Theses Doctoral

Nono and Marxist Aesthetics

Cody, Joshua

This essay discusses the work of the Venetian composer Luigi Nono (29 January 1924 - 8 May 1990) in the context of Marxist aesthetics. Nono is the most explicitly political member of the Darmstadt generation. A card-carrying member of the Communist party whose titles and texts often directly refer to political personages and events, Nono bids the listener or critic to confront the problematic of political expression in instrumental music, a subject of inquiry at least as old as Plato (to whom Nono explicitly refers in Fragmente , his late string quartet that is the subject of examination here) and of crucial relevance since World War II, the cold war, and the rise of mass media. Yet the majority of literature devoted to his work has largely ignored the question of where his work and philosophical attitude locate themselves within the four major strands of Marxist aesthetics. The relationship between Nono's his work and his political perspective is either treated in an imprecise, undisciplined fashion, relying on cliches of existentialism, mysticism, or vaguely defined alternative modes of perception to stand in for the notion of opposition (Nono's fascination with Hölderlin is often invoked); or the element of ideology is ignored altogether, and the works are submitted to traditional post-serial analysis of compositional technique. Whereas both of these approaches do shed light on a challenging body of work, a brief examination of the four major models of a Marxist approach to art - the Marx/Engels, the Benjaminian, the Adorno,and the Bloch/Jameson - and the attempt to contextualize Nono's work within or against them situates this complex personality within the universe of the poltical talis qualis. A narratological take on Nono's late sting quartet Fragmente provides a demonstration of invoking literary theory to create a productive analogy between political readings of instrumental music and that of other artforms. Various analytic techniques employed by critical theory - techniques examining communication, culture, and political consciousness which themselves are drawn from linguistic and analytic philosophy, symbolic interactionism, structural linguistics, hermeneutics, semiology, poststructural psychoanalysis, and deconstruction - may not simply be borrowed by the musicologist. These strategies can be fruitfully transposed, in the mathematical sense, wherein a limited number of elements within the critical structure are exchanged provided that others are fixed. The essays explores one example of such an exchanged element: Nono's use of polyvalent quotations. Other elements are available to the musicologist via the classic Husserlian move of Einklammerung, the "phenomenological reduction." Jameson had no particular personal or professional association with Nono, and Jameson has no important writings on music. Nevertheless, Jameson was Nono's historical contemporary; Jameson was born only ten years after Nono; and Nono's work is much closer to the Bloch / Jameson model than that of Adorno, the passionate anti-bourgeois devotee of the Second Viennese School; or that of Benjamin, the passionate anti-bourgeois proponent of the "fragment," the thinker who plays the most superficially salient role in Nono's work. Jameson's 1981 book The Political Unconscious, written at the same time Nono wrote Fragmente, describes three non-dialectical analytical approaches, or "horizons," shared by the critic, the spectator, and the artist: the political, the social, and the historical. They form concentric circles. By situating Nono's work within Jameson's theory, Nono is revealed, far from the mystical/naive poet in the style of a Rothko or a Tarkovsky, as a wily, canny dramatist whose technique is conservative and neoromantic, if never regressive, always consciously bent against the postmodernity, properly speaking, of Cage.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lerdahl, Alfred W.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 29, 2014