THE IDEOLOGY OF POSTMODERN MUSIC AND LEFT POLITICS by JOHN BEVERLEY University of Pittsbur

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THE IDEOLOGY OF POSTMODERN MUSIC AND LEFT POLITICS by JOHN BEVERLEY University of Pittsburgh Copyright (c) 1989 by _Critical Quarterly_, all rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. ------------------------------------------------------ This article appeared initially in the British journal _Critical Quarterly_ 31.1 (Spring, 1989). I'm grateful to its editors for permission to reproduce it here, and in particular to Colin MacCabe for suggesting the idea in the first place. I've added a few minor corrections and updates. ------------------------------------------------------ for Rudy Van Gelder, friend of ears [1] Adorno directed some of his most acid remarks on musical sociology to the category of the "fan." For example: What is common to the jazz enthusiast of all countries, however, is the moment of compliance, in parodistic exaggeration. In this respect their play recalls the brutal seriousness of the masses of followers in totalitarian states, even though the difference between play and seriousness amounts to that between life and death (...) While the leaders in the European dictatorships of both shades raged against the decadence of jazz, the youth of the other countries has long since allowed itself to be electrified, as with marches, by the syncopated dance-steps, with bands which do not by accident stem from military music.^1^ One of the most important contributions of postmodernism has been its defense of an aesthetics of the _consumer_, rather than as in the case of romanticism and modernism an aesthetics of the producer, in turn linked to an individualist and phallocentric ego ideal. I should first of all make it clear then that I am writing here from the perspective of the "fan," the person who buys records and goes to concerts, not like Adorno from the perspective of the trained musician or composer. What I will be arguing, in part with Adorno, in part against him, is that music is coming to represent for the Left something like a "key sector." * * * * * * * * * [2] For Adorno, the development of modern music is a reflection of the decline of the bourgeoisie, whose most characteristic cultural medium on the other hand music is.^2^ Christa Burger recalls the essential image of the cultural in Adorno: that of Ulysses, who, tied to the mast of his ship, can listen to the song of the sirens while the slaves underneath work at the oars, cut off from the aesthetic experience which is reserved only for those in power.^3^ What is implied and critiqued at the same time in the image is the stance of the traditional intellectual or aesthete in the face of the processes of transformation of culture into a commodity--mass culture--and the consequent collapse of the distinction between high and low culture, a collapse which precisely defines the postmodern and which postmodernist ideology celebrates. In the postmodern mode, not only are Ulysses and his crew both listening to the siren song, they are singing along with it as in "Sing Along with Mitch" and perhaps marking the beat with their oars--one-two, one-two, one-two-three-four. * * * * * * * * [3] One variant of the ideology of postmodern music may be illustrated by the following remarks from an interview John Cage gave about his composition for electronic tape _Fontana Mix_ (1958): Q.--I feel that there is a sense of logic and cohesion in your indeterminate music. A.--This logic was not put there by me, but was the result of chance operations. The thought that it is logical grows up in you... I think that all those things that we associate with logic and our observance of relationships, those aspects of our mind are extremely simple in relation to what actually happens, so that when we use our perception of logic we minimize the actual nature of the thing we are experiencing. Q.--Your conception (of indeterminacy) leads you into a universe nobody has attempted to charter before. Do you find yourself in it as a lawmaker? A.--I am certainly not at the point of making laws. I am more like a hunter, or an inventor, than a lawmaker. Q.--Are you satisfied with the way your music is made public--that is, by the music publishers, record companies, radio stations, etc.? Do you have complaints? A.--I consider my music, once it has left my desk, to be what in Buddhism would be called a non- sentient being... If someone kicked me--not my music, but me--then I might complain. But if they kicked my music, or cut it out, or don't play it enough, or too much, or something like that, then who am I to complain?^4^ We might contrast this with one of the great epiphanies of literary modernism, the moment of the jazz song in Sartre's _Nausea_: (...)there is no melody, only notes, a myriad of tiny jolts. They know no rest, an inflexible order gives birth to them and destroys them without even giving them time to recuperate and exist for themselves. They race, they press forward, they strike me a sharp blow in passing and are obliterated. I would like to hold them back, but I know if I succeeded in stopping one it would remain between my fingers only as a raffish languishing sound. I must accept their death; I must even _will_ it: I know few impressions stronger or more harsh. I grow warm, I begin to feel happy. There is nothing extraordinary in this, it is a small happiness of Nausea: it spreads at the bottom of the viscous puddle, at the bottom of _our_ time-- the time of purple suspenders and broken chair seats; it is made of wide, soft instants, spreading at the edge, like an oil stain. No sooner than born, it is already old, it seems as though I have known it for twenty years (...) The last chord has died away. In the brief silence which follows I feel strongly that there it is, that _something has happened_. Silence. _Some of these days You'll miss me honey_ What has just happened is that the Nausea has disappeared. When the voice was heard in the silence, I felt my body harden and the Nausea vanish. Suddenly: it was almost unbearable to become so hard, so brilliant. At the same time the music was drawn out, dilated, swelled like a waterspout. It filled the room with its metallic transparency, crushing our miserable time against the walls. I am _in_ the music. Globes of fire turn in the mirrors; encircled by rings of smoke, veiling and unveiling the hard smile of light. My glass of beer has shrunk, it seems heaped up on the table, it looks dense and indispensable. I want to pick it up and feel the weight of it, I stretch out my hand... God! That is what has changed, my gestures. This movement of my arm has developed like a majestic theme, it has glided along the jazz song; I seemed to be dancing.