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Monday, 12 April 2010

Theodor Adorno: Gypsy Wagon


File:Romanichal wagon.JPG

Nothing escapes the attention of radically socialized society, which further effects the culture of which it seizes control. This can be illustrated in simple fashion. Sometime ago a small publication appeared, a pamphlet, apparently written for the needs of those who undertake cultural trips through Europe -- of whatever use such a brochure could possibly be. It offered a concise catalogue of artistic festivals during this particular summer and the autumn as well. The reason for such a scheme is obvious: it permits the cultural traveller to divide his time and to seek out that which he thinks will be of interest to him -- in short, he can plan his trip according to the same principle which lies behind the organization of these festivals: they are all embraced and controlled by a single comprehensive organization. Inherent in the idea of a festival, however, and of the artistic festival as well, no matter how secularized and weakened it might be, is the claim to something unique, to the emphatic event which is not fungible. Festivals are to be celebrated as they come; they are not to be organized only from the perspective of avoiding overlapping. Administrative reason which takes control of them and rationalizes them banishes festivity from them. This results in an intensification into the grotesque which cannot escape the notice of the more sensitive nerves present at these so-called cultural offerings -- even at those of the avant-garde. In an effort to preserve a feeling of contrast to contemporary streamlining, culture is still permitted to drive about in a type of gypsy wagon; the gypsy wagons, however, roll about secretly in a monstrous hall, a fact which they do not themselves notice.

File:Door carving.JPG

Theodor Adorno: from Culture and Administration, in The Culture Industry, ed. J.M. Bernstein,1991 (translation by Wes Blomster)

Romanichal Reading vardo wagon, early 20th c.: photo by Sunset through the clouds, 2008 (Transport Museum, Glasgow)

Door carving of bird on Romanichal Reading vardo wagon, early 20th c.: photo by Sunset through the clouds, 2008 (Transport Museum, Glasgow)


Curtis Roberts said...

The Adorno text anticipates so many dread and depression-inducing developments and events: “blockbuster” museum shows; “genre” rock festivals; Manhattan “High Line culture” (in fact, everything the New York Times tells me I should be paying attention to and, by implication, the things I should be ignoring because they don’t fit the prescribed scheme). Outsourced living.

TC said...


It seems we share the same viewpoint on this.

I think the Adorno essay -- which by the way dates from the late Sixties -- applies generally. But the specific instigation of the post may have been a massively administered, carefully organized and hugely attended national convention, a few weeks ago, of "writing programs".

(That latter phrase always strikes me as oxymoronic, the spontaneous expressive element in writing appearing to have been devoured by its natural enemy the programmatic, but oh well, I have a long record of lagging behind the curve on culture industry jargon, which always falls upon my ancient ears as so much interested-party-derived yet ultimately uninteresting gibberish).

Curtis Roberts said...

Thank you for the clarification regarding what inspired the Adorno post. I've been out of school so long I was unaware of this phenomenon, but I've now visited the AWP website and read an article about the recent convention and the history of US writing programs. As for the jargon and gibberish, they’re now, always, everywhere, and of course have commercial value as “product”. Although not exactly on point, I’m reminded of that funny line from Spinal Tap, "mime is money".