Adorno, music, and the ineffable

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter reconstructs Adorno’s practices of listening to music through the prism of two categories: exact listening and inconsistent listening. Exact listening depends upon a distinct kind of intellectual confidence about the capacity for an intellectual to listen to and comprehend the forms of a given work. This practice entails his well-known writings on the resistant powers of fractured forms in late Beethoven and the Second Viennese School; as well as his critiques of Wagner, Stravinsky, jazz, popular music, and the culture industry. By contrast, inconsistent listening, found particularly in Adorno’s writings on Mahler and Berg, acknowledges a significant measure of uncertainty as to what forms constitute a locus of social resistance. In these writings, Adorno shows readers more explicitly what it means to grapple with music’s ineffability through his use of parataxis, extra-musical hallucinations, and contradictory or paradoxical assertions. The chapter frames its reconstruction of Adorno’s dual listening practices by delineating the philosophical importance of music’s ineffability for Adorno’s negative conception of utopian truth-content.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA Companion to Adorno
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781119146940
ISBN (Print)9781119146919
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


  • Beethoven
  • Berg
  • Ineffability
  • Listening
  • Mahler
  • Music


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