^5^ * * * * * * * * [4] The passage from _Nausea_ illustrates Adorno's dictum that music is "the promise of reconciliation." This is what betrays its origins in those moments of ritual sacrifice and celebration in which the members of a human community are bonded or rebonded to their places within it. In _Nausea_ the jazz song prefigures Roquentin's eventual reconciliation with his own self and his decision to write what is in effect his dissertation, a drama of choice that will not be unfamiliar to readers of this journal. Even for an avant-gardist like Cage music is still--in the allusion to Buddhism--in some sense the sensuous form or "lived experience" of the religious.^6^ [5] Was it not the function of music in relation to the great feudal ideologies--Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Confucianism--to produce the sensation of the sublime and the eternal so as to constitute the image of the reward which awaited the faithful and obedient: the reward for submitting to exploitation or the reward for accepting the burden of exploiting? I am remembering as I write this Monteverdi's beautiful echo duet _Due Seraphim_--two angels--for the _Vespers of the Virgin Mary_ of 1610, whose especially intense sweetness is perhaps related to the fact that it was written in a moment of crisis of both feudalism and Catholicism. [6] Just before Monteverdi, the Italian Mannerists had proclaimed the formal autonomy of the art work from religious dogma. But if the increasing secularization of music in the European late Baroque and 18th century led on the one hand to the Jacobin utopianism of the _Ninth Symphony_, it produced on the other something like Kant's aesthetics of the sublime, that is a mysticism of the bourgeois ego. As Adorno was aware, we are still in modern music in a domain where, as in the relation of music and feudalism, aesthetic experience, repression and sublimation, and class privilege and self-legitimation converge.^7^ * * * * * * * * [7] Genovese has pointed out in the Afro-American slave spiritual something like a contrary articulation of the relation of music and the religious to the one I have been suggesting: the sense in which both the music and the words of the song keep alive culturally the image of an imminent redemption from slavery and oppression, a redemption which lies within human time and a "real" geography of slave and free states ("The river Jordan is muddy and wide / Gotta get across to the other side").^8^ Of the so-called Free Jazz movement of the 60s--Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, late Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, etc.--the French critic Pierre Lere remarked in a passage quoted centrally by Herbert Marcuse in one of the key statements of 60s aesthetic radicalism: (...)the liberty of the musical form is only the aesthetic translation of the will to social liberation. Transcending the tonal framework of the theme, the musician finds himself in a position of freedom(...) The melodic line becomes the medium of communication between an initial order which is rejected and a final order which is hoped for. The frustrating possession of the one, joined with the liberating attainment of the other, establishes a rupture in between the Weft of harmony which gives way to an aesthetic of the cry (_esthetique du cri_). This cry, the characteristic resonant (_sonore_) element of "free music," born in an exasperated tension, announces the violent rupture with the established white order and translates the advancing (_promotrice_) violence of a new black order.^9^ * * * * * * * * [8] Music itself as ideology, as an ideological practice? What I have in mind is not at all the problem, common both to a Saussurian and a vulgar marxist musicology, of "how music expresses ideas." Jacques Attali has correctly observed that while music can be defined as noise given form according to a code, nevertheless it cannot be equated with a language. Music, though it has a precise operationality, never has stable reference to a semantic code of the linguistic type. It is a sort of language without meaning.^10^ [9] Could we think of music then as outside of ideology to the extent that it is non-verbal? (This, some will recall, was Della Volpe's move in his _Critique of Taste_.) One problem with poststructuralism in general and deconstruction in particular has been their tendency to see ideology as essentially bound up with language--the "Symbolic"-- rather than organized states of feeling in general.^11^ But we certainly inhabit a cultural tradition where it is a common-sense proposition that people listen to music precisely to escape from ideology, from the terrors of ideology and the dimension of practical reason. Adorno, in what I take to be the quintessential modernist dictum, writes: "Beauty is like an exodus from the world of means and ends, the same world to which beauty however owes its objective existence."