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Ethical Implications of Adorno’s Alterity Ideas on Music

Zhang Bixia

(Hunan Normal University, Changsha, Hunan 410081, China)
Abstract: Alterity is the core appraisal on the social and artistic values of the Western modern music made by Theodor Adorno, a renowned professor in sociology of music in the 20th century. It regards music as “aesthetic literature” of social reality as its starting point and soul, integrates the deeply negative moral philosophy thinking pattern with aesthetic experience of tangible music works, and expresses the nonstandard value sequences and moral conflict in the alienated society and mental suffering of modern people with atonal musical structure. In addition, it regards the “liberty” of creation as the indispensable property of the immortal value of music, which surpasses the traditional and standardized musical techniques and denounces fetishism and pseudo individuality of commercialized popular music to attempt to constitute a “non-identical” mode of musical composition and appreciation, which fits human nature in the real sense.
Key words: Adorno’s alterity conception of music, Alienated society, Moral implications

Adorno’s alterity conception of music ushered in the critical and negative approach of musical philosophy and aesthetic philosophy, pushing forward the direction change of post-Marxism human science by “atonal” aphorism expression. On the whole, Adorno’s rational criticism was carried out around the amorality of society. As the “aesthetic literature” of social reality, modern music art vividly expresses the keystone spirit and theoretically pursuit of its “minimum morality”, serving as one of reasonable media to interrelate the “objective text” with the “subjective conceptual category”. Adorno attached great importance to and relied on the “objective text”. With the “alterity” music conception as the main thread, by getting to the essence of its negative moral philosophic thinking pattern, this article has disentangled and exploited the moral spirit and aesthetic strength of Adorno’s music philosophy to reveal Adorno’s keen sense of social responsibility and humanistic care from the mixture of historical traditions, social realities and musical texts as a musician. 
 Negative Moral Philosophic Thinking Pattern: The Theoretical Foundation of the Alterity Music Conception
Adorno believes that moral philosophy is an indispensable science to people’s daily life and social practice. He also steadfastly takes a basic stand on historical materialism, holding the view that moral philosophy should not only pursue behavioral virtue and ethical attainments to answer the question that “what kind of life we should lead”, but also practically transform the “the wrong living” status in modern society, namely, “there is no right life exists in the wrong life”, so as to improve the modernization of itself and “turn” the question that “what we should do” as the essential mater of modern moral philosophy. Adorno’s total negation of “the wrong life” in modern society and his rational moral provisions of the “right life” are summed up in Negative Dialectics. Zhang (2001) once commented that Adorno opposed materialized reality of capitalism because this was the realistic basis of identity logic that negative dialectics has always objected to. The system of Adorno’s negative dialectics is enormous and heterogeneous where the ‘essence’ of his moral philosophy is. The rule of the negative dialectics is criticizing the real society that each individual faces who loses the individuality, emotion and pursuit from the prospective of metaphysics. It emphasizes the critical nature of dialectics and the real significance of “non-identity”. Identity regards the exchange principle as the logic of social thinking, and dominates all aspects of social life; thus, the rational thinking of human beings is impeded by instrumental reasoning. Therefore, people should reflect upon irrationality behind social identity thinking and reposition the justice of the existing society, and seek for the “right life”. Rationality is morbid, and it can become rational only by curing (Adorno, 1973). Reclaiming amorality of the identity society is the expansion of negative dialectics in the field of social practice.
The theoretical route of thinking about the construction of social morality ,with ‘negative dialectics’ unavoidably involves Adorno’s reflection on the value orientation of modern art, and it plays an important role in the artistic theories of Frankfurt school. “The basic standpoint of Frankfurt school in culture and art is to maintain their essence of self-discipline, to safeguard their significance on mankind’s freedom and emancipation, to further criticize the economization and commercialization of culture and to oppose its identical relationship with political reign. This route resolutely negates and criticizes human’s alienated status caused by popular’ culture.’” (Yi JQ et. al.2002) Obviously, the criticism of mass culture is based on Adorno’s moral philosophy, the thought between the relations of the individual functioned as the subject and the existing society, the object. Firstly, in actual social practice, the non-dominant relationship between the subject and the object, and the mutual and harmonious sharing relationship between individuals and the existing society constitute the rational existence of realistic society. The maintenance of the essence of artistic self-discipline respects alterity and relocates the substances of social existence. Secondly, ‘identical relationship’ fossilizes the exchangeable principles of capital control, and confines personal freedom and liberation. While the key to defend cultural and artistic influence on personal freedom and liberation is to emphasize their resistance to ‘non-identity’. Adorno believed (2011) that the use value of non-identity should not be completely identified by the exchange value, namely, resisting the colonization of the exchange value to the use value and the identity’s domination to non-identity’s in production and social sectors. Economized, commercialized and politicized culture and art purposely confuse the use value and exchange value, and ‘identify’ and solidify them as the subject’s ideology, leading to human’s alienation and amorality of society. Finally, the subject must face the fact of the existence of alienated society, break the social identification with the thought of “negative dialectics”, exploit the richness of society and the real freedom of human, and guard the legitimate existence of the art grounded on social morality. 
