrary: Adorno continuously stresses the fact that both composers
belong to the romantic tradition of Schubert, Schuhmann and Wagner.
Still, he shows that this characterization fails to encompass the essential.
This essential pith, the actuality, the newness, the authenticity and
the positively "modern" character of the compositions does
not, to be sure, strike one at first glance. It does not reveal itself
to the superficial ear and to traditional analysis. Already in the case
of Mahler, whose music Adorno characterizes as "anachronistically
modern" (13, 256) and "latent modernism" (13, 278), this
essence needs to be learned by the listener and unearthed by the interpreting
aesthetic theorist/musicologist expressly for that particular purpose.
But even more so in Berg's case: his is "true modernism" (13,
374) - a phrase meaning something quite distinct from mere "advancement
in the material," wherein Schönberg and Webern were definitely
In order to characterize this
position of Mahler's and Berg's, Adorno also makes use of the concept
"quotation" (cf. e.g. 13, 206/349/418/455/459 cont.; 18/641),
in other words an "approximation" to quotation (16, 213).
The quoted material may very well be submitted to ironic reshaping.
For Adorno, musical terms such as largo, adagio, andante etc., which
he concedes appropriate for Berg's "Chamber Concerto," are
"legitimate only where they are not played in a romantic misconception
of their reality, but where these types are, as it were, consciously
being played with, transparently, topically, and, as it were, without
claiming their reality" (17, 310).
Nevertheless, Adorno's approach to an ironic
reshaping of the traditional is very differentiated: One can talk neither
of a categorical rejection of irony, nor of aesthetic legitimation of
an affirmative ironic gesture. Adorno is careful, for irony, which he
detects above all in Stravinsky's works (and as it may indeed be observed
in postmodern artists and aesthetic theorists), exhibits a tendency
to "ridicule the lost world of imagery still conjured up"
(13, 188). According to Adorno this attitude is completely alien to
Mahler. He would much rather strive to "save" the "debris
of the musical object-world," the fragments and scattered bits
of memory (13, 189)  .
2. The Integration of Popular Art
The sort of problems that go with
a dichotomization of art into a serious-advanced and an entertaining-backward
branch are well-known to Adorno. He has diagnosed the social isolation
of avant-garde art as the "fatal danger of its own success"
(12, 24). Modern music "must needs endeavor to reach humankind".
Even in its most hermetical form, music is said to be social, "threatened
by irrelevance as soon as all connecting ties with the listener are
severed" (17, 291). For Adorno, the gap between the so called low
and high art is nefarious and ought to be bridged. He does not intend
to promulgate a law of "clear-cut dichotomy of high and low music"
- it is the "administration of music culture" (16, 374) that
There are many passages in Adorno's work on
music aesthetics where he accepts music which attempts a reconciliation
of the two diverging branches (serious vs. entertaining) and calls for
the integration of folk, popular, even banal and vulgar-musical elements.
Alongside Adorno's interpretations of Schreker and Zemlinsky  , it is especially
in the interpretations of Berg and Mahler that a program can be found
which suggests closing the gap between serious and entertaining music.
In the case of Berg's "Weinarie" for instance, a more convincing
motto than that which appears in the following passage of Hofmannsthal's
"Buch der Freude" would be inconceivable: "Claudel on
Baudelaire's style: C'est un extraordinaire mélange du style racinien
et du style journaliste de son temps" (13, 463). In the aria we
find elements of "allegorical dejection" and "trivial
and trifling recklessness," interwoven with that "genie in
the bottle" and the "musical merchandise of the tango,"
the "cry of lonesome souls" and the "alienated sociability
of piano and saxophone in Jazz, or the elevator-music of parlor orchestras"
Mahler's symphonies "are
a shameless parade of well-known tunes, of melodic vestiges of highly
acclaimed music, insipid folk ditties, popular hit-songs and crooner's
tunes" (13, 184). But these elements from the sphere of serious
music are not present just for the purpose of contrast. "Oftentimes
the power of names is far better preserved in the realm of kitsch and
vulgar music than in that of serious music, which sacrificed all that
to the principle of stilization, even prior to the age of radical construction."
