Treating the question of aesthetic form, Adorno notes that the iconoclastic and aleatoric approaches of the musical avant-garde after the Second World War were confronted with a fundamental problem, namely how to end. The structure of the sonata or the symphony offer cues as to when and how a piece is to be finished, whereas their (seemingly) unstructured counterparts will die away either when the composer is bored of playing around or will get stuck in a loop that he cheaply rounds up with a fade-out. We’ve been taught the same in regard to the essay or writing stories in school; if you don’t have an at least vague idea of the totality, you will know neither where to start nor where to bring it all to an end.
So, are we left with this opposition? On the one hand a structure that develops itself and then concludes with surety of a syllogism, and on the other an infinite chaos of random novelty that cannot be satisfactorily circumscribed by structural necessities of ‘beginning’, ‘end’ and so on?
This opposition seems poorly posed. Everywhere we look are structures and novelties; novelties becoming patterned and structures glitching under the weight of new inputs and forces. The temptation is to think of this interplay like a house and its termites. But thought like this, the ‘unstructured’ element that ‘nibbles away’ at the clean striations of organization can’t be grasped at all. An abode is not shared with termites (as in ‘we just live in what they eat’), but assaulted and undermined by them, as if from an unknowable ‘outside’. They are completely negative and exterior. What is needful is to think these negative exteriorities as positive internal — or somehow internalized — features of the structures themselves, even if that means coming to grips with the facts that wooden beams always-already form an alliance with their entomological diners, and our putting them in neat rows into the earth.
But this is not the end of it, as we’re still looking for a beginning, for ways of welcoming our new hungry roommates (novelty) into the home that we have furnished so cautiously (structure). Hegel’s synthesis was a neat way to accommodate for new elements, but it was soon criticized for being static and essentially violent. For of course, if you’ll allow us to ride the metaphor to death, the termites and the house will never form a harmonious unity, as we will perpetually be busy preventing the collapse of our poor abode, ourselves forced to add novelty to the structure due to the novelty’s novelty that simply resists incorporation. The placid interpretation of the vermin will, paradoxically, violently tame novelty itself. Structures have long since acknowledged the irreducible outside, but the intention was always to get them under control. Fixing of the names, taxonomies, and essences. A leveling. This is to repeat the tired dualism of chaos and order, and, invariably, choose the losing side.
What’s needful is a thought that is blind to this duality, a novel play of structure. After all, the precise problem with termites is their staggering organization, and the problem with wooden houses is that, well, they’re built out of vegetable fibers…