Adorno’s thinking on negative dialectics commits to save identical society from amorality and concern the scanning of Western modern music, to support his musical concept of ‘alterity’ as its theoretical base. How does the thinking norm of negative moral philosophy sway Adorno’s thought on modern music? In other words, how does Adorno transfer his recognized interpretation of music into artistic expression on moral philosophy? At first, in his negative dialectics, Adorno underlines the function and significance of negative and critical thinking. The nature of dialectical criticism is to reveal the differences between inner and outer, namely, diversity and unity of things complement each other internally, objects and their concepts perfect each other externally, which demonstrate the balanced and unbalanced relationship between things that limit each other and the breakability as well as identity of things. (Gerhard , 2010) Music conception of ‘alterity’ points to criticizing and negating the alienated society. Adorno (2000) held the view that only if perceptual existence of the structure of sound breaks through and acts as the carrier of a certain spirit and with the society as its target, can music become an ‘otherness’that surpasses empirical reality, estranging and departing from a certain existed social reality, i.e. a thing that conceived by subject and with no archetype found in real life. (Yu, 2000)Therefore, the essence of modern music alterity is the negation of social reality, and the relative tension for music to change and form independently, which goes along with music’s own developing path (tonality to atonality) and embodies the effective control of the relations between musicians and musical art. As Martin Jay (1992) remarked: “Adorno laid greater stress on the recognition of music...understanding it from music’s own internal objective developing tendency, and this tendency is interrelated with social trend in a complicated and indirect way”. Such philosophical thoughts on art are inseparable with his ardent love for music, “what music is to Adorno is like the economics to Marx, novels to Lukacsr, and paintings and movies to Benjamin.”(Zhang L, 2003) Secondly, from the perspective of ‘wrong life’ situation in real society, commercialization and colonization of capital, false prosperity of cultural industry, and genocide of anti-Semitism are all strongly eliminating non-identical thinking. As a witness of Auschwitz Concentration Camp period, Adorno thinks modern society is hideous with the mutation of enlightenment rationality, instrumental reason turning to be the main social thinking logic, and value reason is neglected, and along with sharp increase in suppression and control of human rights, the negative nature between modern music in society and amoral society that ignored subject existence become so increasingly distinct that Adorno (1993) believes that after Auschwitz Concentration Camp period our sentiment against any affirmative argument that real existence is empty talk which abuses victims, and opposes any fully exhausted meanings that has been squeezed from the victims. As an ideology, anti-Semitism is the theoretical framework of identical social thinking of instrumental reason and exchange principle, prevailing with untruths, falsity and lies. Being an negative and rebellious force, music conception of ‘alterity’ breaks the ‘identity’ shackles and reign in amoral society, criticizing and negating alienated society via heterogeneity musical language that breaks through tradition, and most frankly displaying subject’s internal psychological conflict and fierce fighting, and aiming at recognition and practice of ‘right life’. In a word, ‘alterity’ of modern music opened up a new road for music to negate ‘wrong state of life’. Meanwhile, highly alienated and amoral identical society unfolds a more distinct picture of ‘negative dialectics’ thinking of modern music. As Adorno (2000) once said “there is no such works of art that their truth is not accompanied by specific negation.”