Already in 1929, in his "Nachtmusik"
dedicated "to the revered Alban Berg" Adorno stated: "Now
that the solemn loneliness of nineteenth-century serious music is itself
questionable, light music usurps high music which is on the decline
- I daresay in part because the former preserves some residue of those
grand contents which the latter apostrophizes in vain." (17, 53)
Adorno's interpretations of
Mahler and Berg reiterate emphatically the function, constitutive for
their music, of the "banal" (e.g. 13, 417/208), of "vulgar
music" (e.g. 13, 184 cont./200/434), of "decayed music"
(13, 477), of "popular music" (13, 180; 20.2, 802), of "folk"
(20.2, 802; 13, 419/467; 18, 477), of the "potpourri" (13,
183 cont.), of "light music" (13, 465), of "elevated
music for entertainment" (13, 482) and the "lower musical
sphere" (13, 210), of "kitsch" (18, 501; 13, 186/189/467),
of "parlor music" (13, 481), of "jazz" (15, 361;
13, 465-467), "tangos" (13, 466 cont.), and "chansons"
III. A Critique of Postmodernism
It should be sufficiently clear that Adorno, postulating
close ties to tradition and to the integration of popular art, approaches
the two elementary concerns of aesthetic "post-modernism"
in general and of compository postmodernism in particular
Postserial, i.e. postmodern
music since the nineteen seventies abounds with references to tradition.
Even more so, these references seem to be its major constituent. As
a representative example, one might quote Wolfgang Schreiber, who on
the explanatory sheet accompanying cassette 10 of the series "Contemporary
Music in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1970-1980" (Zeitgenössische
Musik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1970-1980) published
by the Deutscher Musikrat says: "At the very center, so to speak,
of the concept of music in the seventies, we find a rekindled debate
not only on musical tradition, but on history in general." (p.
8) The spectrum of traditionally oriented artists in the seventies ranges
from Schnebel (significant are titles such as "Bearbeitung"
["arrangement"] and "Tradition" as well as the aesthetic
reflection "Gestoppte Gärung" ["halted fermentation"])
to Kagel, Henze and Rihm.
Equally countless are postulates by composers
and theorists of music aesthetics to close the gap between music and
audience, between "serious" and "entertaining" music.
Here too, there is a plea for an "escape from the ivory tower of
the avant-garde"  .
That Adorno may not be labeled
"postmodern" is because of his desire to put these - rather
general - postulates more concretely and in a different way than did
the postmodern expressionist composers, who had turned away from structuralist
thinking of serialism, appealing to Mahler and Berg. Adorno becomes
a critic of that particular shape postmodernism had acquired
ever since the seventies.
1. Criticism of Affirmative and Ironic Use of Tradition
Thus Adorno is fundamentally critical
of an approach which has no scruples about taking from tradition whatever
happens to come in handy - which is usually quite a lot. Such a position
tends to overlook the fact that the criterion for the success of a particular
work is not the wealth of material. It is the very limitations of the
material which force the artist to concentrate and be creatively productive.
Adorno therefore calls this wealth a "false wealth" (OL 32)
which results from a bourgeois spirit of ownership and exploitation.
If the artist becomes entangled in this opulence, his production "descends
to the level of arts and crafts; borrowing from the educated what is
alien to his own estate the artist creates empty forms which can not
be filled: for no authentic art has ever filled in forms" (OL 33).
In order to escape accusations
that, motivated by a desire for security, postmodernism has sought refuge
in the past, it has come up with a new mode of operation: The forms
received by tradition are not maintained substantially; neither "style
copy" nor "simple quotation" are offered. These forms
are rather ironically undermined, are played with and are no longer
granted an ontological dignity. In short, many postmodernists want anything
but "the positive return of that which decayed" (12, 10);
they do not want an "unchallanged acceptance of authority"
Adorno's position in reference
to irony is, as has already been show above (II.1), an utterly differentiated
one. As a matter of principle, he calls for an extremely restricted
use of irony. For irony's elbowroom must not claim infinite space, irony
must not be used for any arbitrary object, any arbitrary constellation.
To do so, in a case where the dignity of the object and the constellation
are missing, would render the use of irony "an unmotivated and
cheap expedient," and "unjustified" (18, 127).
For the postmodern condition
irony is a "tempting artifice." Yet one should not forget
that taste still coincides "with the capability to renounce tempting
artifices" (12, 142). Tradition may easily be "fooled"
(12, 168), when "in the ironic game the impossibility of restoration"
is recognized (12, 184). Anything may happen then, as long as whatever
happens is no longer anything but its own "death mask:" "The
ultimate perversion of style is universal necrophilia" (12, 185).
2. Criticism of Hasty Adaption to the Recipient's Preformed Modesty
The dangers inherent in the realization
(and thus specification) of the postulate of closing the gap between
serious-advanced and entertaining-backward art are by no means any less
acute than those inherent in the postulate of traditionalism. And Adorno
would not be Adorno had he not realized the dangers that accompany an
unreflected and hasty leveling of differences.
The point here is not to talk
about the psychic problems of subservience, or even of the submissive
obedience to "vulgar" taste which many a postmodern artist
and aesthetic theorist succumbs to. That is entirely their
problem. Only the factual and technical aspect of the matter is pertinent
here. And the problem - materially - is caused by the danger of allowing
quality to suffer, or even of sacrificing it entirely, by making concessions
to public "taste" -a taste which has not even been safely
identified as truely identical with that of the public, and so might
very well be nothing but the taste palmed off onto the public by manipulators
and companies hankering after profit.
The agents of postmodernism
simplyfy the matter whenever they seek to "adapt" to the majority,
something which is possible only at the expense of quality - and much
of that sort has already had to be put up with. Indeed, the "postmodern
situation" works to overcome the isolation of advanced art. But
equally crucial is that which Adorno declares to be the very aim of
Mahler's symphonic work: "Mahler's work aims at moving the masses,
who flee from the cultured music (Kulturmusik), without
lowering the music to the level of the masses and adopting their standards"
If truth is an inherent aspect
of art, if art does not exist solely for our pleasure, it would be foolish
to sacrifice this aspect in favor of others. After all, noone would
ever suggest that science and ethics should refrain from making revelations,
if their results are not universally comprehensible. In an age when
"entertainment" is of primary importance, when even in other
fields such as politics and religion, entertainment plays a leading
part, in times when art and aesthetics do not dominate but, on the contrary,
"aesthetic hedonism" has become a sign of the times, one can
not underestimate the importance of Adorno's warning about an erasure
of differences, of a hastily decreed reunification of serious and light
music, his warning about a music "which does the listening for
the listener" (18, 801).
Lesley Fiedler's imperative:
"Cross the Border - Close the Gap" is certainly identical
to Adorno's postulate. But it may not be met by renouncing the moment
of truth and lust in favor of blind mania and empty desire. The torn
halves can not be rejoined simply by adding them back together.
The postulate of integrating
popular art is not going to be realized by quoting popular motifs in
an affirmative, unsophisticated way - and this also does not occur in
the works of Mahler and Berg. According to Adorno, the postulate is
fulfilled not by increasing but only by making kitsch eloquent: the
artist "ought to lend kitsch a tongue" (13, 189).
IV. Towards a Generative-Destructive Aesthetics: The Importance of Adorno
Today, following Advancement Modernism and Postmodernism
Postmodernism saw in itself an answer to the end
of modernism. And even if we are now celebrating the end of postmodernism  , Adorno's answer to the end of modernism remains
acutely relevant. One might safely maintain that especially due to the
postmodern catastrophe a vacuum has developed which attracts Adorno's
aesthetical conception and forces us to reread it, in the light of the
postermodern experience which is now behind us. Especially Adorno's
interpretation of Mahler and Berg must be reread, and the music of both
listened to with "fresh" ears. Contemporary music, art and
aesthetics would in that way receive fresh impulses and the thesis of
the "end of art" would acquire new meaning.
If one thoroughly probes the
interpretation of Mahler and Berg, that is to say Adorno's ideas about
integrating tradition and popular art, it becomes obvious that Adorno,
in writing his interpretation, not only departed from a simplicist one-track
concept of modernism ("advancement in the material") but also
from the fundaments of occidental form-aesthetics in general, which
aimed at one singular meaning - in order to reach a polyvalent,
de-com-pository, generative-destructive aesthetics. To conclude my considerations,
I should like to elaborate a little further on this point.
The interpretation Adorno uses in his approach
to the music of Mahler and Berg is ultimately derived from the fundamental
belief that no "meaningful whole," no "harmonic synthesis
on a predetermined tonal basis" (13, 210) is to be found in this
music and only "negative tonality" (18, 670) is detectable.
