Negative dialectics and political improvisation
Howell, Brian Ranon
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In this dissertation I examine the philosophical, aesthetic, and political convictions of Theodor Adorno in order to understand the reasoning for his recalcitrant attitude toward both direct political praxis, as well as improvised music. I argue that the lesson Adorno ultimately draws regarding political possibility contains a blind-spot with respect to developmental praxis and thus is somewhat misconceived. I argue that we can take the musical categories of composition and improvisation and use an understanding of their dialectic to reflect on Adorno’s thoughts about the problem of political praxis. I believe that, contrary to Adorno’s criticism, improvisational music is a legitimate form of music-making which is productive of freedom, and that this legitimacy points to a problem with his larger theory. Focused on the need for immanent critique and the primacy of the object, I believe Adorno overlooks something of importance in the needs of the development and maintenance of basic musical practice. In view of what I claim is the implicitly political quality of improvisation, I argue that there is a potential for thinking about improvisational music as a kind of bridge between the musical and political. I consider whether the parallel between musical and political praxis can be extended far enough to see whether we might be able to make sense of the notion of an improvisational politics.