Thursday, April 24, 2008


First of all, thanks for your comments on my last post. I agree with most everything that was said, though for now I'm going to leave it at that, so I can get on to the problem I need to work through.

I wrote a paper a few years ago called "The Myth of Inaccessible Music," using Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus (TP) to argue in favor of both music theory and avant-garde music (especially that of the atonal, high-modernist variety).

My argument was based on the assumption that the avant-garde is inaccessible because it is unfamiliar, and listeners tend to approach music in search of a familiar discourse.  By this assumption, people like Beethoven, or Coldplay, or whatever, because they are familiar with the language used and they can understand what's going on (I mean language and understand in very general senses--I'm not trying to start a "music as language" argument).  People do not enjoy the avant-garde because they approach it with similar expectations--understanding--and are let down.  Webern (the musical example with which I began the paper in question) simply does not employ the rhetorical devices people expect from music, and their absence is alienating ("why can't I understand this? does this mean I'm stupid?")

From the perspective of TP this is a problem (or instance, more properly) of territorialization.  Expectation and identification are mechanisms of ordering, which mark out a territory from surrounding chaos.  Belonging to (read: understanding) the musical tradition presented grounds the listener in a secure cultural environment.  The memory triggered--the long-term memory--territorializes the musical object, letting it function as a poster or sign-post.  Long-term memory acts as an instrument of arborescence.

The two solutions I propose involve seeking a rhizomatic listening.  The first is the attempt to push aside long-term memory and experience music without expectations.  I lack the sophistication to suggest a legitimate program that would lead to this position, but in theory it would be the same project as the body without organs: a (nearly) complete destratification of the subject (which at that point would not be, properly speaking, a subject at all).  (Can there still be music in this space?  Does the organization of sound require stepping back from the milieu?)

The second solution is to over-stratify.  Through studying music--theoretically, historically, aesthetically, etc.--one could so over-stratify music as to effectively overpower expectation.  This is not the same as learning harmony and counterpoint to appreciate Beethoven.  Studying common-practice music to understand common-practice music only reifies and contextualizes expectation (at the same time? can you do both?).   But placing the avant-garde in the context of radically divergent possibilities would open the listener to these different possible lines of flight.  This is, in effect, creating too many expectations.  When an listener with long-term memory hears Beethoven, there are a set (and quite small, really) number of possible next moves.   But when a listener with long-term memory and an extensive knowledge of new music hears something "inaccessible," the lines of flight are not blocked, but instead opened in advance.

Now, a few years later, I understand the book quite differently.

The first solution is partially consonant with TP.  It acknowledges the machinic relation between the listener and the music.  Music territorializes the person as a listener (a listener to this music), and the person territorializes the music as music (as this music).  In order to dismantle this mutual constitution, one goes in search of absolute deterritorialization: the rhizome, short-term memory, the BwO.  But it is problematic because it leaves intact, after the fact, music.  To argue for a rhizomatic listening experience is to invoke an Idea of music that exists separate of reality.  I do not mean (and D+G would not mean) that music is "just" a construction, that it is not real.  On the contrary, territorializing sound as music is precisely what makes it real.    This is the double motion that rejects Platonic Idealism, in the interest of recuperating matter, while simultaneously retaining the idea, not as exterior or mystical, but as real.  However, given that it is listening (perceiving) that makes music real, there doesn't seem much point to talk about music after absolute deterritorialization.   Indeed, this critique could be leveled at al the various quests for "Deleuzian music" (leaving aside what "Deleuzian" could possibly mean).

The second position is significantly more problematic from the perspective of TP, if we accept the position that deterritorialization is a good thing.  After all, it's pretty clear that what I'm doing is not deterritorialization, but the opposite.  Indeed, we might even argue that education isn't a means of opening lines of flight, but of contexutalizing the avant-garde.  It doesn't so much allow for radical possibility, but instead creates the expectation of radical divergence, and an expectation that is of course founded upon long-term memory and its contingent narratives.