Particularly the music of Berg, which for Adorno fulfills that which
Mahler, due to the tonality of the material, could only hint at
 , consists of two fundamental elements: the tendency
to resolve and to create distinctly differentiated forms. And it goes
without saying that these two fundamental moments in Berg's music are
not two distinctly separate "kinds" of music, but two elements
of the same structure, conditioning each other reciprocally. The tendency
of this music to resolve, the "call back into nothingness"
(cf. 13, 328), attacks all distinct form, and yet depends on that very
form in order to create the movement resulting in resolution, the motion
towards "nothingness." Since music may not make form into
something substantial or concrete, can not reify form at any time -
in other words: since "transition" and "resolution"
have always taken place - music is only able to present
the definite form as if it were still evolving, unable - independent
of the process of production - to maintain it as being-in-itself (an
sich seiende): Berg's music, both the singular minor and the
major forms, "springs ... from nothing" and "disappears
... into nothing" (13, 327). Berg's composing is "composition
out of nothing into nothing" (18, 668).
This double tendency of creation
- both generative and destructive at once - is a paradoxical problem"
(15, 341), and is, when played live in concert, by no means to be resolved
by the "hazy middle way" between the extremes of the chaotic
and the clearly structured (15, 339). Berg's music, "polarized
between two extremes" (13, 373), always performs a "double
movement" (ibid.), a "tour de force," as Adorno never
tires of stressing (cf. e.g. 18, 655 and 15, 347), an "acrobatic
performance" (18, 655), a "quadrature of the circle"
(13, 449). The obstacles placed in the way are "almost prohibitive"
In order to articulate this
"double movement" of Berg's music, the "quadrature of
the circle", Adorno avails himself of the paradoxical phrase: It
would be possible, especially when referring to Berg's earlier works,
to talk about "structured chaos" (16, 418). Berg, according
to Adorno, is everywhere intent on "forming the formless as formless"
(15, 340). His "anarchy" is to be understood as a "cipher
of his rules" (13, 386). All of his work is intended to serve the
"self-preservation of anarchy" (13, 353). "In Berg's
case, to create a form always means to combine, to place layer upon
layer, to synthesize the incombinable and disparate by causing it to
grow together into a single being: to dis-form." (13, 353). No
interpretation may simply "adequately reproduce" the forms
(Gestalten) but must simultaneously show their relativity
(cf. 15, 341).
The structure nothingness-being-nothingness
(cf. e.g. 13, 327; 13, 355), or rather amorphous-articulate-amorphous
(13, 404), is the basic structure of Berg's music: overlapping levels,
layers stacked on top of each other, an immense density which can not
be compressed any further. In this context Adorno talks about the "inexhaustible
quality," about "a richness which, though overflowing, continuously
regenerates itself" (16, 427; cf. also 18, 645), of an "inexhaustible
qualitative fullness" (13, 348) - "minutely elaborated"
Hence, the work of a composition
always offers "more" than the listener may actually and concomitantly
perceive. This is to be understood both in a quantitative and in a qualitative
sense: This is unlike conventional music, in which either one single
or several forms are given to which the listener ought to pay attention.
The listener rather has to construct the complex of forms out of music's
pervasive tendency towards resolution, and at the same time be aware
of that tendency towards resolution. The listener must constantly switch
back and forth between the "level" of resolution to that of
forming. "The possibility to listen to and understand the whole
piece from beginning to end" (Durchhörbarkeit) in
the sense of perceiving and understanding integral shape-units is made
impossible. Denial, imperceptibility is an essential trait of this music.
Adorno's interpretation of
Berg marks a radical change of direction in the history of the occidental
understanding of musical works, their production and reception, a change
in form-content-aesthetics, without thereby having to renounce the achievement
of autonomous aesthetics, as in the case of John Cage. For music of
this sort no longer operates with one single meaning content
(Sinngehalt) which would only have to be actualized by
the listener. This music no longer expects one organic comprehension
of the work but operates with a polyvalent structure, from which the
listener has to generate meaning - a kind of meaning wich can not assert
itself as the one and only meaning but is subject to a process
of de-construction. Music of this kind is an infinite process of generation
and destruction. The metaphysics of presence, as it dominates occidental
aesthetics, is thus abandoned and the imperceptible, the an-aesthetic
becomes a constitutive element of the aesthetic itself. Art committed
to the aesthetics of presence (innovation modernism) comes to an end
and art committed to generative-destructive aesthetics commences.
