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Reviewed by:
  • Nietzsche, Adorno e um pouquinho de Brasil by Henry Burnett
  • André Luis Muniz Garcia
Henry Burnett, Nietzsche, Adorno e um pouquinho de Brasil. São Paulo: Editora Unifesp, 2011. 264 pp. ISBN: 978-85-61673-27-7. Paper, $17.00.

The chapters collected in Henry Burnett’s Nietzsche, Adorno e um pouquinho de Brasil (Nietzsche, Adorno and a Little Brazil) focus on investigating various cultural tendencies in Europe and Brazil in terms of popular music, or Volkslied. This is Burnett’s focus not only because he wants to analyze Nietzsche’s failed alliance with Wagnerian art regarding the “rebirth of tragedy”—the concern of the first part of the book—but also because he wishes to reflect on music’s role as a guiding thread in debates in early twentieth-century Western culture. In particular, in the second part of the book, Burnett considers the role of popular music as the modus operandi of cultural edification in Western capitalism. Understanding culture as that which individuals immediately communicate and comprehend, Burnett’s aim is to conceive of Volkslied as the universal condition of any intersubjective construction of a Weltanschauung.

These concerns also provide the background for the final chapter of the book, “Um Projeto—Autenticidade, Comunidade, Povo: A Canção Popular em O Nascimento da Tragédia” (“A Project—Authenticity, Community, Nation: Popular Music in The Birth of Tragedy”), in which Burnett presents his future research into Volkslied as a guide to the diagnosis of culture, and, in particular, Brazilian culture. In this review, I shall concentrate on this project and how it illuminates the preceding chapters in the book, since it touches on a subtle and decisive insight of Nietzsche’s in The Birth of Tragedy. There Nietzsche claims to have understood how a new artistic “unification [End Page 213] [Vereiningung]” of Greek culture emerged from Archilochus’s introduction of “Volkslied” into literature. Questioning the conception of Volkslied, he writes the following:

[W]hat is folk song, as compared with the wholly Apolline epic? Nothing other than the perpetuum vestigium of a union of the Apolline and the Dionysiac; the fact that it is so widely distributed amongst all peoples and grew ever more intense in an unbroken succession of births bears witness to the strength of that artistic double drive in nature, a drive which leaves traces of itself in popular song in much the same way as the orgiastic movements of a people are eternalized in its music. Indeed it ought to be possible to demonstrate historically that every period which was rich in the production of folk songs was agitated by Dionysiac currents, since these are always to be regarded as the precondition of folk song and as the hidden ground from which it springs.

(BT 6; trans. Ronald Speirs, Cambridge University Press, 1999)

This passage reveals more than Nietzsche’s diagnosis of Greek culture. For it suggests that such “Dionysiac currents [dionysische Strömungen]” would manifest themselves as popular music in different cultures over time. Burnett appears to pursue precisely this insight when he investigates how culturally productive periods were stimulated by “Dionysiac currents.”

Furthermore, by thus pursuing a philosophical understanding of popular music throughout the book, Burnett is led to examine not only Nietzsche’s philosophy but also that of Theodor Adorno, one of the harshest critics of popular music, and the thinking of Mario de Andrade, the Brazilian poet, novelist and musicologist and a founder of Brazilian modernism. Despite the absence of a systematic dialogue between Nietzsche, Adorno, and Andrade, their fears concerning the deterioration of Western culture, and especially its artistic powers, emerge as a common thread guiding Burnett’s thought.

Adorno considered the death of the nineteenth-century conception of culture to begin with its appropriation by the mechanisms and techniques of industrial production. Burnett shows, however, that Andrade saw in Brazilian culture of the first decades of the last century reasons for thinking just the opposite. Since Brazil was not then undergoing the massive changes in the capitalist system that afflicted Europe and the United States, Andrade thought that it was possible to map and order the various and hybrid sources of the nation’s culture. And it was...


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pp. 213-216
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