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

No comments: