I’ve been slacking on updating the blog, mostly because I’ve been trying to focus on my diss and a few other projects. I’ve at least had time to write a sketch for the theoretical section that will eventually appear in my diss introduction. At least, in some heavily modified form, I’d imagine. I’ll have to tweak it to make it workable as an intro, since I don’t talk here about punk, my chapter plan, or anything else. I’m also toying with the idea of turning it into a more general methodological essay down the road (which will require reorganizing and expanding, adding examples from outside of punk, etc.).

My dissertation is about 1970s New York punk (the Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Blondie, and others). It takes its cue from what I see as the aporetic status of punk in the popular and scholarly world. On the one hand, punk is seemingly self-evident as a genre, three-chord rock that sonifies urban grit and grime. On the other hand, it is a genre that is curiously diffuse from a stylistic and philosophical standpoint, and has inspired a great deal of conflicting accounts of what it is all about. It’s hard for any given narrative about punk – as anarchic noise, as retro rock, as deconstructive postmodern avant-garde, etc. – to gather up the Sex Pistols, Blondie, Patti Smith, and Suicide (let alone explain how those earlier artists link up to later groups like Bad Brains, Green Day, and Pussy Riot).

Thinking about this led me back toward genre theory, a topic I used to be fairly interested in as a more general musical/analytic question. In attempting to unravel punk’s puzzling status, I started thinking more about what genres are, how they work musically and conceptually, and where their identity really lies (In sound? In style? In people’s imaginations?). I started to link this up to my more general interest in historical materialist philosophy (which I explain a bit more about below). It occurred to me that some of genre’s more evasive aspects start to look clearer when linked up to historical materialist philosophy. Essentially, I started by thinking about how genres fall into the fuzzy space between a.) ideas, the strictly imagined and invented kind of thinking about genre that stresses its ideological rather than sonic characteristics, and b.) musical material, which often, especially in talk about punk, gets reduced to mere musical similarity (eg. I-IV-V progressions, feedback, etc.). This is a first attempt at articulating an account of what that space is.

Genre & Historical Materialism

At the core of my account is the idea of historical materialism. Simply put by the philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya, historical materialism hinges on “the unity of theory and practice.”1 The central question guiding this line of inquiry concerns the troubled relationship between a.) the domain of material life, including not just production and reproduction of human life but more broadly, the patterns and activities humans engage in socially, and b.) the domain of thought, the intellectual activities through which human beings exchange with each other and make sense of their world. Historical materialism names not only the set of concepts and ways of thinking about this, but also a tradition concerned with this problematic. This links a range of philosophical and political projects, most centrally in three key moments: 1.) German philosophy of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries, especially the idealism of Kant and Hegel 2.) Marxian thought proper and its many instantiations in political theory (Leninism, Maoism, etc.), and 3.) the many traditions that engage with Marx during the twentieth-and twenty-first-centuries: the Frankfurt School, Black radical thought, Marxist-feminism, and so on.2

Historical materialism regards the linking of thought and activity as a necessary one, but also a problematic one. It is easy to argue that we should take seriously both intellectual and political activity (as I would), but it’s important to remember that people usually don’t. Take for example, the relationship between academic musicology and social movements. While we’d all love to believe our discipline can contribute to real-world change, I’m sure I’m not alone in recognizing that, minimally, it doesn’t always do so.

The philosopher Gillian Rose argues that historical materialism be thought of aporetically, “as stressing the gap between theory and practice, which strain towards each other.”3 It thus names the fraught effort to unite the two spheres, to bend thought toward activity and live in a way that is more in accordance with our notions of the good. This is why music has a special place in discussions of historical materialism. Like human sociality more generally, music exists in a blurry space between its material constitution and its entanglement in ideas, that complex collection of values, categories, and concepts that we use to engage with music. Music is, on the one hand, an object. It is sensuous thing, what we call sound. On the other hand, music is an idea. The term music functions as a placeholder, one which often far exceeds the thing it stands in for. Music is about meaning, feelings, culture at large. Sometimes, it feels like it is about anything but music. This gives it a dual identity. It is an idea grafted onto sound. And this graft rarely takes. Music is unstable because these two identities make competing claims, ones that are seldom reconciled. I would allege (contentiously and in a way that can’t possibly be defended here), that the history of music studies has largely been a series of figures on this untenable relationship.