^12^ [10] Adorno and the Frankfurt School make of the Kantian notion of the aesthetic as a purposiveness without purpose precisely the locus of the radicalizing and redemptive power of art, the sense in which by alienating practical aims it sides with the repressed and challenges domination and exploitation, particularly the rationality of capitalist institutions. By contrast, there is Lenin's famous remark--it's in Gorki's _Reminiscences_--that he had to give up listening to Beethoven's _Appasionata_ sonata: he enjoyed it too much, it made him feel soft, happy, at one with all humanity. His point would seem to be the need to resist a narcotic and pacifying aesthetic gratification in the name of the very difficult struggle--and the corresponding ideological rigor--necessary to at least setting in motion the process of building a classless society. But one senses in Lenin too the displacement or sublation of an aesthetic sensibility onto the field of revolutionary activism. And in both Adorno and Lenin there is a sense that music is somehow in excess of ideology. [11] Not only the Frankfurt School, but most major tendencies in "Western Marxism" (a key exception is Gramsci) maintain some form or other of the art/ideology distinction, with a characteristic ethical-epistemological privileging of the aesthetic _over_ the ideological. In Althusser's early essays-- "A Letter on Art to Andre Daspre," for example--art was said to occupy an intermediate position between science and ideology, since it involved ideology (as, so to speak, its raw material), but in such a way as to provoke an "internal distancing" from ideology, somewhat as in Brecht's notion of an "alienation effect" which obliges the spectator to scrutinize and question the assumptions on which the spectacle has been proceeding. In the section on interpellation in Althusser's later essay on ideology, this "modernist" and formalist concern with estrangement and defamiliarization has been displaced by what is in effect a postmodernist concern with fascination and fixation. If ideology, in Althusser's central thesis, is what constitutes the subject in relation to the real, then the domain of ideology is not a world-view or set of (verbal) ideas, but rather the ensemble of signifying practices in societies: that is, the cultural. In interpellation, the issue is not _whether_ ideology is happening in the space of something like aesthetic experience, or whether "good" or "great" art transcends the merely ideological (whereas "bad" art doesn't), but rather _what_ or _whose_ ideology, because the art work is precisely (one of the places) where ideology happens, though of course this need not be the dominant ideology or even any particular ideology. * * * * * * * * [12] If the aesthetic effect consists in a certain satisfaction of desire--a "pleasure" (in the formalists, the recuperation or production of sensation)--, and if the aesthetic effect is an ideological effect, then the question becomes not the separation of music and ideology but rather their relation. [13] Music would seem to have in this sense a special relation to the pre-verbal, and thus to the Imaginary or more exactly to something like Kristeva's notion of the semiotic.^13^ In the sort of potted lacanianism we employ these days in cultural studies, we take it that objects of imaginary identification function in the psyche--in a manner Lacan designated as "orthopedic"-- as metonyms of an object of desire which has been repressed or forgotten, a desire which can never be satisfied and which consequently inscribes in the subject a sense of insufficiency or fading. In narcissism, this desire takes the form of a libidinal identification of the ego with an image or sensation of itself as (to recall Freud's demarcation of the alternatives in his 1916 essay on narcissism) it is, was or should be. From the third of these possibilities--images or experiences of the ego as it should be--Freud argued that there arises as a consequence of the displacement of primary narcissism the images of an ideal ego or ego ideal, internalized as the conscience or super ego. Such images, he added, are not only of self but also involve the social ideals of the parent, the family, the tribe, the nation, the race, etc. Consequently, those sentiments which are the very stuff of ideology in the narrow sense of political "isms" and loyalties--belonging to a party, being an "american," defending the family "honor," fighting in a national liberation movement, etc.--are basically transformations of homoerotic libidinal narcissism. [14] It follows then that the aesthetic effect--even the sort of non-semantic effect produced by the organization of sound (in music) or color and line (in painting or sculpture)--always implies a kind of social Imaginary, a way of being with and/or for others. Although they are literature-centered, we may recall in this context Jameson's remarks at the end of _The Political Unconscious_ (in the section titled "The Dialectic of Utopia and Ideology") to the effect that "all class consciousness--that is all ideology in the strict sense--, as much the exclusive forms of consciousness of the ruling classes as the opposing ones of the oppressed classes, are in their very nature utopian." From this Jameson claims--this is his appropriation of Frankfurt aesthetics--that the aesthetic value of a given work of art can never be limited to its moment of genesis, when it functioned willy-nilly to legitimize some form or other of domination. For if its utopian quality as "art"--its "eternal charm," to recall Marx's (eurocentric, petty bourgeois) comment on Greek epic poetry--is precisely that it expresses pleasurably the imaginary unity of a social collectivity, then "it is utopian not as a thing in itself, but rather to the extent that such collectivities are themselves ciphers for the final concretion of collective life, that is the achieved utopia of a classless society."^14^ [15] What this implies, although I'm not sure whether Jameson himself makes this point as such, is that the political unconscious of the aesthetic is (small c) communism. (One would need to also work through here the relation between music--Wagner, Richard Strauss --and fascism.) * * * * * * * * [16] I want to introduce at this point an issue which was particularly crucial to the way in which I experienced and think about music, which is the relation of music and drugs. It is said the passage from _Nausea_ I used before derived from Sartre's experiments in the 30s with mescaline. Many of you will have your own versions of essential psychedelic experiences of the 60s, but here--since I'm not likely to be nominated in the near future for the Supreme Court--is one of mine. It is 1963, late at night. I'm a senior in college and I've taken peyote for the first time. I'm lying face down on a couch with a red velour cover. Mozart is playing, something like the adagio of