Marxists regard works of art as meaningful, and look for political meanings in apparently non-political literature, films and paintings. But where does music’s meaning lie? The conventional view is that music is non-referential, capable only of supporting other artforms or of expressing emotions. Adorno rejects the idea of music as a language of emotions, and does not believe that music has universal grammatical and syntactical rules. Yet he claims that music has language characteristics which make it as political as other artforms. What does he mean, and is he right? To answer those questions, we need to know how he understands language. This article examines how Adorno’s view compares with the Marxist theory of language and consciousness developed by Valentin Voloshinov, and explores the extent to which approaching music from this direction might clarify a Marxist understanding of music and contribute to solving the thorny question of musical meaning.
AdornoTheodor W.2007 ‘Theses on the Language of the Philosopher’ in Adorno and the Need in Thinking: New Critical Essays edited by DonaldBurkeColin J.CampbellKathyKilohMichael K.Palamarek and JonathanShortToronto: University of Toronto Press.
RoseJacqueline2016 ‘From the Inside out. Review of The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride’ London Review of Books3818: 11–12 available at: <https://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n18/jacqueline-rose/from-the-inside-out>.
Statista Research Analysis2014 ‘Share of People who Play Music in the United States in 2014, by Age’ available at: <http://www.statista.com/statistics/352204/number-of-people-play-musical-instrument-usa/>.