restricted access FIVE Postmodern Humanity
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FIVE Postmodern Humanity A cold stone lion from Yugoslavia. Postal pigeons, carrying film during World War II. Bugs whose little black bodies are the letters of the alphabet, inspected by an illiterate child of India. The foot-and-mouth disease virus. Garuda, flying mount of Lord Vishnu and national emblem of Indonesia. A horse whose mouth is the grate of an American automobile. Palestinian sheep, bringing food to a desert wasteland.1 Here are the beginnings of a postmodern bestiary. Monuments, war, literacy, disease, national pride, the International Monetary Fund, and world hunger— such are the concerns of the world, filtered through the animals that appear in the pages of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, in the year 1950. One animal in this bestiary dominates all the others. It is a new kind of human, in whom body and mind are completely separated. One half of this human is pure biology. All of its physical attributes are encoded into chemicals that float through the innermost reaches of its body, passing on into the bodies of its children. The other half of the human is purely cultural, with its character, personality, and aesthetics stored in its mind, and passed on to the next generation through rich traditions and ceremonies. Biological difference in the human animal, UNESCO assured its readers, had no relation to social, political, or moral life.2 Though UNESCO’s writings are a convenient reference point, descriptions of this human abound in the postwar era. Biologists asserted that genes and ethnicities were separate, while secondwave evolutionists in sociology and anthropology assiduously divided culture from biology.3 Art historians argued that culture and genetics were separate elements of human experience.4 For music’s historians, the minds and cultures of humans were kept carefully apart from their biological bodies.5 Wallace Craig’s old classmate from Chicago, Oscar Riddle, complained about this new state of 110 Animal Musicalities affairs where younger intellectuals refused to mix genetics with the assessment of mental characteristics.6 In this chapter, I explore the new human animal, a being created at the intersection of postmodern notions of human identity and postwar reactions to racial science. That topic is far broader than the histories I relate here, making this chapter a study of circumstance, of a set of intriguing coincidences that lay the foundation for the study of song in and after the 1950s. Here I offer three brief glimpses of the changing beliefs about human identity that circulated in scholarship after World War II in the fields of music, biology, and anthropology. Postmodernism has been described by various authors as the spread of cultural relativism in the West in the second half of the twentieth century.7 This chapter locates that shift through a parallel moment in the history of science, the evolutionary synthesis.8 After a period of decline in the late 1930s and 1940s, evolutionary science underwent a revival in the 1950s as biologists turned to genetics and statistical models to develop stronger empirical approaches to the question of inheritance. Though the aims of the synthesis were framed by biological concerns, they were also shaped by a desire to distance evolutionism from prewar racial science. Classic descriptions of the synthesis tell of a neo-Darwinian unification of genetics and natural history, and often acknowledge the role of the synthesis in reviving the study of evolutionary science in biology.9 The synthesis is not the subject of this chapter, but it serves as an important backdrop to my exploration of postmodern human identity. Notions of the human in the postwar era were deeply informed not only by biology, but by changing attitudes toward race and its role in science. Horrifying accounts of the Holocaust circulated in the 1940s as Allied soldiers documented and publicized the discovery of German concentration camps. After the war, many biological and social scientists suggested that racial typologies had played a role in the rise of Europe’s genocidal policies. Institutional conversations about race, however, existed in an uncomfortable counterbalance with mundane realities that restricted the rights and dignity of blacks, refugees, women, “third world” citizens, and others. Navigating the treacherous waters of history and politics, institutions like UNESCO turned to “scientific facts” as a reality beyond the reach of politics or culture. Those institutional narratives of postwar revision , change, and innovation located new ideas about humanity in relation to the Holocaust and the atomic bomb, advancing a history of the Holocaust, Nazi politics, and wartime...


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