Where does that leave this project?  In a position to question its opening question.  I asked--tacitly--"Why is some music inaccessible?"  The question should be "Why am I concerned with making [my] music accessible?" (mine in the sense of cultural ID, not actual composition.)

To answer, first I would need to radically critique the possibility of music, its relation to the politics of territories, and what remains at the (impossible) position of absolute deterritorialization.

The first part of this critique (the possibility of music) would be a book.  And a long, complicated one that only French people read.  Music plays an ambivalent role in TP, certainly in part because it lies beyond the authors' areas of expertise.  It appears on the list of becomings, but the obviously metaphorical nature of these undermine any attempt to generalize this passage (music's role in the development of the cult of genius suggests that it is not always--or maybe even ever--so subversive as becoming-music implies).  It also is central to the section on the refrain, in which it functions as a territorializing, organizing force (as discussed above).

Which bleeds into the territoriality of music.  Ultimately this will bring us back in circles, because now the question must be raised: "What do you mean by music?"  It seems supremely silly to suppose that music is all the same, and only slightly less so to suggest that all music shares some common characteristic.  Thus there is in basis, absent of an argument, for assuming that music's role as a refrain prevents it from also being a becoming.  Indeed, unless we adopt the notion of a "work," unless we assume that a particular piece is always that piece regardless of who is listening and how and why, we cannot even argue that there is only one role that one piece can play.  Memory is key here.

Lastly we face the unknown.  My reading of TP makes it very problematic to even talk about the plain of consistency.  I read this book as an extended polemic against the coherent subject and its constitutive other.  For Deleuze and Guattari, there is always first "we," not "I."  But they continue to do a few things "just for kicks," like say "I," or talk about the orient or "primitives."  Their own text, which is meant to undermine centuries of relying on the subject/object positions, turns on these moments in which I and they return.  I think this is because language is intimately tied into subjects and objects (which are named not by mistake). This is confirmed in TP.  The state apparatus, Jesus, etc. are all intimately tied to the face, the white wall of which comes from language, and the black eye of which comes from the subject.  Ultimately we cannot talk about the place TP wants to take us, and that is why it doesn't take us there.  Utopian without leading to Utopia.  So there can be no comments on "Deleuzian" music because we cannot speak there: there is no we, and there is no speech.  Whether or not there is music becomes irrelevant as soon as we ask, because both asking and being we dismantles the BwO.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Voices and Violence

I'm really tired, but I feel like I need to do this right now, while I still feel really uncomfortable.  But first:

Oral exams are June 4th, so I'll know by then at the latest if I'm a complete wasto!

So, some of the pertinent info that's on my mind is here:

I'm worried about my ability to communicate.  I entered the above thread in the interest of expanding my vocabulary, to better understand my position as someone striving to be a feminist in a late-capitalist patriarchy.   What does being entail, and how can I minimize the violence essential to my existence.  I am, after all, privileged, par excellence, and will be received that way.  When I look, I gaze, and I need to learn (it will be my project for life to learn) how to mitigate that gaze, to make it positive rather than possessive.

Porn is an obvious site of exploration.  Without the gaze, there is no porn.  Regrettably, studying music theory and being interested specifically in how feminism works there has steered my reading away from the visual and into the areas of cultural production and music.  Representation is key, as is subjectivity.  Understanding various theories of ontology and epistemology has taken a great deal of my time, and, I hope, allowed me better to understand the degree of my complicity in the reinscription of a phallogocentric economy.

But maybe not.  Maybe the sound of my voice, the intrusion of my name, is enough to prevent me from not being the father.  My identity as a heterosexual male seems to be enough to align me with the phallocracy, to pin me as a porn-mongering apologist.

Recent experience outside of the web has taught me that it doesn't do any good to blame the reader for misreading.  If that were the case, there would be no motion outside the dominant, no room for dissenting voices.  It seems to me the only wiggle room is found in a multi-vocal approach to reading that is inquisitive rather than accusing.