Atonal music: the game playing between ‘evil’ in alienated society and ‘good’ in truth of art
Adorno’s music conception of ‘alterity’ has always aimed to realize the bigger ‘good’ in truth of art through the ‘necessary evil’ in modern society, indicating that only if modern music is based on negative criticism of ‘evil’ in alienated society can a new form of language and life value be achieved, believing that ‘as long as music is able to deeply express the crises of social circumstances by using its own form of language, putting forward the demand for change by using painful language of musical notes, such counted as better music’. (Yu RY, 2000)Therefore, with its negation of traditional musical techniques, modern music negates the corresponding social relations and emancipates from them. Modern music pursues its own ‘freedom’ of creation by negating the existing society. As Aristotle said in the introduction of Ethika Nikomachea, “all technologies, studies, practice and choices aim at certain goodness. All things on earth are inclined to goodness, as the saying goes (Miao1999). But their purposes are in different performance. Sometimes it is the real activity itself, sometimes it is a result achieved outside the activity’. Music conception of ‘Alterity’ pursues a new form of musical language obtained by negating, demonstrating ‘good’ owned by eternal modern value, which is the result from criticizing and negating ‘evil’ of alienated society. By negating fixed traditional techniques, modern music obtains new freedoms from the game between ‘evil’ in alienated society and ‘good’ of truth in art, that is, Schoenberg’s disintegration of tonal system, and his establishment of atonal principle of the twelve-tone technique. As the formal language of modern music, atonality has impacted greatly on social immorality such as dilation of alienation, expansion of evil, aggravation of anxiety, diffusion of pain, escalation of decadence, and absence of subject. Adorno heavily experienced ‘evil’ in alienated society and had strong sense of history and mission about the philosophy thoughts of alienated society with Auschwitz times as the representative. In Adorno’s thinking method of negative dialectical philosophy, ‘evil’ and ‘ugliness’ of alienated society no longer exist as the deficiency of ‘good’ and ‘beauty’, which has ontological significance. Thus, ‘evil’ of alienated society is due to the object’s suppression of subject, and atonal music demonstrates the contradiction between subject and object. Its destruction of tonal music and separation from traditional musical techniques manifest the fracture and contradiction between individuals as subject and society as object. As a result, ‘evil’ of alienate society is both the contents and forms represented by modern music. For instance, in opera Erwartung by Schoenberg, the reality of alienated society’s cruelty, indifference and poverty, and the heroine’s jealous, hostile and distort personality were expressed by means of unique themes and forms. In terms of traditional musical techniques, the ‘atonal’ music of Schoenberg is also a cruel gesture. He advocated the ‘emancipation of dissonance’. In his works, all tunes are independent individuals, the dependent relations of traditional tonal tunes are rejected, and all tunes are equal. Adorno persisted in the stand that modern music should confront relentless social reality and the humanity in danger of losing, utilized ‘evil’ of realistic society to expose objective reality and historical conditions of the existence of alienation, and completed the artistic creation of social ‘evil’ and the rejection of alienated society while bitterly denouncing the world. What’s more, he puts forward incisive moral criticism against the unavoidable fact of alienation, which is the truth of art and perfectionism that the modern music pursues. In other words, it is self-exposure of non-identity, and contains hatred for identity. Atonal music’s emancipating ‘diaphony’ embodies modern music’s alien-existing and isolation from alienated society. In light of music’s own change from tonality to atonality, it not only realizes the change in forms but broke through traditional central music concept and emancipated marginalized musical tone (ornamentation, illogical accent and dissonance) from the domination of central music tone to get equality. Marginalized musical tone suggested neglected individuals of subject consciousness and central music.
Concept is the specific expression of rationalized process of real society in contemporary music, including identity, totality and generalization of tonal music. Therefore, the self-change of atonal music with the twelve-tone technique as the main mode of practice is the reflection of real society. From the effect of practice, Schoenberg designed ‘home of hopes outside imagination and despair’ by using ‘the atonal twelve-tone system’ (Yu RY 2000). By means of non-concept acoustic structure, he strongly protested centralization of social power, truly conveyed subjective psychological feelings that were marginalized by society of alienation such as personal worry, sorrow, loneliness, horror, and joy, negated the social thinking and demands of identity, and resolutely criticized the commercial nature of modern music. At the beginning of the music composition A Survivor from Warsaw, the bugle call produced by trumpet out of tune expressed accusation of the massacre and then negation of the war itself. According to Adorno’s analysis, the thinking of race identity was the theoretical basis of the massacre. Schoenberg utilized the emancipation of ‘diaphony’ to express and safeguard the hopes of Jew in Warsaw. Adorno held the opinion that new Vienna music school with Schoenberg as the representative truly expressed suffering of modern people and it produced totally great art. Thus, the actual expression of social reality of alien-existing is the truth of modern musical art and the ‘perfectionism’ it pursues.