a piano concerto. As my nausea fades--peyote induces in the first half hour or so a really intense nausea--I begin to notice the music which seems to become increasingly clear and beautiful. I feel my breath making my body move against the couch and I feel the couch respond to me as if it were a living organism, very soft and very gentle, as if it were the body of my mother. I remember or seem to remember being close to my mother in very early childhood. I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. The room fills with light. I enter a timeless, paradisiacal state, beyond good and evil. The music goes on and on. [17] There was of course also the freak-out or bad trip: the drug exacerbated sensation that the music is incredibly banal and stupid, that the needle of the record player is covered with fuzz, that the sound is thick and ugly like mucus; Charlie Manson hearing secret apocalyptic messages in "Helter Skelter" on the Beatles's _White Album_; the Stones at Altamont. Modernism in music, say the infinitely compressed fragments of late Webern, is the perception in the midst of the bad trip, of dissonance, of a momentary cohesion and radiance, whose power is all the greater because it shines out of chaos and evil. In Frankfurt aesthetics, dissonance is the voice of the oppressed in music. Thus for Adorno it is only in dissonance, which destroys the illusion of reconciliation represented by harmony, that the power of seduction of the inspiring character of music survives.^15^ * * * * * * * * Consider what moderation is required to express oneself so briefly... You can stretch every glance out into a poem, every sigh into a novel. But to express a novel in a single gesture, a joy in a breath--such concentration can only be present in proposition to the absence of self- pity. --Schoenberg on Webern^16^ * * * * * * * * [18] Cage's _4'33"_--which is a piece where the performer sits at a piano without playing anything for four minutes and thirty-three seconds--is a postmodernist homage to modernist aesthetics, to serialism and private language music. What it implies is that the listening subject is to compose from the very absence of music the music, the performance from the frustration of the expected performance. As in the parallel cases of Duchamp's ready-mades or Rauschenberg's white paintings, such a situation gives rise to an appropriately "modernist" anxiety (which might be allegorized in Klee's twittering birds whose noise emanates from the very miniaturization, compression and silent tension of the pictorial space) to create an aesthetic experience out of the given, whatever it is. [19] Postmodernism per se in music, on the other hand, is where the anxiety of the listener to "make sense of" the piece is either perpetually frustrated by pure randomness--Cage's music of chance--or assuaged and dissipated by a bland, "easy-listening" surface with changes happening only in a Californian _longue duree_, as in the musics of La Monte Young, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, or Steve Reich. The intention of such musics, we might say, is to transgress both the Imaginary and Symbolic: they are a sort of brainwashing into the Real. * * * * * * * * I [heart] ADORNO --bumper sticker (thanks to Hilary Radner) * * * * * * * * [20] One form of capitalist utopia which is portended in contemporary music--we could call it the Chicago School or neoliberal form--is the utopia of the record store, with its incredible proliferation and variety of musical commodities, its promise of "different strokes for different folks," as Sly Stone would have it: Michael Jackson--or Prince--, Liberace, Bach on original instruments or _a la _ Cadillac by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Heavy Metal--or Springsteen--, Country (what kind of Country: Zydeco, Appalachian, Bluegrass, Dolly Parton, trucker, New Folk, etc.?), jazz, blues, spirituals, soul, rap, hip hop, fusion, college rock (Grateful Dead, REM, Talking Heads), SST rock (Meat Puppets etc.), Holly Near, _Hymnen_, _salsa_, reggae, World Beat, _norteno_ music, _cumbias_, Laurie Anderson, 46 different recorded versions of _Bolero_, John Adams, and so on and on, with the inevitable "crossovers" and new "new waves." By contrast, even the best stocked record outlets in socialist countries were spartan. [21] But this is also "Brazil" (as in the song/film): the dystopia of behaviorly tailored, industrially manufactured, packaged and standardized music--Muzak--, where it is expected that everyone except owners and managers of capital will be at the same time a fast food chain worker and consumer. Muzak is to music what, say, McDonalds is to food; and since its purpose is to generate an environment conducive to both commodity production and consumption, it is more often than not to be heard in places like McDonalds (or, so we are told in prison testimonies, in that Latin American concomitant of Chicago School economics which are torture chambers, with the volume turned up to the point of distortion). [22] In Russell Berman's perhaps overly anxious image, Muzak implies a fundamental mutation of the public sphere, "the beautiful illusion of a collective, singing along in dictatorial unanimity." Its ubiquity, as in the parallel cases of advertising and packaging and design, refers to a situation where there is no longer, Berman writes, "an outside to art (...) There is no pre-aesthetic dimension to social activity, since the social order itself has become dependent on aesthetic organization."^17^ [23] Berman's concern here I take to be in the spirit of the general critique Habermas--and in this country Christopher Lasch--have made of postmodern commodity culture, a critique which as many people have noted coincides paradoxically (since its main assumption is that postmodernism is a reactionary phenomenon) with the cultural politics of the new Right, for example Alan Bloom's clinically paranoid remarks on rock in _The Closing of the American Mind_.