Beyond Representation: The Ethics of Music after Auschwitz in Adorno and Jankélévitch

Adi Nester


This article explores the relevance of music to philosophical debates surrounding the issues of Holocaust representation and art after Auschwitz. It focuses on the work of two philosophers, Theodor W. Adorno and Vladimir Jankélévitch, who have both written extensively on music and on the aftermath of the Holocaust, yet whose music philosophies have yet to be linked directly to problems of Holocaust representation issuing from their respective works. This article relies on recent scholarship that foregrounds affinities between Adorno’s and Jankélévitch’s music philosophies, specifically with regard to music’s ineffability— a unique relation towards representation, neither fully representing nor disavowing it—and the ethical stance that music’s ineffability yields for both thinkers. It argues that music’s ineffability serves both as a central model for contemplating problems of representation emerging from the Holocaust and the ‘after Auschwitz’ condition. The reading of Adorno’s and Jankélévitch’s works in tandem here also shows how Jankélévitch’s reflections on the concept of forgiveness—his own philosophical response to Auschwitz—articulate another problem of representation related to the Holocaust and can thus be included in the broader ‘after Auschwitz’ conversation. In conclusion, this article reflects briefly on possible implications of introducing music’s ineffability and ethics to discussions on Holocaust representation in music by focusing on recent studies that engage Adorno’s work and his critical responses to Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw. (AN)

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