The twelve-tone technique wiped out the ornamentation of traditional music combination, negated the tonal category, and uncovered the alienated real society and the revolt of identical social thinking through presenting the lowliness and exhaustion of nobodies. The collapse of traditional tonality and the establishment of the central position of marginalized musical tone declared this individual’s resistance to social totalitarianism and thirst for free development. Schoenberg’s music guides us into a realm where we can comprehend with our soul not ears, and the future music will start from this basis (Zha, 1997). In terms of the spiritual connotation, Schoenberg’s works correctly reflect social totalitarian’s suppression and persecution of individual human beings. Adorno spoke highly of this ‘real’ reflection, and regarded it as the most precious spiritual value of modern music. First, the musical works created by ‘the twelve-tone technique’ truly expressed ugliness and evil of alienated reality, but they were different and separated from reality. “Phantasm” of phenomenological significance was applied to negate and criticize amorality of reality and absence of subject consciousness. Second, ‘there is always consonance in dissonance’ (Cheng, 2009), to break through ‘the twelve-tone technique’ under traditional tonal category is to negate traditional music’s pursuit of perfection and to criticize identity thinking’s pursuit of rationalization. The negation and discard of traditional tonality contributed to the freedom and emancipation of modern music and enriched musical expressions and artistic forms. In short, atonal music has broken through the trammels of identical traditional tonal music, emancipated ‘dissonance’, and actually presented modern music’s pursuit of artistic truth, namely, the pursuit of “perfectionism” in alienated society.
Conforming with human beings: the artistic imagination and moral spirit of ‘non-identity’
Faced with some people’s blame for “inhumanity” of modern music, Adorno said: “we should employ inhumanity of art to defeat inhumanity of the world for the sake of humanity”(Yu, 2000) based on his negation of aesthetic conception of traditional music. In the opinion of Schoenberg, who a musician he strongly recommended, the real valuable music not only contains the negative connotation to modern society, but also is a kind of self ‘expression’ and ‘a piece of artistic work’ . Only if it conveys the surging feeling in composer’s heart to the audience, can it produce the maximum effect and arouse the surging feelings in the audience’s hearts.’
This expression of autonomy depends on viewpoints of humanity. The criticism of identity social principle is greatly harmful to the development of music. In the reality of capitalist society where the society has been completely alienated and the dignity has totally lost, the artistic imagination of ‘non-identification’ of modern music has negated and separated empirical reality and become ‘otherness’ so as to save the lost humanity in reality. As stated above, the essence of alterity and alienation is the negation and rebellion of modern society. Having become the ‘otherness’, modern music has negated and even abandoned ‘the beautiful phantasm’ of ‘rational’ traditional music, involving in the shift of music orientation from rationality to the ‘people-oriented’ ethic spirit. Based on the unprecedented catastrophe for human brought by “rational” identity logical principle, Adorno criticized and reflected the rational morphology which is “not identical” and “people-oriented”, opposed to the late capitalism’s the new type of allocation model considering exchange as identity principle, and natural law in capitalist society by taking advantage of the new musical revolution of Schoenberg’s.
Adorno’s deciphering sociology of modern music with people-oriented principle is the continuation and development of ‘rationalization’ concept of Western music which is put forth by Max Weber. At the beginning of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism written by Max Weber, it reads that the development of homophony has been diversified from three chord, counterpoint method, consonance and harmony method, semitone method to enharmonic method, which is the passive “rationality” of the irrational culture, and the products of ‘rationality’ of society itself include orchestra, basso continuo, musicography sonata, symphony, opera and musical instrument as well as some cultural phenomena that only exist in Western countries and have advanced towards the direction of general meanings and mechanisms(Webber, 2007).
The scientific development of Western culture towards ‘universal validity’ is the history of disenchantment of Western society, i.e. using rationality to get rid of myth and non-rationality in hopes of highlighting modern rationalization and intellectualization characteristics. In his answer to the reason why the rationalization only occurred in modern Western society, Max Weber said: ‘modern Western community rationally shaped a material “world” in the light of moral criteria, what exerts great influence on the degree of rationality of methods for capitalist to make profits (Fang, 2008). Once Max Weber (1999) pointed out that music field has also experienced the rationalization of the significant decrease of the purposive rationality and the rapid growth of instrumental rationality and this rationalization has become the social and rational foundation of the development of Western music, and he also answered the following questions in his book entitled Musical Rationality and Its Foundation of Social Science: the reason why the development of homophony of polyphony which is widely popular and highly developed only took place in a specific period in Europe, and why the rationalization of all other music styles chose the opposite direction of development.”. At first, Max Weber put forward an hypothesis that there was a course of rationalization in the history of Western music from the establishment of melody principle of iyre in ancient Greek to the destruction of tonality. Based on this hypothesis, the standardization and formalization of homophony instrumentation, modern musicography, and musical instrument manufacturing methods lead to the termination of the commercialized production and consumption of music and musical rationalization.
