Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Living the Nietzchean Lie, or, Re: Historical Musicology: Is it still possible?

Rob Wegman, "Historical musicology: Is it still possible?", in The
cultural study of music, pp. 136-145

Rob Wegman makes his point very clear that Historical musicology faces a criticle juncture: either to continue to berate itself for its impossible task and ignore the music, or to acknowledge its impossible historicizing task and continue to live the "Nietzchian lie" (so to speak), and to go on with its tasks with humility.

On one hand, Wegman's frustration with the never-ending critical reflexivity of musicological critics (from within AND without the discipline) appears justified; his anxieties are not thoroughly exclusive to the discipline of musicology but, most glaringly so, also applies to the disciplinary history of Anthropology. Ever since the "critical turn" of the 1960s in Anthro, writers still battle with the tension between subjective responsible ethnography and "navel gazing". This problem, I
think is never going to go away as long as it is haunted by the metaphysical traces of the "truth claim". And I think we should not ignore the seductive powers of the "truth claim" in our discipline either, in its many manifestations. After all, it is this implicit (usually camouflaged) "truth claim" that grants veracity, legitimacy and power to certain disciplinary "fashions", while surpressing other methodologies as less-truthful or less accurate.

For Wegman, to live the Nietzchean lie is the more responsible of either, BUT we have to remember that Wegman's prescription of historical musicology of the future is equally dependent on what I will classify as "extramusical sensibility", the messianic justification that portrays him and his colleagues as indispensible armatures of knowledge production. For Wegman, that is the case of imposing order upon a chaotic world of facts (which is what all historians do, really, not just historical musicologists). And this is said very well, too. However, Wegman refrains from recognizing himself as part of a disciplinary process *within* a larger disciplinary sphere that is intrinsically heterogenous and divided. A historical survey of plainchant in the Medieval age will bear consequences on the theoretical study of the notation, which will also bear consequences on the sociological and cultural study of music and its various institutions that are interconnected. And vice versa. Historical musicology is already interdisciplinary. And hence it would be fair to imply that Historical musicology has a responsibility to farther disciplines - for example, Cultural historians who are interested in Baroque music as a participant in the shaping of "interiority" during the reign of a French Monarch or something. Wegman-as-music-historian faces an indictement to produce, and I think to a large extent these are the gears that underlie his larger arguement (which he does not explicitly make reference to).

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