Genre plays a special role in this conversation because it sits at the intersection of music as cultural practice and music as sound. Let me formalize a bit more clearly what I mean when I refer to genre before I expand on that. In the loosest sense, genre refers to the material and conceptual elements that link texts of various kinds, what I’ll refer to hereafter as “norms.”4 As the genre theorist John Frow writes, genre in its most general refers to “a set of conventional and highly organized constraints on the production and interpretation of meaning.”5 In other words, genre refers to the categories that musicians and audiences use to negotiate musical practices. Such practices not only include the standard categories of musical works, novels, and films (areas where the term most often appears), but also non-artistic practices: there are genres of academic writing, newspaper articles, blogposts, official discourse like emails and announcements, even everyday speech acts. Categories saturate our lives; as Jason Toynbee suggests, few things escape the “inevitability of genre.”6

This is not because rules abound in some mythically ordered universe, but because we depend on relationships between texts in order to find them meaningful. Indeed, constraints should not only suggest restrictions (a partial reason for my preference of the term norms, about which I’ll say more below). Really, as David Brackett writes, genre enables meaning:

It is a condition of the legibility of a text that a listener can place it in the context of a genre, that is, in the context of how sounds, lyrics, images, performer personae, musical rhetoric, and a generic label (among other things) can be related. In order for this to occur, texts must cite or refer to generic conventions that predate them.7

Genre is not a set of rules one must follow, or even a set of optional codes that one can choose to ignore. Rather, genre is a space for understanding continuity and transgression, endorsement and rejection, the love of tradition and the desecration of what is sacred.

Given this, genre theory becomes of particular interest from the standpoint of historical materialism. We simply cannot bypass the tense relationship between musical concepts and practices in discussing genre. Genre theory partially concerns rules and categories, the most abstract of abstractions. But its purchase, if it has any, lies is in its attentiveness to those most immediate senses we have when we listen to something and think, “this sounds like…” Genre is the term that bridges the gap between music’s status as something interpreted and something heard, between its status as thing and concept.

Genre as Idea

Despite this, materialism has played a rather limited role in the genre theory of recent years. Rather, I would argue that to the contrary, an idealist tradition has dominated thought about genre. The distinction between materialism and idealism is best understood in the context of Marx’s critique of German philosophy. Throughout his career, Marx challenged the abstraction that guided philosophy to privilege grand ideas over lived experience. He called for a new form of thought rooted in the conditions of daily life. This was a point developed extensively in his 1846 text German Ideology, co-authored with Frederick Engels. The text took the form of a lengthy critique of Hegel and his liberal disciples (the so-called Young Hegelians), who Marx saw as the dominant figures in philosophy in his time. Marx condemned the way Hegelian categories continued to lord over a philosophical practice that ostensibly was in the service of progressive causes:

Since according to their fantasy, the relations of people, all their doings, their fetters and their limitations are products of their consciousness, the Young Hegelians put to them the moral postulate of exchanging their present consciousness for human, critical or egoistic consciousness, and thus of removing their limitations. This demand to change consciousness amounts to a demand to interpret the existing world in a different way.8

Marx castigated the Young Hegelians for confining social activity to concepts. For him, their work amounted to a plea for thinking better without one for doing better. Effectively, this confined philosophy to the scholastic function of contemplating abstract ideas (This is why Ernst Bloch quips, “in Hegel philosophy becomes a headmaster”9).

Marx proposed an alternative, one rooted in “the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions of their life, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity.”10 In other words, Marx called for a thought grounded in human experience, in how humans sustain and build communities. Marx reached the conclusion that philosophy would simply be irrelevant if it couldn’t account for these sorts of things. Further, it would remain irrelevant if it offered a mere account instead of a path to help people improve their lives. This position was most famously summarized in the conclusion to the so-called “Theses on Feuerbach,” where Marx wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”11

I would argue that a form of idealism dictates the tone of much writing on genre. In her study “Genre Study and Television,” Feuer formalizes the notion that genre itself is an ideological category:

Genre is a construct of an analyst. The methodology that the analyst brings to bear upon the texts determines the way in which that analyst will construct the genre. Genres are made, not born. The coherence is provided in the process of construction, and a genre is ultimately an abstract conception rather than something that exists empirically in the world.12

Feuer’s decision to reject genre as naturally born is a necessary pushback against a bygone generation of literary formalists like Northrop Frye (who perhaps more than any early writer is a spectre haunting contemporary genre theory).13 But Feuer chooses to battle formalism in the spirit of Feuerbach, who argued that many of religion’s most fundamental categories were actually human rather than divine.14 Disenchanting the now fundamentally unthinkable proposition that genres emerge from nature, she insists instead that they are instead dreamt up in the head.

