Saturday, September 19, 2009

Form Matters.

I'm reading Patricia Carpenter's "Musical Form Regained," which is a response to an article I haven't read by Joan Stambaugh called "Music as a Temporal Form."

I'm going to skip almost all the particulars; they're quite specific to Stambaugh's article and as such not worth engaging without recourse to the earlier paper. I do want to pause on one idea Carpenter alludes to. It's fairly novel, and perhaps, from most folk's point of view, worth remarking upon at all, but it is a useful reminder, and I like it for that.

Stambaugh, it would seem, has arrived at a theory of music in which form is achieved through pure materiality. The feminist in me impulsively rejoices: in the Platonic system, matter is the always already subordinate, playing the part of the silenced domestic matron (whose etymological root is surely not coincidental), while the double pincers of form and content dominate the spoken domain. A theory of music as purely material, or even as totally subordinating form to matter, is alluring (shades of Kristeva make one balk).

But Carpenter chides Stambaugh for overreaching. "But as a picture of music, it is one-sided: form, structure, and objectivity are slighted." (37) This is not a reactionary rebellion against giving matter its due, but a reminder that matter cannot be given the place of form at the total expense of the latter. Reversing the imbalance is not the same as redressing. In Irigaray's terms, the feminist project is not, cannot be, about replacing a phallocratic system with a gynocratic one.

Let's be sure: Carpenter is not talking about feminism, but only aesthetics and philosophy. I'm over-reading as a way to remind myself against extremism.

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