Vol. XXIX , #2 Herman Melville's ; or The Whale
Edited by Damion Searls
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Adorno's Noise, by Carla Harryman
Reviewed by Kass Fleisher
Essay Press, 2008. 181 pp. Paper: $14.95.
Carla Harryman's Adorno is the Adorno of negative dialectics, but is not: is also Adorno, composer and music critic, he who said that poetry should end at Auschwitz, but then said not: "the tortured have [the right] to scream." Harryman begins her howling prose piece with a collision of word and tone: "A might be an abbreviation. . . . It may insinuate itself into a frequency or the touch of A."; she then crashes non-identity into the individual: "The person had revealed something at a vulnerable moment and now that thing is known to be what goes on in the person's head. . . . [I]t grew out of proportion to the language . . . and now it is mushrooming." Invoking the Latin root of “noise” (nausea), she articulates her concern thusly: “. . . we have been known to get sick of . . . our own subjectivity.” But as Adorno wrote, humans will be liberated not by reason, but by not “always-the-same” art, a language/music “praxis,” as Bruce Andrews put it, that expresses meaningful dissonance. Thus the backbone of this work obliterates the hierarchy of pitches, thereby obliterating hierarchy and out-Adorno-ing Adorno. “Beware of Seeking out the Mighty” does Adorno’s gap between identity and false identity with a diatribe structured as a negative series of positives. “[I]n writing a poem she is not writing a novel in writing a novel she is not writing an essay in writing an essay she is not writing a diatribe.” The beauty of this piece—its dissonance—resides in selection/serialization of juxtaposition (“amending [a] statement” follows “crossing a river” follows “taking dictation” follows “punctuating time”); but also in asymmetrical sound, a refusal to scan “well.” This narrator is/is not filching, repellent, basking in the sunlight in the aftermath of a natural disaster, creating social anarchy, drowning in sorrow—and writing a novel. To understate, then, this expression of Adorno’s atonality is doing what the great man only said.