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Left-Wing Elitism: Adorno on Popular Culture

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 14, Number 1, April 1990
pp. 65-78 | 10.1353/phl.1990.0054

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Left-Wing Elitism: Adorno on Popular Culture
Bruce Baugh
University of Toronto


1. See T.-W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. C. Lehnhardt (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).

2. Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978).

3. In particular, see Adorno's essays, "Über den Fetischcharakter in der Musik," in Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 14, ed. Rolf Tiedemann (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1980), hereafter cited as "ÜFM"; and "Über Jazz," in Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 17, hereafter "ÜJ."

4. See Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (New York: Random House, 1955).

5. See Adorno, Philosophie der Neuen Musik (Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1949), hereafter PNM; "ÜFM," p. 19.

6. See Jean-Paul Sartre, What Is Literature?, trans. Bernard Frechtman (London: Methuen, 1967), p. 14.

7. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

8. See Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969).

9. See Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tubingen: Max Neimeyer, 1979), §40.

10. Others have accepted Adorno's views on popular music, among them Frederic Jameson, in his Marxism and Form (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 15.

11. The "jazz" composition Adorno refers to most often is Tiger Rag; his picture of the jazz "enthusiast" as a frenzied jitter-bugger, dancing to the vital rhythms of depraved Negermusik, requires no commentary. In addition to the essays already mentioned, see Adorno, Quasi una fantasia (Paris: Gallimard, 1982), pp. 56-57.

12. Adorno mentions this point, although he seems not to have grasped its significance; see "ÜJ," p. 85.

13. Adorno reduces the performance element in jazz to mere virtuosity; see "ÜFM," pp. 47-48; "ÜJ," p. 85.

14. In that respect, Adorno's remark ("ÜFM," p. 44) that "One must have a lot of free time and not much freedom to become a jazz expert" carries an unintended irony.

15. Adorno in fact objects to turning high culture into a commodity; much of "ÜFM" addresses this point.

16. See Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension, p. 34.

17. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 340.