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Roll Over Adorno

Critical Theory, Popular Culture, Audiovisual Media

Robert Miklitsch

Publication Year: 2006

What happens when Theodor Adorno, the champion of high, classical artists such as Beethoven, comes into contact with the music of Chuck Berry, the de facto king of rock ’n’ roll? In a series of readings and meditations, Robert Miklitsch investigates the postmodern nexus between elite and popular culture as it occurs in the audiovisual fields of film, music, and television—ranging from Gershwin to gangsta rap, Tarantino to Tongues Untied, Tony Soprano to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Miklitsch argues that the aim of critical theory in the new century will be to describe and explain these commodities in ever greater phenomenological detail without losing touch with those evaluative criteria that have historically sustained both Kulturkritik and classical aesthetics.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Postmodern Culture


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Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-ix


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p. xi


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pp. xiii-xv

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pp. xvii-xxi

This book is composed of a series of essayistic encounters, the first and foremost being between Chuck Berry and Ludwig van Beethoven, the duck-walking, Gibson-guitar-wielding rocker from St. Louis and the definitive Western icon of musical genius. Although the not so “vanishing mediator” of this discursive encounter is Theodor Adorno, the title of the book is intended to recollect not only Berry’s great rock anthem, “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), but the rebellious spirit of early rock ’n’ roll and American...

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Introduction: Critical Theory, Popular Culture, Audiovisual Media

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pp. 1-21

In “A Theory of Mass Culture,” Dwight Macdonald commences his famous salvo against what for him is sometimes mistakenly called “popular culture” by insisting that its “distinctive mark is that it is solely and directly an article for mass consumption, like chewing gum.”1 Though this sort of complaint is familiar enough, it’s hard to imagine a more patronizing...

Part 1. Popular Music: Hi-Lo Fidelity

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p. 23

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1. Rock ‘n’ Theory: Cultural Studies, Autobiography, and the Death of Rock

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pp. 25-41

This chapter is structured like a record— a 45, to be exact. While the A side provides an anecdotal and autobiographical take on the birth of rock (on the assumption that, as Robert Palmer writes, “the best histories are . . . personal histories, informed by the author’s own experiences and passions”1), the B side examines the work of Lawrence Grossberg, in particular his...

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2. Roll Over Adorno: Beethoven, Chuck Berry, and Popular Music in the Age of MP3

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pp. 43-59

The recent resurgence of garage rock—The Hives, The Vines, and The Strokes, to cite only three of the most highly hyped bands with monosyllabic monikers—suggests that if rock was momentarily pronounced D.O.A., its death, as I argued in the previous chapter, has been greatly exaggerated. Rock, like Bix, lives! While there are any number of reasons why the state of rock has become an issue of perennial interest to cultural critics, not the least of which can be traced to the periodic....

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Reprise. Beethoven’s Hair

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pp. 61-66

Beethoven’s iconicity has a long illustrious history. Here, for example, is Wagner on the Maestro after hearing the Ninth Symphony (1824) in 1839 at a Paris Conservatoire Concert: “The effect on me was indescribable. To this must be added the impression produced on me by Beethoven’s features, which I saw in the lithographs that were circulated everywhere at the time. . . . I soon conceived an image of him in my mind as a . . . unique supernatural being.”1 If Beethoven’s music in the...

Part 2. Sound Film: Screen Theory and Audiovisuality

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p. 67

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3. The Suture Scenario: Audiovisuality and Post-Screen Theory

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pp. 69-89

Adorno’s essays on popular music, for all their habitual negativity, represent a seminal conjunction of critical theory and mass culture. Screen theory, a potent combination, like Frankfurt School critique, of Marxism and psychoanalysis, Althusserian Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis, first came to prominence in Great Britain in the early 1970s....

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4. Audiophilia: Audiovisual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema in Jackie Brown

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pp. 91-119

In “Cinema and Psychoanalysis: Parallel Histories,” a retrospective essay on the historical conjuncture of cinema and psychoanalysis, Stephen Heath comments on the fluctuating fortunes of various concepts in the long wake of Screen theory. While Heath in his audit mentions, in addition to suture, fantasy, fetishism, the real, the phallus, and the symptom, ironically enough, given his express interest in sexual difference, there is no mention of the “male gaze.” This is a rather striking omission...

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Reprise: Alex’s “Lovely Ludwig van”and Marty McFly’s White Rock Minstrel Show

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pp. 121-131

In a passage in his seminal essay, “On Suture” (1977/78), Stephen Heath observed in a typically thought-provoking aside that among the modes of narrativization that characterize the fiction feature film, those “working between image and sound tracks . . . still need to be examined.” 1 Over the intervening years since Heath’s essay first appeared in Screen, the notion of suture has become a cliché, yet another ornament of that monolithic entity kno...

Part 3. TV: Television, Telephilia, Televisuality

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p. 133

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5. Gen-X TV: Political-Libidinal Structures of Feeling in Melrose Place

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pp. 135-152

Cinephilia and scopophilia, if not audiophilia, have played a substantial role in the critical and journalistic discourse on film. Telephilia, on the other hand, has had a rather less illustrious history, as if the sort of intense affect and pleasure associated with, say, cinephilia were somehow impossible or inappropriate when discussing television. Part of this ...

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6. Shot/Countershot: Sexuality, Psychoanalysis, and Postmodern Style in The Sopranos

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pp. 153-181

Although there would appear to be little similarity between Melrose Place and The Sopranos, each program has helped to establish its respective brand and network: Melrose Place was one of the first programs, together with The Simpsons (1989–present) and Beverly Hills 90201, to put Fox on the map as the “fourth” network, while The Sopranos (which Fox famously turned down) has now made HBO a viable, even mandatory,...

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Reprise: Tony Soprano, Meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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pp. 183-196

Telephilia is frequently affiliated with the ineluctable dynamics of the family romance. There were six siblings in my immediate family, and most of my enduring memories of television, whether it was the eagerly awaited fall prime-time shows or Saturday morning cartoons, special annual screenings of The Wizard of Oz or The Ten Commandments, ...


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pp. 197-232


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pp. 233-252


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pp. 253-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780791481875
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791467336
Print-ISBN-10: 0791467333

Page Count: 284
Illustrations: 16 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: SUNY series in Postmodern Culture
Series Editor Byline: Joseph Natoli See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 70182918
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Roll Over Adorno

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Culture in motion pictures.
  • Television broadcasting -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Motion pictures -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Popular music -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
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