A Night at the Opera

I’m on an Adorno kick these days, because he is so right, but doubt that makes him much loved in the art world. As with any great critic, the common response is willful misunderstanding. As a corrective to the normal view of Adorno as a dour spoiler of the enjoyment one would like to take in mass entertainment I offer this:

“In one of the incomparable cinematic farces of the Marx brothers, when thanks to some absurd complication an opera scene appears, in which one hears tragic arias illustrated by the clumsily grandiloquent, old-fashioned gestures of the singers, the effect is comparable to a demolition of the tragic stage, and the clowns immediately set to work and bring the scenery crashing down.”

I’m sure he found A Night at the Opera as funny as any of us do, but most important to understand is that Adorno was clear about the difference between a critical attack on “high” culture, which certainly deserves it, and a slavish surrender to commodity culture, and this is a distinction many in the art world are not willing or able to grasp. Actually,


Groucho turning an opera house into a baseball stadium

for Adorno opera was commodity culture, and its pretensions to value merely ridiculous. The same could be said for a lot of what we call art in our museums, and I’m not talking about Warhol inspired pop and neo-pop. I have a lot of time for Koons and Murakami. Adorno is not a defender of elitist stuffed-shirt high culture—he is unpopular because he challenges us to raise our standards.

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