Music and the Crises of the Modern Subject.
Michael L. Klein's latest book, Music and the Crises of the Modern Subject, discards traditional avenues of music theory and instead penetrates musical subjects primarily through the writings of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981). Following twentieth-century French philosophy, which is not new to musicology, is an un common path for the subjects of music theory and analysis in the early twenty-first century. Although the monograph contains fewer than 200 pages, all six chapters include innumerable nuggets of mind-altering, and often sobering, musings that challenge previous interpretations of musical works (and texts) ranging from Franz Schubert and Frederic Chopin to Witold I.utoskuvski and Kaija Saariaho. Klein's intimate and piercing writing (a la Slavoj Zizek) elucidates Lacan's layers of subjectivity by repeatedly emphasizing central terms, using literature and recent films as intertextual examples, and placing interrogative subheadings within each chapter. In short, and in the form of a chiasmus (just one of many), Klein tries "to clarify what Lacan's model of subjectivity means for our approaches to music, and what music means for our approaches to Lacan" (p-2).
In the first chapter ("Music and the Symptom"), Klein introduces Lacan's symptom and three orders of subjectivity--the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real--through the early discourse of music theory and hermeneutics. An article by Edward T. Cone that presents two contrasting modes of interpretation--structural and expressive--in the context of Schubert's Moment musical no. 6 in A[flat] Major provides Klein's starting point (see Cone, "Schubert's Promissory Note: An Exercise in Hermeneutics," 19th Century Music 5, no. 3 [Spring 1982]: 233-41). Near the beginning of his Moment musical, Schubert writes an odd passage in the relative minor that features an unresolved E[natural] in the top voice, an E[natural] that Cone calls a "promissory note, a pitch or chord that withholds its voice-leading obligations until a later passage" (p. 10; original italics). To transform this observation into expressive meaning, Klein remarks that "Cone whispers the words syphilis, desolation, and dread at the end of his study" (p. 7; italics in original). Klein views Cone's initial approach as unnecessary, however: "Structural analysis as the first step toward hermeneutics is a hopeless methodology because it only reinforces the idea that meaning works like an equation in which a structural detail here is equivalent to an extra-musical meaning there" (p. 11). The latter attitude becomes a theme throughout the book. Following Lacan, who believes "the task of analysis involves making the symptom speak, rendering it in language," Klein considers the "strange and unsettling passages in Schubert's Moment musical [as] symptoms demanding interpretation" (p. 17). In the final parts of the chapter, Klein confronts Johannes Brahms's beautiful Clarinet Sonata in F Minor, op. 120, no. 1, with Lacan's three orders of subjectivity.
In the second chapter ("The Acoustic Mirror as Formative of Auditory Pleasure and Fantasy: Chopin's Berceuse, Brahms's Romanze, and Saariaho's 'Parfume de l'instant'"), Klein borrows the phrase "acoustic mirror" from critical theorist Kaja Silverman to describe musical passages by Chopin, Brahms, and Saariaho that reflect the period just before Lacan's "mirror stage" of human development (p. 40). Chopin's Berceuse, op. 57, projects stability and comfort: " The simple rocking of tonic and dominant harmonies for nearly the entirety of the piece makes it easy to forget that we are hearing a series of variations: we relive the fantasy of maternal swaying" (p. 44). Klein writes of an enduring "nostalgic fantasy" that persists following our entrance into culture through language (i.e., the Symbolic) because "there is no way for us to cross the boundary from the Symbolic back to the period before the first formation of the ego" (p. 40). In Klein's second example, Brahms's Romanze in F Major, op. 118, no. 5, the narrative becomes complex: "We move from the Symbolic in the opening section to the fantasy of the maternal voice in the middle section, only to return to the Symbolic in the closing section, although (to be clear) this crossing uses the signs of the Symbolic throughout" (p. 56). In the middle of the chapter, Klein discusses the similarities shared between Julia Kristeva's concept of "chora," a prelingual phase prior to the mirror stage, and Vladimir Jankelevitch's "ineffable" philosophy of music (pp. 49-56). The end of the chapter is devoted to the one vocal work analyzed in the book: Saariaho's "Parfume de l'instant" from Quatre instants. It is an interesting example because both the text and the post-tonal music cooperate to create a "sonorous womb" (p. 60). Klein cites and describes an exemplary YouTube performance of the song in some detail, but as of February 2017 the video is no longer available.
