Music and the Crises of the Modern Subject

Music and the Crises of the Modern Subject

Music and the Crises of the Modern Subject

Music and the Crises of the Modern Subject


Departing from the traditional German school of music theorists, Michael Klein injects a unique French critical theory perspective into the framework of music and meaning. Using primarily Lacanian notions of the symptom, that unnamable jouissance located in the unconscious, and the registers of subjectivity (the Imaginary, the Symbolic Order, and the Real), Klein explores how we understand music as both an artistic form created by "the subject" and an artistic expression of a culture that imposes its history on this modern subject. By creatively navigating from critical theory to music, film, fiction, and back to music, Klein distills the kinds of meaning that we have been missing when we perform, listen to, think about, and write about music without the insights of Lacan and others into formulations of modern subjectivity.


This is my letter to the world
That never wrote to me …
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see….

—Emily Dickinson

A letter always arrives at its destination … There is no speech without a response … Thou art that … the unconscious is the chapter of my history that is marked by a blank or occupied by a lie … the unconscious is the Other’s discourse … a symptom is language from which speech must be delivered … I identify myself in language, but only by losing myself in it as an object … Not only can man’s being not be understood without madness, but it would not be man’s being if it did not bear madness within itself as the limit of his freedom … Man is, prior to his birth and beyond his death, caught up in the symbolic chain, a chain that founded his lineage before his history was embroidered upon it … What did not come to light in the symbolic appears in the real….

Lacan is a challenge. His more famous statements can puzzle us or spur us to reconsider what constitutes us. His writing thwarts conventional thought (which is the point), expressing an exquisite strangeness in the form of aphorisms tied one to another. We can even shatter Lacan’s texts and rearrange their sentences into an aleatoric chain, as appears in the paragraph above, which nonetheless startles us for making just about as much sense as the original configuration of his ideas. But if we are to take Lacan seriously, as I think we should, then we must not be content to treat his famous statements as gobbets to be tossed into our writing, marking us as well read. For Lacan, we are never well read; we always need re-reading. Lacan is a challenge worthy of our best efforts, because once we have some understanding of his project, which was nothing less than a total reconfiguration of what we are as subjects, then we will never see ourselves or the world in the same way. This reconfiguration of our thought about thought has enormous implications for virtually every human endeavor, including music.

This book is about Lacan and music. the association may seem a strange one, since the French psychoanalyst had virtually nothing to say about music.

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