Passing through the Screen: Pierre Boulez and Michel Foucault (1)

By Rorich, Mary | Journal of Literary Studies, December 2006 | Go to article overview
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Passing through the Screen: Pierre Boulez and Michel Foucault (1)


Rorich, Mary, Journal of Literary Studies


Summary

In this paper I examine Foucault's little essay, "Pierre Boulez: Passing through the Screen", in which he looks back from the vantage point of the 1980s at Boulez's music of the 1950s and his contribution to the project of aesthetic modernism. Before making a fairly detailed reading of the paper, I examine Boulez's role in the twentieth-century serial tradition inaugurated by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. Foucault's reading of Boulez focuses initially on the composer's radical break with the past; I suggest that Foucault was in a certain sense talking about his own break with a philosophical tradition founded in experience and conventional meaning. Boulez's experiment in the scientific and formal, I continue, had much in common with the methodologies from the history of science that were to become central to Foucault's thinking. Departing briefly from Foucault's essay, I argue that Gilles Deleuze fully understood why Foucault considered the project of serial music an important model; in fact Deleuze's notion of an "atonal logic" shows how the bodies of statements (enonce) in different epistemes have the same relationship to each other as do different manifestations of the series in a serial composition. Returning to Foucault's commentary on Boulez, I briefly examine important settings of Char and Mallarme, showing how they share features of a Foucauldian analysis: conjunctions between words, image and music are never subordinated to conventional meaning but are "justified only by the new necessity they have established". Finally I look at Boulez as a conductor and interpreter who approaches the past in music with a belief that what he is doing in the present can change it; again the project seems Foucauldian. In conclusion I reflect that both Boulez and Foucault were similarly and at the same time creative and analytical in their work, able always to use thought in order to be able to think differently.

Opsomming

In hierdie referaat ondersoek ek Foucault se klein essay "Pierre Boulez: Passing through the Screen", waarin hy terugskouend uit 'n tagtigeroogpunt na Boulez se musiek van die vyftigerjare en sy bydrae tot die projek van estetiese modernisme kyk. Voordat ek 'n taamlik deeglike lesing van die essay doen, ondersoek ek Boulez se rol in die twintigste-eeuse seriele musiektradisie war deur Arnold Schoenberg en Anton Webern ingelui is. Foucault se lesing van Boulez fokus aanvanklik op die komponis se radikale wegbreking van die verlede; ek voer aan dat Foucault hier in 'n sekere sin verwys na sy eie wegbreking van 'n filosofiese tradisie wat gegrond was in ervaring en konvensionele betekenis. Voorts voer ek aan dat Boulez se eksperiment in die wetenskaplike en formele heelwat gemeen gehad het met die metodologiee uit die geskiedenis van die wetenskap, wat later die kern van Foucault se denkwyse sou vorm. Ek dwaal kortliks af van Foucault se essay wanneer ek aanvoer dat Gilles Deleuze ten voile begryp het waarom Foucault die projek van seriele musiek as belangrike model beskou het; trouens, Deleuze se opvatting van 'n "atonale logika" toon aan hoe die groepe stellings (enonce) in verskillende episteme in dieselfde verhouding tot mekaar staan as verskillende manifestasies van die series in 'n seriele komposisie. Wanneer ek terugkeer na Foucault se kommentaar oor Boulez, ondersoek ek kortliks belangrike toonsettings van Char en Mallarme en toon ek aan hoe hulle sekere kenmerke van 'n Foucauldiaanse analise deel: verbindings tussen woorde, beeld en musiek word nooit ondergeskik gestel aan konvensionele betekenis nie maar word "slegs geregverdig deur die nuwe noodwendigheid wat hulle daargestel het". Vervolgens kyk ek na Boulez as dirigent en vertolker wat die verlede in die musiek benader in die mening dat wat hy in die hede doen die verlede kan verander; die projek lyk nogmaals Foucauldiaans. Ten slotte besin ek oor die feit dat sowel Boulez as Foucault ewe en terselfdertyd skeppend en analities was in hulle werk, wat hulle telkens in staat gestel het om denke aan te wend om anders te kon dink.

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