^18^ [24] Is the loss of autonomy of the aesthetic however a bad thing--something akin to Marcuse's notion of a "repressive desublimation" which entails the loss of art's critical potential--, or does it indicate a new vulnerability of capitalist societies--a need to legitimize themselves through aestheticization--and therefore both a _new possibility_ for the left and a new centrality for cultural and aesthetic matters in left practice? For, as Berman is aware, the aestheticization of everyday life was also the goal of the historical avant garde in its attack on the institution of the autonomy of the aesthetic in bourgeois culture, which made it at least potentially a form of anti-capitalist practice. The loss of aura or desublimation of the art work may be a form of commodification but it is also, as Walter Benjamin pointed out, a form of democratization of culture.^19^ [25] Cage writes suggestively, for example, of "a music which is like furniture--a music, that is, which will be part of the noises of the environment, will take them into consideration. I think of it as a melodious softening the noises of the knives and forks, not dominating them, not imposing itself. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometimes fall between friends dining together."^20^ In some of the work of La Monte Young or Brian Eno, music becomes consciously an aspect of interior decorating. What this takes us back to is not Muzak but the admirable baroque tradition of _Tafel Musik_: "table" or dinner music. Mozart still wrote at the time of the French Revolution comfortably and well _divertimentii_ meant to accompany social gatherings, including meetings of his Masonic lodge. After Mozart, this utilitarian or "background" function is repressed in bourgeois art music, which will now require the deepest concentration and emotional and intellectual involvement on the part of the listening subject. [26] The problem with Muzak is not its ubiquity or the idea of environmental music per se, but rather its insistently kitsch and conservative melodic-harmonic content. What is clear, on the other hand, is that the intense and informed concentration on the art work which is assumed in Frankfurt aesthetics depends on an essentially Romantic, formalist and individualist conception of both music and the listening subject, which is not unrelated to the actual processes of commodification "classical" music was undergoing in the late 18th and 19th centuries. * * * * * * * * [27] The antidote to Muzak would seem to be something like Punk. By way of a preface to a discussion of Punk and extending the considerations above on the relation between music and commodification, I want to refer first to Jackson Pollock's great painting _Autumn Rhythm_ in the Met, a picture that--like Pollock's work in general--is particularly admired by Free Jazz musicians. It's a vast painting with splotches of black, brown and rust against the raw tan of unprimed canvas, with an incredible dancing, swirling, clustering, dispersing energy. As you look at it, you become aware that while the ambition of the painting seems to be to explode or expand the pictorial space of the canvas altogether, it is finally only the limits of the canvas which make the painting possible as an art object. The limit of the canvas is its aesthetic autonomy, its separation from the life world, but also its commodity status as something that can be bought, traded, exhibited. The commodity is implicated in the very form of the "piece;" as in the jazz record in _Nausea_, "The music ends." (The 78 RPM record--the commodity form of recorded music in the 20s and 30s-- imposed a three minute limit per side on performances and this in turn shaped the way songs were arranged in jazz or pop recording: cf. the 45 and the idea today of the "single.") [28] Such a situation might indicate one limit of Jameson's cultural hermeneutic. If the strategy in Jameson is to uncover the emancipatory utopian- communist potential locked up in the artifacts of the cultural heritage, this is also in a sense to leave everything as it is, as in Wittgenstein's analytic (because that which is desired is already there; it only has to be "seen" correctly), whereas the problem of the relation of art and social liberation is also clearly the need to _transgress_ the limits imposed by existing artistic forms and practices and to produce new ones. To the extent, however, such transgressions can be recontained within the sphere of the aesthetic-- in a new series of "works" which may also be available as commodities--, they will produce paradoxically an affirmation of bourgeois culture: in a certain sense they _are _ bourgeois high culture. [29] A representation of this paradox in terms of 60s leftism is the great scene in Antonioni's film _Zabriskie Point_ where the (modernist) desert home of the capitalist pig is (in the young woman's imagination) blown up, and we see in ultra slow motion, in beautiful Technicolor, accompanied by a spacy and sinister Pink Floyd music track, the whole commodity universe of late capitalism--cars, tools, supermarket food, radios, TVs, clothes, furniture, records, books, decorations, utensils--float by. What is not clear is who could have placed the bomb, so that Jameson might ask in reply a question the film itself also leaves unanswered: is this an image of the destruction of capitalism or of its fission into a new and "higher" stage where it fills all space and time, where there is no longer something--nature, the Third World, the unconscious--outside it? And this question suggests another one: to what extent was the cultural radicalism of the 60s, nominally directed against the rationality of capitalist society and its legitimating discourses, itself a form of modernization of capitalism, a prerequisite of its "expanded" reproduction in the new international division of labor and the proliferation of electronic technologies--with corresponding "mind- sets"--which emerge in the 70s?