Friday, July 27, 2007

Why am I so insufferably stupid?

I cannot get this paper written. I can't even get it started. I've become an intellectual porridge, incapable of stringing together coherent ideas.

Here's what I'm trying to say in my talk:

I'm going to begin with a quotation from an article on minimalism that reflects upon the difficulty the music analyst faces in trying to "penetrate" the music and find the governing meaning beneath the surface. In minimalism, ostensibly, there is not beneath the underneath.

I will then circuitously reapproach this observation.

1) Michael Fried, Hal Foster, and Kate Linker. These articles in art criticism, placed here in chronological order (and I think I'll retain this ordering) reinforce the reading of minimalist art as a project in the service of decentering the artist-subject. For Fried, this is a bad thing, and it renders the work of art a "mere object," devoid of what Hegel called subjectivity. It is important that this modernist critic dismisses minimal art precisely in terms of an unreferenced Hegelian aesthetic model. The subject fails to present itself.

Foster reitterates this critique, but, rather than dismissing minimalism as a theatrical non-art, claims it for the cruz of postmodernity. For Foster, the subject seems to be successfully gotten rid of (though we ought not to presume he really believes this). We can see this as an artistic movement self-conciously breaking from modernism as represented by Hegel and the centered autonomous subject.

Linker may prove to be unnecessary. I've used her in my paper to draw the explicit link between Barthes (who also might not be so necessary) and Reich, since she uses wording that connects the two quite clearly. Maybe this belongs later in the paper?

Chave gives us the necessary critique of Foster.
1) the artist is of course always present in the work. In my terms: just because the author is no longer to be considered the privileged source of meaning does not mean that he (naturally) is not one of the pieces assembled into the text.
2) Minimalism can be seen as a replication of the devices of late capitalism (she doesn't use that term). It's phallic power is both ever-present and empty/fragile. It is necessarily unitary, devoid of depth or detail, and in this regard mimicks the valid sex organ. However, its vain attempt to desubjectify the creator (by means of being so phallicized), in conjunction with the vapidity and fracturedness of the postmodern Western Subject undermines its unity. Chave looks at Andre's line of bricks (the 136 brick long phallus that could be dismembered by an absent-minded kick) and Flavins "angle of exstacy" which burns out regularly and has to be replaced. This is analogous in music to the degree of concentration required to perform early minimalist works, particularly in relation to the simplicity of the result (4 organs, for example, fell appart when performed in Boston because the performers couldn't concentrate. Also, Reich was initially apprehensive about the viability of live phase-shifting music, since it was probably too hard to do. Compare also Les Moutons de Panurge).

Further similarity is the lack of depth. Take, for example, Tony Smith's Die, which is large and bleak, but seems also quite hollow. The openning quote (that I didn't put up here) reflects this in music. The fragility and hollowness (lack of penetration) of minimalist music is in part what keeps it from repeating Schoenbergian or Schenkerian organicism. Instead, it serves as a critique of the emptyness of late capitalist culture.

If I have space, I'll follow this up by delimitting the historical boundaries of minimalist music. For Glass, minimalism begins to vanish with his longer, complicated works such as Music in 12 Parts. For Reich, the transition is more interesting (cuz he's actually a good composer). It begins just after Drumming, and involves at least two important features. 1) voice. Voice was important in Reich's first minimalist pieces (Come Out, It's Gonna Rain, and that one where concert-goers had their voices recorded and phased) but was always treated like a found object rather than like an intrument. In the post-Drumming period, performers begin to sing and the corporeality of the musicians becomes important. Gone is the faceless replication of post-industrial society, and it is replaced with people ("All music is ethnic music," says Reich at this point). 2) Duration. By adding sustained tones to his music (which began in 4 Organs and came back in a different guise at this point), phasing, and hense mechinization, stops being the only process in the music. Hence the music becomes more complicated, and consequently both less unitary and less fragile.

Now that's only 3 pages.

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