Justin Evans's Reviews > In Search of Wagner

In Search of Wagner by Theodor W. Adorno
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Mar 11, 10

bookshelves: essays, philosophy
Read in March, 2010

It always strikes me as strange when people use Adorno's musical works as the basis for their interpretation of Adorno, and now I've read this it seems even stranger. There's very little here that you can't find more clearly expressed in shorter programmatic essays, or essays on literary figures.The meat here comes in the form of sentences wedged into paragraphs which are incomprehensible to me, and I assume to most of the rest of the world, since they deal with details of the plot or the musical structure of Wagner's operas. I got very little out of it, to be honest, either for Adorno or for Wagner. If you're looking for an 'easy' way in, you should try 'Critical Models,' or the first few essays in 'Notes to Literature' instead. Unless you're a music buff, in which case this might make more sense to you.
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message 1: by Nick (last edited Nov 12, 2012 10:14PM) (new)

Nick Jacobs Whoever the cover portrait is, it is not Wagner.

The difficult book has been excellently translated but badly proofread. There are horrendous typos throughout.

The more Adorno thinks he appreciates Wagner, the more he has to attack him. Like Roland Freisler, he is a prosecutor-judge, and his technique is the same – ranting condemnation, rising to a high pitch.

Like Nietzsche, Adorno fancied himself as a composer. Both were desperately jealous of Wagner's genius. In addition, the half-Jewish Adorno was rather late to leave Germany, and thought that attacking Wagner for his anti-semitism (which none of his fans denied or denies) would cover him from any suspicion of bad faith.

This is speculation, of course, but how else to account for any lover of music seeking to make such a work as 'The Ring' stink in the ears of the public?


Justin Evans I should say that although I think this book is very bad, I think Adorno is a major thinker; I also think that accusing Adorno of bad faith is a bit odd. I imagine that he wrote this book because he was so uncomfortable with the twin facts that Wagner wrote amazing music, and that Wagner wrote horrific anti-semitic tracts. If Adorno was jealous of Wagner's genius, he would have written equally bad books/essays about other major composers, but he wrote appreciatively about most of them (e.g., Beethoven, Mahler, Schoenberg). None of this makes this a good book, which it is not. But nor is it an act of jealousy or bad faith.


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