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For better or worse, my rhymed verses are based on Theodor Adorno's "Golden Gate," a short chapter (or extended aphorism) from his book, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life. Adorno, a leading member of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, was a German philosopher, sociologist, psychologist and composer known for his critical theory of society (per Wikipedia). He was also known for disliking popular (as opposed to "serious") music: Writing in 1941, for example, he argues that "in Beethoven and in good serious music in general—we are not concerned here with bad serious music which may be as rigid and mechanical as popular music—the detail virtually contains the whole and leads to the exposition of the whole, while, at the same time, it is produced out of the conception of the whole. In popular music the relationship is fortuitous. The detail has no bearing on a wholes [sic], which appears as an extraneous framework. Thus, the whole is never altered by the individual event and therefore remains, as it were, aloof, imperturbable, and unnoticed throughout the piece. At the same time, the detail is mutilated by a device which it can never influence and alter, so that the detail remains inconsequential. A musical detail which is not permitted to develop becomes a caricature of its own potentialities."
So, apologies to the ghost of Adorno for creating rhymed verses out of his writings and setting them into a standardized popular framework in which "nothing fundamentally novel will be introduced." The "Golden Gate" section that I have excerpted from Minima Moralia stood out for me when I read the book, and I thought immediately that it would make a good "love song," sort of like a philosophical prequel to Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," which was recorded about 10 years later and covers much of the same ground, albeit without any of Adorno's introspection and analysis. Compare Sedaka's "Don't take your love away from me / Don't you leave my heart in misery / If you go then I'll be blue / 'Cause breaking up is hard to do" with Adorno's "Someone who has been offended, slighted, has an illumination as vivid as when agonizing pain lights up one's own body. He becomes aware that in the innermost blindness of love, that must remain oblivious, lives a demand not to be blinded," which I have re-translated as "He's been offended and slighted, his body feels lit up with agonizing pain / They say that love is oblivious, yet no one wants this blindness to remain."
The scholar Rei Terada has quite a bit to say about Adorno's complex portrayal of love in "Golden Gate" (see Looking Away: Phenomenality and Dissatisfaction, Kant to Adorno), e.g., that Adorno "contemplates the rights of the particular and universal as they inform the rights and judgments of love … The Kantian antagonism of Civilization and Its Discontents, that freedom is constrained by others' freedom, plays for erotic stakes in this aphorism, written in the language of rights and titles. The slighted lover has suffered an 'injustice [unrecht]' in love, but realizes that even from his own particular perspective, he wants the other to be free, since otherwise there would be no possible happiness. It's an instance in which the individual really does grasp the universal and the particular together—for reasons that are as interested as disinterested—and 'reject[s]' his own claim."
104. Golden Gate. — Dem Gekränkten, Zurückgesetzten geht etwas auf, so grell wie heftige Schmerzen den eigenen Leib beleuchten. Er erkennt, daß im Innersten der verblendeten Liebe, die nichts davon weiß und nichts wissen darf, die Forderung des Unverblendeten lebt. Ihm geschah unrecht; daraus leitet er den Anspruch des Rechts ab und muß ihn zugleich verwerfen, denn was er wünscht, kann nur aus Freiheit kommen. In solcher Not wird der Verstoßene zum Menschen. Wie Liebe unabdingbar das Allgemeine ans Besondere verrät, in dem allein jenem Ehre widerfährt, so wendet tödlich nun das Allgemeine als Autonomie des Nächsten sich gegen sie. Gerade die Versagung, in der das Allgemeine sich durchsetzte, erscheint dem Individuum als Ausgeschlossensein vom Allgemeinen; der Liebe verlor, weiß von allen sich verlassen, darum verschmäht er den Trost. In der Sinnlosigkeit des Entzuges bekommt er das Unwahre aller bloß individuellen Erfüllung zu spüren. Damit aber erwacht er zum paradoxen Bewußtsein des Allgemeinen: des unveräußerlichen und unklagbaren Menschenrechtes, von der Geliebten geliebt zu werden. Mit seiner auf keinen Titel und Anspruch gegründeten Bitte um Gewährung appelliert er an eine unbekannte Instanz, die aus Gnade ihm zuspricht, was ihm gehört und doch nicht gehört. Das Geheimnis der Gerechtigkeit in der Liebe ist die Aufhebung des Rechts, auf die Liebe mit sprachloser Gebärde deutet. »So muß übervorteilt / Albern doch überall sein die Liehe.«
104. Golden Gate. — Someone who has been offended, slighted, has an illumination as vivid as when agonizing pain lights up one's own body. He becomes aware that in the innermost blindness of love, that must remain oblivious, lives a demand not to be blinded. He was wronged; from this he deduces a claim to right and must at the same time reject it, for what he desires can only be given in freedom. In such distress he who is rebuffed becomes human. Just as love uncompromisingly betrays the general to the particular in which alone justice is done to the former, so now the general, as the autonomy of others, turns fatally against it. The very rebuttal through which the general has exerted its influence appears to the individual as exclusion from the general; he who has lost love knows himself deserted by all, and this is why he scorns consolation. In the senselessness of his deprivation he is made to feel the untruth of all merely individual fulfilment. But he thereby awakens to the paradoxical consciousness of generality: of the inalienable and unindictable human right to be loved by the beloved. With his plea, founded on no titles or claims, he appeals to an unknown court, which accords to him as grace what is his own and yet not his own. The secret of justice in love is the annulment of all rights, to which love mutely points. 'So forever cheated and foolish must love be.' [last quote is from Hölderlin's ode Tränen (Tears)]
Words and music © Jonathan Ochshorn 2019
So forever cheated and foolish must love be*
1. He's been offended and slighted, his body feels lit up with agonizing pain
They say that love is oblivious, yet no one wants this blindness to remain
He was wronged and deduces a claim to right, but all the same he must reject it
For only in freedom can what he most desires be effected
He who is rebuffed becomes human—when faced with such distress and isolation
2. As love betrays the general to the particular, in which—to the general alone—justice is done
So now the general—as the autonomy of others—turns against the loving one
The persuasive rebuttal made by the general infiltrates the mind
And appears to the individual as exclusion—from all of humankind
He who has lost love feels deserted—and this is why he scorns all consolation
3. Deprived without reason, the lie of individual fulfillment disturbs his restless night
Yet he awakes to the paradoxical consciousness of generality: love as human right
With his plea, founded on no titles or claims, he appeals to a court unknown
Which accords to him as grace what belongs to him and yet is not his own
Justice in love is the annulment of all rights—this is love's mute revelation
So forever cheated and foolish must love be*
* This line, as translated by Jephcott, is taken by Adorno from Hölderlin's ode Tränen (Tears)
Music arranged and produced by J. Ochshorn
Recorded with Logic Pro X software
Vocals: J. Ochshorn
Real instruments: J. Ochshorn (acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica)
Software instruments played live on midi keyboard: J. Ochshorn (drums and bass)
Recorded at home in Ithaca, NY, July 2019.
The tracks are done separately and sequentially, with the acoustic guitar played over the drum track. I made the video using Final Cut Pro, with me, my guitar, and my harmonica lip-syncing in front of a black drop cloth.
First posted 1 August 2019. Last updated: 1 August 2019