Feuer also orients genre theory toward suspicion, one that matches a broader suspicious tendency in the academy today.15 She suggests that we should be suspicious of genre, since the thoughts of the analyst impose order on something that does not actually exist in the world. This suspicion more generally pervades a commonplace understanding that discussing norms is hubristic, rigid, even a form of dominance enacted in the realm of ideas. This sentiment is manifest most of all in the general hostility toward taxonomy, the attempt to delineate genre rules on a categorical level. Stern denunciations of Aristotelian poetics or evocations of Foucaudian orders “imposed on things” abound in genre theory.16

This tendency is central to Derrida’s famous piece on genre, “The Law of Genre” (originally a lecture delivered in 1978). There, he argues that a law – what he also calls the voice – functions akin to a juridical demand, insisting: “GENRES ARE NOT to be mixed.”17 Derrida was not attacking categories as such. In fact, he took them quite seriously. His claim here, “there is no genreless text” (212), parallels his famous proclamation from Of Grammatology: “there is nothing outside of the text.”18

Even so, good postructrualist that he is, Derrida privileges a vision of art that evades genre’s normative force. Throughout the essay, he contrasts the juridical commitments of genre with moments at its “liminal edge” (210). These are ones that illustrate that genre necessarily fails. As he insists, “participation [in genre] never amounts to belonging.” Instead, he argues that a text “belongs without belonging, and the ‘without’ (or the suffix ‘-less’) which relates belonging to non-belonging appears only in the timeless time of the blink of an eye” (212). In writing this, Derrida is also being a good romantic. It is no accident that his original text uses the German phrase Augenblick, a term that abounds in literary romanticism. Derrida aligns with the literature of privileged moments and singularities. He extolls Blanchot’s La Folie du jour, a text he affectionately describes as “not even quite a book” (213). Thus, despite his deconstructive contrast between law and freedom, Derrida sides with the latter. Freedom here too means idealism, choosing to liberate our minds from the law of genre.19

Genre as Practice

Of course, the point isn’t that we can bypass the way ideas influence how people make or perceive genres. Any theory of genre must confront the way norms contribute to our experience of music. Here is where a second excursus on historical materialism becomes necessary. What sets this mode of thought apart from what is sometimes called “vulgar” or “naïve” Marxism is its refusal to stop with the critique of idealism. A tempting conclusion from Marx’s argument is that we ought to abandon concepts, either disregarding ideas altogether or turning toward various strains of thought that imagine they can bypass the problem of thought (this is more often an accusation leveled at Marx than one I have encountered in Marxist thought itself).

Historical materialism, as I understand it, rejects the assumption that the world can be reduced to a mechanistic result of labor. From Marx and beyond, the historical materialist tradition puts a premium on thought. This is true in many practical forms (think of figures like Franz Fanon and Rosa Luxemburg, who were both political activists and prolific writers). But it also powered the rise of forms of thought like critical theory, most famously associated with the Frankfurt School. I take it that an impulse to taking seriously the troubled relationship of theory and practice guides Adorno in his famous opening to Negative Dialectics:

Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed. The summary judgment that it had merely interpreted the world, that resignation in the face of reality had crippled it in itself, becomes a defeatism of reason after the attempt to change the world miscarried.20

And, it guides Bloch in his challenge toward the vulgar anti-religious sentiment that often abounds among Marx’s disciples; as Bloch writes: “Only someone who speaks not just for the earth but also for the wrongly surrendered heaven will truly be able to demystify the fabrications of bourgeois-feudal state ideology.”21

Historical materialism demands that we attend to both heaven and earth, thought and matter. This does require reconceiving of how the two domains are linked, and how they stand at odds. This view of conceptual norms as a kind of practical activity is nicely developed by the Hegelian pragmatist philosopher Robert Brandom (who would take issue with being read in line with historical materialism, but so it goes). He argues that thinking about norms is a social gesture, not a typological one. Brandom writes that judgments are “things knowers and agents are in a distinctive way responsible for. Judging and acting involve commitments. They are endorsements, exercises of authority.”22 Ultimately, descriptions are claims about what we value and who we want to be.

