Desiring Machines: a Deleuzian social production lens on the Second Viennese School

The Search: Journal of New Music and Culture (Franklin Cox, Steven Takesugi, et al eds.) released its first book in 2011: The Second Century of New Music; the following is an excerpt of my opening chapter for that book. Other contributors include Larson Powell, Helmut Lachenman, Chaya Czernowin, and Brian Ferneyhough. Unfortunately, copies of the book sell for over $250 from Mellen Press, who prints it so rarely that the wait for delivery can be up to 6 months; they sell for anywhere from $500-700 on Amazon. I’ll be happy to share one of my two copies of the book with anyone who is interested.

The edited excerpt below, from my chapter, forms the basis for another work-in-progress, which is on music, rhetoric, and social production under “modernism”, that is, roughly in music from the dawn of radio broadcast in the 1890s, to the end of World War II. The project would span a variety of musical practices, including but not limited to popular musics in the West, Japan, and the Soviet Union, and would attempt to view “art” and “popular” musics without a priori distinction. The multi-author project would also ideally be legible to non-music theorists, and non-musicologists, reaching a range of artists and culture practicioners. [For the moment, some additional comments in brackets are interjected to annotate those elements in-progress.] 



Recent scholarship on Schoenberg’s early stylistic development—before the 1908 abandonment of tonal unity—emphasizes, and takes as a primary concern, his “idiosyncratic” tonal language (Haimo 1997 & 2006, Simms 2000). This view of Schoenberg’s Brahmsian/Wagnerian music helps some to explain the later shift to atonality as a product of highly personal drives; it makes atonality an end-point in an individual and eccentric compositional journey. We are challenged to reconcile this new sensibility with established views, voiced especially by T.W. Adorno and Carl Dahlhaus, that atonality was a product of powerful aesthetic teleologies in 19th-century music.

[In other words, we used to think of Schoenberg (especially with Adorno’s help)  as a product of “historical forces,” receiving a culmination of “problems” affecting Romantic music, and reacting to those problems in a nearly inevitable way, to create “atonality.” New musicologists would rather see Schoenberg as an individual, and, intentionally or not, to marginalize atonality from the rest of music history. My abstract continues:]

Moreover, both sides of the polemic are troublesome. The debate as a whole prioritizes harmonic language over other concerns in Schoenberg’s complex view of compositional practice, and of the social, representational world in which music is situated.

Critiquing bourgeois notions of identity and cultural production that emerge in early-twentieth century Vienna, Deleuze and Guattari (1983) arrive at a conception of subject that both mirrors the trajectory of Schoenberg’s harmonic language, and illuminates some of Schoenberg’s ambivalent writing on musical form. Deleuze and Guattari theorize hidden subjectivities that are the results of alternate or unexpected social coherences under early modern capitalism. Musical analyses likewise reveal that compositions of Schoenberg and Brahms, in stark contrast to earlier Romantic individuation and difference, display unexpected possibilities for the role of sameness or synthesis, emergent from within musical relationships of estrangement.

[I refer to Brahms above because Brahms’s deceptively conservative music contained, for Schoenberg, the seeds of a radical formal innovation called “developing variation.”]



I — Epistemologies of Schoenberg’s Atonality

Recent studies of Schoenberg’s early music have charted an idiosyncratic creative growth, minimizing the roles of history and culture in a unique path toward atonality. Composer-scholar Ethan Haimo[1] and musicologist Bryan Simms[2] have offered detailed evidence, from analysis and other testimony, that Schoenberg came gradually to the notion of freely treated dissonance, in a distinctive and personal way. In many ways their discoveries confirm the composer’s autobiographical accounts.[3] However, against Schoenberg’s view of his own work as the carrier of a historically inevitable transformation, these scholars have also pointed to eccentric or intellectually flawed motivations behind Schoenberg’s evolving musical language, setting him apart from the main thrust of modernism in music. By contrast, more established views expressed by Adorno,[4] Dahlhaus,[5] and others, grant Schoenberg a central role at a historical turning point. Late-romantic musical materials and values are said to produce powerful and inherent conceptual tensions, to which Schoenberg responded, leading toward a renewed and transformed approach to both harmony and development. There is a lot at stake here: if established voices have been wrong about the thrust of Schoenberg’s radicalism, then much of how we think about the last century of composition could be up-ended.

