Soft Boundaries: Re-Visioning the Arts and Aesthetics in American Education

By Claire Detels | Go to book overview
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Preface

The roots of this book go back to two crucial influences I encountered in 1991. The most important influence was my experience at the 1991 NEH Summer Institute on Philosophy and the Histories of the Arts at San Francisco State University. There I shared a very stimulating five weeks with almost forty other academics: mainly philosophers specializing in aesthetics, with a few arts historians (including myself in music) along for the occasionally bumpy ride. What I discovered that summer -- in addition to learning a great deal from Director Arthur Dantoand others at the institute -- was how strongly different disciplinary backgrounds and training affect one's perception, not only of what the answers are to questions about the arts but also what the questions should be. The experience of trying as a music historian to communicate meaningfully about the arts with analytic philosophers for those five weeks left an indelible impression on me. If we historians and philosophers had so much trouble communicating with each other, how could we possibly communicate with the public? I began to investigate ways in which specialization in the arts and aesthetics had led to academic autism: the loss of the ability and even the desire to communicate outside of one's speciality. Those investigations eventually led to this book.

My other main influence in 1991 was reading Susan McClary's groundbreaking work of feminist musicology Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (published the same year). McClary's writing about gender in music and, more generally, the cultural connections of musical styles kept me reading all night, something a musicology monograph had never done before; and it introduced me to major works and concepts in feminist theory that have influenced the ideas in this book greatly. In fact, the concept of "soft boundaries" came to me first as a paradigm for a feminist approach to musical aesthetics, designed to support and spread the new gender-conscious analysis that McClary and others were doing.

McClary's work has since turned out to be a major influence on the discipline

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