^21^ * * * * * * * * From Punk manifestos: Real life stinks. What has been shown is that you and I can do anything in any area without training and with little cash. We're demanding that real life keep up with advertising, the speed of advertising on TV... We are living at the speed of advertising. We demand to be entertained all the time, we get bored very quickly. When we're on stage, things happen a thousand times faster, everything we do is totally compressed and intense on stage, and that's our version of life as we feel and see it. In the future T.V. will be so good that the printed word will function as an artform only. In the future we will not have time for leisure activities. In the future we will "work" one day a week. In the future there will be machines which will produce a religious experience in the user. In the future there will be so much going on that no one will be able to keep track of it. (David Byrne)^22^ [30] The emergence and brief hegemony of Punk--from, say, 1975 to 1982--was related to the very high levels of structural unemployment or subemployment which appear in First World capitalist centers in the 70s as a consequence of the winding down of the post-World War II economic long cycle, and which imply especially for lower middle class and working class youth a consequent displacement of the work ethic towards a kind of on the dole bohemianism or dandyism. Punk aimed at a sort of rock or Gesamtkunstwerk (Simon Frith has noted its connections with Situationist ideology^23^) which would combine music, fashion, dance, speech forms, mime, graphics, criticism, new "on the street" forms of appropriation of urban space, and in which in principle everybody was both a performer and a spectator. Its key musical form was three-chord garage power rock, because its intention was to contest art rock and superstar rock, to break down the distance between fan and performer. Punk was loud, aggressive, eclectic, anarchic, amateur, self-consciously anti- commercial and anti-hippie at the same time. [31] As it was the peculiar genius of the Sex Pistol's manager, Malcolm McClaren, to understand, both the conditions of possibility and the limits of Punk were those of a still expanding capitalist consumer culture --a culture which, in one sense, was intended as a _compensation_ for the decline in working-class standards of living. Initially, Punk had to create its own forms of record production and distribution, independent of the "majors" and of commercial music institutions in general. The moment that to be recognized as Punk is to conform to an established image of consumer desire, to be different say than New Wave, is the moment Punk becomes the new commodity. It is the moment of the Sex Pistols' US tour depicted in _Sid and Nancy_, where on the basis of the realization that they are becoming a commercial success on the American market--_the_ new band--they auto- destruct. But the collapse of Punk--and its undoubted flirtation with nihilism--should not obscure the fact that it was for a while--most consciously in the work of British groups like the Clash or the Gang of Four and also in collective projects like Rock Against Racism--a very powerful form of Left mass culture, perhaps--if we are attentive to Lenin's dictum that ideas acquire a material force when they reach the millions--one of the most powerful forms we have seen in recent years in Western Europe and the United States. Some of Punk's heritage lives on in the popularity of U2 or Tracy Chapman today and or in the recent upsurge of Heavy Metal (which, it should be recalled, has one of its roots in the Detroit 60s movement band, MC5). * * * * * * * * [32] The notion of postmodernism initially comes into play to designate a crisis in the dominant canons of American architecture. Hegel posited architecture over music as the world historical form of Romantic art, because in architecture the reconciliation of spirit and matter, reason and history, represented ultimately by the state was more completely realized. Hence, for example, Jameson's privileging of architecture in his various discussions of postmodernism. I think that today, however, particularly if we are thinking about how to develop a left practice on the terrain of the postmodern, we have to be for music as against architecture, because it is in architecture that the power and self-representation of capital and the imperialist state reside, whereas music--like sports-- is always and everywhere a power of cultural production which is in the hands of the people. Capital can master and exploit music--and modern musics like rock are certainly forms of capitalist culture--, but it can never seize hold of and monopolize its means of production, as it can say with literature. The cultural presence of the Third World in and against the dominant of imperialism is among other things, to borrow Jacques Attali's concept, "noise"--the intrusion of new forms of language and music which imply new forms of community and pleasure: Bob Marley's reggae; Run-DMC on MTV with "Walk This Way" (a crossover of rap with white Heavy Metal); "We Shall Overcome" sung at a sit-in for Salvadoran refugees; the beautiful South African choral music Paul Simon used on _Graceland_ sung at a township funeral; _La Bamba_; Public Enemy's "Fight the Power"; Ruben Blades' _Crossover Dreams_. [33] The debate over _Graceland_ some years ago indicates that the simple presence of Third World music in a First World context implies immediately a series of ideological effects, which doesn't mean that I think there was a "correct line" on _Graceland_, e.g. that it was a case of Third World suffering and creative labor sublimated into an item of First World white middle-class consumption.