Adorno’s negation and criticism of fetishism and pseudo individuality of modern music also reflected the people-oriented moral implications of ‘non-identity’ of music. Adorno affirmed the rationality historical process of music proposed by Max Weber. In addition, however, he was a firm believer of historical materialism. In his view, the process of rationalization of music development history is the process of division of labor. The emergence of professional musicians accelerates the tendency of the commodity character of music overriding its aesthetic character. The commodity character controlled by capital exchange value and instrumental rationality undoubtedly made music be with the feature of fetishism. Marx believed that ‘materialization’ is the main cause for the fetishism of commodities, namely, ‘the virtual relationship between things has concealed the real social relations between people’. While Adorno (1990) distinctly noticed that the control hand of capital hides behind ‘the materialization’ relationship created by dependence of the modern industrial civilization on technological products, and economy is an ‘extremely powerful force to dominate society’. The exchange value of capital and profit motivation enables modern music to be closely linked to business manufacturing. The ‘non-identity’ of modern music was suppressed by standardization of commoditized production, and the musical creation which really adheres to the ‘people- oriented’ has been replaced by bottomless duplication of pseudo individualized music, and the power of salvation of the ‘non-identity’ has thoroughly lost. Thus, from the very beginning, popular music, the product of cultural industry, aims to realize its goal of consumption. Adorno believed that Jazz is technically a commodity and the commodity nature of vendibility permeates its entire works. In an impersonal and alienated social reality, the instrumental rationality and exchange value of popular music have gradually ‘identified’, along with its use value being increasingly eliminated. Popular music marked with fetishism feature can only be served as commodities to entertain people with sensual pleasure. Its prevailing electronic medium communication method ignores the audience’s subject consciousness. This shows that Adorno’s criticism of the pursuit of popular music fetishism includes the saving of modern core value. Adorno pointed out that popular music, as a kind of commodity, was considered and designed by a specific format. It was managed by special professionals, and its limited diversity was completely compiled by literature and art organizations. Adorno make another comments in his book that its musical themes, styles, composition structures, handling of details, and performance modes all embody the standardization and unification of commodities. As Adorno once remarked that cultural industry viciously makes human reveal man’s own kind’s essence. Under the cruel reality of musical society, ‘the artistic rebellion of modern music turned to its rebellion against art’. Popular music achieved its complete control of individuals by means of its fetishism and pseudo individualization characteristics, leading individual ideology to be uniform in a voluntary manner, so as to strengthen the recognition of social domination, fall into ‘hedonism’ featuring materialization and uniformed ideology, and destroy the individual control of non-identity.
A wide variety of flaws had been brought by identity rationality thinking of popular music urged Adorno to build ‘the non-identity’ of modern music. The moral rules of ‘people-oriented principle’ require that modern music should highlight the individuality and resist in identifying individuals to achieve its unification of the self-discipline and socialization. From this point of view, music is not a commodity or ideology but an ‘otherness’ against the real society. It ‘will not provide any life blueprint about good’, instead, it ‘should point out the diseases of society and not idealize them as a deceptive humanism, and alleged that this kind of humanism had already achieved’ (Yu, 2000). The true mission of “people-oriented” modern music is to awake the  subject consciousness of individual freedom, hopes and comfort by expressing the awareness of hardship and misery that has been inhibited non-humanized and alienated social reality so as to get rid of individual survival situation persecuted by immoral society and save human beings themselves.
To sum up, based on negative dialectical thinking, Adorno regarded modern music as ‘otherness’ of alienated society, truly demonstrated the suppression and persecution of individuals by immoral society. Adorno’s practice mode of the most spiritual value is the atonal music with Schoenberg as the representative. The tonal structure and the emancipation of diaphony truly expressed the game playing between evil of alienated reality and good of truth of art. The tension between them promoted the attention of ‘the twelve-tone technique’ to distort personality and tragic experiences of nobodies in order to urge modern music to break the shackles of commoditized music, allowing the realization of the direction change of non-identity of modern music with the “people-oriented principle”, and highlighting the aesthetic power of modern music moral spirit.
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