But this doesn't get around the problem of speaking.  I have a voice: it's part of being privileged.  How can I find a mode of discourse that invites multi-vocal reading?  Some speech (and some topics) automatically restrict response choices (I do not think this is necessarily one of those places, but I have personal reasons for wanting to theorize this moment).  My position of power as a pretty good-sized straight white male means that I'm in that position a lot (I even had a young girl run down the street one night because she saw me walking home).  I try to be sensitive and sensible of the sometimes silencing effect of my body, but that is not enough, even when I'm successful.  Is there a way for me to be, to speak, to touch, etc., that always leaves open every avenue of response?

It should be pretty clear that I don't have an answer to this.  If I did, I'd already have a job.

The question of porn is a particular instance.  I will rule out immediately porn of the violent stripe, and porn involving coercion (economic, sexual, narcotic, etc.): those are clearly negative, both in their treatment of the cast and in their construction of culture.  But suppose in a fantasy land there is a recording of people enjoying a sexual exchange, filmed, packaged, sold and viewed with the intent of arousing the viewer (let's be self-indulgent and pragmatic and assume, as is often done tacitly, that the viewer is a heterosexual male), perhaps even for masturbatory purposes.  Is their violence there?  (and please, these questions are of course rhetorical, but not meant to imply a specific answer, but rather to leave them open)

This is a problem, as always, of representation.  What porn does that seems most violent (in Butler's sense of the word) is construct sexual ideals.  The very act of recording and marketing the sexual image of a person is an endorsement of that image as preferred, and the success of the image reifies it as an ideal.  Then if your boobs aren't big enough, you're not sexy enough, because you don't meet the ideal (e.g.).  But of course, that's not just porn (excepting absurdly broad definitions of the term): movies, advertisements, books, religion, the state, philosophy... all these things are in the business of constructing ideals up to which no one will ever measure.  If representation is the problem, then if we can't watch porn, we also can't engage in most modes of cultural production (including classical music, according to McClary--and I buy this part of her argument).

But there is a difference.  Cultural production that participates in the construction of ideals is ubiquitous: we call it patriarchy, but it goes by any number of names (see Oh God, below).  Porn is unique, though, in it's portrayal of sex.  When I go to bed with a woman, she is almost always completely physically vulnerable to me.  Because porn does not exist in isolation, but rather interacts with everything else, the idealization of a sexual body, combined with a culture of rape, recodes my body as dangerous, rather than only sensual (and by rape culture I mean Western culture--see Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will [which I've not yet finished], or for a shorter article, Ruth Solie, "What Do Feminist Want? A Reply to Pieter van den Toorn," The Journal of Musicology 9, No. 4, 1991, 399-410).  The interaction between a culture of physical violence against women and an industry predicated on the construction of an impossible sexual ideal breeds both violence and the expectation thereof.  While I cannot do much to change my cultural membership or my body, I can control my relationship to porn.  In the hope that this small change will make she whom I love (still I speak in ideals--both love and she at the present) safer.

Most of this reasoning is happening in real-time.  I'm beginning to think it would have been more effective to talk to myself than to try to enter a stream in which, in retrospect, I was clearly not welcome.

I'm very bitter about this last.  I love Twisty's work, and will continue to read her blog, but I'm quite scandalized by the ease with which I was presumed guilty even while I expressed my interest and openness.

Politics is impossible, and always happens anyway.  I've often heard people claim that feminists hate porn because they're all a bunch of fat lesbians and it makes them feel bad (or that they're lesbians because they're fat and men don't want them--Freud gets pretty close to exactly that claim.  Freud was a pretty horrible person).  I'd like to pretend this is just a caricature of conservatism, but I'm sure we all know better.  I obviously don't share this view of feminism: if I did I wouldn't have asked for a reason, believing instead that I already held it.  What caught me off guard was that I was instantly caricatured in an equally unflattering way.  I wanted to know the reasons behind a position, and I was therefore opposed to the position, and entrenched in my love for, need of, porn.  But we went over this a bit above.  I'm recursing, this time with more frustration in my voice, and I will move on.

I was going to end by repeating my resolution to take mearl at his/her word, but now that I've had the time to work through the argument on my own (spurred on, admittedly, by a recent and distressing revelation I shan't recount), I need not (though I will anyway).