^24^ Whatever the problems with the concept of the Third World, it can no longer mark an "other" that is radically outside of and different than contemporary American or British society. By the year 2000, one out of four inhabitants of the United States will be non-european (black, hispanic of latin american origin, asian or native american); even today we are the fourth or fifth largest hispanic country in the world (out of twenty). In this sense, the Third World is also _inside_ the First, "en las entranas del monstruo" (in the entrails of the monster) as Jose Marti would have said, and for a number of reasons music has been and is perhaps the hegemonic cultural form of this insertion. What would American musical culture be like for example without the contribution of Afro-American musics? [34] Turning this argument on its head, assume something like the following: a young guerrilla fighter of the FMLN in El Salvador wearing a Madonna T-shirt. A traditional kind of Left cultural analysis would have talked about cultural imperialism and how the young man or woman in question had become a revolutionary _in spite of_ Madonna and American pop culture. I don't want to discount entirely the notion of cultural imperialism, which seems to me real and pernicious enough, but I think we might also begin to consider how being a fan of Madonna might in some sense _contribute to_ becoming a guerrilla or political activist in El Salvador. (And how wearing a Madonna T-shirt might be a form of revolutionary cultural politics: it certainly defines--correctly--a community of interest between young people in El Salvador and young people in the United States who like Madonna.) * * * * * * * * [35] Simon Frith has summarized succinctly the critique of the limitations of Frankfurt school aesthetic theory that has been implicit here: The Frankfurt scholars argued that the transformation of art into commodity inevitably sapped imagination and withered hope--now all that could be imagined was what was. But the artistic impulse is not destroyed by capital; it is transformed by it. As utopianism is mediated through the new processes of cultural production and consumption, new sorts of struggles over community and leisure begin.^25^ More and more--the point has been made by Karl Offe among others--the survival of capitalism has become contingent on non-capitalist forms of culture, including those of the Third World. What is really utopian in the present context is not so much the sublation of art into life under the auspices of advanced consumer capitalism, but rather the current capitalist project of reabsorbing the entire life energy of world society into labor markets and industrial or service production. One of the places where the conflict between forces and relations of production is most acutely evident is in the current tensions--the FBI warning at the start of your evening video, for example--around the commercialization of VCR and digital sound technologies. Cassettes and CDs are the latest hot commodities, but by the same token they portend the possibility of a virtual decommodification of music and film material, since its reproduction via these technologies can no longer be easily contained within the "normal" boundaries of capitalist property rights. [36] As opposed to both Frankfurt school style _Angst_ about commodification and a neopopulism which can't imagine anything finer than Bruce Springsteen (I have in mind Jesse Lemisch's polemic against Popular Front style "folk" music in _The Nation_)^26^, I think we have to reject the notion that certain kinds of music are _a priori_ ethically and politically OK and others not (which doesn't mean that there is not ideological struggle in music and choice of music). Old Left versions of this, some will recall, ranged from jazz=good, classical=bad (American CP), to jazz=bad, classical=good (Soviet CP). The position of the Left today--understanding this in the broadest possible sense, as in the idea of the Rainbow--should be in favor of the broadest possible variety and proliferation of musics and related technologies of pleasure, on the understanding--or hope--that in the long run this will be deconstructive of capitalist hegemony. This is a postmodernist position, but it also involves challenging a certain smugness in postmodernist theory and practice about just how far elite/popular, high culture/mass culture distinctions have broken down. Too much of postmodernism seems simply a renovated form of bourgeois "art" culture. To my mind, the problem is not how much but rather how little commodification of culture has introduced a universal aestheticization of everyday life. The Left needs to defend the pleasure principle ("fun") involved in commodity aesthetics at the same time that it needs to develop effective images of _post-commodity_ gratification linked--as transitional demands--to an expansion of leisure time and a consequent transformation of the welfare state from the realm of economic maintenance--the famous "safety net"--to that of the provision of forms of pleasure and personal development outside the parameters of commodity production. While it is good and necessary to remind ourselves that we are a long way away from the particular cultural forms championed by the Popular Front--that these are now the stuff of_our_ nostalgia mode--, we also need to think about the ways in which the Popular Fronts in their day were able to hegemonize both mass and elite culture. The creation--as in a tentative way in this paper--of an _ideologeme_ which articulates the political project of ending or attenuating capitalist domination with both the production _and_ consumption of contemporary music seems to me one of the most important tasks in cultural work the Left should have on its present agenda. [37] Of course, what we anticipate in taking up this task is also the moment--or moments--when architecture becomes the form of expression of the people, because that would be the moment when power had really begun to change hands. What would this architecture be like? _______________________________________________________ NOTES 1. Theodor Adorno, "Perennial Fashion--Jazz," in _Prisms_, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (London: Neville Spearman, 1967), 128-29. 2. On this point, see Adorno's remarks in _The Philosophy of Modern Music_, trans. Anne Mitchell and Wesley Blomster (New York: Seabury, 1980), 129-33. 3. Christa Burger, "The Disappearance of Art: The Postmodernism Debate in the U.S.," _Telos_, 68 (Summer 1986), 93-106. 4. Ilhan Mimaroglu, extracts from interview with John Cage in record album notes for Berio, Cage, Mimaroglu, _Electronic Music_ (Turnabout TV34046S). 5. Jean-Paul Sartre, _Nausea_, trans. Lloyd Alexander (New York: New Directions, 1959), 33-36. 