Adorno and Deleuze?


Last week, while reading sections of Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, I was also reading Adorno’s  essay, “On Poplular Music” for another class.  In the essay, Adorno argues that, with the standardization of music, the listener’s “grasp of the whole does not lie in the living experience of this one concrete piece of music he had followed.  The whole is pre-given and pre-accepted, even before the actual experience of the music starts…” (“On Popular Music” 413).  The problem that Adorno outlines with popular music is the model that Deleuze eschews in order to explicate potentialities in other forms.  While they seem to agree on a basic level (that art, whether music, cinema, painting, carries a certain potential), their respective arguments take them in different directions.  Adorno seeks to analyze the negative impact of popular music on our culture and society and critique the capitalist economic system, while Deleuze seeks a way to move beyond the model of popular music (or popular cinema, or, even more abstractly, a model of thinking), by taking full advantage of the potentialities inherent in the medium.


But Deleuze also warns against the danger of constructing a whole.  “[…O]ne misses the movement because one constructs a Whole, one assumes that ‘all is given’, whilst movement only occurs if the whole if neither given nor giveable” (Cinema 1 7).  Where Adorno asserts that experience is stifled if the whole is ‘pre-given’, Deleuze argues that movement becomes constricted, if, in the whole, ‘all if given’.  Both seems to agree that the whole should not be predetermined, Deleuze, through his idea of an ‘open’ as opposed to ‘closed’ whole, and Adorno, through his warning about the ‘frozen’.  Deleuze: “…[I]f the living being is whole and, therefore, comparable to the whole universe, this is not because it is a microcosm as closed as the whole is assumed to be, but, on the contrary, because it is open upon the world, and the world, the universe, is itself the Open” (Cinema 1 10).  Adorno: “Under centralized conditions such as exist today the standards have become >>frozen<<.  That is, they have been taken over by cartelized agencies, the final results of a competitive process, and rigidly enforced upon material to be promoted” (“On Popular Music” 419).  Thus, the idea of an open whole, rather than a closed or ‘frozen’ whole, is shared by each, but explored in different ways.  While Deleuze explores the broad implications and possibilities of this idea (with examples from art, philosophy, and science), Adorno is much more interested in exploring the economic and social realities and consequences of thinking in terms of a ‘frozen’ whole.


Both too, seem to have a similar idea of the relation of the part to the whole.  Adorno argues that in serious music, “the detail virtually contains the whole and leads to the exposition of the whole, while, at the same time, it is produced out of the conception of the whole.  In popular music […t]he detail has no bearing on the whole, which appears as an extraneous framework.[…] A musical detail which is not permitted to develop becomes a caricature of its own potentialities” (my own emphasis, “On Popular Music” 417).  For Adorno, the experience of the parts is what creates a whole, a whole that cannot be given and is instead determined by the exploration of the potentialities of the details.  Similarly, Deleuze states that “[r]elations do not belong to objects, but to the whole, on condition that this is not confused with a closed set of objects[…]But, through relations, the whole is transformed or changes qualitatively” (Cinema 1 10).  I thought the overlap in the ideas of these two was really interesting, even if they do take their ideas in different directions.  I’m sure I’m oversimplifying a bit, but there definitely seems to be some connections there.

Hilary Price

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