However, Schoenberg’s compositions and theoretical observations suggest more specific and exacting concerns, and a more complex relationship to history, than are implied by the sides of the current debate. For example, some of Schoenberg’s early music displays a deeper engagement with form and idea than with harmony. While his main shifts in harmonic language are obvious and radical, Schoenberg’s evolving approaches to musical ideas and their development seem to straddle those shifts, and suggest a more consistent, if elusive, overarching concern. By combining familiar historical claims, an important Deleuzian/Guattarian framework for social production and subjectivity, and some analytic observations, this essay will move toward a more precise sense of Schoenberg’s distinct notions of how musical wholes and musical ideas come into being: namely, that developmentally ambivalent relationships among a composition’s materials are essential to the full subjective realization of a musical idea.
Accepted terms and discourses in music theory do not easily approach this problem: taken by themselves, the terms associated with “subjectivity” in critical theory—cultural production, types of social or psychological representation, and even the notion of identity itself—seem unyielding to discussions of notes and aesthetic structures. A clearer notion of musical subjectivity would seem crucial then, as a starting place in the conversation. As distinct from the simpler notion of musical “subject”—denoting a theme or motive that initiates a traditional formal procedure—musical subjectivity might be thought of as a specific way of relating musical ideas to whole musical forms, with special emphasis on the sense of identity that music can acquire through that relationship. This definition offers a number of advantages. First, established discourse about Schoenberg’s music, including some of Schoenberg’s own writing, is significantly illuminated through a recognition that musical subjects are not always discrete objects, and need not always coalesce in stable, cohering, and melodic note sequences. Second, Schoenberg’s early developmental and formal innovations sometimes mirror the notions of cultural and historical subjectivity that have emerged in post- psychoanalytic and post-Marxist social theory. As carriers of identity for a musical work, traditionally “thematic” subjects and motives are joined, in Schoenberg’s work, by gestalts (Gestalten), and less obvious relations within a musical whole. These gestalts are both transformative, in that they are a large- scale determining force in a work’s more immediate and local materials, and transforming, in that gestalts can often only take shape retrospectively, in the “total apprehension” of a complete form.[6]

In Schoenberg’s early music, we can hear a dramatic shift away from the Romantics’ use of small melodic ideas to carry identity: traditional motives lose some of their familiar status as points of origin, or as invariant features across a developmental narrative. In place of that, a relational notion of a musical “subject-position” emerges, one that confirms Patricia Carpenter and Severine Neff’s suggestion that Schoenberg’s Idea is a “relation existing outside of time,” that “cannot be abstracted from the work.”[7] Carpenter and Neff have documented Schoenberg’s ways of rethinking the traditional implication of the term Gedanke (thought, or idea) as “motive,” by blurring it with the less concrete notion of Einfall—an idea that descends or emerges as a kind of inspired truth.[8] In contrast to Grundgestalt—a relatively stable “basic shape”—Gedanke is a term that seems to mean many things. In some of Schoenberg’s writing cited below, the term suggests displacement of traditional “motives” toward distinctly dependent and unstable roles, and hints at compositional procedures in which the musical idea is a dynamic relationship, rather than a tangible motivic object. This musical “thought” or idea can be an investment of identity, not into discrete motives or compact musical gestures, but into a relationship between estranged or apparently incompatible objects. In that synthesis, Schoenberg seems to suggest (both in writing and in music) the possibility that our listening processes are metaphors for subjective identity, and powerful models for human experiences of a subject’s relationship to an unfamiliar world or narrative.
Schoenberg is, however, a complex and sometimes ambiguous thinker in questions about musical development. Further clarity on Schoenberg’s early sense of the relationship between musical form and content is possible only through a juxtaposition of his familiar ideas with less familiar theoretical work on the social production of desire and identity. Through these lenses, the relationships between Schoenberg’s “path toward atonality,” and his early post-tonal procedures, acquire more particular and applicable meaning.


Simms, Haimo, and the ‘Re-discovery’ of Schoenberg’s Early Development

In the introduction and first chapter of The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg, 1908-1923, Bryan Simms shows us that Schoenberg’s creative development unfolds a series of tight correspondences between composition and theory: pedagogical assertions closely mirror his changing compositional approaches. From early in his career, whatever Schoenberg tells us about music applies strongly to his compositions from around the same time, while seeming conceptually distant from his earlier or later work. More than just loose aesthetic parallels, these connections suggest a composer dominated by an urgently evolving, yet highly isolated, internal thought process. Simms does acknowledge explanations, from Adorno and others, that Schoenberg’s revolution is part of a “resounding echo of…social antinomies,”[9] but he turns our attention primarily toward the tendencies of Schoenberg the individual.

Simms supports this overall impression with evidence from the Harmonielehre (1911), echoing Ethan Haimo’s apt hypothesis that “it is in Schoenberg’s conception of tonality that the most useful clues for the origins of atonality can be found.”[10] Both scholars carefully interpret the composer’s views on harmony, and connect them to specific compositional tendencies. In pedagogical examples of harmonic progressions, we find a “defective theory” that favors interchangeable “successions,” sometimes at the expense of determinate, cadence-directed progressions;[11] Schoenberg regards “vagrant chords” (including fairly conventional chromatic harmony) as fragmented suspensions of tonal thinking, rather than subordinate participants in a tonal structure.[12] Haimo’s analyses of the opus 6 songs and the opus 7 string quartet likewise reveal a composer uniquely predisposed against “progression”—against structurally functional, integrated tonal unity. For Haimo, these predispositions are part academic eccentricity, and part personal manifesto—Schoenberg’s evolution, he concludes, is “not so much the product of anonymous historical forces as it was the specific notion of a single thinker.”[13]

