[Good Friday, 2014: Notice the qualifier--"20th Century Thought." Since the following review was written, we have entered an entirely new stage in our post post-modernity. In the 1980s we saw the replacement of the analogue LP by the digitized CD (and DVD) disc. But the first of 2 major technological revolutions was yet to come. Until the new millennium, the disc (CD-R) functioned much the same as our previous analogue re-presentations of music. But thanks to Apple, in 2002 we welcomed the iPod and began to collect our "objets d'art," our objects of study, in the form of digital "files" stored in these capacious hard drives. Soon the capacity of the iPod grew from 20GB to 160GB, enough space to carry several lifetime's worth of "compressed" (i.e.MP3) files. My 2008 iPod Touch (purchased at about the time of this review) added a visual-literary component to the iPod's function as a repository of audio files. But then came the 2nd major technological revolution: the improvement of "internet media" and the birth of the "Cloud," leading to unparalleled access (for the individual and for a world-wide population) to literature, music, cinema, photography--i.e. the "constructed reality" of a mediascape far more pervasive, accessible, and "instant" than anything envisioned in the 'Age of Baudrillard." With my 2010 iPod, storage space was no longer a consideration--not with Apple's, Amazon's, Google's Clouds all at my service, capable not merely of storing my "texts" but of "streaming" them to me in a form virtually equal to the quality of the files in personal possession. In 2005 internet audio (e.g. RealPlayer) was in a primitive, "Dixie Cups-and-a-sring," phase; by 2010 it had progressed to a quality that obviated "HD Audio" (I have 3 obsolescent HD radios as reminders). At present the mobile "devices" (phones, players, tablets) have broken free of their previous supplementary connections with the computer and keyboard. They are now autonomous devices that have "replaced" the keyboard computer. The upshot of the foregoing is destabilization "of" the text that is so extreme as to make all theory "about" the text null and void. In the "Age of the Cloud" and of streaming, or "raining," texts, our understandings, our archetypes, our knowledge and its source are equally "nebulous." The object of study, of possession, or understanding, or "ownership," has been democratized and, now, atomized to diminution and irrelevancy (because it can only be relevant--i.e. the matter of the moment). All that's left is for some of us with "earned knowledge" about texts, canons, traditions to conduct a kind of rear-guard reactionary activity on behalf of our hard-earned objects of knowledge and pleasure. (I'm reminded of the speaking voice at the end of Eliot's "The Wasteland," who's left to say something like "these fragments have I shored up against my ruins." For some of us (call us latter-day Romantics], the de-authoriziation of the text is inseparable from disenfranchisement of the reader and, at worst, dissolution of the Self.]
Though I can't say I've ever been sympathetic to Adorno's views, he's always been the source I go to when relating music to politics. So-called "free jazz" is enjoying a revival internationally, so much so that the majority of live music reviews that I edit for a jazz website speak glibly and naively about the greater "freedom" of this "new" music (which actually appeared over 50 years ago, or about half-way through the telescoped history of jazz) and as a welcome escape from "the tradition." My role is not to correct or criticize but to teach, and Adorno at least holds forth the possibility of opening minds to the meaning of words like tradition and anarchyl, creativity and invention (they're not the same), and free choice vs. unlimited freedom. Although naivete and ignorance often win the day (it's much easier for a writer to describe the visual choreography of "free jazz" artists than the invisible architecture of a Charlie Parker solo), Adorno has on occasion opened up minds to some important questions about music, culture and politics. When he fails to promote further thought upon the subject, I simply accede to the label that has become my scarlet letter: "he's a traditionalist!" (Thank goodness, there are some of us left. Traditions are the most ephemeral, fragile, deconstructible of all human fabrications. But they're preferable to the alternative, and some of them--like playing notes instead of raw emotions on your horn--still make a lot of sense. Also, traditions assure the academization of a subject (literature and canons, film and auteur theory and, for a while, jazz and race). By contrast, freedom might get you a gig but not tenure.