It is pretty clear at this point that the differentiation between gay and straight porn, between violent and non-violent porn, etc., is unnecessary.  I began this inquiry from a selfish point of view, wanting to know how I might better conduct myself to minimize my complicity.   Since I don't participate sexually in the gay community, nuances of that genre are not relevant.  Since it is unlikely that the quality of my porn will affect its reception by a third party, this latter is irrelevant as well.

So while I'll certainly keep thinking about this, and reading (Dworkin here I come, once those general exams are done), I'll go ahead and make this my official renunciation of porn statement.  I know this will ring hollow for most of you, since you've no idea whether or not I'm lying.  Do I even know?  

I'm not sure the title seems as relevant now as it was, but I think it still is.  After all, this is the sort of thing that might not be easily discussed, even between intimate partners.  How do you tell the person you love that there is a physical threat, and it's him?

PS, thoughts, comments, tirades, criticism, expansion, etc., are all extremely welcome and solicited.  Especially if you're pissed at me still.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oh God

"This is the situation Lévi-Strauss describes: the world begins to signify before anyone knows what it signifies; the signified is given without being known.  Your wife looked at you with a funny expression.  And this morning the mailman anded you a letter from the IRS and crossed his fingers.  Then you stepped in a pile of dog shit.  You saw two sticks on the sidewalk positioned like the hands of a watch.  They were whispering behind you back when you arrived at teh office.  It doesn't matter what it means, it's still signifying.... Nothing is ever over and done with in a regime of this kind.  It's made for that, it's the tragic regime of infinite debt, to which one is simultaneously debtor and creditor." (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 112-3. Emphasis theirs)

This is from their discussion of regimes of signs, and the endless chains of signifiers, in which signs refer only to other signs (words defined only by words, defined by words, etc., e.g.  I'm not sure if they actually used the term "IRS" in the original French, or if they used the French government's equivalent).  Then later, in their chapter on Faciality:

"Earlier, we encountered two axes, signifiance and subjectification.  We saw that they were two very different semiotic systems, or even two strata.  Signifiance is never without a white wall upon which it inscribes its signs and redundancies.  Subjectification is never without a black hole in which it lodges its consciousness, passion, and redundancies.  Since all semiotics are mixed and strata come at least in twos, it should come as no surprise that a very special mechanism is situated at their intersection.  Oddly enough, it is a face: the white wall/black hole system.  A broad face with white cheeks, a chalk face with eyes cut in for a black hole.  Clown head, white clown, moon-white mime, angel of death, Holy Shroud." (Ibid., 167, emphasis theirs.)

And a little later in the same section:

"The face is not a universal.  It is not even that of the white man; it is White Man himself, with his broad white cheeks and teh black hole of his eyes.  The face is Christ.... Jesus Christ superstar." (Ibid., 176)

Monday, April 7, 2008

If rhizomatics is about subtracting the phallus (or not letting it in at all--deterritorializing it), then what about the "First theorem" of detteritorialization (174):

"One never deterritorializes alone; there are always at least two terms, hand-use object, mouth-breast, face-landscape.  And each of the two terms reterritorializes on the other."

1) where are the rhizome and deterritorialization, relative to one another?

2) what is an agent?  (Is this even askable here?)

1) The hand is a deterritorialization of the paw, the breast of the utter, etc.  As organs, these are not part of a body without organs (though as machines they are, I think), so if a de/reterritorialziation retains organ-ness, it is not a feature of the plain of consistency, but of order.  Further, there is no deterritorialization without reterritorialization.  This is not a becoming imperceptible, this is faciality.  The terminological confusion with deterritorialization is vexing.  It suggests the rhizome, because I think of trees and structure as territorial, but I don't think it is so simple.  One may have a tendency to read A Thousand Plateaus as two lists of synonyms: order and chaos, bad and good.  But both the dual and the morality of this reading give it away.