If concepts are practical, then this means that we are never imprisoned within this choice between taxonomy and chaos. Rather, norms guide us as we act. In the context of genre, they are claims about how to use musical material. One person’s “x sounds like this” really means, “you ought to hear x this way.” In saying this, I want to emphasize what Frow calls the “rhetorical function” of genres. As he writes, texts are structured so as to “achieve certain pragmatic effects: to catch the attention of a distracted reader with sufficient force to persuade them to buy a copy of the newspaper; to reinforce a set of populist moral judgments.”23 Frow’s two examples are somewhat narrow, but one can extrapolate. Frow suggests that genres are not just limited to formal devices or thematic devices, but also include a persuasive element. Genres carry with them an ought.

To bowdlerize a somewhat famous claim by Slavoj Žižek, then, genre “doesn’t give you what you desire, it tells you how to desire.”24 Take the slasher movie. Of course, such films are bound up with any number of tropes and images: terrifying masked killers in cat-and-mouse chases, summer camp sex parties, soundtracks featuring Alice Cooper songs, etc.. But such tropes also make demands of us. They attempt to frighten us and thrill us, all within a complex moral economy of transgression and punishment. Think of the Friday the 13th series, as Jason Vorhees stalks negligent counselors. Or, A Nightmare on Elm Street, where Freddy Krueger hunts children to enact revenge on their parents (this is also what is so perfectly parodied by The Cabin in the Woods, where the deaths of teenagers at the hands of monsters turn out to be literally sacrificial). These films also invite you to side with the heroes, the final girls and scared children and marine corps soldiers, calling for their victory over the villains.

Of course, one can reject such a demand. You might find horror movies unpleasant, funny, offensive, even simply just turn them off. Interpreting genres is almost always troubled process, because accounts of how a genre works are seldom innocent or immune to partisanship. This has often been treated as a problem for genre theory (after all, to speak of genre is to risk entering the realm of Derrida’s cold, empty law).

But I would suggest that dissensus is a necessary and central aspect of thinking about genre. This starts to point toward that infamous historical materialist term hovering behind the discussion thus far: dialectics. It is a difficult one to define, partially because many of its greatest champions like Hegel and Marx refused to give neat definitions for it and their disciples can’t seem to agree about what it means (Hegel cryptically refers to it as the “course that generates itself,” Marx said this meant that it was “standing on its head,” and Adorno admitted “there is no definition that fits it”).25 Reconstructing the history and meaning of the term would be a project unto itself, so I will bypass any general discussion here.

Sketchily put, I understand dialectics to be a way of thinking that recognizes the place of contradiction and disagreement in thought and practice. Dialectics rejects the commonplace assumption in many strains of philosophy and social theory, that we can neatly distill concepts to their most unproblematic form. To give one simple example: in Capital, Marx famously schematizes capitalist societies into different classes. His point in doing so is not to give us a nice clean dichotomy, but to challenge pervasive assumptions that society works like a homogenous unit. Instead, he suggests that different people in a capitalist society have different concerns, ones that often stand in strict distinction to each other (One of his favorite examples should be straightforward to anyone who works for a living: employers want their employees to work as long as possible for as little money as possible, while employees want to make more money for less exploitative work26).

This starts to chip away at a central aspect of dialectics. It is not only a theory of distinct positions that are irreconcilable (or get added together, the “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” reduction that is often hastily linked to the concept). Dialectics also inquires after the place of negativity within concepts. Things are seldom what they simply are, but often are defined by what they are not. This is nicely expressed in Žižek’s often-quoted summary of dialectics, the so-called “coffee without cream” joke:

In Lubitsch’s *Ninotchka*: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies: "Sorry, but we've run out of cream. Can I bring you coffee without milk?" In both cases, the customer gets straight coffee, but this One-coffee is each time accompanied by a different negation, first coffee-with-no-cream, then coffee-with-no-milk.27