In this way the "end
of art" - the end of a specific type of art - enables a different
type of art and aesthetics to claim a new, hardly foreseeable domain.
The task to survey this domain shall be left to those to come.
 On the relevance of Adorno’s position for a sufficient discussion
of the thesis of the "end of art," compare my study G.
Seubold, Das Ende der Kunst und der Paradigmenwechsel in der Ästhetik.
Philosophische Untersuchungen zu Adorno, Heidegger und Gehlen in systematischer
Absicht, (Freiburg/München, 1997).
 When quoting from Gesammelte Schriften, the first number
refers to the volume, the second to the page. An index of abbreviations
is to be found at the end of the text.
 Consequently, "instead of the shock which vanishes together with
the explosion" (15, 248), Adorno administers "advice on
how to listen to new music" (15, 247).
 Cf. e.g. P. Sloterdijk, Kopernikanische Mobilmachung und ptolemäische
Abrüstung, (Frankfurt/Main, 1987), 25. Sloterdijk does not
hesitate to openly brand Adorno as a "theorist of modernism,"
as someone who defends the "myth of modernism," the "modernist
mythology." Differring radically from this assessment, P. Bürger
calls Adorno's works a "radical critique of modernism, or to
be more precise, of the concept of modernism". (cf. P. Bürger,
"Das Altern der Moderne," in Adorno-Konferenz,
ed. L. v. Friedeburg and J. Habermas (Frankfurt/Main, 1983), 177-197.
The page refered to here is 185.)
 Habermas' assertion that Adorno has espoused the spirit of modernism
"so unreservedly" that "he already suspects an emotional
reaction against the provocation of modernism in any attempt to distinguish
between authentic modernity and mere modernism" (J. Habermas,
"Die Moderne - ein unvollendetes Projekt," in Wege
aus der Moderne - Schlüsseltexte der Postmoderne-Diskussion,
ed. W. Welsch (Weinheim, 1988), 177-192, here: 177), betrays a lop-sided
and undifferentiated view. In the first place, because in addition
to the excerpt from "Ästhetische Theorie" refered to by
Habermas (presumably 7, 45 cont.), another passage ought to be quoted,
where Adorno uses "modernity" in contrast with "modernist,"
adding a negative connotation to the latter term (Diss 146; cf. on
the semantic differences of "modernism" and "modernity,"
which "do not constitute a discrete semantic opposition"
[italics added by me]: 15, 145 cont.). In the 2nd place, Habermas
argues on the too superficial assumption that Adorno works with a
single meaning of the concept of modernism. This, obviously, must
be declared illicit.
 Adorno's sporadic remarks on Bartók or Janacek should also be mentioned.
In the works of the two composers, "up to very recent times tonal
material ... could still be used without incurring shame" (12,
41). Adorno's brief but exceedingly interesting interpretation of
Schreker and Zemlinsky should not be overlooked.
 The noticeable differences in Adorno's evaluation of irony become
very clear when one compares his Picasso-interpretation with that
of Stravinsky. Whereas in the case of Picasso irony denotes a "restriction
of freedom," the "reduction of violence" inflicted
on the reified object world, and the "reconciliation of subject
and object" (18, 145 cont.), in Stravinsky's historicism ("the
fetishization of cultural carcasses") irony is, in contrast,
directed against the subject and is said to serve the corroboration
of inherited conventional formulas, fostering the "triumph of
rough, violent objectivity, in which the I crosses out itself"
 Compare also Benjamin's
letter dated march 18th, 1936, where the extremes of "highest"
and "lowest," the autonomous work and the cinema, Schönberg
and the American film, are said to be "the torn halves of the
whole freedom" (see: W. Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften
(Werkausgabe), ed. R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhäuser
(Frankfurt/Main 19 ), vol. I.3, 1003). Adorno's praise of Kurt Weill
is grounded in his belief that, among Weill's many other merits, "his
blurring of the borderlines between serious and light music"
(18, 802) was a remarkable feat. For Adorno there is no question that
"the form of the musical may succeed in livening things up considerably,
especially by introducing a number of wholesome caesuras into the
overly schematized structure and direction of the new German musical
drama" (18, 802).