In the old dream of symmetry, the man (the subject) deterritorializes the woman (the object), in part by altering the specificity of her relation to the imaginary.  She goes from being a woman to being a woman, and the lack of terminological distinction is part of why syntax is so strange in these books.

2) I don't think I have an answer for this one.  Agency is not advocated by D+G.  Maybe statements like the one quoted above are their partial solution, or deferral.  Since people are not coherent entities, since there is perhaps no will, even, what passes for agency is the territorialization of the interaction of things (never mind for now what a thing is, and whether it presupposes ontology to even say "thing").  Humans interact with interactions by seeing in them, by making them (the interactions) a result of will.  Sometimes it is my will (for example, the pressing of these keys), sometimes yours (the decision to read), sometimes God's (the decision for anything I don't understand to happen).  But for D+G, these instances of will are de/reterritorializations.  Not made by me only as I witness, but from one object to another.  The water makes the plastic into a bottle by not flowing freely.

I'm quite skeptical of this, and maybe I'm wrong.  I'm also prone to solipsism.

EDIT: regarding deterritorialization: 
"It seems necessary to distinguish between three types of deterritorialization: the first type is relative, proper to the strata, and culminates in signifiance; the second is absolute, but still negative and stratic, and appears in subjectification (Ratio et Passio); finally, there is the possibility of a positive absolute deterritorialization on the plane of consistency or the body without organs." (Thousand Plateaus, 134)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tapering off

When Deleuze and Guattari say "n-1" 1 is not what it seems (?). Or maybe n is not.

The confusion arises from the mathematical terminological loan.

The old book: the tap root, the "Old Dream of Symmetry." One splits into two, or more. Always the one defined by and defining the second (the constitutive other?).

The not-as-old book: the modern book. Truncated, grafted. One grafted with multiple (castrated and supplemented? supplementing?). Chaos that yet transcends into a higher unity.

The rhizome. n-1. 1 is not a number, it is unity. Not arithmetic or set theory, but group theory. 1 is the identity. The rhizome, n-1, is radical. It goes to the root. The specular repetition of the subject--his creation of the object through the mirror--is overridden.  Unorganisch, without organs.  But too, the truncated chaos of modernism, the transcendental return of the unit(y) cannot be either.  1 is minus, excised--or maybe not included.  n might not even be a variable.  n is the number of dimensions we have, and don't create the unit(y).  Multiplicity as not progeny.

Language is still the problem.  A rhizome.  Unity imposes itself.  The ant colony is still the ant colony.  Is phallologocentrism a pathology?

If we can successfully read rhizomes this way, they become a strategic metaphor for subverting phallocentrism--the privileging of the engendered subject, which draws upon for validation the constitution of the other.  To define the subject, there must be an other.  The old book, the root that replicates itself, becoming two (or too many), but generated always by the one (but a one of which we cannot conceive without its self-reproduction).

But rhizomes re-fill this position.  They become the subject.  D+G have to create the rhizome by theorizing the not-rhizome.  A tracing (a tree) is taken from the map, and we can re-constitute the map by taking the tracing back to it.  One metaphor needs the other, is supplemented by it.  Always a rhizome.

there is no significance to the change in spacing, other than the reflection of the distance between ideas: blogger is formatting automatically.

I'm increasingly convinced that it is irresponsible to use sitars in rock music.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I want to figure out why I feel uncomfortable when musicologists (and others) use the term Other.  I think I have it worked out.  ish...

The Other (the constitutive other, they sometimes say) is the not-you that allows you to think of yourself.  Like the adage that evil is necessary so that we can understand and appreciate good, so to does the self need an Other to understand itself.  This, presumably, happens first in interpersonal relationships.  I know I'm me because I learned as an infant that my body ends here and my mother starts there. (My understanding of it is inflected by phsychoanalysis for reasons that will manifest later on, but it is worth noting that it the Other does not originate in Lacan--and is not explicitly named in Freud, as far as I've heard--but shows up in Derrida, who, if I might indulge in extrapolating from the coupla lines I just read on Wiki, probably borrowed it from Heidegger.)  The constitutive other plays an important role at other levels as well.  I know I am a nerd because I'm not like that ass with the backwards hat over there.  I know I'm white because I've seen a black person.  The implications of the concept of the Other on politics and identity are significant and quite serious.