Despite his quirky formulation (I don’t really know what a “One-coffee” is), Žižek is expressing something relatively straightforward: things are not only meaningful for their positive content. This is all-but self-evident to many paying attention to contemporary politics. To give one such example: Angela Davis has written at length about the ways social order is based in negativity. In “Rape, Racism, and the Capitalist Setting,” Davis observes that the United States comfortably tolerates many practices that stand at odds with its oft-professed values of freedom and security (as her title suggests, the central examples in her essay are the horrifically pervasive acts of rape and anti-black bigotry/violence in the US). Davis claims that the mistake would be to think of practices which have persisted so long and so centrally in the US as exceptions or aberrations. Rather, such practices are inextricable parts of that social formation.28 Rape is part of US life, right alongside freedom and democracy. Or, as former SNCC chairman Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin put it, “violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie.”29

Despite my shift to such severe topics, I don’t mean to suggest that dialectics is only concerned with violence, disagreement, or renunciation. It also centrally inquires into the grounds for identity provided by disagreement. This is what sets Hegel alongside Marx as a contributor to historical materialism, whatever their professed differences. Hegel’s philosophy is neither magical nor an abstract meditation on ideas. It is an investigation of what it means to be a social being embedded in a community (this is largely Hegel’s term Geist inquires after, not gods or ghosts).

In this sense, I would argue even more emphatically than Frow that genres are indistinguishable from their pragmatic function. Genres teach us what the world is, and make pleas about what it ought to be. In this sense, Derrida is right about one thing. As he writes, a genre description is a “promise, an oath.” But it is not uttered as “a vow of obedience, as a docile response to the injunction emanating from the law of genre.”30 Musical actions are not empty oaths carved into Wotan’s spear. Rather, they are promises, rendered in sensuous form, about what right life might be. This makes the cultivation of norms akin not only to regimes of power, but potentially a version of what Will Cheng calls care.31 Or, as Jason Toynbee writes, “genres “express the collective interest or point of view of a community.”32

If this is true, it does mean that the stakes of genre commitments can be high. Transgressions of norms can varyingly function as the betterment of the world or the denial of what was promised. Concepts have the ability to impart what the philosopher JM Bernstein calls “moral injury,” moments that “discount or injure the value I am (my sense of inner worth or dignity) and the knowledge that others are like me and share the understanding of our shared predicament of vulnerability.”33

This is why genre can be bound up so intensely with regimes of power. Unjust definition of genre norms by individuals, institutions, or markets are denials of the right to recognition. Conversely, it is also why art potentially poses a challenge to power. To say that art ought to go a certain way is also to claim that things ought to be otherwise. In Aesthetic Theory, Adorno (the reputed fatalist) argues that even in its mere sounding, music potentially calls for something better. He writes ardently about the force of genre:

Even for an artist like Mozart, who seems so unpolemical and who according to general agreement moves solely within the pure sphere of spirit,… the polemical element is central in the power by which the music sets itself at a distance that mutely condemns the impoverishment and falsity of that from which it distinguishes itself. In Mozart form acquires the power of that distancing as determinate negation; the reconciliation that it realizes is painfully sweet because reality to date has refused it… What crackles in artworks is the sound of the friction of the antagonistic elements that the artwork seeks to unify.34

Adorno is here arguing that the demand for justice saturates even the music that comfortably travels within genre norms. Regardless of the estimation of Mozart (I know, how dare he call Mozart unpolemical!), Adorno is making a claim about normativity and music. In participating in genre, Adorno claims, we make a demand for a better world.

Genre as History
We also make a claim to live up to past demands, forgotten promises and broken oaths. One of the central thoughts that guides historical materialism is the historical. This should be straightforward enough, not just because the word history appears in the term historical materialism, but to anyone who has read Marx’s lengthy historical accounts or Benjamin’s famous last essay, “On the Concept of History.”35

Simply put: music is historical. It almost always implicitly takes a stance on its past. Genres tell us what of that which came before is relevant, and what should be forgotten. This is often easy to see in those genres that depend on relationships to lengthy traditions (think of many genres in classical music or in folk music traditions, which depend on understandings of musical practices that have hundreds of years of history). Others depend on the subversion of or erasure of tradition, defining their practices through what they are no longer. Of course, many moments of such continuity or erasure are imagined. There might be no real living tradition informing some musical practice, or some artist might not actually succeed in their ruthless critique of everything existing (I know my high school band thought we did, but we didn’t). Even so, lies about history still put the past at the center of the present.

