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 by way of the identify of the postmodern. Huyssen argues that postmodernism itself can't be considered as a thorough holiday with the prior, as its inventive and political ideas are indebted to that different development in the tradition of modernity - the historic avant garde.

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But Adorno makes the even stronger claim that in capitalist society high art is always already permeated by the textures of that mass culture from which it seeks autonomy. As a model analysis of the entanglements of high art with mass cultural commodification the Wagner essay is actually more stimulating than, say, the Philosophy o[ Modern Music which in many ways represents the negative version of 36 AFTER TIIE GREAT DMDE modernist triumphalism. Preceding Jugendstil and rart pour rart which are blamed for simply capitulating to the commodity, it is the body of Wagner's oeuvre, towering as it does at the threshold of modernity, which becomes the privileged locus of that fierce struggle between tradition and modernity, autonomy and commodity, revolution and reaction, and, ultimately, myth and enlightenment.

It may help sustain the claim that Adorno's view of the culture industry and modernism is not quite as binary and closed as it appears. And, on a much broader level, it may point us-in areversal of Adorno's strategy-toward a desirable and overdue exploration of how modernism itself appropriates and transforms elements of popular culture, trying like Antaeus to gain strength and vitality from such contacts. 9 Adorno in Reverse 21 Culture Industry I will organize this brief outline in four clusters of observations: 1.

He credits Wagner for heroically attempting to elude the market demands for "easy" opera and for trying to avoid its banality. But this ftight, according to Adorno, leads Wagner even more deeply into the commodity. In his later essay "Wagner's Aktualität" (lg65) Adorno finds a powerful image for this dilemma: "Everything in Wagner has its historical core. "42 No matter how far Wagner would spin out his music, spider and web will always remain one. How, then, do these exchange relations manifest themselves in Wagner's music?

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