In related observations, Simms and Haimo both find fault in Schoenberg’s understanding of tonal progression, and Haimo suggests that atonality itself might be a product of those misunderstandings. Simms, in contrast to Haimo, is more concerned with the array of musical influences that prompted Schoenberg’s development toward unusual notions of harmonic coherence. Schoenberg’s shift away from key was indeed “a symptom of a larger historical evolution,”[14] [emphasis added] but not a necessary outcome of it; Simms asserts that without Schoenberg’s particular tendencies in the period around 1908, atonality as we now understand it through Webern, Messiaen, Boulez, and others, would be impossible.[15] Haimo likewise introduces his critical analysis of Schoenberg’s view of tonality by inviting us to wonder whether “without Arnold Schoenberg, we would have seen the emergence of music that we would define as atonal.”[16]

This line of argument draws some of its clarity from a basic taxonomy of practices Schoenberg’s intellectual development, independent of less explicit processes in the cultural production of value, meaning, and ideology. Any categorical study of evolving practices like dissonance treatment and chord progressions might be powerfully suggestive of an overall trend. (This is especially true if some of the data are drawn from pedagogical examples, whose purpose is to present ideas in a reductive and sometimes one-dimensional light.) Simms and Haimo take these taxonomies of broader pedagogical and analytical practice as evidence of an originating schism between incompatible ideas. We should not assume, however, that the ideas, aesthetics, and social forces that those practices accompany will yield to a similar teleological order. We might, for example, easily theorize a sense of direct opposition between inchoate harmonic “successions” found in the Harmonielehre, and the more directed progressions underlying Schenker’s (1910) Kontrapunkt, and then find that on the question of what those harmonies do, and how they fit into a notion of form, the distinction is less obvious or consistent.

Simms’ and Haimo’s observations also reflect shared but perhaps unacknowledged methodologies and values. Though their interests diverge in the details, both scholars are invested in a constant and meticulous chronology of Schoenberg’s writing and composing, and understandably attach more weight to the logic of that timeline, than have previous scholars. Incremental shifts in Schoenberg’s approach to tonal harmony help us chart his creative motivations, and seem more meaningful, perhaps, than some of the larger questions with which Schoenberg struggled over time. Haimo in particular further empowers these details with what seems to be a teleological view of musical innovation in general. Composers’ beliefs about music are considered the primary origins, or causes, of their practices—practices that, if successful, bring about larger subcultures of musical production. In the case of early Schoenberg, a uniquely loose understanding of tonal progression makes possible a related belief about harmonic coherence, from which atonal practices and literatures set forth. Both scholars suggest that Schoenberg’s decisions in this compositional practice were watershed moments for a later cultural notion—promulgated by Adorno, and post-war serialists—that atonality is driven by historical destiny. However, they attribute that culture of atonality not so much to latent tensions in the larger evolution of western harmony, or to inherent tensions in modern European culture, as to the influence of a compelling, if misguided, personality.

Adorno, Dahlhaus, and Schoenberg in a social context

Of course, the study of early Schoenberg has also been undertaken with a nearly opposite epistemology. It is possible to imagine that practices of harmony or style are byproducts of social and cultural drives; composers’ beliefs and thoughts could be consequences, rather than catalysts, in a chain of cultural production. The idea that composers respond to unconscious cultural demands is somewhat at odds with the positivism typical of musicology in Schoenberg’s own lifetime. Nevertheless, our more well established views of atonality follow this less tidy approach. As early as the late 1920s, critics have praised Schoenberg for producing a vital new classicism, whose only differences from the 18th-century model were his sensitivities to a new social reality. Schoenberg is said to have recapitulated the universals of Beethoven’s era directly into the particulars of early 20th-century culture.[17] For Adorno, Schoenberg’s revolution was not an invented shift in musical materials, but a socially driven reorganization of what music is for; he describes an aesthetic genesis that is at once a break from history, and a highly contingent historical development.[18] With more benefit of hindsight, Carl Dahlhaus’ view of early modern composition refines what Haimo might consider a musicology of “anonymous historical forces.” For Dahlhaus, the push toward atonality was reflective of a multifaceted late-Romantic arena in which cultural dispositions—surrounding musicians in general, as well as musical materials in particular—play strongly deterministic roles. Dahlhaus has understood Schoenberg’s early style as the modern outcome of problems in a Romantic “cult of genius.”[19] In this view, a struggle between divergent impulses in the late 19th century—post-Wagnerian individuation versus a subtler alternative “compositional economy”[20];are the crucial substrate of Schoenberg’s move toward atonality.

