This post is part of a feature on the 2017 UK elections, moderated and edited by Patrick Neveling (SOAS, University of London).
As an Irishman living in England, I am struck by the total difference between how Brexit is discussed in both countries. In Ireland, it is clear that Brexit will bring economic disaster, but this can be mitigated against by significant planning and coordinated response by government and business. That even at this late stage, the form of Brexit is unknown is a source of great anxiety in Ireland. By contrast, in Britain to have any discourse of Brexit as impending economic ruination is simply unacceptable. Those who dare to utter prophecies of economic trouble are bullied into silence by a raging right-wing media. Brexit can only be allowed to be framed in the positive.
According to Richard Seymour (2015), current European austerity politics ought to be regarded not as a temporary period of economic rationalization during crisis but rather as a shift toward a new political economic paradigm. This new paradigm is to be driven by a rhetorical commitment to “worker flexibility” and “labour market competitiveness”—both euphemisms for a long-term decline in the value of European salaries and an overall context of bottom-to-top economic redistribution. A further defining aspect of austerity in Europe is the condition of financialization, meaning that mantras of “living within our means” typically define the parameters of sensible governance yet often take the form of shifting public debt onto private households, as capital accumulation becomes increasingly driven by banks leveraging household debt to fund trading on financial markets (see Lapavistas and Flassbeck 2015).
In contemplating music and capitalism, we might imagine alternative framings to “art versus commerce.” Art versus commerce understands music as perpetually compromised between musicians’ desire to produce l’art pour l’art in a context in which they must be commodity producers. In this regard, the challenge facing musicians is to register discourses of truth, authenticity, and subjectivity within the structure of commodity production (Frith and Horne 1987). Arguably, the primary theoretical reference for such analysis is presented by Adorno and Horkheimer’s ( 1997) culture industry thesis, which posits a negative dialectic between orders of culture and industrial production. By focusing on the possibility of artistic production autonomy, a shift seems to take place wherein the spirit or aesthetic possibility claimed by the artist becomes emphasized and the music is analyzed with such spirit in mind.