Spivak (though she is too graceful to use the word) points at Kant as an Enlightenment-era origin of self-knowledge through difference--that is, the politics-of-the-same that privilege that which belongs by identifying that which does not.  Kant's Critique of Judgment constitutes the Educated Man--the privileged Judge who can competently say what is and is not beautiful, who can experience the sublime--by differentiating Him from the Feueländer and Neu Holländer (the colonized Other).  William Haver, who prefers the term "abject," identifies the need for a constitutive other as one of the central problems of Humanism.  Deleuze and Guattari strive mightily to disperse the subject position, arguing that the self is not coherent, that I am a we who should embrace and explore our schizophrenia.

So part of my discomfort, I would say, is that McClary, and others (teehee) are unclear about which of these positions they are adopting, or which new one they are establishing.   The term Other is slippery.  I can look at you and say you're my Other, but what politics does that bring to bear? (two bears too bare...)

There are two reasons we need to be careful with a word like this.

Derrida doesn't call it the Other either, I don't think.  He has his Parergon, his supplement borrowed from Kant (I don't recall if Spivak dips into the Critique of Pure [?] Reason for her reading), that is never part of the equation but is always part of the equation.  Every picture needs its frame, but no frame is part of the work of art.  Adam needs Eve, but only so he can make more boys.  Is this the Other?  But the supplement is also part of.  Carmen is certainly part of her opera, and part of Spain.  But this is obviously quite different from the psychoanalytic trace, which needs complete separation.  Sure, our mothers are important to our lives, but they are necessarily outside our limits of corporeality, or else there is not sense of self: the other would not then constitute.  Further, Carmen is not an excess in Carmen.  She is the focal point, even if not the protagonist (I agree with McClary in assigning this role to Don José).  The only sensible reading of McClary (and I think this is what she meant) is that Carmen is a cultural other in Spain, and that Bizet's opera demonstrates that the Other who transgresses, rather than grinning and bearing it, is outside the law.  Outside the law is not a happy place.  You get stabbed there :(

I think the problem at this point is one of verbal specificity.  What exactly does she mean?  McClary asks at one point if Bizet's subaltern can speak.  But Carmen is never a subaltern (you can tell because she's speaking).  When McClary notes that Carmen of course is only Bizet's voice, she is also arriving at this conclusion.  Then can Carmen be the Other?  The politics of representation seem to make this word too slippery.

Irigaray would be useful (problem 2, I guess, if I'm sticking to an ill-conceived list).  She suggests that the constitutive other (and she's mainly looking at Hegel and Freud, so the concept is slightly different) is not only essential for the grounding of the metaphysical subject (which is "always masculine") but is always specular.  That is, the other--that guy, or Woman, or the racial other...whatever--is always merely a reflection of the self.  Essentially, she is accusing the history of western thought of being always only so much solipsism.  She is doing Schopenhauer one better.  For him, there is only the self and the rest of the world: I cannot understand you in terms any more elevated than I understand that jar of peanuts over there.  For her, there is only the self.  Or rather, western metaphysics grants access only to the self.  And of course, this same metaphysics coerces women into denying "the specificity of their relationship to the imaginary" (I'd generalize this further, as D+G seem to do: the theory of the coherent subject effaces the possibility of freedom).

I'm tired and the point, I think, is mostly made.  Essentially, the constitutive other is too diverse a subject (teehee) to make the term useful without extended and rigorous discussion, for which there is little room in any text that wants to discuss anything further.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I <3 David Lewin

I'm distressed a little that two of my favorite articles during my lit. review of feminist musicology/music theory have been written by men: Scherzinger's article on names with no experiences (yet), and Lewin's "Women's Voices and the Fundamental Bass."  But they're good, regardless, so I'm going to talk about one of them.

