Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
I think often about this fact, that in the present day one is not likely to recopy much of anything one has written. I have been slightly impressed and vaguely ashamed to learn, as I read more about the material circumstances of writing of many of my favorite authors and thinkers, just how much time they must have spent 'just' copying. Often letters come down to us not because the originals were preserved, but because the author kept a draft. (And just think of how many letters some people wrote, copied or not!) Textual criticism thrives on manuscript copies of documents. Wittgenstein is supposed to have made out a fair copy of all his day's work every night before he could go to sleep (and think of how much more copying his own work entailed, what with its constant revision and reformulation). Much of the copying of the process of writing of the past seems to have been necessary: if you write enough by hand, you have to take time to preserve some of what you've written, even for yourself, so that it can be understood later without difficulty. But a great deal of opportunity for reflection of a sort must be provided by all this copying, too.
A great deal of the text on this blog is in the form of long quotations from other texts. Even when I am sure the text is available online somewhere, or sometimes even if I am quoting something I found online, I will retype the entire thing myself. I always understand it better as a result.
I am not really able to write in longhand at this point. I write in a somewhat careful but difficult to read print. It is slow. But, then, I am only able to write at length in an intermediate sort of way, away from the computer.
'Like his contemporaries he witnessed the reappearance of various blues and country performers - Skip James, Dock Boggs, Son House, Clarence Ashley, among others - who had recorded in the late 1920s and had returned to obscurity when the Depression all but killed the recording of rural music, and who were tracked down by diligent young fans in the early 1960s and enjoyed a few years in the limelight of northern stages at the sunset of their lives. Those people were embodiments of a past so far removed by technological and societal changes that they might as well have emerged from Civil War graves.'
'Failure to converse with the one to whom you can talk is to lose the person; conversing with the one to whom you cannot talk is to lose the word. A wise man will lose neither the person nor the word.'
'How strange you are, you idiot!'
'Therefore the one who sees, without hearing, is much more ... worried than the one who hears without seeing. This principle is of great importance in understanding the sociology of the modern city. Social life in the large city ... shows a great preponderance of occasions to see rather than to hear people. One explanation ... of special significance is the development of public means of transportation. Before the appearance of omnibuses, railroads, and streetcars in the nineteenth century, men were not in a situation where, for minutes or hours at a time, they could or must look at one another without talking to one another.'
It seems lately I have tried to direct all my thoughts at clearing the way for interpretations of things, given the most concrete starting places I can find. Here are some such thoughts on Adorno's famous statement, usually alluded to with no or some opaque elaboration, that form is sedimented content. (Alluded to by others, I mean. I suppose that might be said truly of Adorno, too, but only if you stop reading on page 5 of Aesthetic Theory, which seems like a pretty good idea by the time you get to page 5.)
- Adorno's phrasing is ambiguous, without elaboration. Does 'form is sedimented content' mean, then, that form is like content in some way? Or that it is itself content? The passage I quoted earlier tonight suggests otherwise, by talking as if the passage from content to form involves a change in kind (such as, say, from alive to dead); but it also seems to imply that sedimentation is a matter of degrees, as one would expect of a metaphorically temporal, physical process, and thus that it is not so simple to separate form and content concretely (as he indicates, I think, with the talk about mediation).
- We should take the geological term seriously; it indicates a situation in which the form of an artwork is multilayered, different layers deriving from different periods and their circumstances, but with the layers still interacting and forming a complex whole. Adorno frequently uses words one would expect to describe this interaction, like 'force'. I hope that word doesn't sound needlessly aggressive to some readers, though I suppose in many cases it might be an apt way to describe an artwork. It doesn't read as aggressive to me because in the places he uses the word Adorno seems to stay faithful to the concept of force found in physics, in mechanics and dynamics; it is key to keep in mind situations with multiple bodies, multiple forces in multiple directions, velocities, movements, change, all in superposition. The metaphors - even in temporal arts like music, the different features of a work Adorno might attribute force to as a way of describing the work's form are not actually in motion, massive, pushing and pulling one another - the metaphors re-enter because the bodies under consideration are in 'motion' as pattern, as affect, as significance, as expectation and disappointment. There is something curious about this, simultaneously static and dynamic. The former, because the artwork comes to us 'finished'; the latter, because every little bit of that 'finished' whole comes from somewhere, from someone, and is going somewhere, doing something, and without engagement with the work, without attempting to understand it, we don't yet know where, what. But we do know, just upon first reading, first listen, that every little vector is pointing in a different direction.
- 'comes from somewhere' - or from some time, it seems more important to emphasize. It can be easy to think of form under Adorno's formulation as something fixed, because of its age. But the geological metaphor would have us see clearly that the form as manifest in a work has been changing right up to the completion of the work, and after, even; and had been changing right up through history, to the point where the artist took it up. This is just to say that even though some things about a work's form might be very old, some will be more recent.
- We should likewise emphasize the manifold nature of the forces resulting in a form, in a work's form. Even when considered in a simple-seeming aspect, of shape or pattern, a form's origins are not that simple.
- All of this calls for a great deal of historical awareness.
- This is all very nice, but still obscure on what, then, this 'content' might be that stands in intimate relation to sedimentary form. Adorno says eventually, then repeatedly, the sort of thing seized upon by every cultural studier ever: that this content is social. A quick accounting, at least, of the passage quoted: Adorno says that 'dance' is (a remote) content, that cultic symbols were contents, that 'aesthetic relations of production' are 'sedimentations or imprintings of social relations of production' (working the fossil angle, the wax mold, the gravestone rubbing even?), that 'the unsolved antagonisms of reality' return as problems of form. It is no doubt premature to do so, but the best way I find to make sense of this, in light of the fact that in many of these phenomena too one is likely to be able to find all kinds of formal-seeming things, sedimented, encrusted, regularized, rule-bound, is to note that Adorno seems to have in mind any kind of significant interaction or relation between people. Think language, think symbols, but think them in terms of rhetoric, in terms of utterances, in terms of concrete circumstances. Only given that mindset should you start feeling confident of finding some content. I gather that typical pop academic, or record critic, ways of understanding Adorno's form-content distinction are, say: content is FUCK YOU, or instead, FUCK BITCHES, or I AM BEING FUCKED. Well, yes and no.
- He's cagey about it but my sense is that whatever the content - social content? - of an artwork turns out to be, it's something one discovers via interpretation, investigation of the smallest details of a work's form in order to find out what content is revealed (was embodied in it). Discovers later. If lucky. If there is any. Adorno is not an optimist. Especially when it comes to the music I love.