Nicholas Mathew on Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Etoiles

Dept-Photo-150x226Nicholas Mathew, Associate Professor of Music at UC Berkeley, will discuss Olivier Messiaen’s Des canyons aux etoiles (1974) with Shannon Jackson, Cyrus and Michelle Hadidi Chair in the Humanities at UC Berkeley. The event, part of the Big Ideas series featured at the newly re-opened BAMPFA, will take place at noon on February 3.

 

Mathew is the author, with Representations co-chair Mary Ann Smart, of “Elephants in the Room: The Future of Quirk Historicism,” an introduction to the recent Representations forum on Quirk Historicism (132).

 

Quirk Historicism: A Special Forum, Representations 132

In the wake of New Historicism, eight music scholars reflect on the recent tendency to use objets trouvés and historical micronarratives for interpretation. The editors of the forum, Nicholas Mathew and Mary Ann Smart, introduce the thread of the quirk historicist phenomenon and contemplate its implications.

ELEPHANTS IN THE MUSIC ROOM: THE FUTURE OF QUIRK HISTORICISM

This introduction begins (free download):

hans-and-maguerite

Jean Pierre Louis Laurent Houël: ‘‘Les eléphants représentes dans l’instant de premières caresses qu’ils se sont faites après qu’on leur a fait entendre de la musique,” in Histoire Naturelle des deux Elephants, male et femelle, du Muséum de Paris (Paris, 1803).

Despite a suffix that suggests kinship with taxonomic enterprises such as zoology or the earliest phases of anthropology, musicology may rank as one of the most permissive of humanistic fields. In journals and at conferences, philological research and source studies rub shoulders with work on the philosophy of music, close readings, reception history, and microhistory. Yet, as in literary studies, one central question has troubled the field for at least a quarter-century: that of the status of the “texts” (musical works, as notated or performed) whose interpretation and explanation traditionally anchored much musicological writing. As both the canon of works that merited this type of attention and the analytical tools used to explicate them were destabilized, scholarly energies turned toward narrating historical accounts of musical environments. In the wake of this suspicion of close reading, many musicologists became collectors of curiosities, assembling and scrutinizing disparate objects, events, and documents in order to understand how past communities of listeners and practitioners used music, why they created and cared about the kinds of music they did.

Before this collecting impulse took hold, history often meant “context.” Musical works could be enriched, but at the same time shown to be functional and contingent, by accounts that placed them in ready-made historical frames supplied by the locations in which art was produced or by big-picture histories—the French Revolution, the Third Reich, the Napoleonic Wars. And like most such cross-disciplinary borrowings, the imported concepts were sometimes flattened out, as if they had passed through the brain’s “abstract thought” region, as imagined in the Pixar movie Inside Out. As the kinds of history practiced by music historians have become more fine-grained and more material, there is a temptation to look down on earlier approaches as schematic or simplistic; but it is worth remembering that those contextual dyads (“music and . . . ”) were welcome and necessary excuses to talk about music—even instrumental music, symphonies and the like—in relation to categories such as gender, race, and nation, whose admission into musicological thought was long overdue.

Once musicologists began to take notice of New Historicism, any such tidy or schematic versions of history quickly fell by the wayside. New Historicism’s trademark deployment of the anecdote upended the apparent clarity and coherence of context and blurred the distinction between texts and contexts, dispersing both into more complex discursive constellations. The kinds of historical material potentially available to the music scholar thus became nearly endless, the relevance of any particular detail depending mainly on the ingenuity and persuasive gifts of the writer. Such a précis could, with a few adjustments, apply to almost any humanistic discipline in the 1990s and 2000s. But in musicology, the objets trouvés and historical micronarratives that once obediently fell into contextual patterns or acted as isolated anecdotes have staged a kind of mutiny, multiplying in the service of a narrative logic that overwhelms and even supplants any larger critical goals. It is this tendency that we are calling quirk historicism. Continue reading … (free download)

FORUM CONTENTS

JAMES Q. DAVIES
On Being Moved/Against Objectivity

EMILY I. DOLAN
Musicology in the Garden

ELLEN LOCKHART
Pygmalion and the Music of Mere Interest

AOIFE MONKS
Bad Art, Quirky Modernism

BENJAMIN PIEKUT
Pigeons

BENJAMIN WALTON
Quirk Shame

NICHOLAS MATHEW is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California,  Berkeley. He is the author of Political Beethoven (Cambridge, 2013) and co-editor, with Benjamin Walton, of the collection The Invention of Beethoven and Rossini.

