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MASCULINE MUSINGS: REFLECTIONS ON MUSICAL FEMINISM Susan McClary. Feminine Endings. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1991. vü + 220. $14.95 US, paper. In an article surveying the state ofNorth American musicology in the 1990s, the eminent musicologist Joseph Kerman singles out four young academics (age 35-45) whose recent work has had a significant impact upon the musicological community (Kerman 17). The first name on his list is Susan McClary. A member of the musicological pack a few short years ago, McClary has emerged as the leading writer today on musical feminism, a professional rise to fame that has been nothing less than meteoric. McClary's work in musical feminism has so far consisted of a series of papers and articles on music ranging from seventeenth-century madrigals to recent works by women composers; she has also produced studies of figures from popular music such as Madonna. She has co-edited a coUection of essays entitled Music and Society: The Politics ofComposition, Performance, and Reception (1987) and is in the process ofwriting at least two more books. As a member of the Center for Advanced Feminist Studies at The University of Minnesota, she has been influential in guiding through to press a number of important books on musical feminism, most notably Catherine Clement's Opera, or the Undoing of Women (1988).' McClary's most recent book, a coUection of her recent essays entitled Feminine Endings, has been widely read and has confirmed her leading position as a musical feminist. A succès de scandale from the outset, it has already become a touchstone for others involved in this type of inquiry (see Cash 525). McClary's feminist work is unsettling to traditional musicologists for several reasons. For one thing, her ideological stance derives from the radical wing of Uterary feminism, with its attendant posturing and its evident deUght in men-bashing; such a stance does not easUy fit within the canons of discourse of traditional musicology. A musicological insider, her Ph.D. from Harvard, McClary is weU situated professionaUy to give traditional musicology a sharp blow to the solar plexus. This she most certainly does in Feminine Endings. In forceful, uncompromising writing, as outrageous as Swift's "A Modest Proposal," McClary piUories the values and ideas sacred to traditional musicology, laying bare their underlying assumptions, and exposing to pubUc view (and ridicule) the degradation and hate of women that apparently Ue beneath. It makes for bracing reading. 82Victorian Review The book opens with a lengthy polemical salvo directed at the traditional "objective" or formaUstic stance regarding the issue ofexpression in music—a stance articulated with classical simpUcity by Eduard Hanslick in the nineteenth century—which today McClary sees enshrined (with technical music theory as its aUy) as the fundamental ideology of academic writing about music. In brief, this is HansUck's "negative thesis," by which he denied the power of music to express anything outside its own purely musical patterns.2 This McClary categorically denies, aUying herself instead to the position held by the musical (and poUtical) left, wherein music's power to express and signify much that Ues beyond the mere sounding of tones is taken as a central premise. For McClary, it is a fundamental purpose of the study of music to discover and decode what these "meanings" are: The techniques and codes through which music produces meaning have to be reconstructed. Because the music theories at present are designed to maintain the illusion that music is formaUy self-contained, very Uttle exists in Anglo-American musicology to facilitate such a project. Having to trace over and over again the processes by which musical elements such as pitch or rhythm can be said to signify is extremely tedious, especially within a discipline that refuses even to acknowledge musical affect. Yet it is impossible to go on to finer points of interpretation so long as the question of whether music means anything at aU arises to block any further inquiry. (26) On the surface, McClary's underlying point of view is unobjectionable, representing one of the two recognized poles of thought with respect to musical meaning and aesthetics that (despite her claims to the contrary) have been with us for not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 81-88
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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