Anyone accustomed to these formulations could be drawn toward a possibly simplistic critique of Haimo, and possibly of Simms: that in their work, there is a confusion between what justifies atonality, in theory, and what motivates it, in practice. It would be easy for us to complain that whole musical cultures cannot be mere consequences of composers having dreamt them up, and that whatever composers dream, anyway, must be historically situated. To say that atonality started with Schoenberg “the man” only delays the question of what purposeful cultural product a new musical language might serve, or what cultural lack it might fulfill. In order for any theorist to discuss Schoenberg, in retrospect, as a point of origin for atonality, musicians and audiences first had to choose Schoenberg’s atonality as a point of reference. A certain population of thinkers and artists—however small—had to situate the opus 11 piano works and Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten at the centers of their musical lives.

Nevertheless, the early social histories of atonality are not incompatible with Simms’ and Haimo’s recent investigations of an individual’s role in compositional history. In Dahlhaus’ view of late 19th-century culture, an artist’s sensibility could be at odds with dominant cultural practices and the expectations of an audience, but still be an expression of the needs of the culture as a whole. A “dissociation from the prevailing spirit of the age”—far from resulting in a marginal position for musical experimentation—“on the contrary…enabled it to fulfill a spiritual, cultural, and ideological function of a magnitude that can hardly be exaggerated…”[21] A radical “individuated” late-Romantic musical language, a desire toward incoherence and separation, which tested audiences’ tolerance of non-functioning harmony and asymmetrical structures of phrase and rhythm, was thus a phenomenon at once both historically out-of-step with increasingly conservative audiences, and at the same time, driven by them. This “on the contrary” inflection, so crucial in Dahlhaus’ and Adorno’s notions of social space, already implies and incorporates our suspicions that free atonality was, at first, an individual’s capricious move. Dahlhaus’ claim here—echoing an earlier suggestion of Adorno’s[22]—is not merely that cultures produce a consensus of musical taste that radical artists will want to resist, but that the particular meaning of the socially dissociated individual in the late 19th century, is itself a unique construct of a historically situated audience. As the late-Romantic audience compulsively envisions dissent and historical rupture—either with longing or repulsion or both—early-modern splits from the main thrust of history are almost as much a directive of this “prevailing spirit,” as the object of that spirit’s fear and aversion. Yet this inflection—an inflection of alterity and subterfuge in outward cultural expressions—in the writing of Dahlhaus and Adorno, is at odds with predominant discourses in current music theory and music history, in part because the notion itself lacks a theoretical grounding.




II: Emergent subjects: “desiring-production” and musical form

Desiring-production as a model for (musical) subjectivity 

For Schoenberg the theorist, the fundamentals of how the musical “idea” relates to the musical whole seem to be constantly in flux. In relation to twelve-tone theory, for example, he sometimes invokes a grand organic vision, in which unities of small objects (such as set classes, chords, and other shapes) are responsible for sustained formal energy. Simms has found, in a discussion of the Schoenberg/Schenker polemic, that by 1939 Schoenberg had decided there was “only a single motive,” from which a work springs whole.[23] Carpenter and Neff similarly emphasize hierarchies of totality, in which music begins with the composer’s “single thought,”[24] or perhaps even just the latent forces of a single tone.[25] Large-scale coherence arises from a continuous extension of those possibilities. Nevertheless, in the same notebooks, Schoenberg derides the “sentimental poeticizing notion that a composition might arise from the motive as germ of the whole”[26] and his use of the term “organic” seems rare, and always hesitant. Schoenberg insists that his basic theory of idea and development “departs from the usual understanding of the motive as germ of the piece out of which it grows.”[27] Instead, we frequently find metaphors of desire, sexual identity,[28] architectures and machineries,[29] contrasted only ambiguously with bodily organs. He explains “developing variation” as a kind of horizontal counterpoint, in which “an opposing idea” must exist,[30] for music to fulfill its fuller and freer potential for difference and becoming. In contrast to Kurth’s and Schenker’s, Schoenberg’s writing related to the problem of musical subjectivity seems deeply invested in a breadth of possibilities, but is therefore often contradictory, or perhaps radically ambivalent.

Fortunately, in recent decades, a more abundant theoretical discourse has evolved, toward a more elaborate account of the social and aesthetic processes of subjectivity.  The concept of “desiring-production” in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, is particularly important tool in the inquiry at hand, because their examples of identity and subjectivity upon which Deleuze and Guattari draw, are grounded in the early-twentieth century culture, and in particular the Viennese culture, that Schoenberg shared. Because their conception of “social production” is broadly conceived to unify discourses and problems in several disciplines, it is important that energy be devoted here to a selective discussion of their model.

