What's Queer about Musicology Now?
Lewis, Rachel, Women & Music
THE THREE ARTICLES FEATURED IN THIS "Queer Vibrations" special section of Women & Music initially emerged as a result of an interdisciplinary graduate student conference on music and queer performance held at Cornell University in March 2007. (1) Jointly funded by the Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Studies Program and the Department of Music, the conference brought together graduate students and faculty working within the fields of musicology, women's and gender studies, theater studies, and performance studies. "Queer Vibrations" proved to be an exciting event in terms of both the scope and the quality of the papers presented. These ranged from conversations on gay and lesbian historiography and musical reception (Samuel Dorf, Emily Wilbourne, and Tekla Babyak) to representations of queer male sexualities in popular culture and opera (Samuel Dwinell, Jeremy Mikush, and Kevin Schwandt) and from accounts of queer performance in terms of disidentification (Katie Brewer Ball, Tina Majkowski, and Zarko Cvejic) to keynote speeches on David Bowie and Andy Warhol (Judith Peraino) and the use of music as a form of torture at Guantanamo Bay (Suzanne Cusick). The "Queer Vibrations" conference also served to raise some fundamental questions about the relationship between femininity, transsexuality, and embodiment in the context of both women's music festivals and Third Wave feminism (Elizabeth K. Keenan), in Zarah Ersoff's reading of transsexual subjectivity in the music of Dana Baitz, and in Baitz's own account of queer musicology's fraught relation to transsexual embodiment. In short, I can only use this opportunity to thank all those who participated in the conference--both graduate students and faculty alike--for their commitment to LGBTQ musicology and for helping "Queer Vibrations" live up to its name.
The existence of "Queer Vibrations" is also strongly indebted to Judith Peraino, without whose presence in the Department of Music at Cornell a conference devoted to queer musicology would have been scarcely imaginable, let alone possible. Indeed, when Amy Villarejo first invited me to organize a graduate student conference on music and queer identities for the Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Studies Program at Cornell, I was forced to confront the somewhat disturbing (though perhaps not altogether surprising) reality that "Queer Vibrations" would be only the second queer musicology conference to date. The first queer musicology conference, "Anything Goes," which took place in 1992 at the University of California, Berkeley, was also a graduate-run conference. Organized by Judith Peraino, herself a graduate student at the time, "Anything Goes" featured the keynote speakers Philip Brett and Suzanne Cusick. (2) This initial conference on music and sexuality was enabled by the kind of feminist theorizing that took place both within and outside the field of musicology during the late 1980s. In much the same way that second wave feminist theory and, later, poststructuralist feminism facilitated the emergence of queer theory by challenging the relationship between categories of sex, gender, and sexuality, it was the work of feminist musicologists like Susan McClary and Ruth Solie that paved the way for what we have now come to refer to as LGBTQ musicology. (3) Indeed, many of the articles published in the groundbreaking collection of essays Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology were initially presented at the first "Feminist Theory and Music" conference in 1991, organized by Lydia Hamessley and Susan McClary. (4) More recent LGBTQ musicology, including book-length studies of music and queer identity by Nadine Hubbs and Judith Peraino, along with the edited collections of essays, Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity and Queering the Popular Pitch, also retains a strong feminist core. (5) In the absence of separate conferences and journals, queer work tends to be presented at feminist musicology conferences like the biannual "Feminist Theory and Music" and published in journals such as Women & Music. The question is, If queer musicology already has a home in feminist musicology, are conferences and journals exclusively devoted to LGBTQ musicology really necessary? What, if anything, I asked myself, was queer about musicology fifteen years after the initial conference? Now, as I write this introduction to the "Queer Vibrations" special section of Women & Music, almost a decade and a half after the first edition of Queering the Pitch was published, I still ask.
At a time when many critics have already begun to view queer studies as a thing of the past, reflecting upon the historical trajectory of queer musicology along with its relation to both feminist and LGBT musicology seemed to raise an important question, or set of questions, not just about musicology but about queer studies more generally. As is apparent from the titles of individual essays in recent queer special issues of journals like Social Text, the Journal of Homosexuality, and South Atlantic Quarterly, the future of queer studies seems to be viewed as fundamentally uncertain, if not utterly precarious. (6) Neville Hoad has even gone so far as to suggest that the "transnational" and the "global" have become the "new queer" within the academy, effectively supplanting the latter's "vanguardist position" in academia. (7) In David Halperin's words:
As queer theory becomes more widely diffused throughout the disciplines, it becomes harder to figure out what's so very queer about it, while lesbian and gay studies, which by contrast would seem to pertain only to lesbians and gay men, looks increasingly backward, identitarian, and outdated. (8)
If, as Halperin appears to be implying, the "problem" of lesbian and gay studies was one of visibility and recognition, then the "problem" of queer studies has arguably become one of specificity. Given such seeming impasses within the field of queer studies, what kind of a future, I wondered, could possibly exist for queer musicology, and, more to the point, did it have a future? Assuming for a moment that queer musicology did have a future, how might its future depart from and/or converge with that of queer studies more generally? What, in short, is queer about musicology now?
The question that frames this introduction is, of course, a deliberate reference to the 2005 special issue of the journal Social Text, "What's Queer about Queer Studies Now?" Published fifteen years after Teresa de Lauretis coined the term "queer theory" for the title of a conference she held in February 1990 at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the fall 2005 issue of Social Text was intended to respond to charges that queer studies was suffering from a crisis of intellectual identity within the academy. While scholars such as Halperin have suggested that it is the dissemination of queer studies across the disciplines that has resulted in its premature demise, the editors of Social Text argue that it is precisely the …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: What's Queer about Musicology Now?. Contributors: Lewis, Rachel - Author. Journal title: Women & Music. Volume: 13. Publication date: Annual 2009. Page number: 43+. © 2008 University of Nebraska Press. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.