Events in Modern Languages & Cultures
French Research Seminar: The Curious Case of Music and Poststructuralism: Questioning the Universal?
The subject of this paper is an attempt not only sketch out, in broadly descriptive terms, certain key moments in the conjunction of poststructuralism and (thinking on) music, but also to propose that these interanimations afford a sustained – if sometimes unwitting; most certainly unresolved – engagement with the thorny question of the universal. Musicology was transformed in the 1980s and 1990s by its (belated) encounter with poststructuralist, largely French, left-oriented, ‘theory’; indeed, it is through this first interaction between musicology and poststructuralism that music’s ontology is expanded from a narrower focus on form to a thoroughgoing recognition of context(s). In short, this shift demanded the deconstruction of the inherited transcendental baggage of the supposedly autonomous and universal value of the music of the European high art canon. It is notable, however, that it was very often (non-musical) philosophical/theoretical concepts that were used to analyse musical texts, rather than an interrogation of poststructuralist attempts to theorize music itself that informed this shift. In what follows, this paper will stake out key musical-theoretical interactions as they occur within poststructuralist thought itself in order to complicate this narrative somewhat, and in order to gesture towards the way in which this entails an ongoing and unresolved consideration of the relationship between music and the universal.
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