Deleuze and Guattari conceive of desiring-production as an inclusive hybrid of familiar productive forces, including individual experiences of psychological drive (for them, a simultaneous reinvention and critique of the psychoanalytic concept of the same name) and the social forces that influence material and social production[31] (a similar reinvention and critique of Marxist economic theory). This conception is especially germane here, in that their initial examples of desiring-production—as it responds to modern “late-capitalist” social conditions of late 19th- and early early-20th-century Europe—bear a close resemblance to what Haimo finds out-of-sorts in Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre. Deleuze and Guattari invoke the early industrial-era phenomenon of bricolage: a tinker’s assembly of amorphous collections of metal and junk, oblivious to the materials’ original purposes in industrial machinery. Bricolage thus involves the re-appropriation of familiar materials, into a chaotic assemblage that deviates from those materials’ expected purposes.[32] Just as Adorno attributed Schoenberg’s quickly shifting harmonic vocabulary to the excess and extravagance of bourgeois Vienna and Paris, Deleuze and Guattari point to bricolage as a response to capitalist excess, and in particular, the broadly schizoid tendencies of desire in a state of excess, where “everything functions at the same time, but amid hiatuses and ruptures…distances and fragmentations, within a sum that never succeeds in bringing its various parts together so as to form a whole.”[33] If we consider this notion of bricolage along with the two strains of Schoenberg scholarship outlined above, then the semi-arbitrary assemblies of harmonic function in the Harmonielehre might be easily imagined as part of a larger post-industrial fluctuation in systems of aesthetic value.

In total, desiring-production is a force that can be traced—in individuals, social groups, and traditions—along a path of forceful movement between two poles: a paranoiac pole and a schizoid pole. The paranoiac is an institutional (and generally Oedipal) order of subjugation, which articulates itself through differences and distances, essentially territorializing its identity: in part, it becomes what it is through an assertion of what it isn’t. The more elusive schizoid pole is imagined as state of “molecular” dissolution—of which bricolage, and any other energetic expression of inchoate dissolution and overlap, might merely count as preliminary hints. This dissolution is a state in which subject-groups “multiply and connect in ever new ways, freeing up territorialities,” making available new sites, and new kinds of relation, for the productive work of desire.[34]

To serve the analyses in this paper, it will be necessary to narrow our discussion of “desiring-production” considerably, avoiding many of the categories and terms[35] that support the broader Deleuzian/Guattarian argument. Nevertheless, their core discussion of this pathway between paranoiac and schizoid cultural forces is articulated in three stages—connective, disjunctive, and conjunctive—that both mirror the aesthetic problems with which Schoenberg struggles musically, and offer theoretical support for Adorno’s and Dahlhaus’ more speculative interpretations of Schoenberg’s development.


Three stages of social production

Social production—just one of the “regimes” of desiring-production—informs Deleuzian/Guattarian subjectivity in three interrelated stages: a connective, a disjunctive, and a conjunctive stage,[36] each of which can be connected hypothetically to current questions about atonality’s pre-history. The first stage is the production of a connective synthesis: a friction or conflict of motion that alternately pulls/presses desire and its object apart and together. This connective synthesis is a fundamentally diachronic mode of production, resembling traditional understanding of pitch-interval interactions: whether between consonance and dissonance, or desire and its object, tension propels production from one state to the next in a succession, or toward larger-scale resolutions and completions.[37] The second stage, a disjunctive synthesis, is a “folding-back-upon” (“se rabat sur”), in which simultaneously produced resistances and attractions are inscribed or “recorded” upon one another, producing a system of persisting cultural meaning and signification. In Deleuzian/Guattarian social production, this stage synthesizes and unifies artificial conceptions of the drive that are usually binary: resistance or attraction, value or devaluation. The way one force comes to represent another, or replace another, seems at least potentially to be an expansion on, or liberation from, the popular notions that we might categorize as connective synthesis. Consider that conventional wisdom sometimes takes small tensions to be embedded in hierarchies, and reflected in larger spaces, so that, for example, individual human desires are mimicked at the level of social forces. (Or perhaps that note-to-note interactions of consonance and dissonance are mimicked at the level of long-range voice-leading, or thematic development.) Yet in these “either-or” disjunctions of scale, a paradox of repetition is produced, in which a re-expression of an existing value, the appearance of the already-known, neutralizes the value, or force, that it meant to express.[38] Contrary to the organic hope for a blossoming system of linked vectors, disjunctive synthesis involves a “folding back” of one association upon another, and flattens or simplifies the complexity of their originating forces. Thus the disjunctive stage of social production turns what was a complex friction into an economical singularity: the social does not mirror the individual, or vice versa, but instead replaces it, and renders it mute.

