Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the cmm reading list + a chilling look at things to come

Oh, hello there, CMM blog, didn't see you there. I've read so many things since last we spoke; thus begins the CMM reading list. I recommend: Weimar Culture/Gay; Fin-de-Siecle Vienna/Schorske (a perennial favorite, always useful); History of Sexuality/Foucault (more like a history on the discourse surrounding sexuality); Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud/Lacquer; Discipline and Punish/Foucault; Feminine Endings/McClary (did I already mention this one?); Craft Objects, Aesthetic Contexts: Kant, Heidegger, and Adorno on Craft/Corse; Queer Mother for the Nation/Fiol-Matta; Telling Stories/Maynes; How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves/Eakin; Secret Historian/Spring; The Book of Questions/Jab├Ęs; "John Cage's Queer Silence or How to Avoid Making Matters Worse"/Katz (read it in its entirety here); The Gutai Manifesto/Yoshihara (available here). And "Death of the Author" again. Why isn't Barthes required reading for musicians?!

With all these things swimming around in my mind, what does the future hold?
1. Cage as Modernist. We like to believe that Cage's iconic 4'33'' is all about the expression of post-modern plurality and his aleatroric oeuvre an ode to absent authors a la Barthes. But what if, by reducing music to its essential elements (as in 4'33"), Cage offers a musical analogue to a Greenbergian (yes, Greenbergian) concept of art? I am referencing that which Greenberg would refer to as "post-painterly abstraction" and that all-too-loaded descriptor "modern."

2. Hindemith as Author: Conflicting Temporalities, Conflicting Epistemologies. There is a passage from "Death..." that surfaces in my mind with alarming frequency:

The Author...is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and after. The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child. In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, is not the subject with the book as predicate; there is no other time than that of the annunciation and every text is eternally written here and now. [1]

Most recently, these words appeared (figuratively speaking of course) as I practiced this concerto's introductory soliloquy. So much of Hindemith's musical material aligns him with a modern (ascetic) compositional style: an organicism indebted to Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and (papa) Schoenberg, an interest in structural austerity (Adolf Loos, anyone?), and aesthetic aims ostensibly opposed to nineteenth century decadence. In the case of Der Schwan, however, Hindemith's reference to storytelling in a musical space creates a paradox of temporalities: at once the performer acts as Author reconstituting that which has already occurred through his/her performing body while also engaging in a performative act, the "here and now."

3. Ornament, Asceticism and The Modern. As intimated in the preceding text, for the Moderns (that is to say, the fin-de-siecle Vienna intelligentsia), art ought to be imbued with both austerity and spirituality resulting in an asceticism that traces its progenitor to--surprisingly enough--Kantian aesthetics. Through explications on excerpts from Schoenberg's Style and Idea, Hermann Bahr's essay The Modern, and Weininger's Sex and Character I will elucidate the bondage of modernity to a intrinsically masculine spirituality that seeks to humiliate artistic "flesh" as a means to achieve aesthetic purity.

4. Anna Morandi Manzolini's Oeuvre in the "Century of Looking." A wax anatomist devalued by her contemporaries and subsequently the art historical canon, Morandi Manzolini provides, in her life and work, a lens through which to view a culture obsessed with looking. Although numerous feminist scholars have sought to reclaim and subsequently valorize Morandi Manzolini as a scientist and artist, more efficacious is the utilization of her work as a means by which to illuminate the eighteenth century urge to order, observe and control the body.

5. Performing Bodies, Objects in Motion. I read this passage from Feminine Endings and couldn't help but formulate a few thoughts. McClary writes:

For women’s bodies in Western culture have almost always been viewed as objects of display. Women have rarely been permitted agency in art, but instead have been restricted to enacting—upon and through their bodies—the theatrical, musical, cinematic, and dance scenarios concocted by male artists. Centuries of this traditional sexual division of cultural labor bear down upon…any woman performer…when she performs, always threatening to convert her once again into yet another body set in motion for the pleasure of the masculine gaze. It may be possible for men in the music profession to forget these issues, but no woman who has ever been on a stage, or even in front of a classroom, can escape them. [2]

The performing musician confronts the aforesaid crisis daily. Western art music is inextricably bound not only to a culture of insidiously subtle oppression but also within a web of Foucauldian force relations. As performers, listeners and scholars we participate in musical systems of inequity wherein our own bodies and those of our colleagues, students and teachers move perilously (and sadly, often aimlessly) through a minefield of subjugating gazes, historically conditioned responses, and unwittingly discriminatory discourses.


1. Roland Barthes, Image, music, text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977). 145
2. Susan McClary, Feminine endings : music, gender, and sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991). 138

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