Writing through Music: Essays on Music, Culture, and Politics

Writing through Music: Essays on Music, Culture, and Politics

Writing through Music: Essays on Music, Culture, and Politics

Writing through Music: Essays on Music, Culture, and Politics

Synopsis

Drawing on a passion for music, a remarkably diverse interdisciplinary toolbox, and a gift for accessible language that speaks equally to scholars and the general public, Jann Pasler invites us to read as she writes "through" music, unveiling the forces that affect our sonic encounters. In an extraordinary collection of historical and critical essays, some appearing for the first time in English, Pasler deconstructs the social, moral, and political preoccupations lurking behind aesthetic taste. Arguing that learning from musical experience is vital to our understanding of past, present, and future, Pasler's work trenchantly reasserts the role of music as a crucial contributor to important public debates about who we can be as individuals, communities, and nations. The author's wide-ranging and perceptive approaches to musical biography and history challenge us to rethink our assumptions about important cultural and philosophical issues including national identity and postmodern musical hybridity, material culture, the economics of power, and the relationship between classical and popular music. Her work uncovers the self-fashioning of modernists such as Vincent d'Indy, Augusta Holmes, Jean Cocteau, and John Cage, and addresses categories such as race, gender, and class in the early 20th century in ways that resonate with experiences today. She also explores how music uses time and constructs narrative. Pasler's innovative and influential methodological approaches, such as her notion of "question-spaces," open up the complex cultural and political networks in which music participates. This provides us with the reasons and tools to engage with music in fresh and exciting ways. In these thoughtful essays, music--whether beautiful or cacophonous, reassuring or seemingly incomprehensible--comes alive as a bearer of ideas and practices that offers deep insights into how we negotiate the world. Here, Jann Pasler's Writing through Music brilliantly demonstrates how music can be a critical lens to focus the contemporary critical, cultural, historical, and social issues of our time.

Excerpt

Bringing together a group of the most important and influential recent essays by a major scholar whose work bridges musicology-ethnomusicology, the sociology of art, and other fields, Jann Pasler’s Writing Through Music directly confronts one of the most perplexing anomalies in public intellectual discourse. In recent years, it has become evident that, in contrast to previous eras, the work of many of the best known public intellectuals of our time seems distanced from musical considerations, and from new and experimental music in particular. As a result, the practice of culturally and philosophically theorizing contemporary nonliterary, nonvisual texts tends to become marginalized and devalued in the public sphere—not because music scholars are not producing these works but, perhaps, simply because it is somehow assumed that music has little to teach us about the critical issues of our time.

Pasler’s introduction to this book moves quickly and forthrightly to counter the effects of this lacuna, by presenting an ambitious, well-argued agenda for reasserting the centrality of music study to contemporary intellectual discourse. Implicitly accepting as given the interdisciplinary landscape in which contemporary scholars operate allows Pasler to move directly to an explanation of how her methods of theorizing music draw on music’s own most basic strengths. In a very real sense, scholars in many other fields could benefit from using music as, paraphrasing Pasler, a lens that focuses the analysis.

Pasler acknowledges the debates that have animated musicological discussions in recent years, including canon formation, Werktreue, the role of the so-called extramusical, and so on. At the same time, her introduction is a ringing call to bring together the insights drawn from these debates in the service of a greater and more ambitious historiographical agenda. Pasler demonstrates that one crucial way of writing through music is to acknowledge that music scholars need to write “through” their own field to address others—not by simply deploying the tools and methods of other fields (the standard version of “interdisciplinarity”) but by (again in Pasler’s words) using music as a critical tool to analyze contemporary critical . . .

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