Through these first two stages, production of any kind—capitalist production, the production of desire, the production of values, aesthetics, social codes—is transformed into an order of social production that inscribes, codifies and determines the ways that desire is valued or expressed. Crucially, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that through the paradox of the disjunctive synthesis, subjects will inevitably fail in negotiations between stereotypical fin-de-siècle categories of mental health: paranoia is converted into a kind of cultural productivity, while schizoid tendencies are institutionalized and repressed. However, in invocations of the third of these productive interactions—a “conjunctive” relation produced “in and through” the first two stages—Deleuze and Guattari afford production itself with the potential status of “something on the order of a subject.”[39] Through this conjunctive synthesis, the schizoid subject has a chance to escape the poles of paranoia and institutionalized schizophrenia, fulfilling its more basically revolutionary impulses: a conjoined, trans-social subject, reunited with an ambivalent, ambulatory, and deterritorializing force of desire.

Deleuze and Guattari argued for “something on the order of a subject” emerging, finally, in the productive relationship between individual drives and the three stages of social production. To illuminate that subjectivity, Deleuze and Guattari distinguish their stages of social production with shorthand notations—the connective synthesis: “and…” “and then…”;[40] the disjunctive: “either…or…or”;[41] and conjunctive (the revelation of the revolutionary subject, or the patient on the verge of a cure): “so its ___ !” It is perhaps a little too crude to associate these stages with the Oedipal legacies beneath Dahlhaus’ view of Schoenberg: an individuated, Wagnerian conception of form associated with a Meyerian or Narmourian “connective” process of accumulating memory; a Brahmsian developing variation associated with the “disjunctive” process of synchronic cultural and historical unities. Yet for Deleuze and Guattari, the inadequacy of the binary metaphor is exactly the point: there is only a false, superficial distinction between these two modes of desiring-production. As desiring production expands into larger structural relationships of economies and cultural mores (or perhaps as we listen with an ear toward a musical whole), the content of desire itself “falls [or folds] back upon” (“se rabat sur”) the construction and inscription of identity, into large, bygone, and static spaces. Schoenberg’s music often seems to press us into those static regions of musical experience, which act as the real ideas of the piece: in place of motives, we might search for relationships that act as points of departure, making possible an illusion of infinite temporal conjunction. The emergence of this conjunctive productivity, this “something like a subject,” in fact, depends upon a conjunctive synthesis: a “so-its___!” denouement that is produced in an ambivalent movement between connective (“and…” “and then…”) and disjunctive (“either…or…or…”) modes of production.

Those already familiar with Dahlhaus’ studies of developing variation might recognize its features here: a sense of a subject that emerges from a “technique of introducing motifs or themes without any initial substantive connection between them, and then drawing them closer together.”[42]  As analytical examples will demonstrate below, the kind of music that inspires Dahlhaus’ discussion involves developmental procedures that begin with separations, or even disorientations, between ideas, and then pass over the idealized frictions of classically “contrasting” themes, to find unexpected syntheses and interdependencies, between ideas that first seemed estranged. Schoenberg’s music and thought often seems to be motivated not only by the possibility of a “conjunctive synthesis,” but also by its historical and methodological necessity. In order to give more explicit terms to its necessity, the connective and disjunctive stages of social production need to be understood more explicitly in relation to the genesis of Schoenberg’s language.


Connective synthesis and harmonic transformation

The “connective” stage of desiring-production applies in interesting and direct ways to the role of Schoenberg’s treatment of tonal harmonic progression in conventional histories of atonality. Deleuze and Guattari begin their discussion of the connective synthesis by refuting the idea, common in 19th-century developmental psychological theory, that “the drive” can be meaningfully localized or reduced to the workings of an individual’s enclosed mind. In early (pre-Freudian) notions of psychological development and psychosis, abnormalities of human behavior are viewed as individuals’ responses to repression or trauma—responses that place social and individual needs out of balance with one another.[43] Critiquing this repression/symptom binary, Deleuze and Guattari suggest partial, interrupted symptoms of a more complex and broadly repressive social reality that productively redefine those neurotic tendencies. Thus, instead of misdirected individual drives, conditions like paranoia and schizophrenia are reconceived large-scale social forces.[44] Through the artificial, institutionalized process of diagnosis, social production is falsely localized, and immobilized: the diagnosis leaves just a protrusion of the individual’s condition, severed (or perhaps seen selectively, like the tip of an iceberg) to exclude an otherwise evolving, floating massif of process and production. Deleuze and Guattari quip that this conventional notion of human development “castrates the unconscious,” leaving a barren “id” as the only visible “whole” individual, ignoring a cathexis that occurs on a larger cultural and historical scale.[45] At this larger level of production, the patient is therefore not a psychotic whose desire is mal-adjusted, and not simply an individual channel of expression for a misguided or repressive social cue, but a kind of hyper-productive agent in the tense interactions of individual and social desire. Deleuze and Guattari suggest that in the diachronic history of “schizzes and breaks” (ruptures of imposed cultural orders, and artificial unities), we are always seeing the production of an individual illness. Meanwhile, beneath such ruptures, we often detect a much more coherent social force, a kind of smooth and inevitable line of escape.

