The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays

The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays

The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays

The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays

Synopsis

The Danger of Music gathers some two decades of Richard Taruskin's writing on the arts and politics, ranging in approach from occasional pieces for major newspapers such as the New York Times to full-scale critical essays for leading intellectual journals. Hard-hitting, provocative, and incisive, these essays consider contemporary composition and performance, the role of critics and historians in the life of the arts, and the fraught terrain where ethics and aesthetics interact and at times conflict. Many of the works collected here have themselves excited wide debate, including the title essay, which considers the rights and obligations of artists in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In a series of lively postscripts written especially for this volume, Taruskin, America's "public" musicologist, addresses the debates he has stirred up by insisting that art is not a utopian escape and that artists inhabit the same world as the rest of society. Among the book's forty-two essays are two public addresses--one about the prospects for classical music at the end of the second millennium C. E., the other a revisiting of the performance issues previously discussed in the author's Text and Act (1995)--that appear in print for the first time.

Excerpt

For the past twenty years and more I have led a double life as a writer on music—or so they tell me. Ever since meeting James Oestreich and joining his stable of writers at Opus magazine (where my first article appeared in the issue of April 1985), I have written books, articles, and reviews both for scholarly venues and readerships and for … well, what’s the opposite of scholarly? Unscholarly? I hope not. Popular? Not if sales are the measure. General interest? Would that it were so. No, the word most frequently used to describe venues and readerships in contrast to scholarly ones is public. I have been appearing in the “public press” as commentator and critic, which makes me an aspiring “public intellectual.”

There are many who insist that the roles of public intellectual and academic are incompatible. the loudest such voice has been that of Russell Jacoby, whose The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe, published by Basic Books in 1987, came out just when I was beginning to write for the New Republic, a magazine that was not only public, but not even specifically musical, and where as an academic musicologist I was supposedly even farther from home. Jacoby’s book attracted my attention with its thesis that academic mores had eviscerated the American intellectual tradition, and that there were no successors to the generation of public intellectuals— Edmund Wilson, Lewis Mumford, C. Wright Mills (to list Jacoby’s brightest luminaries)—who lived la vie de bohème, wrote forcefully and intelligibly for a wide nonprofessional readership, and offered a precious alternative to conformist thinking.

Jacoby’s book was attacked as nostalgic, and (as I will be noting in due course) his subsequent writings have substantiated the charge to some degree. and one inconsistency in his argument was glaring. I remembered C. Wright Mills from my years as a student at Columbia, where he was a . . .

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