6. Cf. the following remarks by the minimalist composer La Monte Young: Around 1960 I became interested in yoga, in which the emphasis is on concentration and focus on the sounds inside your head. Zen meditation allows ideas to come and go as they will, which corresponds to Cage's music; he and I are like opposites which help define each other (...) In singing, when the tone becomes perfectly in tune with a drone, it takes so much concentration to keep it in tune that it drives out all other thoughts. You become one with the drone and one with the Creator. Cited in Kyle Gann, "La Monte Young: Maximal Spirit," _Village Voice_, June 9, 1987, 70. (Gann's column in the _Voice_ is a good place to track developments in contemporary modernist and postmodernist music in the NY scene.) 7. "Beethoven's symphonies in their most arcane chemistry are part of the bourgeois process of production and express the perennial disaster brought on by capitalism. But they also take a stance of tragic affirmation towards reality as a social fact; they seem to say that the status quo is the best of all possible worlds. Beethoven's music is as much a part of the revolutionary emancipation of the bourgeoisie as it anticipates the latter's apologia. The more profoundly you decode works of art, the less absolute is their contrast to praxis." Adorno, _Aesthetic Theory_, trans. C. Lenhardt (New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), 342. 8. Eugene Genovese, _Roll, Jordan, Roll. The World the Slaves Made_ (New York: Vintage, 1976), 159- 280. 9. Pierre Lere, "_Free Jazz_: Evolution ou Revolution," _Revue d'esth tique_, 3-4, 1970, 320-21, translated and cited in Herbert Marcuse, _Counterrevolution and Revolt_ (Boston: Beacon, 1972), 114. 10. See Attali's, _Noise: The Political Economy of Music_, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1985). 11. Barthes is perhaps an exception, and Derrida has written on pictures and painting. John Mowitt at the University of Minnesota has been doing the most interesting work on music from a poststructuralist perspective that I have seen. He suggests as a primer on poststructuralist music theory I. Stoianova, _Geste, Texte, Musique_ (Paris: 10/18, 1985). 12. _Aesthetic Theory_, 402. 13. The semiotic for Kristeva is a sort of babble out of which language arises--something between glossolalia and the pre-oedipal awareness of the sounds of the mother's body--and which undermines the subject's submission to the Symbolic. "Kristeva makes the case that the semiotic is the effect of bodily drives which are incompletely repressed when the paternal order has intervened in the mother/child dyad, and it is therefore 'attached' psychically to the mother's body." Paul Smith, _Discerning the Subject_ (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1988), 121. 14. Fredric Jameson, _The Political Unconscious. Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act_ (Ithaca: Cornell, 1981), 288-91. 15. _Aesthetic Theory_, 21-22. 16. I've lost the reference for this quote. 17. Russell Berman, "Modern Art and Desublimation," _Telos_, 62 (Winter 1984-85): 48. 18. Andreas Huyssen notes perceptively that "Given the aesthetic field-force of the term postmodernism, no neo-conservative today would dream of identifying the neo-conservative project as postmodern." "Mapping the Postmodern," in his _After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism_ (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986), 204. I became aware of Huyssen's work only as I was finishing this paper, but it's obvious that I share here his problematic and many of his sympathies (including an ambivalence about McDonalds). 19. See in particular Susan Buck-Morss, "Benjamin's _Passagen-Werk_: Redeeming Mass Culture for the Revolution." _New German Critique_, 29 (Spring- Summer 1983), 211-240; and in general the work of Stuart Hall and the Birmingham Center for Cultural Studies. Peter Burger's summary of recent work on the autonomy of art in bourgeois society is useful here: _Theory of the Avant-Garde_, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota, 1984), 35-54. In a way Frankfurt theory didn't anticipate, it has seemed paradoxically necessary for capitalist merchandising to preserve or inject some semblance of aura in the commodity--hence kitsch: the Golden Arches--, whereas communist or socialized production should in principle have no problem with loss of aura, since it is not implicated in the commodity status of a use value or good. Postmodernist pastiche or _mode retro_--where a signifier of aura is alluded to or incorporated, but in an ironic and playful way--seems an intermediate position, in the sense that it can function both to endow the commodity with an "arty" quality or to detach aspects of commodity aesthetics from commodity production and circulation per se, as in Warhol. 20. John Cage, "Erik Satie," in _Silence_ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1966), p.76. 21. "Yet this sense of freedom and possibility-- which is for the course of the 60s a momentarily objective reality, as well as (from the hindsight of the 80s) a historical illusion--may perhaps best be explained in terms of the superstructural movement and play enabled by the transition from one infrastructural or systemic stage of capitalism to another." Fredric Jameson, "Periodizing the 60s," in Sohnya Sayres ed., _The 60s Without Apology_ (Minneapolis: _Social Text_/Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1984), 208. 22. From Isabelle Anscombe and Dike Blair eds., _Punk!_ (New York: Urizen, 1978). 23. Simon Frith, _Sound Effects. Youth, Leisure and the Politics of Rock 'n' Roll_ (New York: Pantheon, 1981), 264-268. 24. On this point, see Andrew Goodwin and Joe Gore "World Beat and the Cultural Imperialism Debate," _Socialist Review_ 20.3 (Jul.-Sep., 1990): 63-80. 25. _Sound Effects_, 268. Cf. Huyssen: "The growing sense that we are not bound to _complete_ the project of modernity (Habermas' phrase) and still do not necessarily have to lapse into irrationality or into apocalyptic frenzy, the sense that art is not exclusively pursuing some telos of abstraction, non- representation, and sublimity--all of this has opened up a host of possibilities for creative endeavors today." _After the Great Divide_, 217. 26. "I Dreamed I Saw MTV Last Night," _The Nation_ (October 18, 1986), 361, 374-376; and Lemisch's reply to the debate which ensued, "The Politics of Left Culture," _The Nation_ (December 20, 1986), 700 ff. 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