Monday, October 22, 2007

Rereading McClary

From the introductory chapter of Feminine Endings, commenting on Edward T. Cone's attempt to circumvent the "feminine cadences" in Chopin's Polonaise in A:

"Cone is concerned here with 'butching up' a polonaise, a genre that is distinguished from other dances by what [Willi] Apel labels as 'feminine' endings. Now, Chopin's polonaise is a remarkably vigorous, even aggressive composition, and I would argue that it is precisely the emphatic stres on the second ('weak') beat that gives the polonaise its arrogant swagger, its quality of always being poised to plunge into the next phrase. But given that this technicality is conventionally classified as 'feminine,' Cone feels the need to rescue the piece from its 'incorrigibly feminine' endings. He can do so only by violating Chopin's score and in effect weakening the rhythmic integrity of the composition. But at least then the cadences won't sound 'feminine' (even if the resulting performance concludes with what sounds like a failure of nerve, a normalization that 'corrects' the groove's idiosyncrasy)." (10-11)

My only brief comment for now will be that I find it interesting that McClary adopts a discourse so similar to Cone's. "Failure of nerve," "weakening of the rhythmic integrity"... More later, I'm sure

EDIT: more:

She goes on (11) to suggest that Cone is (silently) reading feminine cadences as "excess" (which is possible) and as "refus[ing] the hegemonic control of the barline." I agree with the possibility of reading feminine cadences as excess, though I have not begun to theorize it so. My inclination would not be to go in McClary's direction with the term. In fact, I would argue provisionally that Cone is the one trying to transgress the tyranny of the barline, and that a properly feminine cadence, with all its conservative baggage, can exist only within the ostensibly masculine framework of a "strong" feeling of meter.

Monday, October 8, 2007


I had a dream last night. And in it, I had done something wrong. I think it was a _An Invitation to a Beheading_ kind of thing; I remember asking one of my interrogators whether it was ok to even ask him if he believed concieving of an epistemological shift was even possible, and I think he said it was ok to ask, but dangerous to think about.

I was being tortured to death for whatever I'd done. For a bit, I was okish with this. The more vivid part was when I asked the above question. The interrogator's assistant had a plastic slip knot around my right elbow, and every time I was asked a question, he tightened it. After that, I was to be flayed or something, and then punctured by a thousand yard-long needles, thrown by a guy on some sort of giant lizard (I don't really understand that part...).

I started to argue with the interrogator to the effect that, since they're going to kill me, torture isn't really that necessary; they weren't asking me questions for information, but to educate me about what I was doing wrong. He didn't seem to think it was a good idea to forego the torture.

The weird part is that I then thought about making a break for it. The whole thing was hypothetical. Did I think I could make it to that cliff over there (we were in an open courtyard with quite a few people strolling around, minding their own businesses) before they caught up with me? I thought it through and was caught. So I imagined what I would have done if I had made it. Would I have jumped? What would that have looked/felt like? Turns out it felt pretty exhilarating (I knew it would!). At each step, as soon as I thought about the possibility, even if my exploration convinced me of immediate failure, it followed that I had tried and succeeded simply by hypothesizing.

The water at the bottom of the cliff was pretty shallow. Clear as far as you could see (I was on an island on the sea), with medium-sized sandstone rocks covering the immediate floor. The impact hurt, but that was ok, because I could immediately go through the falling process for as long as that diverted me. I thought with a mixture of mirth and horror about the people swimming near where I impacted.

But then I went on to the afterlife for reincarnation. I wandered aimlessly through the crowded rooms for a while, before getting over my usual trepidation at approaching someone I don't know for directions that I'm convinced will turn out to have been already obvious.

"Go see the woman in section BB about your reincarnation. But be careful. If she doesn't think you're cute, you'll be stuck in red tape for months." That's not exactly what he said, but as close as I can recall. He didn't say "red tape." he had a different expression that escapes me now. (And for some reason it's this part of the dream that embarrasses me.)

I see the woman in section BV (right next to BB), and am informed of my mistake. Fortunately, BB is the next desk to the right. She sees me, and I put on what charm I can muster. She looks through her computer for a bit, and, after asking me a few terse clarifying questions, she produces a slightly oversized yellow sticky note with writing the color between red and orange. This she affixes to my face. It's painful to pull off my dry lips, but it's good news.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Gayatri Spivak

I went to a talk last Friday on Kofi Agawu's book, _Representing African Music..._. The author apparently makes use of Spivak's work, coming up somewhere quite unexpected. He points at Kant et al. as the perveyors of a politics of difference, in which difference is seen as weakness (I think), and says that ethnomusicology has replicated this sin in always considering African music to already be different. The development of alternative (read: non-European) notation to document African music is a symptom of this tradition. Agawu posits that the solution is to introduce (European) formalism into ethnomusicology, under the rubric of what he calls a politics of the same.

I find this shocking, particularly because it ostensibly stems from both Spivak and Gilles Deleuze. Spivak deliberately avoids the question of the subject, prefering instead to refer to the subject-position, which is always, as she says, centered. She doesn't explore the question of what it is that constitutes a subject, in part, I think, because deconstruction will ultimately lead to the answer that nothing constitutes the subject (the abyss). Diane Elam argues just this point, leading her to call for a groundless solidarity, rather than a humanistic solipsism. Deleuze centers his philosophy on radical difference as well, celebrating that which keeps us from trying to all be the same. To then martial these thinkers behind "the immanence of the tone," as Agawu calls it, seems dishonest at worst, and questionable at best.

Of Agawu's "Immanence of the tone," one must ask this: what is a tone? Clearly he doesn't mean pitch. Rhythmically controlled sound collection? Deliberate, audible articulation? Where does the line lie between music and speach if tone is our ground? Is tone a sufficient criterion for a sameness, without being broadly inclusive of every blip or fart? And in the other direction, by demanding the same to ground all music, what happens to those things which are not recognizably musical to a given critic? Where does fluxus end up after this revolutionary dust settles? When Yoko Ono flushed her toilet, did that fit within the same as well? Does it when I flush? This is the limit of formalism (and humanism, I think). Lines cannot be drawn, catagories cannot be named, without abjecting that which ought to be included.

That being said, I need to read the book before I make this official