Indeed, the argument of historical materialism is not just that we should attend to history, but that human thought and activity is itself historical (this, I would argue is what sets historical materialism apart from more commonplace academic methods rooted in genealogy or historicism). Historical materialism follows from the fundamental Hegelian insight that history inflects our very self-understanding; as JM Bernstein remarks, Hegel reveals that “we are right here and now a community of the living and the dead. That the dead are always with us, and that we have to find adequate means of acknowledging in our collective and communal practices of acknowledging our relationship to the dead.”36 In this spirit, we should keep in mind that genre should not really be thought of as a set of a priori codes that precede musical activity (a potential risk of misreading the Brackett quotation above). Rather, genre is expressed through each attempt to make good, in music, on our sense of the promises and failures of the past.

Of course, this potentially inflects history with a tragic character. Indeed, historical materialism might be understood to tend toward history at the expense of the present. As Hegel famously wrote, “the owl of Minerva takes flight only at dusk.”37 Hegel was not actually suggesting that we should only task ourselves with reflecting on the past or elevate historians and philosophers to the level of god (it comes from a passage in the Philosophy of Right where Hegel warns, quite to the contrary, that philosophical reflection often comes too late to solve all of our problems). Even so, Gillian Rose warns that history is often conducted in a melancholic register. As she argues, reflecting on history can be a form of “aberated mourning.” To remember is to dwell in a “baroque melancholia immersed in the world of soulless and unredeemed bodies.”38

Despite this, remembering should not always be construed as a lament. Turning toward history means making a demand to live up to the promises of the past. As Benjamin writes in “On the Concept of History,” “the past carries with it a secret index by which it is referred to redemption.”39 In that spirit, genres often engage in what Amy Lynn Wlodarski calls “testimonial aesthetics.” Wlodarski was writing about literal testimony (in the context of Steve Reich’s Different Trains, a piece that powerfully engages with the experiences of Holocaust survivors).40 But genres themselves testify in musical form. Melancholy also gives rise to the hope of reconciliation, a form of remembrance entangled with a plea for the future.


  1. Raya Dunayevskaya, The Power of Negativity: Selected Writings on the Dialectic in Hegel and Marx, ed. Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson (New York: Lexington Books, 2002), 227.

  2. Disagreement abounds as to what this tradition could be called. Cf. Andrew Feenberg, The Philosophy of Praxis: Marx, Lukács, And The Frankfurt School (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2014) and Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (London: Verso, 1979). Further disagreement abounds as to whether it constitutes a tradition at all. Commentators have varyingly questioned or reaffirmed Marx’s fidelity to Hegel (eg. Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster [New York: Verso, 2006]); Adorno’s to Hegel and Marx (eg. Gillian Rose, The Melancholy Science [Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2014]); and beyond. While a full dissertation would be needed just to review this literature, suffice to say: I like “historical materialism” because it is the most neutral term available. It avoids the disparaging implications of terms like “Western Marxism,” which often is used to suggest that political movements or social programs originating outside of the Eastern Bloc are outside of legitimate political struggle. And I think of it as a tradition expressing a set of centrally linked concerns in the spirit of JM Bernstein, “Negative Dialectic as Fate: Adorno and Hegel,” in The Cambridge Companion to Adorno, ed. Tom Huhn (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 19–50.

  3. Gillian Rose, Mourning Becomes the Law: Philosophy and Representation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 8.

  4. A selection of exemplary studies of genre in music includes David Brackett, Categorizing Sound: Genre and Twentieth-Century Popular Music (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016); Franco Fabbri, “A Theory of Musical Genres: Two Applications,” in Popular Music Perspectives: Papers from the First International Conference on Popular Music Research, Amsterdam, 1981, 52–81; Franco Fabbri and Iain Chambers, “What Kind of Music?,” Popular Music 02, Theory and Method (1982): 131–43; Simon Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Harvard University Press, 1998); Keith Negus, Music Genres and Corporate Cultures (New York: Routledge, 1999); Jason Toynbee, Making Popular Music: Musicians, Creativity, and Institutions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Eric Weisbard, Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2014). I should note that in the case of that last text, Weisbard takes issue with the privileging of genre over radio formats.