The third chapter ("Debussy and the Three Machines of the Proustian Narrative") features analyses of four works by Claude Debussy: "Reflets dans l'eau" and "Hommage a Rameau" from the first book of Images; "Des pas sur la neige" from the first hook of Preludes; and the first movement of the Cello Sonata. Klein's approach to this music includes references to Marcel Proust and Gilles Deleuze. Klein wishes to know "whether the past has an agency capable of speaking to us beyond the divide of the mirror stage" (p. 67). Proust's massive novel on time and memory, ,4 la recherche du temps perdu (Paris: Grasset and Gallimard, 1913-1927), contains a "narrative paradigm that begins with an involuntary memory and moves to a cognitive effort that results in an ecstatic recovery of the past, after which there is a moment of regret" (pp. 71-72). Klein illustrates the narrative initially through examples taken from Proust and the Disney film Ratatouille (2007). Klein notes that it was Deleuze who recast Proust's narrative into the three multi-part "machines called memory, eternity, and regret " (p. 73; italics in original), and shows us how these three Proustian machines operate in Debussy's musical language.
The fourth chapter ("Chopin Dreams: The Mazurka in C# Minor as Hint home") features a single piece by Chopin, a return to Lacan's symptom--specifically, a later version, called the Sinthome--and the only part of the book that is not entirely new (see Klein, "Chopin Dreams: The Mazurka in C# Minor, Op. 30, No. 4," 19th Century Music 35, no. 3 [Spring 2012J, 238-60)'. Klein calls the mazurka a "curious multiplicity of multiplicities" as it contains three distinct dances--the mazur, oberek, and kujawiak--that hail from different Polish regions (p. 98). The analytic goal for Klein is not to find "a precise kind of Polishness in the piece" or unlock a hidden identity, but to present a series of subjective readings (p. 99). Klein reminds his readers that "no single meaning vies with the others for priority; nor do the various meanings come together into something like a unified whole" (p. 101). Each reading of Chopin's Mazurka in C# Minor involves identifying Lacanian symptoms, or messages "from the Real addressed through the unconscious to the Symbolic" (p. 103). The various interpretations feature symptoms of nationalism, orientalism, "coming to life," tuberculosis, and the uncanny (p. 118).
Following Chapter 4, Klein writes a brief essay on musical agency and argues the following: "If we are to use human agency as a metaphor for musical agency, then, we must be aware of what model of subjectivity results from our conception of music as acting and being acted upon" (p. 123). Klein reviews the work on musical agency by Cone, Fred Maus, and Seth Monahan as points of departure and compares it to Lacan's subject, who "is not whole, unified, and self-determined, but fragmented, decentered. and determined by discourse" (p. 125). At the end of the essay, Klein makes a series of dizzying reversals to clarify his position, including the following: "Subjectivity is not a metaphor for musical agency, musical agency is a metaphor for subjectivity: protean, chaotic, and pervasively indeterminate with regard to the agents that populate conscious and unconscious thought" (p. 126).
The fifth and sixth chapters explore postmodernism and its subject. In Chapter 5 ("Postmodern Quotation, the Signifying Chain, and the Erasure of History"), Klein uses three musical examples that rely on musical quotations from the past to illustrate how "the postmodern composer simply discovers, consciously or unconsciously, his or her own failure to create a signifying chain, forcing the composer to take an entire text from the past as an avatar for a present that cannot find a way to represent itself" (p. 152). Klein regards John Zorn's Road Runner for solo accordion as a "tissue of quotations" and "a flat musical work" (p. 131). In both George Rochberg's String Quartet No. 3 and Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra, Klein only hears a "simulacrum," which "has no reality because it hides a truth that there is no reality to represent" (p. 143). Conversely, in the final chapter ("Lutoslawski, Molar and Molecular"), Klein injects a trace of hope into the modern subject through the writings of Deleuze and Felix Guattari and music of Witold Lutoslawski. Together, the molar, which "organizes structures and hierarchies," and molecular, which "breaks structures apart and makes room for new ones," function as "creative forces" (p. 155). The sharp contrasts in the formal structure of Lutoslawski's Jeux venitiens makes this analogy clear enough, but Klein argues further that each section is both molar and molecular. Klein also discusses Lutoslawski's Chain 3, but there is a logistical problem: despite the detailed narrative he provides in the text, Klein also refers to rehearsal numbers without providing visual examples, which increases the difficulty of following the analysis.
As a work of music theory, Music and the Crises of the Modern Subject represents a unique aesthetic, semiotic, and hermeneutic approach more commonly found in musicology. It takes advantage of every opportunity to challenge music theory's comfortable obsession with closed systems of analysis. Klein's writing is utterly engaging but also packed with jargon, which will require careful attention, reflection, and determination. I encourage psychoanalysts (Lacanian or otherwise) and other philosophers of the arts to not be deterred from full engagement with this book despite the "music theory" label on the back cover. Klein is clearly one of today's leading scholars of musical narrative and subjectivity.
STEVEN D. MATHEWS
University of Cincinnati
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|Author:||Mathews, Steven D.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2017|
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