Things Beyond Resemblance

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-04-30
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr

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Supplemental Materials

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Theodor W. Adorno was a major twentieth-century philosopher and social critic whose writings on oppositional culture in art, music, and literature increasingly stand at the center of contemporary intellectual debate. In this excellent collection, Robert Hullot-Kentor, widely regarded as the most distinguished American translator and commentator on Adorno, gathers together sixteen essays he has written about the philosopher over the past twenty years.The opening essay, "Origin Is the Goal," pursues Adorno's thesis of the dialectic of enlightenment to better understand the urgent social and political situation of the United States. "Back to Adorno" examines Adorno's idea that sacrifice is the primordial form of human domination; "Second Salvage" reconstructs Adorno's unfinished study of the transformation of music in radio transmission; and "What Is Mechanical Reproduction" revisits Adorno's criticism of Walter Benjamin. Further essays cover a broad range of topics: Adorno's affinities with Wallace Stevens and Nabokov, his complex relationship with Kierkegaard and psychoanalysis, and his critical study of popular music.Many of these essays have been revised, with new material added that emphasizes the relevance of Adorno's thought to the United States today. Things Beyond Resemblanceis a timely and richly analytical collection crucial to the study of critical theory, aesthetics, continental philosophy, and Adorno.

Author Biography

Robert Hullot-Kentor currently teaches in the Program in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. XI
Introduction: Origin Is the Goalp. 1
Back to Adornop. 23
Things Beyond Resemblancep. 45
The Philosophy of Dissonance: Adorno and Schoenbergp. 67
Critique of the Organic: Kierkegaard and the Construction of the Aestheticp. 77
Second Salvage: Prolegomenon to a Reconstruction of Current of Musicp. 94
Title Essay: Baroque Allegory and "The Essay as Form"p. 125
What Is Mechanical Reproduction?p. 136
Adorno Without Quotationp. 154
Popular Music and "The Aging of the New Music"p. 169
The Impossibility of Musicp. 180
Apple Criticizes Tree of Knowledge: A Review of One Sentencep. 190
Right Listening and a New Type of Human Beingp. 193
Ethics, Aesthetics, and the Recovery of the Public Worldp. 210
Suggested Reading: Jameson on Adornop. 220
Introduction to T. W. Adorno's "The Idea of Natural-History"p. 234
The Idea of Natural-Historyp. 252
Notesp. 271
Indexp. 305
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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"Toilers of the world, disband! Old books are wrong. The world was made on a Sunday." -- Vladimir Nabokov

Even after translation into English, T. W. Adorno's words still seem to want to linger at least half in German, as if continuing to long for something in the original that they cannot find in this language. They have good reason: acute and ancient differences in the intellectual experience that these two languages have undergone continually obliges philosophical translation at crucial juncture to choose between meaningless fluency and the indecipherably meaningful. This division in experience, however, must certainly not be imagined as traveling down some central boundary, parsing carefully to the left of German and to the right of English, but as shooting off along such complex fault lines and in so many directions, carving the world up so unexpectedly, that it is finally hard to say what lies on which side of what line. Consider, for instance, Philosophie der neuen Musik and other key works in Adorno's oeuvre such as Dialectic of Enlightenment and Minima Moralia. By whatever degree of remoteness vulcanized against English translation, these are solidly American writings. Indeed, in the years they were written -- mostly the 1940s -- they were works of an American citizen, whose "complete and true signature" -- Theodore [sic] Adorno -- endorsed his Certificate of Naturalization on November 26, 1943. If this seems to concoct a trick photograph in which, under the pressure of emergency residence, a stubbornly monadic intelligence is seen forcibly posed up against a spectrally implausible red, white, and blue backdrop, no doubt to Adorno himself his life in the United States did sometimes feel that way. But even after his return to Germany the whole of his writings would be marked by aspects of his American experience. This is certainly evident in all the works that were primarily completed here. Dialectic of Enlightenment and Minima Moralia, for instance, are dense with American realia: the hairstyles of film stars, the latchless close of refrigerator doors, and the pathless landscapes abutting the highway system. And if on this continent the German inscription to the opening pages of Philosophie der neuen Musik -- "Los Angeles, Kalifornien, I. Juli 1948" -- seems to tilt almost by its own inertia into English, the statement of place and date may well have caused its first European readers, as they took the book in hand, to query the haphazard course by which this remote North American work had finally arrived in Germany.

"I still hear..." and the Question of Music Appreciation

American experience is, indeed, at every point so central to the whole of Philosophie der neuen Musik that in lieu of it the work would have taken an altogether different form. Yet the place of this American experience is more difficult to perceive in this volume than in any other major work Adorno finished here. Hardly a single direct reference to North America is to be found in its pages. Still, an eye aware of the many subterraneous branchings of American experience through this German work -- and confident as well that demonstrating the pattern of these branchings would provide an introduction to what may otherwise seem a remotely alien text -- is initially restricted to directing attention to the eccentric traces of these branchings. The most revealing are those of the fracture struck by the stamp of the work's own moment. For the physiognomy of this moment is so characteristic that, as Philosophie der neuen Musik is rotated angle by angle, the works of other writers that were caught in the same temporal percussion are refracted in it as if they can be read out of its surfaces equally well. It is in this sense that one surface in particular shows itself etched with a scene from l'amérique profonde circa 1947, and when turned forward for examination, that surface serves incomparably to illuminate for a contemporary American readership what is homey in what might otherwise be taken for an opaquely obscure work of German aesthetics. The inscribed scene -- it will be observed -- gestures directly to matters of aesthetic doctrine, is preoccupied by questions of beauty, conformity, and the relation of art to nature, and is apparently fully conversant with Adorno's studies of jazz and the commodity fetish:

Mentally, I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl. Sweet hot jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines and so forth -- these were the obvious items in her list of beloved things. The Lord knows how many nickels I fed to the gorgeous music boxes that came with every meal we had! I still hear the nasal voices of those invisibles serenading her, people with names like Sammy and Jo and Eddy and Tony and Peggy and Guy and Patti and Rex, and sentimental song hits, all of them as similar to my ear as her various candies were to my palate.

