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

By Claire Detels | Go to book overview
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Soft Boundaries and Relatedness: A New Paradigm for Understanding Music

In view of the recent rising influence of postmodern thought and feminist theory in music, the time appears to be ripe for the emergence of a new music-theoretical paradigm to challenge the highly fonnalistic conception of music found in Western music history, theory, composition, and practice. The paradigm I am proposing is that of soft boundaries and relatedness, wherein the covert valuation of "hard" (i.e., clearly distinct) boundaries in traditional concepts and judgments about music is replaced by recognition of the relatedness of music and musical entities across "soft" (i.e., permeable) boundaries, including relatedness to social context and function. The soft boundary of the paradigm is not a hard-and-fast line or rule for defining and judging music as in traditional aesthetics but is similar to Heidegger's sense of boundary: "that from which something begins its essential unfolding."137 Thus, the focus of the paradigm is on how the unfolding proceeds within and across permeable boundaries, rather than on the definition and reification of the boundaries themselves. Or, in other words, the focus is necessarily the whole musical experience rather than any particularized musical entities such as motives, phrases, sections, movements, and so forth.

In its attention to relationship rather than singular fact or thing, the paradigm of soft boundaries and relatedness has strong ties to contemporary postmodern and feminist theory. The ties to postmodernism are most obvious, for as Jerome Klinkowitz has stated, the key to the postmodern habit of thought is "that the authentic phenomenon in any event is not fact but relationship." 138 The re

This chapter first appeared in the boundary 2 special issue on "Postmodern Feminisms" ( 1992) under the title "Soft Boundaries and Relatedness: Paradigm for a Postmodern, Feminist Musical Aesthetics." It is slightly revised here, in keeping with the orientation towards education rather than feminist theory. I might add that since 1992, softer-boundaried, culturally connected research has entered musicology and music theory to a surprising extent, but music curricula have been little affected by this development.

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