Some of the workings of this kind of conflict are evident in the “eccentricity” of the Harmonielehre: a schizoid impulse toward breaches, and smoother creative “flows” away from stylistic institutions. Dahlhaus’ suggests that Schoenberg’s “dissociation from the prevailing spirit of the age” was precisely what the spirit of the age demanded, while Simms invokes a “defective” and personal theory of phrase structure: Schoenberg, a mild schizophrenic, is “faced with an enriched harmonic language” that he cannot deploy to the purpose of proper phrase or sentence unity.[46] Haimo’s analyses describe a shattered language of musical elements that cannot be brought together, he is substantially concerned with an apparent penchant for “progressions that express no functionally integrated, tonic-defining structure.”[47] For both scholars, Schoenberg displays an incongruity of juxtaposed forces—arbitrary pairings of harmonic successions with cadences, mere simulations of tonality, lacking tonality’s sense of origin and teleology. This incongruity propels a kind of alarming thrust away from the “real” nature of tonal processes, and toward what appears to be a highly exceptional and out-of-step harmonic world. 

Dahlhaus’ description of the “esoteric” in late-Romantic culture, by contrast, suggests that Schoenberg’s post-tonal assemblages—perhaps examples of bricolage—are more than just a misguided break from accepted norms. It could be said, in fact, that Schoenberg’s dissent specifically rises to meet the needs of a resistant mainstream culture: the needs of a culture preoccupied with the alienation of artists from the mainstream. Even in the midst of its own resistance, the inertia of a traditional musical taste can be understood as a progressive and productive force; we could hypothesize that Schoenberg’s broken sense of harmony and harmonic succession is a surface expression of something much larger. For Dahlhaus, this “much larger” force is in fact a specific interplay of historical trajectories: the late-Romantic crisis in the meanings of musical forms; and it is a crisis that Schoenberg and his teacher Zemlinsky found themselves constantly embracing and renegotiating. The German ethos that Carl Dahlhaus has described as a “cult of genius,”[48] manifested in the polemics of Brahms and Wagner, exerts a strong pressure on Schoenberg’s tonal songs that precede the decisive move to atonality in Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten. However, the first aspect of these polemical pressures that motivates Schoenberg’s bricolage is what Dahlhaus situates as the “Wagnerian” side:  in which the identities of musical wholes trend toward “individuated form.”

Individuation, as Dahlhaus relates it to us, incorporates two important aspects. The first is that ever-smaller melodic materials are responsible for ever-larger formal consequences—this aspect is typified in Wagner’s view of Beethoven’s 5th symphony Allegro as a sublime individuation of a “pregnant and implicitous” pair of four-note gestures. (When Romantics spoke of Beethoven’s accomplishments, few examples drew more attention than the notion that a short two-part tonal sequence could be sufficient gestation for a grand symphonic destiny.[27]) The implications of this view in turn support a second aspect of individuation. When distinct and recognizable motivic signifiers are judged for their seed-like capacity to produce lengthier formal implications, they likewise require a minimization of “periphrasis,”[28] that form-building material derived from something apparently external to a basic originating shape. In the late orchestral music of Liszt, the mature language of Strauss, Dahlhaus shows that periphrasis—manifested as rooted diatonic sequences and cadential formulae—are stylistically devalued. This devaluation is itself a force in “musical subjectivity.” In Wagnerian “musical prose,” a musical form is a thing of the immediate future, given to a listener only by forces set in motion by the work’s initial developmental origins. By contrast, the immediate past, in that compositional space, is an abyss to escape; redundancy of material within a piece, or even in relation to a more distant musical past, was—in this “cult” of perpetual originality—a formal liability. And yet, when prose transcends its wandering sensibility and approaches the cultic ideal of individuation, there are hopes for an expressive unity, founded in its own unrelenting teleology: everything in the present seems to re-synthesize its relationship to an evolving incompleteness.



[A complete bibliography of the original paper is in the comments.]

Notes for I: Epistemologies of Schoenberg’s Atonality

[1] See Ethan Haimo, “Schoenberg and the Origins of Atonality,” in Constructive Dissonance: Arnold Schoenberg and the Transformations of Twentieth-Century Culture, ed. Juliane Brand and Christopher Hailey (Berkeley: University of California, 1997) and ibid., Schoenberg’s Transformation of Musical Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 71-84.

  [2] See chapters 1 and 2 of Bryan Simms, The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg (New York: Oxford, 2000), pp. 3-28.

[3] Arnold Schoenberg, “My Evolution” [1949] in Style and Idea (Los Angeles: University of California, 1985), pp. 79-91. See also autobiographical perspectives in his “How One Becomes Lonely” [1937], 30-52, in Style and Idea (Los Angeles: University of California, 1985).
[4] See for example Theodor Adorno, “Einsamkeit als Stil” (“Loneliness as Style”), in Philosophie Der Neuen Musik (Frankfurt: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1958 [1948]), pp. 49-51; and ibid., “Vienna” [1963], in Quasi una Fantasia. Rodney Livingstone, trans. (London: Verso, 1998), pp. 201-224.

