Here I am reading yet another article in which someone is trying to make Adorno’s thoughts on jazz not racist. Seriously, academia, can we get real for a second? Listen, you like to think of yourself as open-minded, and I guess you are. More than most of the senate in any case. But what’s with trying to make cultural chauvinism and elitist reactionary pablum acceptable when you happen to agree with it? He’s a sacred cow, but even the most prized heifer has to be put down when she breaks a leg. Dude was a European elitist who couldn’t for the life of him imagine ideas of art that were outside of his own culturally (and class) defined image of it. He was a bigot, is what I’m trying to say. He wasn’t extraordinary here by any means–his opinions are typical of the literary class’s hatred of jazz and all that came with it, read: “it’s black, overly sexual, and frivolous”–but it’s still racist. Very much so, actually. “But he was talking about a different kind of jazz,” you say. Nice try. He may have hated “German jazz”—that hot syncopated dance music that busted into German clubs and hearts after the First World War—with special vigor, but his metaphors and imaginary about jazz are right out of the most vitriolic racist pamphlets of his time. The phallic saxophone that tempts and pollutes chaste dancers (and evokes the libidinal and well-endowed black man and fears of miscegenation), the lurid potential of a jazz dance floor hot with enthusiasm and sexual energy, and a stubborn inability to entertain ‘foreign’ musical forms and patterns: these are all common themes in a racially charged ‘debate’ about jazz and American culture in postwar Germany. And if they sound familiar, that means you’ve either endured DW Griffith’s masterpiece of revisionist and racist propaganda, Birth of a Nation, or that you’ve paid cursory attention to any discussion about race sometime in the last three hundred years.
Because all of these fears are fears of black culture: its ‘lasciviousness,’ ‘frivolity,’ and basic ‘amorality’. That rightwing newspapers and demagogues say the exact same things that Adorno does should raise some eyebrows, but it doesn’t. Because you like him. But one man’s bourgeois fears of cultural decline and the racial outsider are another’s considered critique of the culture industry, I suppose. What I’m trying to say here, dear Academy, is that you’re a bit of a coward. Not running-away-from-shadows-and-giving-your-lunch-money-to-the-first-person-with-anything-resembling-muscle-definition cowardly, but in a dishonest intellectual sort of way. You know, in the brain, the muscle you lionize. If you can’t look at and examine your own thoughts, and that perhaps you use canonized racism to justify or legitimize your own elitism or feelings of cultural superiority, how is anyone supposed to take the rest of what you say seriously? It isn’t bad that Adorno felt the way he did—after all, what are we going to do about that now—but do you really have to try so hard to defend, or worse, rationalize it?
Let’s lay it all out, academia: I’m up to my man-berries in your love for the things you say, and I’m tired of hearing racist shit spooned out under a gravy of Marxist-Freudian lingo. Newsflash: it still stinks. Stop trying to make me eat it. Better yet, stop eating it yourself. Put down the spoon and learn to cook real food.
You won’t because it’s cold in your windowless room, and I understand that; it’s dark in there too, and paper can cut deeply if you’re careless. But mostly you won’t because you can’t raise a hand against something you revere. I say ‘thing’ because he is not a man. You’ve made sure of that; you’ve stripped him of his muscle and left the head, because under all your finery, dear Academy, you’re record store philosopher kings. You live like Adorno did, as the last great gourmand among a rabble feasting on burgers and milkshakes; you see what others cannot and pride yourself on the secret freemasonry of the high chair you’ve built for yourself. It’s an illusion, of course, but I don’t begrudge you that, because if you’re not wise, then what are you? You make way for Adorno’s racism and run to the defense of your man because you see in it what you’ve always seen in the mirror: a great mind drowned by stupid consumption and conformity. You stand apart and he proves it for you. He proves it so nicely, in fact, that you don’t even have to think anymore, just patch the chinks in the logs when the rain comes down especially hard and make sure nothing rots too much. Take care of it, and it should last a lifetime. I felt this way too, when I was thirteen.
