Theodor Adorno

As part of my work on Tillich and the Frankfurt School (via discussions with Warren Goldstein), I finally acquired Christopher Brittain’s Adorno and Theology. Apart from a few pages on Tillich, which really do not explore the depth of Tillich’s engagements with Horkheimer, Adorno and others, and apart from a strange desire to bring Alasdair Maclagan into the debate, I was disappointed to find nary a mention of Adorno’s most sustained engagement with theology, namely, his book on Kierkegaard. I know it’s a tough piece to work through, but, shit a brick, you really can’t avoid it when talking about Adorno and theology.

As I sink into my two main projects for 2011 – Lenin and Theology and The Sacred Economy – a brief intro to the book I have just completed on Nick Cave, with a preface written on the Trans-Mongolian train, somewhere in Siberia …

Over 2010 I wanted to engage in some other material that has interested me for a while – the Fleshly Readings book, which has managed to piss off a goodly number of people, and the one on Nick Cave. The latter is called Cave Droppings, looking at things like his engagement with the Bible, the novels and total depravity, death, apocalypse, love, Jesus and a big chapter on the philosophy of music and musical form, via Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno. The best bits were listening again and again to all of the music (back to 1977 and the Boys Next Door), engaging deeply with Bloch and Adorno on music, and reading through some 300 or more interviews, unpicking the narratives he spins about himself. And that’s where you find some pretty good turns of phrase, like:

I’ve got to stop quoting from the Bible because it’s irritating.

A chilly thing. The Bible. Sometimes.

All they wanted was the usual holiday snap of hell.

To eat at the same ball of vomit year after year.

When the big bomb goes off, all that’s going to survive are goths and cockroaches.

Two abiding passions – crime and theology.

Death looms large because it should.

And the decomposing lover says …

Jesus only loves a man who loses.

When those two things get together, love and violence, it makes for some nasty song-writing.

But he [Blixa Bargeld] was always more concerned with making his guitar sound like a dying horse, more than anything else.

Sometimes it [Cave’s voice] sounds like the moaning of a dying insect

And the TOC:


Chapter One: Searching the Holy Books.

Synopsis: Nick Cave and the Bible.

The Life of Nick.

The ‘Word’ of Cave.

Conclusion, or, Strategies of Containment.

Chapter Two: The Total Depravity of Cave’s Literary World.

Cave World.

That House on the Edge of Town.

A Slug of White Jesus.

Rain in the Valley.


Lamentations of Woe.

The Calling of Eschatological Madness.

Conclusion: The Dialectic of Redemptive Depravity.

Chapter Three: Some Routine Atrocity, or, Apocalyptic.

Three Modes.

God’s Anger: The Flood.

Murder, Mayhem and Atrocity.

Glimpses of Redemption.


Chapter Four: Death.

From Form to Content: The Sinister Song.

Death Inflicted.

Death Suffered.

Individual Annihilation.

Collective Destruction.

Death Overcome.

Conclusion: Death Is Not the End?

Chapter Five: God, Pain and the Love Song.

Secular Soppy Songs: No Pain, No God.

Painlessly Divine: No Pain, With God.

Painfully Secular: With Pain, No God.

Brutally Divine: With Pain, With God.

Chapter Six: Jesus of the Moon, or, Christology.

Volume and Noise.

Sex and Seduction.



Chapter Seven: Hearing Round Corners: Nick Cave Meets Ernst Bloch.

Hearing around corners.

Concerning the Wandering Path of the Note, or, Forms of the Song.

Anarchy …

… and Discordancy.


Hymn (and Lament)

Sinister Song.

Dialectical Song.


Conclusion: The Dialectics of Theo-Utopian Hearing.

Conclusion: Gates to the Garden: The Search for Redemption.

If anyone happens to be in Oslo today and near the big shiny steel and perspex block known as the library of the University of Oslo (Georg Sverdrups House), the following scintillating event will be under way.

TIME: Wednesday September 15 at 1.15pm – 6.30pm
PLACE: Undervisningsrom 1 Georg Sverdrups hus


13.15 Introduction, Jorunn Økland, professor, Senter for Tverrfaglig Kjønnsforskning (STK, Centre for Gender Research), Oslo

13.30 Ilana Pardes, Professor of Arts and Letters, Hebrew University of Jerusalem: ‘Freud, Zipporah, and the Bridegroom of Blood’.

14.30 Roland Boer, Comrade, University of Newcastle, Australia. Paper: ‘Freud, Adorno and the Ban on Images’.

15.30-16.00 Coffee/tea

16.00 Erik Steinskog, Associate Professor, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, Section of Musicology, University of Copenhagen. Paper: ‘Of Mice and Men – and Moses: Voices in Kafka and Schoenberg’.

17.00 Hedda Høgåsen-Hallesby, Ph.D.-fellow, STK. Paper: ‘Monotheism and Synesthesia: The Word becoming Flesh in Strauss’s Salome’.

17.45 Øystein Gullvåg Holter, Professor of gender equality and masculinities, STK: Response

Every character in a word is like a grille through which meaning shines forth by breaking free of its sensual trace, its phonetic echo. Every note is the unconscious imprint of a sound, and gains a share in its meaning only through configuration.

Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund, aka Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. 64.

When Adorno first turned up in the US of A he was employed as a researcher with the Princeton Radio Project, a marketing exercise directed by Paul Lazarsfeld. Needless to say, Adorno didn’t quite fit in. For example, on 1o October 1939 Adorno gave a lecture on the commodification of music on the radio. The response, to both the lecture and the subsequently circulated text of the lecture, is summed up in the comments of the well known W.G. Preston Jr, assistant to the vice president in charge of programmes on NBC:

The paper is so full of factual errors and colored opinions, and its pretense at scientific procedure is so absurd in view of its numerous arbitrary assertions, that it is hardly worthy of serious consideration, except possibly as propaganda. In short, it seems to have an axiom to grind.

Fucking brilliant! Makes me feel in good company, given some of the reports I have had. And the equally well-known Geoffrey Gorer, an anthropologist, opined:

The statement that music today is not an art but a commodity seems to me quite meaningless. Musicians have always had to eat.

Soon afterwards, Adorno had the distinction of having the funding cut for his role in the project – from the Rockefeller Foundation, no less.

For all his flaws, that’s why I like the man. Onya, Theodor!

Not a moment too soon, given that my mother is now onto my blog … Here is Adorno, whom I am deploying with Ernst Bloch for my book on Nick Cave:

Luther, who felt that greatness in composition involved telling the notes to go where they belonged …

Quasi Una Fantasia, p. 97.

Then Naples was initially a threatening chaos, the roads there look like forests, melons are sold among heathen cult symbols, stuffed cats’ heads are considered a delicacy, animal brothels an erotic specialty, and even the kitsch of the buildings, which purport to be classical in style, excessively ruptures all civilizatory security.

Theodor Wiesengrund-Adorno, in a letter to Alban Berg, 15 October 1925 (p. 20).

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