Monday, April 26, 2010
In the [Medieval] "Mittle"
It's about time that I vociferously slogan the wonderful work of In The Medieval Middle, a truly stunning set of Shenkerian-esque "unfoldings" about everything off-centered we find about the Middle Ages. Or is it time to topple the "Middle" from "Middle Ages," many of the posts argue, not in the least in our exciting age of posthuman scholarship. Rarely do critical medieval-middle-isms meet Musicologists; the latter are still wringing hands over the search for origins, and schema for structural, traceable, "historical" answers. As Jeffrey Cohen (famed for his truly original work on monsters and nonhuman medieval Others, not forgetting their Queer in/carnations for scholarship today) has constantly sought to befuddle our predilections for a "dark" Middle legible only by the light of empiricism, we constantly find our temporalities thrown into deep question when the "Middle," that is, the expositionary, the pulsative inching towards the "/" which enables presentness to be present, infiltrates and muddies the medieval me.
In celebration of (hopefully) another Rhizomatic flight path which "wraps" and imagines a kind of historical "embrace" brought on by contemporary "touch" theory, perhaps (in the spirit of D&G), I will contribute this first act of touching with not a history of music, but a musical history, already somewhat hinted at by Daniel Albright in his strange livret Untwisting the Serpent. My model considers the "flickering" that ensues within the vor-text of the "middle" via Schenkerianism - that (often difficult) mode of musical analysis which, at its perverse core of overdetermining the exactitude of individual constituent pitches in the musical score, disfigures the object itself in favor of a hegemonic "chord of nature" understanding - God's Claves, if you wish:
What draws me to Schenker is not his insistence on the "chord of nature," which supposedly exists only in the hintergrund (background), strenuously extrapolated from the Vordergrund (foreground), but the idea of the Mittelgrund (Middle-ground), that indistinct mediatory step which fluctuates between the despotic one-size-fits-all "chord of nature" and the particular, the full glory of the notated score itself. A musical history wedged in the Mittlegrund gestures uneasily towards both poles, while much more recent work recognizing the creative potential of Schenkerian analysis has re-emphasized the Mittlegrund for its d/r-econstructive potency. What's more - each "level" extrapolated from the score-trace is predicated on a series of chordal "unfoldings," a historical sense which, while seeking consonance between the Vordergrund und der hintergrund demands the analyst to eludicate linear patterns while molding the Mittlegrund to the contours of the Vordergrund.
A musical historical note then to medievalist/musicologists - what does an aesthetic of the medieval "mittle" propose? A reversion to the infinite nature of "unfoldings," to the rhizomatic understanding of the "Mittle" which, even as it acknowledges the insufficiencies of the present hintergrund, nevertheless avails the (analytical) possibility of rebuking it, while weaving a set of twisting-connective operations vis-a-vis the "textual," Vordergrund. If we can think music through history, why shouldn't we be able to think history through music? An aesthetics of the Medieval Mittle, perhaps, would respond to an "unfolding," "leading" quality whilst actively dealing with the manifold received "medievals" and "moderns." For the operation of Schenker's graph of the Mittle is not to lead-to, but to lead-for, to lead-in-lieu-of.