For the most part, though, you run to him because to do otherwise would be to rest easy with complexity. The bigotry ruins your theory, is the thing. It makes everything all human and icky, not celestial at all. But don’t worry, just ignore it or talk around and sterilize the issue in a bath of high-minded mustache twisting and misplaced confidence. You’ll have all the lumps beaten out in no time. Restore order at all costs; intellectual integrity is a small price to pay, so take out your wallet. And don’t pretend like you don’t do it with the rest of the Frankfurt crowd. It’s the same reason you can scream to the hills Marcuse’s ‘wisdom’ that ‘bad’ ideas—evil ideas—should not be tolerated, that they should be snuffed out for the greater good while at the same time decrying his firing from UCLA without the slightest bit of irony. UCLA probably didn’t realize that they had put his ideas into action by expelling a threatening ideology that was disruptive and openly hostile to the institution that allowed it to exist in the first place, but what’s your excuse? You’ve read all the books. Does it say somewhere that self-reflection is fascist, or that Hitler had a mirror so you can’t? But then again, absolutist statements are only fun when the other guy has to swallow them, am I right? If you turn them on yourself the water gets all muddy and you can’t see the bottom at all. It’s just so damn complicated this way. Best not to think about that.
I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that you love complexity, but you don’t. You have a fetish for complexity. You love how arguments twist and ball themselves up because you’re an OCD vampire, in love with knots and twine. You can’t help but pick it apart, but there’s nothing at stake in diddling Marx or redeeming Heidegger when you’re not calling him a Nazi to make a quick point. This, though, is real complexity, the kind that messes up a nice picture; it can’t be easily reduced or brushed aside, because it has political meat to it, the way that hate is always robust and meaningful. There are political chips on the table here, not in the heady, ideological way that you’re so fond of, but in the strictest sense of the polis. Images and metaphor have meaning that pure theory does not, and there is a fear in you, Academy, a fear that behind Adorno’s fevered conviction and rage against a new media machine that—perhaps—his critique is not as sober as you had hoped: you fear that his argument may not be influenced by racism, but rather that it is motivated by it. And if that is true—if the talk of market forces and reification is embroidery for an ugly pattern of intolerance—what does that make you? An apologist? An elitist with its finger in the dyke? A self-righteous asshole? Because to read his work on jazz as serious criticism, you have to do nothing short of apologetics, you have to overlook and accept as true a train of thought that makes sense only within the confines of its universe, a universe—incidentally—powered by racial fear and cultural protectionism. You know, the good fight.
‘Jazz and pogrom belong together,’ Adorno famously says, but does this really make sense? Even in the context of Adorno’s ‘real target’ of German jazz and the essay’s internal logic and hysteric tone, does anything about it ring true? We have seventy-eight years between us, and there has yet to be a fascist state marching to hot piano and screaming trumpets. And young men and women have still to crumble under the promised yet unrealized sexual act found on the jazz dance floor. A horn break is not mob rule, and a backbeat is not barbed wire. But the bogey men of black culture that Adorno paints—the unnamed yet palpable fear of the Other and the loss of emotional and social control that he represents—are the real foundation stones for pogrom; no one has died for Glen Miller’s sheet music, but legions have been strangled in the battle against faceless racial foes. How do you Frankfurtsplain this away? It must be very embarrassing for you. But who am I kidding, you don’t care. Sure making excuses for bigoted rants is distasteful, but at least the trains run on time. Besides, words don’t mean anything, right? You use thousands of them all the time and nothing seems to happen. But then again, that’s everyone else’s fault.
Before you put down your dog-eared Beckett and hit me over the head with your velvet Kafka portrait, you should know that I get the appeal of the whole thing. There’s sexiness to a lack of compromise and absolute conviction, but it’s also messy. Making your intellectual life into a high school clique means the weird kid either has to eat alone at the lunch table, or you do your damnedest to change the rules so he can stay. You appear to have chosen option number two. But it’s all in the service of knowledge and inquiry, right? Want to dismiss mass cultural phenomena with a wave of the hand? No worries, because you obviously know better, you’re a doctor. Not that kind of doctor, but still. Do you find social media problematic and popular music the soundtrack to fascism? No problem, the School has you covered there. Your shit doesn’t stink. Bigotry is someone else’s problem, not yours, so look out the window and find something wrong with the scenery. I here Hotel Abgrund has some rooms open in you’re interested. So don’t worry about relevance, consistency, or intellectual honesty. It’s so bourgeois.
PhD, heal thyself, because “holier than thou” is not a job description. It’s a waste of my time.
This esoteric rant is brought to you by the CWBH (Can We Be Honest) Society.
-Erudite the Terrible