[5] See especially Carl Dahlhaus, “Issues in Composition,” in Between Romanticism and Modernism: Four Studies in the Music of the Later Nineteenth Century, trans. Mary Whitall (Berkeley: University of California, 1980), pp. 40-78, and “Schoenberg’s Aesthetic Theology,” inSchoenberg and the New Music, trans. Derrick Puffett and Alfred Clayton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 83-91.

[6] Patricia Carpenter and Severine Neff, “Critical Commentary,” in The Musical Idea: the Logic, Technique, and Art of its Presentation, 2nd ed., by Arnold Schoenberg [1923-1934, unfinished], ed. by Carpenter and Neff (Bloomington: Indiana University, 2006), p. 17.

[7] Ibid., pp. 16-17, 21.

[8] Ibid., p. 17.

[9] Simms, Atonal Music, p. 4.
[10] Haimo, “Origins of Atonality,” p. 73.
[11] Simms, Atonal Music, p. 11.
[12] Ibid., p. 13.
[13] Haimo, “Origins of Atonality,” pp. 71, 76-82.


[14] Simms, Atonal Music, p. 7.
[15] Ibid., p. 6.
[16] Haimo, “Origins of Atonality,” pp. 71, 74. See also Simms, Atonal Music, pp. 6-7.

[17] See for example Kurt Westphal, Die moderne Musik (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1928), p. 89.
[18] Adorno, “Totale Durchführung,” in Philosophie Der Neuen Music, pp. 58, 59-60.
[19] Dahlhaus, “Issues in Composition,” pp. 40-78. A range of compositional responses to a Romantic “cult of genius” is displayed in detail, as the varying requirement to generate large-scale forms through expansions of the role of sequence and variation (pp. 45-51), and a re- conceptualization (through “individualization”) of harmony (pp. 71-74).
[20] Ibid., p. 49.


[21] Dahlhaus, “Neo-romanticism,” in Between Romanticism and Modernism, p. 5.
[22] Adorno, “Einsamkeit als Stil,” p. 50. Adorno maintains that expressionism and the diverse eccentricities and resistances that strain tonality were in fact “universal” in their cultural contexts, in that they reflected new alienation and the modern city, in which “anxiety emancipates itself from the bourgeois taboos on expression.” (“Die Angst…hat in den expressionistischen Protokolloen von den bürgerlichen Ausdruckstabus sich emanzipiert.”) In “Schoenberg and the Audience,” (in Schoenberg and His World, ed. by Walter Frisch [Princeton: Princeton University Press,1999) Leon Botstein emphasizes that “Viennese audiences were not inherently reactionary…or hostile to the new,” as some have claimed; their being in fact “all to eager for the modern” is understood here as an aspect Schoenberg’s complex relationship with his public (p. 32).

Notes for II: Emergent subjects: “desiring-production” and musical form

[23] Bryan Simms, “New Documents in the Schoenberg/Schenker Polemic,” in Perspectives of New Music 16 (1977), pp. 110-24.

[24] Carpenter and Neff, “Commentary” : “Comprehensibility and Coherence,” in The Musical Idea and the Logic, Technique, and Art of Its Presentation, 2nd ed., by Arnold Schoenberg, ed. and trans. by Patricia Carpenter and Severine Neff (Bloomington: Indiana, 2006), p. 21.

[25] Ibid., p. 20.

[26] Arnold Schoenberg, “Idea,” in ibid., p. 99 [pages dated 1936].

[28] See Schoenberg, “Linear Counterpoint,” in Style and Idea, p. 288, in which subject and object are related tentatively to masculine and feminine positions in a narrative.

[29] Carpenter and Neff, eds., Schoenberg’s The Musical Idea…, pp. 103-104.

[30] Schoenberg, “Linear Counterpoint,” p. 288.

[31] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1983 (Originally published as L’Anti-Oedipe [Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1972]), pp. 7, 10-12.

See ibid., pp. 10-12, 70-72, and 73 for preliminary discussion of the connective synthesis of “producing production”; see pp. 12, 16-17, and 75-79 for the disjunctive synthesis of “production of recording”; and pp. 16-17, 18, 20, 32, and 84-85 for the conjunctive synthesis of “production of consumption.” The three concepts are reiterated and developed frequently, and summarized, by way of introduction to schizoanalysis, on pp. 110-112.

[39] Ibid., pp. 16, 18-20.

[40] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, pp. 5, 68-69.

[41] Ibid., pp. 12, 75-76.

[42] Carl Dahlhaus, Schoenberg and the New Music, p. 133.

[46] Simms, Atonal Music, p. 13.

[47] Haimo, “The Origins of Atonality,” p. 75.

[48] Carl Dahlhaus, “Issues in composition,” pp. 42, 53.

[49] Ibid., pp. 41-42.