Transactions with Death
The Uses of Late Style in Works of Leonard Cohen, Jonny Cash and Dolly Parton
This project was conducted by KuFo-researcher Anna Forssberg.
Based on Adorno’s theories on Late Style (Adorno 1937) this project focuses on Leonard Cohen’s last album, You want it darker (2016), as a Late Style model and compare it with Jonny Cash’s Unearthed ( a box with 5 CDs, 2003), and Dolly Parton’s production after her blue grass peak (from 2003 and onwards). Cohen is one of few artists who has transcended the singer-songwriter genre, and created a genre of his own. A similar transcendence of genre can be claimed about Parton in relation to Country music, and perhaps also about Cash, who remains true to his typical Jonny Cash-sound, whether performing classics like Folsom Prison Blues or religious hymns, until Unearthed. These artists have all in different ways built their brands on authenticity. This project will initially explore how Cohen constructed his own generic brand, that is, his persona and aesthetic practice, on what seems to be a strong belief in authenticity and credibility, and then turn to Late Style, which also affected his identity and authenticity. The personae and aesthetic practices of Jonny Cash and Dolly Parton will be similarly explored.
Late Style has been described not as ripened but “furrowed and ravaged”, in reference to the power of history rather than the idea of growth and maturing. It is a process, but still not a progress towards a completion, and it rejects the unity required by classical aesthetics (Wallenstein 2012, Adorno 1937). The project defines the Cohen album, the Cash box and some of Parton’s production after the blue grass trilogy as transactions with death, and this contention is the matrix of the project, both aesthetically and thematically. Alongside Iser and Shklovsky, the framework for understanding the aesthetic practice in the project draws mainly on Philip Auslander’s ideas on the role of the artist, artistic persona and the audience.