Cloudcuckooland: Adorno’s Musical Utopianism

Theodor Adorno has a complex attitude toward utopian thought. On the one hand, he views as dangerous and destructive fascist and ‘vulgar’ Marxist strands of utopianism and has a subtle diagnostic critique of their attractions and deficiencies. On the other hand, he views the proper use of utopian imagination to be essential for human freedom and writes copiously about the dangers of prior ideological constraint not only of the content of imagination but also of the possible forms that imagination can take, political and otherwise. This paper joins an analysis of Adorno’s thought on utopianism with an exposition and critique of his interpretation of Gustav Mahler’s symphonic practice. I argue that Adorno’s discussion of Mahler both takes precedence in his thought on artistic utopianism and clarifies his treatment of the continuing salience of utopian thought in politics. (Rush)

Fred Rush is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He was educated at Cambridge, Columbia, and the University of Munich and has been the recipient of Mellon, Fulbright, and ACLS fellowships. He is the author of On Architecture (Routledge, 2008) and edited The Cambridge Companion to Critical Theory (Cambridge UP, 2004). His Irony and Idealism is due out from Oxford University Press in 2014.