Friday, December 25, 2009

Politicomusicologico-ism: should we be afraid?

Yes, chestnuts are roasting on an open fire.

Jackfrost nipping at your nose.

You know the drill, except on this early Christmas afternoon, the sordid interjection of Facebook did more than just reintroduce icicles hanging over my nose. It introduced this:

Surprise! And a very merry Christmas to you!

Not exactly your average way to start off the holiday celebrations by getting politically infuriated over the Coppenhagen dealings. Holiday space, like musical/musicological space is supposed to be ritualised space, where clean lines of method, process and knowledge intersect predictably. Where, for a bite-sized oatmeal cookie chunk of time, we stave-off the staves, becoming domestic holiday-beings, chorusing good cheer while all this lip-service to goodwill appears to be a simple pat on the back for not getting embroiled in sticky world-situations.

Sometimes, it's a gordian knot, isn't it? In a world that demands the intellectual to properly intervene, his space has likewise been reduced to the domesticated coffee-mafia of sterile scholasticism. In this bubble, "change" is what we believe in, but sometimes we're happier when all "change" denotes is a shift in scholarly perspective, unearthing some dusty deconstructive debate if only to give the 'ol knowledge box a shiny veneer. Has the musicological endeavor absorbed enough of corporate values that it has finally become a bookmark, a footnote in the historical-citation practice of the future? Are we narcissists, gazing into the imaginary mirror of futurism, secretly imagining how our output will be viewed in the years to come?

I want to expand a little on Dominick LaCapra's bitter essay in the 1985s concerning the "archival" turn. His critique was philosophical, a post-Hayden White generation of thinkers who took the "aesthetic" argument of History seriously, and believed that its extension into politics was more metaphysical than objectively navigated. In the wake of Derrida & co's linguistic turn, La Capra criticized historians for conferring a Benjaminesque auratic quality to the "archive" where The Truth (see the capitals?) promised to reside, where authentic knowledge could be extracted over other (inauthentic??) means. I won't ponder over the authentic/inauthentic unesay currencies reminiscent of Heidegger and National Socialism - others have done a good job of explicating the ways in which theory and practice do diverge, but by diverging, they inadvertedly touch each other. In such touchings, the inertia from their interactivity determines certain countours of history, contours of the present which also serve to delimit the nature of contemporary "truths".

LaCapra calls archival fever no more than a "fetish", a "literal substitute for the ‘reality’ of the past which is ‘always already’ lost for the historian". Of course, LaCapra continues to be debated in spheres of the philosophy of history, and lately conceptions of the "presentness of the past" (remember Taruskin?) have come back into play. Theorists such as Runia confer theoretical legitimacy upon "Experiences" of the past as irruptive windows into the Real real of the past. I myself am more Zizkekian; skeptical of the Real real, I tend to agree that the real tends to present itself as a rupture of chronotypes, which does not simply offer one a "window" into the past, but disfigures the ontological authority of "the past", "the present" and "the future" as we know it. In short - trauma, horror, symbolic breakdown. Do other manifestations of the "real" exist outside Lacan which extend a "softer" version of the historical real like that envisioned by Runia? Perhaps, but perhaps this version of fantastical unmediate access would merely make "thrill-seekers" of us, and not fastidious poststructuralist inquirers.

Anyway, this "rupture" destroys the symbolic efficacy of Christmas for me. The irruption of the "real", I think, can be no more than a discursive infection, where one discursive sphere suddenly spills into the ritualized, ordered discursivity of festivity. Christmas is fantasy. Me listening to old recordings of Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song" over youtube is merely the flexibility, insistence and tenacity of the Symbolic to quickly conscript bedfellows in its reproductive series. And this series says "rest, dear academic", for battles can be forgotten for a day. But we forget these battles for a day, and the musical umbilical to fantasy is prematurely severed upon the insistence of the pleasurable. The wonderful. Or, if I may warrant: the fetishistic.

I'm not all negative nancy. I know I dissed the eco-musicology symposium, but this was in faith that we could someday avoid neologisms (eco-) to legitimate an endeavour that is always already political, or partisan in a reproductive fantasy of differentiated political space. We love music, we love it, we love it, we love it. Our worrying love for the subject infects the field of the historical to bend to our contours of love, or vice versa. But this is the "touching" of spheres, its colouring by our orientation towards the fetishistic object. But to love, I think, requires us to acknowledge the infectous "hate" typical of any object of desire, any objet petit a, delimiting a structural vortex in our system of pleasure. We tend to excribe the unpleasurable from the musicological, don't we? We give analytical treatises on why we should love, cherish and enjoy music, but maybe we should also pay attention to relieving our conscience of the insistence of enjoyment. When free to hate, or extend dislike, we turn our objects of fetishistic love into monstrous relics, threatening to devour the very amorous speaker. Inscribing the monstrous element of the musical, affirming its ability to turn against us, is just an important task as appraisal.

So, to sum up briefly on this happy day - yes. Be very afraid of politicomusicologico-ism (I made up that word. It's a mouthful). Because fear, as much as it is a manipulatory tool, is an affirmative counterbalance to our fetishistic insistence on the musical, the nonconforming structural hole in the middle of the symbolic. By returning the duplicity of the fetishistic object as both desirable and horrific/abject, we make room for the object to speak back and punish the lover. It becomes frighteningly queer, and the "musical" demands a different sort of attention to its agenda. I cite a couple of visionary examples - Suzanne G. Cusik's incredibly important article in Radical Musicology on "Musicology, Torture, Repair", and another article (I can't remember the source) on News-TV opening-titles. Such investigations re-open the wound of the fetish, and expose its other quality: the abject, the foreclosed feature of the object which incites fear, disgust, and the possibility of denoting new lines of flight.

So Ho ho ho,

Oh fear!

Merry Christmas.

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