  5. John Frow, Genre, Second Edition (New York: Routledge, 2014), 10.

  6. Toynbee, Making Popular Music: Musicians, Creativity, and Institutions, 107.

  7. Brackett, Categorizing Sound, 13.

  8. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 5 (New York: International Publishers Co., 1976), 30. I have modified the translation slightly to remove unnecessary gendering of language and awkwardness of phrasing.

  9. Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia, trans. Anthony A. Nassar (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 185.

  10. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, 5:31.

  11. Ibid., 5:8.

  12. Feuer, “Genre Study and Television,” in Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, ed. Robert C. Allen (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1992), 144.

  13. Eg. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). For an early critique of Frye, see Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, trans. Richard Howard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975). For examples of the way music theorists have recently engaged with Frye (albeit in a more pragmatic manner, rejecting much of the transcendentalism that structures Frye’s own thought), see Byron Almén, “Narrative Archetypes: A Critique, Theory, and Method of Narrative Analysis,” Journal of Music Theory 47:01 (Spring 2003): 1–39; and Michael L. Klein, “Ironic Narrative, Ironic Reading,” Journal of Music Theory 53:01 (Spring 2009): 95–136.

  14. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2012).

  15. On suspicion in the academy, see Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2015). See also William Cheng and Susan McClary, Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016).

  16. Feuer, “Genre Study and Television,” 139; Garin Dowd, “”Introduction: Genre Matters in Theory and Criticism,” in Genre Matters: Essays in Theory and Criticism, ed. Garin Dowd, Lesley Stevenson, and Jeremy Strong (Portland, OR: Intellect, 2006), 11.

  17. Jacque Derrida, “The Law of Genre,” in Appendix: Bulletin of the International Colloquium on Genre, 1978, 202–203.

  18. Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Corrected Edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 158.

  19. For a similar line of commentary, see Frow, Genre, 25–28. Frow himself is not exempt from the critique of idealism. While he defends the force of genre, his history of genre theory elevates the linguistic turn over the typological impulses of “Aristotelian categories.” See 51-71 for his account of this shift.

  20. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 2007), 3.

  21. Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia, 245.

  22. Robert B. Brandom, Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2009), 32.

  23. Frow, Genre, 9.

  24. His topic is actually cinema, not genre per se; this quotation comes from the documentary by Sophie Fiennes, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. Also, I’m just going to have to bypass the question of desire itself, which obviously relates to Žižek’s interest in the psychoanalytic tradition and so links up to big questions about music and psychoanalysis (ones too big to broach here, sadly).

  25. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 40; See also the equally cryptic account of it in the introduction to The Science of Logic, trans. George Di Giovanni (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 23–43; Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. Ben Fowkes, Vol. 1 (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 103; Adorno, Hegel: Three Studies, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1994), 9.

  26. See Chapter 10, “The Working Day,” in Marx, Capital, 1:340–416.

  27. Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel And The Shadow Of Dialectical Materialism (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2012), 765–766.

  28. Angela Y. Davis, “Rape, Racism, and the Capitalist Setting,” The Black Scholar 09:07 (1978): 24–30.

  29. Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, “Press Conference,” July 27, 1967.

  30. Derrida, “The Law of Genre,” 204.

  31. Cheng and McClary, Just Vibrations.

  32. Toynbee, Making Popular Music, 110.

  33. JM Bernstein, Torture and Dignity: An Essay on Moral Injury (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2015), 3.

  34. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1998), 177.

  35. Eg. the history of capitalist accumulation (chapters 26-33) that concludes Marx, Capital, 1:873–940.

  36. JM Bernstein, “Introduction,” Lecture, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, The New School, September 6, 2006.

  37. GWF Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet, Revised Edition (Cambridge University Press, 1991), 23. The more accurate (and now standard) translation of the quotation is “the owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk.” I have modified it simply to stay closer to its more common usage, which sounds less awkward and captures the meaning of the phrase better.

  38. Rose, Mourning Becomes the Law, 69.

  39. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Selected Writings, trans. Harry Zohn, Vol. 4 (Belknap Press, 2004), 390.

  40. Amy Lynn Wlodarski, “The Testimonial Aesthetics of Different Trains,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 63:01 (April 1, 2010): 99–141.