 The fact that Adorno's criticism of modernism has been largely ignored
in discussions on postmodernism has been of great disadvantage for
the discussion from the outset. It is not my task to trace the reasons
for this neglect. But one of those reasons might very well be this:
Even though Adorno developed his critique genuinely and fundamentally
in his music aesthetics, postmodern philosophers continue in the vein
already characteristic of the early traditional aesthetic theorists:
in general, unfair and neglected treatment of music in comparison
with the visual arts - the predominance of the eye and the disregard
of the ear in particular. Lyotard's statement ("I can see nothing
wrong with leaving this (i.e. music) to smarter people") acquires
an almost symbolical meaning for the debate on postmodernism. (Essays
zu einer affirmativen Ästhetik, (Berlin, 1982), 100).
 G. Eberle, "Zurück
zum Dreiklang? Neue Trends in der Gegenwartsmusik", Rias Berlin,
02/21/1977, quoted in H.-W. Heister, "Sackgasse oder Ausweg aus
dem Elfenbeinturm? Zur musikalischen Sprache in Wolfgang Rihms Jakob
Lenz," in Zur "Neuen Einfachheit" in der Musik,
ed. O. Kolleritsch (Vienna/Graz 19 ), 106-125, here: 107.
11 So the "post"-modernism
of the nineteen seventies, eighties and nineties was not that new
after all. See for instance Eberhardt Klemm's choice of a title: "Nichts
Neues unter der Sonne: Postmoderne" ["Nothing New under
the Sun: Postmodernism."] (in Musik und Gesellschaft
37 (1987), 400-403. Cf. also H. Krones, "Warum gibt es in Österreich
immer schon eine/keine Postmoderne?," in Das Projekt Moderne
und die Postmoderne, ed. W. Gruhn (Regensburg, 1989), 211-246),
and H. de la Motte-Habers' thesis that "today's postmodernism"
can already look back on a "tradition" ("Merkmale postmoderner
Musik;" in Das Projekt Moderne und die Postmoderne,
ed. W. Gruhn (Regensburg, 1989), 53-67. See also H. Danuser, who states:
"... that postmodernism, understood as non-modernism, had been
present in the twentieth century before it could succeed in the past
two decades - as it already had done in the nineteen thirties and
forties - to function as a lasting disturbance of the positions of
aesthetic modernism". ("Zur Kritik der musikalischen Postmoderne,
" in Gruhn, Das Projekt..., 69-83, here: 72 cont.).
 Compare for instance Nach der Postmoderne, ed. A. Steffens
(Düsseldorf/Bensheim, 1992); The End of Postmodernism: New Directions;
Proceedings of the First Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies,
ed. H. Ziegler (Stuttgart, 1993); I.P. Smirnov, Sein und Kreativität
oder Das Ende derPostmoderne, (Ostfildern, 1997).
 Adorno's interpretation of Berg may be regarded in this respect
as a pointed continuation of the argument in his Mahler interpretation.
Berg assumes Mahler's formal creed and Mahler's - as one might choose
to call it - "late romantic" tone, in order to complete
it and bring it to perfection. Berg is capable of doing so because
he is no longer bound to the "conditions of tonality which prevent
complete realisation" (16, 624). In an other, even more decisive
respect, the Berg interpretation marks a revolution in listening and
interpretation in general: forced by Berg's complex structures, the
"technique of placing layers of structures on top of each other",
Adorno has to analyze the relations between the perceptible and the
imperceptible, between granting and depriving - and is thus compelled
to depart from the occidental aesthetics of form and content. Using
Berg's compositions as a point of reference - although this does not
reveal itself instantly to the hasty reader, but becomes evident only
in a patient perusal of his analyses - Adorno develops a structure
of music, which deserves to be considered the legacy of his aesthetic
music theory. The fact that this legacy has hitherto not been taken
into account might well be called a scandal.
Index of Abbreviations
DA M. Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialektik
der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente (Frankfurt/Main,
31973. [Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming
(New York, 1972)].
Diss Theodor W. Adorno, Dissonanzen.
Musik in der verwalteten Welt, (Göttingen 61982).
OL Theodor W. Adorno, Ohne Leitbild.
Parva Aesthetica, (Frankfurt/Main 51973).
When quoting from Gesammelte
Schriften, 23 vols., ed. R. Tiedemann (Frankfurt/Main, 1970-86),
the first number indicates the volume, the second the page.