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The Half-Tune of Political Speech: Palin’s Song

Found over at Infinite Thought, who asks under the title aaargh! dissonance! modernity! politics!,“What would Adorno make of this?” Adorno tells us, in his Kantian flavor, “Insofar as a social function can be predicated for artworks, it is their functionlessness”. So what are we to make of this Palin Aesthetic Object. Let is bring to bear Adorno’s description of the utopian urge, the image of a child sitting at a piano:

“searching for a chord never previously heard. This chord, however, was always there; the possible combinations are limited and actually everything that can be played on it is implicitly given in the keyboard. The new is the longing for the new, not the new itself”

Is this not how Palin’s piano searching sounds? We want to be unkind to her (her apparent horrific incompetence, clearly she is glancing down at notes), and equally unkind to those that are so charmed by her (so simple minded they must be, or so blindly forgiving we want to say), but one really has to engage the richness of the phenomena, in order to grasp its full power and potentiality. Leaving aside Adorno’s direct objectives, what if we aesthetically take her admittedly nervous leaps between cliches as a utopian search for the new, the sense that amid the fractured half-tunes of ideological buttressing, buried beside the “dissonance” of trite, chord to chord hops is the fumbling for the new, the chord that has not been played.

I ask this not because I wish to be kind to Palin, but to address the “music” that this piece brings out, to exact its moral force. As much as one might cringe repeatedly over this interview, it was also a kind of music to some. As she fumbled, or strained, others felt the same, an affinity.

One can take an interpretive tact at the level of content. One can say that Palin here was rummaging through bankrupt ideas, dealing only with the broken shells of eggs and no yolks. If she only she had IDEAS, a comprehension of what she was saying and not just slogans she would be saying something meaningful. But I contend, given that she is not saying something “meaningful” this does not mean that her tuneful act itself was not meaningful. It forms an aesthetic object. There is no doubt, I feel, that Palin’s candidacy, in mirror to Obama’s, was utopian, and in some sense sub-ideological. Tina Fey’s portrayal did much to break the ideological spell, but in so doing obscured something of the power of the aesthetic form of the Palin performance, the way that it enacted the dissonance that comes as we strain for new sense within the old keyboard.

I suggest a non-oppositional reading of her “song”.

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