“Torn halves…”

Theodor Adorno’s often-quoted phrase about “torn halves of an integral freedom” appears in a letter to Walter Benjamin (1936). There, it refers to film. Adorno is best-known for his writing about music, a field in which he sees a chasm between products of the “culture industry,” (his term) and, broadly, popular music, and New Music, beginning with the Second Vienna School), Schönberg, Berg, Webern. And the famous phrase applies as if it were made for the purpose — which it probably was: they are “torn halves of an integral freedom, to which, however, they do not add up.”

I feel the division…and perhaps have for a very long time. There is “classical” music and “popular” music, and they are very different. But is it really always obvious which is which? Is one hard, the other easy, one satisfying, the other not? Is there ever a possility of reconciliation?

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