MARY ANN SMART also teaches in the Music Department of UC Berkeley. She is the author of Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera and editor of Siren Songs: Representations of Gender and Sexuality in Opera. Her new book, Waiting for Verdi, will be published by the University of California Press in 2016.

Distant Reading and the Blurry Edges of Genre

Ted Underwood, contributor to Representations‘ recent special forum Search, continues his engagement with digital questions on his own blog, The Stone and the Shell, with Maria_Mitchell

Distant Reading and the Blurry Edges of Genre. 

Having just spent two years attempting to subdivide an entire digital library by genre, Underwood encountered some interesting problems. “In particular, the problem of ‘dividing a library by genre,’” he says, “has made me realize that literary studies is constituted by exclusions that are a bit larger and more arbitrary than I used to think.”

Underwood’s contribution to the Representations Search forum, Theorizing Research Practices We Forgot to Theorize Twenty Years Ago, asks what it means to say that search plays an “evidentiary role in scholarship”:

“Quantitative methods have been central to the humanities since scholars began relying on full-text search to map archives. But the intellectual implications of search technology are rendered opaque by humanists’ habit of considering algorithms as arbitrary tools. To reflect more philosophically, and creatively, on the hermeneutic options available to us, humanists may need to converse with disciplines that understand algorithms as principled epistemological theories. We need computer science, in other words, not as a source of tools but as a theoretical interlocutor.”

Full text of this article can be found here.

SEARCH FORUM

CURRENT ISSUE OFFERS SPECIAL FEATURE ON THE SEARCH

According to the forum’s introduction:

“This forum began with a conversation among editorial board members about what Representations might have to say in response to recent discussions about the nature and future of digital work in the humanities and social sciences. We wanted to think both about recent developments in the use of databases, search tools, and digital means of presenting and disseminating research as well as about the larger social and historical contexts behind these new applications of technology. We also considered some of the claims made about these technologies as well as the structure of the debate that has begun to rise up around them. As different search engines and online resources (Google, the Internet Archive, Google Books, Project Gutenberg, EEBO [Early English Books Online], and so on) have become more and more prominent, assessments of their value often seem to take opposed forms, with advocates for the transformative power of big data lining up on one side and those who think technology is mostly a distraction on the other. Rather than taking either side, we invited several writers to consider the historical and cultural conditions that have made this impasse possible….”RosenbergFig.3.aCrop

“The forum’s contributors look at several different aspects of what stands as the center of these debates for both dedicated specialists and scholars with only the most general of relations to technology: the homely search. How, in the face of new and more powerful tools, has searching for data changed? Is there a culture or cultures of search that differ from or repeat the terms of earlier moments in scholarly culture? To what degree do specific economies of searching reproduce other economic realities or fantasies? What stands logistically, aesthetically, ethically behind the act of searching for data?…”

jstor_logo“We hope these short essays will contribute to ongoing debates in and around digital technology in the humanities and social sciences and show how understanding the politics, the economics, and the mechanics of searching can help us better understand hidden aspects of the work we have been doing all along.” –Kent Puckett

FREDERIC KAPLAN  Linguistic Capitalism and Algorithmic Mediation
TED UNDERWOOD  Theorizing Research Practices We Forgot to Theorize Twenty Years         Ago
LISA GITELMAN  Searching and Thinking About Searching JSTOR
DANIEL ROSENBERG  Stop, Words
LEAH PRICE  Response