Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Emancipation of the ineffable

In the most recent American Musicological Society meeting in Quebec city earlier this year, Ronald Broude presented a paper that sought to "emancipate music" from the ambivalent strongholds of textual (literary) criticism which has, since the anthropological/literary turn of the 1960s and 1970s, been of much bane to the musicological knowledge-industry. He writes:

"The attitude of musicology towards textual criticism as it is practiced in the verbal dsisciplines is best described as ambivalent. On one hand, musicological editors have derived from the verbal disciplines their aims, their procedures, and their terminology. On the other hand, textual criticism has never gained a substantial following amongst musicologists."

And rightly so, Broude claims, because unlike 'normative' texts (or what he imagines them to be), 'musical' texts unfold in two simultaneous traditions, the "textual" tradition which resides in notated/written/scored documentation and the "atextual" tradition, an existence in an immaterial sonic environment. To this effect, textual criticism is found lacking potency to fully tackle the level of "performance variance" that governs the transmission of text, therefore "freeing music from the model of the silent-reading text".

However, what Broude fails to acknowledge is precisely how long it took the Western Philosophical tradition to dismantle our phonocentricism. If it was only within the last 40 years that Derrida finally exposed phonocentricism as an insidious kin to the Western logocentric condition, we therefore must be careful not to construct an inverted model of power-relations. Broude's own hypothesis may appear treading a little too dangerously close to music's own phonocentricity, an all-too-easy disregarding of semiotics for performativity and (inter-)subjective performance. This is highly problematic, since "interpretation" in the musical sense (in the atextual realm) does not coincide fully with "interpretation" in the critical idiom, embodying vastly differing cognitive practices. In lieu of heavy syntactical differences, a better paradigm would be to see how the musical immaterial "object" is informed by the dynamics of its creation, a process that involves bodies, text and subjectivity, such that the musical "body" (as it is fully realised in performance), is really a Kristevian "Subject-in-process", that cannot ensure its own durational integrity as a whole. Rather, it mirrors a Levinian "hoypstasis", continually working towards its own realization in the temporal present: within the act of performance, it continually has to create and reify its own historical "presencing", precisely historical because it presupposes the specific temporal moment that preceded it.

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