251D: Discussion 5

Reviewing Arthur Nestrovski's Joyce's Critique of Music in Rahn (P. 250) we find concerns similar to those articulated by Surrealists with regard to the application of Freudian paradigms. Referring to Eveline, the author observes " the return of the repressed, but here the repressed and the repressive coincide: in musical experiences, for instance, at once figures of fullness and submission " (P. 257). Certain aspects of song appear symbolic in sexual exchange. Where Joyce's use of musical imagery mirrors similar borrowings by avant-garde artists in other disciplines, is in the " mimetic abandonment....to reification [mental conversion of a concept into a thing] an attempt to discard illusion through reflexive stylistic exposure (a characteristic feature of all modernisms as Theodor Adorno has shown " (P. 262). Thus, like the pseudo realistic images (like a burning giraffe or limp watch), literary concepts become real through description. Looking at the Pola notebook of Joyce, there is a " definition of the beautiful and the act of apprehension" (P. 265). There is no intrinsic, objective definiton of beauty, just as in all avant-garde works. "The beautiful is spiritually possessed... it is desired by the aesthetic appetite....appeased by the most satisfying relations of the sensible " just as the intellectual appetite is appeased by the intelligible (ibid.).

What happens when these aesthetic notions are applied to music? Outside of hard analysis, is it possible to discuss the musical experience in as concrete terms as in literature or painting. Herbert Schwartz's Music and Emotion establishes the case for a structured response to music that is not irrational. Different emotions to each piece are unique (P.294), and the responses to each separate part of a given piece are distinct. Therefore, the listener creates a contour of different emotional responses that mirror the structure of a composition. Emotions are formally related as formal relationships in musical structure. " Actual music is...the actual succession of tones within ourselves, and the condition of their being within ourselves is that they be felt, not as practical emotion[s],.....but as something like them " (P. 295).

Delmore Schwartz's Poetry as Imitation stresses another aspect of creativity: the "act of writing a poem is an act of knowing (P.298). Art is a kind of mirror of oneself" (P. 299).

These contributions from the other arts help to create a link to the commonality of approaches when analyzing avant-garde works of music. Since there is no real methodology, as in literature or painting, it is useful to see the connections. Also the cross fertilization between the arts and ultimately between science (as in Freud) and art, a salient feature of the avant-garde, is revealed in these essays. It is important that we be aware of the fact that the scientific correctness of Freudian psychology or any other theory is irrelevant, since it is the interpretation and conversion of these ideas as cultural compost in art works that is most significant. We might conclude that our definition of avant-garde, thus far, would seem to apply equally to all the arts or to any combination of them. The tradition from the previous century of influences from other disciplines seems to be more the rule than the exception. Since so many avant-garde works redefine their genres, it is natural that their genesis would come from OUTSIDE the specific artform.

It is now left up to us to explore specific works of music from the 20th century and put them under the lens of our informed definition of avant-garde, mostly gleaned from the other arts. It was noted that music which contains text, dance, or dramatic devices such as programs would be easier to handle, unless pure instrumental works contain subtext in the form of musical quotation or references to sounds in nature. Sometimes notational devices (such as the sixteenth rest with the fermata over it in the Fantastic Symphony of Berlioz) can redefine the sense of structural ambiguity which makes so many avant-garde musical works so challenging.

(Charles Gran's presentation to follow).

In an attempt to find an inclusive definition of art that embraces the avant-guard, Kirby's thesis breaks down in its universality. I am especially uneasy with the concept of an artist proclaiming something as art, as if this individual is licensed for the activity. I feel a restrictive definition makes the roles of various artistic activities more clear. In this model -- which I call Art-Centric -- the art object is a self-evident manifestation of a single creator. The object exhibits two essential primary elements: vision and technique, which are indwelled by the creator and are a product of it. Vision, somewhat intangible, is a world view, an aesthetic; intellectual rigor applied to the philosophy, science (such as perspective), and culture of art. Technique is the learned abilities and craftsmanship of the profession; a depth of understanding of design (form, space, manipulation of materials) so as to be able to create at a level above design only -- to be able to comment on design (meta-art).

The creator is an individual, or a group of individuals formed as totalitarian or egalitarian. Totalitarian: a single individual who realizes technique or vision of others more fully, indwelling the object with both vision and technique to form an art object. Egalitarian: several individuals whose contributions each contain vision and technique. Here, avante-guard is an activity applied to either vision or technique, or both, that may or may not result in an art object. This would mean that both vision and technique can be evidenced in the result of the activity -- something that is true regardless whether the activity could be considered avante-guard [the definition used by this course works fine here]. They are then grouped in one of two alternative categories.

Design: ordinary objects that are a result of artistic techniques, that while possibly superior, do not rise to the level of artistic vision.
Philosophy: intellectual exercises or examinations that do not use or require physical artistic techniques. An example of the latter would be Cage's 4'33". The former would include sound design for amusement parks and most underscoring (the artist is realizing the vision of another).

Charles Gran.