Lewin is graceful, and my initial reaction is that I like that a lot.  He begins by refuting Lawrence Kramer, who reads, in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, the dissolution of gender boundaries.  In the intensity of their desire for one another, Tristan and Isolde somehow become genderless, mirror images of their fundamental humanity.  (As per my MO, I would read this against Irigaray, specifically her essay on masculine subjectivity and the metaphysical longing for the mirror instead of different.  Kramer himself anticipates this argument by centering the mirror in his metaphor.)  Lewin avoids philosophical distinctions, and instead simply points out that Isolde is always a woman's voice, and can only be sung by a woman. (Where do trouser roles fit into this?)

He slides from here into McClary's chapter on madness, women, and opera, in which she traces a genealogy of mad women from Monteverdi to Schoenberg.  Lewin agrees with McClary on a few points, but is unwilling to apply the "madwoman" label to everyone on McClary's list.  Isolde, for one, is not mad, says Lewin, but rather transendentally enamored.  McClary sees madness differently than does Lewin, to be sure.  For Lewin, madness is or is not.  McClary, on the other hand, relies on Foucault for her understanding of madness, and therefore is more concerned with how the ostensibly mad person is received and constrained by society: Isolde may well be mad by this definition, depending on the audience's expectations.  However, the fact that Lewin takes issue at all suggests that, at least in contemporary circles, McClary may be a little off her mark here.

Rather than dwell on the point, Lewin looks toward a slightly later piece from McClary's list: Schoenberg's Erwartung (listen to this piece, and follow the libretto... goooood stuff).  But again, so gracefully, Lewin slides from a work McClary has already read to a slightly earlier Schoenberg piece: the second string quartet, which uses a female voice in two of the movements. [pardon my parallel syntax]  Again, Lewin argues that the gender of the singer is essential (though he also problematizes vocal gender, suggesting that register and timbre may well be entirely constructed, a position with which McClary would probably agree).  Due to structural features of the music (in all three cases, not simply in the second quartet), a man's voice simply would not fill the shoes.

What ties these roles together, aside from gender, is control.  Lewin argues, and supports his arguments with brief analyses from the second quartet, that the female voice is what governs the flow of the music, permitting specific harmonic paths and contradicting and curtailing others.  These paths are, to be sure, licentious, but rather than marking this as a negative or transgressive trait, Lewin tacitly remembers that this is the spirit of modernism.

Jean-Phillipe Rameau's Traité de l'harmonie is resurrected briefly to serve as a counter-model.  In 1722 (roughly 200 years before Schoenberg's piece), Rameau claimed that the bass voice was not only the exclusive provence of men (not a shocking claim) but that it was also the sole generator of the higher voices.  The bass governed harmony (it was fundamental), and harmony governed melody.  Women's voices were twice subordinate.  The role Rameau's treatise plays in the history of tonal music suggests that the casting aside of women was a common-practice practice, and that modernism--Wagner included, here--resurrects the female voice in the service of progress and change and life. (Irigaray's mirror, as well as much feminist work on appropriation and speaking lends Lewins vision a darker cast, but I shall leave that aside for now.)

Lewin closes by encouraging his readers to take this and run with it (which perhaps I shall), but cannot resist a few closing remarks of his own.   What does this mean for academic music?  Well, pragmatically, it means we ought to be better aware of the differences in voice.  Men often grow up singing much higher than they do upon maturity, and consequentially have experience singing in all four traditional registers.  Women frequently do not share this advantage.  Indeed, in my own teaching experience I've found that women are more likely to not be able to transcribe the bass, or to confuse it with an upper voice (and men, though less often, will have a hard time grabbing the soprano).  The ideal solution, per Lewin (and I agree) is early piano instruction, before theory and ear training.  Lacking this, learning an instrument that does not share your vocal register would be advantageous.  This clearly does not happen in most pre-university bands, where the women are too often encouraged to play "feminine" instruments such as the flute or clarinet.  Here again, the gents have the edge, since the trumpet has both the high pitch their voices will eventually lack, and the aggression they'd better find for themselves if they're to keep from being ridiculed.