This is European Humbert Humbert's reverie on the difference between inner and outer as observed of an American girl to whom his, in some sense, physical longing is bound. He has much to contemplate in the mass market of Lolita's inner nation. On this page he begins to construe his observations of his girl companion and does so in homology to his thoughts on the external allure of a ravishing music box as it differs from those innards he begrudgingly nourishes: As girl is fed with gooey fudge sundae, so is machine with common coin and these bodies reciprocate in comparably nondescript kind, radiant of an inner life of which Humbert can no more discern what there is to listen to in the "disgustingly conventional" Lolita than he can find what there is to hear in the indifferently conventional jukebox songs that remain inert to his ear. Many layers of experience become available to readers at this point. But since the proximate cause here for the examination of this passage is the mysteries of music appreciation, focus must lodge with the protagonist's own condescending meditation on the fact that the jukebox presents its musical monism just to him, a European who happens to be preoccupied with whatever threatens to steal away the heart of the girl he has himself captured on a yearlong tour of American motel and highway life. And it is only to help magnify this puzzle of music appreciation that it makes sense to postulate how bewildered Humbert Humbert would have been if, made to live far beyond his own years and tricked into interests equally transcending his fixation, he somehow had to consider that now, fifty-some years later, the list of artists he cited as those same-sounding Sammy, Eddy, Patti, and Guy would have metamorphosed into such distinctly familiar, durable national landmarks that many contemporary readers can survey these dolmens and menhirs and call up the apposite surnames as a matter of confident second nature. The songs that sang just to Lolita, indeed, may occasionally still sing to thee. And who knows how many stalwarts of swing might want to butt in right this moment, however long after the fact, to explain to Lolita that if it is true, as Humbert reports, that she never bothered with the difference between sweet and hot jazz, these were once -- and remain -- causes to die for.

But, in spite of the urgencies of jazz enthusiasts, in spite even of the likes of a Nietzsche who claimed that a future that had just a fraction of his feeling for Wagner would be another world, in spite, finally, of Adorno's many claims throughout his oeuvre of the utter necessity of Schoenberg's compositions, the scene under discussion between girl and predator provides for any American readership the requisite approach to Adorno's Philosophie der neuen Musik because its ironic study of music appreciation casts such a heavy shadow across the credibility of any kind of devotion to music. This shadow is made to descend the moment Humbert Humbert conjures the simplest, most evident fact of musical experience, one that is nevertheless extraordinarily hard to isolate credibly. Here that fact can, however, for once be directly examined when one realizes that what this mismatched couple each heard in the music of the day, one dismissing it, the other entranced, was more alike than otherwise. The proof of which is this: in the passage cited, Humbert is writing his confessions decades after the event, yet the music that was indifferent to him earlier is as sealed in his fur covered ears as he himself is ensconced in prison, for he continues to hear the music distinctly in its several different voices: "I still hear the nasal voices of those invisibles serenading her." These voices are singing to the once aloof no less than they did to the once enthralled. And it must be some aspect of how this sound perdures that what Humbert in earlier years haughtily spurned as "sentimental song hits" has become the sentimental content of his own life. For note: he addresses elegiacally the voices that return to him when he goes to think of the girl he lost: "I still hear..."

In other words, Humbert Humbert is not only a fictional character but, like all flesh and blood, is as much obliged to find locked in his head the music that is put there as is anyone who has ever been followed home by a song -- from who knows which store -- that would not stop playing. For musical memory, as among the mind's preeminent powers of sensory reproduction, is involuntary in the highest degree. Its obliging dictum, fluently engaging rhythmically nodding head and gesturing limb, is the simplest: the more any music is heard, the more there is a need to hear it again whether from loud speaker or left hemisphere. Who knows what proportion of Americans now hear subsecond fragments of Christmas music through all four seasons in the unvoiced hummings that provide the waking day's rhythmical underwebbing of unremarked transitions. Even if musical memory amounted to nothing more than the rote concatenated knowledge of advertisement jingle by the self-proclaimed unmusical, this aptitude for commercial glue -- all would rank in any other application of thought as a prodigious talent. Because musical memory is so profoundly and capaciously involuntary, it is also the most exactingly trainable form of human memory. Among the musically skilled this involuntariness is organized in such a fashion that, both hands on the piano in the midst of a labyrinthian twenty-minute recital of Olivier Messiaen, the pianist can only partially let himself know what he is doing until he rises from the bench to take some kind of credit for the genuine mystery of the accomplishment. Likewise, the ominous pride in being a music lover may be a complex object, but it may be nothing more than identification with the inhabiting irrefragability of rhythmical, vibrating memory in the ecstatic convergence of obedience and self-assertion. Such was certainly the spiritualized self-regard of Nazi battalions marching in striding chant through occupied French towns -- while the beauty of those voices to this day remains unreconcilable in the ears of the formerly dominated. In an Alzheimer clinic a round of "Happy Birthday" will lift heads off of chests and cause even those lips to move whose voices do not know where to follow. Musical memory is a primordial reflex, often enough -- and increasingly so -- establishing in the nervous system the Pavlovian other that residually spans self and reflection with the elegiacal cloak of "I still hear... regardless whether, beyond that sentiment, much if anything is being remembered. If there is truth to the philosopheme that il faut aimer -- then above all il faut aimer la musique.


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