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163 reviews Theodor Adorno, In Search ofRichard Wagner, translated by Rodney Livingstone. London : New Left Books, 1981, L7.50. The appearance of a book by Theodor Adorno in English is always an important event for Marxist scholarship in this country. The nature of that event, furthermore, indicates a good deal about the changing situation in which it will be read — an expanding sphere (to be more blunt: a market), but one still substantially under foreign tutelage. The aura of exoticism , however, which is very much out of place in a critical approach whose great strength lies in its ability to grasp what is closest to hand, is rapidly fading as the efforts of New Left Books make more and more of such texts available. The inaccessibility of a book like this will accentuate its magisterial aspect (real enough anyway). Now, within a growing context of work in that vein, it is largely freed from the quality of miraculous uniqueness which hampers rigorous examination. Each new title is also an installment in the long-term task of developing the English language as a medium for dialectical thinking. This amounts to producing a new rhetorical Umb in which ideas which are as yet alien to its texture may be supported without distortion . What is required here goes beyond obviously technical terminology, and includes a feeling for opposites at all strategic points, down to quite minor ones. Rodney Livingstone can show moments of elan as a translator, and is generally solid, especially in musicologica], as opposed to philosophical, passages. There are junctures, nonetheless, at which one senses a need to refer to the original for clarification where a distinction is not adequately carried over. An example of this would be the argument on pp. 154-55, which hinges on the contrast between Besitz seiner selbst and seiner selbst machtig werden, but is obscured by both being rendered with the word "possession." Another example, less complex , but also more elusive in English, is the distinction between Kapellmeister and Dirigent, both meaning conductor, but permitting Adorno to achieve with clarity something in chapter 2 which remains slightly awkward in translation. Perhaps this could have been included in the generally useful and unobtrusive translator's footnotes. Another oddity is the translation of einer as "one" rather than "a" in einer eigentümlichen Rückbildung, on page 34. The English "one peculiar instance of regression" suggests that there are many such instances which Wagner escaped, whereas the argument demands that this should be an overwhelmingly central factor, nothing less than the contradiction of the unique historicity of Western music. At the opening of chapter 2, Adorno observes: "It would be rewarding to examine the heaps of rubbish, detritus and filth upon which the works of major artists appear to be erected, and to which they still owe something of their character, even though they have just managed to escape by the skin of their teeth." He counts off a list of examples, but concedes that it is very difficult to determine Wagner's situation in this respect with confidence . While Adorno's fastidiousness compels him to separate the positive achievements of the masters he names from their "parodies," albeit only by "a minute distance," the problem with Wagner is that somehow this sanitary procedure cannot be accomplished. His involvement with "filth" is an inextricable implication. Personally despicable in his social convictions and conduct, and an official ornament and mouthpiece of not one, but two despicable regimes in Germany, he is foremost among that small company who offer real problems for Marxist aesthetics by being apparently irredeemable in terms of historical perceptions, and yet remain vital figures in the development of their art. The question before Adorno is whether Wagner is merely a symptom of decay, and therefore has no claim to the dignity of great musician, or whether he has in some way managed to raise his work to the productive level of critical awareness or even diagnosis, transcending his own corruption and securing a place in the canon. In Search of Wagner carries us through a series of fascinating and intricate insights, but the ultimate inability to resolve the basic questions and sort out its own...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 163-166
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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