After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, by Andreas Huyssen

By Andreas Huyssen

Today's problem to the divide among mass tradition and modernism is going through the identify of the postmodern. Huyssen argues that postmodernism itself can't be considered as a thorough holiday with the earlier, as its inventive and political techniques are indebted to that different pattern in the tradition of modernity - the historic avant garde.

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He argues that Wagner disguises the growing estrangement of the composer from the audience by conceiving his music "in terms of the gesture of striking a blow" and by incorporating the audience into the work through calculated "effects": "As the striker of blows ... the composer-conductor gives the claims of the public a terrorist emphasis. Democratic considerateness towards the listener is transformed into connivance with the powers of discipline: in the name of the listener, anyone whose feelings accord with any measure other than the beat of the music is silenced.

Already in the Ig30s Adorno must have been aware of historical research on mass culture. He only had to look at the work of one of his fellow researchers at the Institute, Leo LöwenthaI, who did much of his work on 18th- and Igth-century German culture, high and low, and who never ti red of drawing the connections that existed between 20th-century critiques of mass culture and earlier discussions of the problem in the work of Schiller and Goethe, Tocqueville, Marx and Nietzsche, to name only the most salient figures.

3U But if it is true, as Bürger argues, that the main goal of the historical avantgarde was the reintegration of art into life, a heroic attempt that failed, then Adorno is not a theorist of the avantgarde, but a theorist of modernism. More than that, he is a theorist of a construct "modernism" which has al ready digested the failure of the historical avantgarde. It has not gone unnoticed that Adorno frequently scorned avantgarde movements such as futurism, Dada, and surrealism, and that he acidly rejected the avantgardes' various attempts to reintegrate art and li~e as a dangerous regression from the aesthetic to the barbaric.

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