Notes 60.2 (2003) 433-434
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Music, Sensation, and Sensuality. Edited by Linda Phyllis Austern. (Critical and Cultural Musicology, 5.) New York: Routledge, 2002. [xii, 348 p. ISBN 0-815-33421-4. $95.] Music examples, illustrations, index.
As Martha Feldman, the editor for Routledge's series Critical and Cultural Musicology, remarks in her Series Editor's Forward, "Musicology has undergone a seachange in recent years." Not only has the discipline been reinvigorated by a broadening of subject areas for serious consideration to include genres outside traditional concerns, but now it is also legitimate to research rock and other "low" culture musics, to investigate the possible ramifications of matters of race or sexuality on composition and reception, or even to foreground one's own subjectivity in the enterprise of musicological undertaking. Also, the very guts (an appropriate term in the present context) of the way musicology allows itself to be structured has been rendered all but unrecognizable in traditional terms. It has reconstituted itself with methodological approaches from other disciplines ranging from deconstruction to postcolonial analysis, for example, extending beyond the solely positivistic approach of previous musicological endeavor. Perhaps one of the most profound shifts in epistemological methods for musicology has been the new focus on the somatic. In her thought-provoking introduction, editor Linda Phyllis Austern draws on recent findings from the cognitive sciences, which derails the past twenty-five hundred years of Western attitudes toward the connection between the mind and the body. In contemporary western culture, the body has been consistently represented as inferior to, and needing to be transcended by, the mind. Moreover, the body has been consistently aligned with the feminine, the mind with the masculine. Musicology has traditionally positioned itself along lines [End Page 433] that would seem strongly to concur with this attitude, admitting only formalist and/ or positivistic approaches (not to mention marginalizing at best, or eradicating at worst, histories of women composers). So deeply entrenched has this attitude been that it has only come to light and its tenets questioned in the last decade or so, through radical feminist and gender studies scholarship.
Yet investigating the ramifications of the interdependence between mind and body is no simple undertaking in the discipline of musicology, as Austern also remarks: "Music, with its physical origin and paradoxical intangibility, with its beginning in the mind and body, must necessarily occupy a complicated place in any scheme linking corporeality and contemplation" (p. 5). The essays in this collection do not attempt to gloss over any of the complexities that arise in their respective endeavors. This collection is a fine example of the best work that can be done under the banner of this new musicology. The essays show that it is possible to acknowledge the existence of the body and the senses while yet retaining the sort of acute intellectual and scholarly rigor that is traditionally expected in the discipline.
The scope of the eighteen essays in this most stimulating collection is wide-ranging. They are grouped into six sections, entitled Minding Affect, Sensual Transgressions, Transcendence, Video (I See), Representation Touching Hearing, and Noise and Silence. The authors are from a broad spectrum across the arts and human sciences. Their ground for commonality, in the words of Austern, is to "re-member an embodied art" (p. 1). "We listen through our bodies," as we are reminded by Diane Ackerman in her Natural History of the Senses (New York: Random House, 1990), cited by Austern (p. 7). But our bodies are not blank blackboards for the unproblematic transmission of sound and its meanings. Rather, they are enculturated, and the essays here foreground the nature of various manifestations of culture which inform the ways in which we hear. The essays cover subjects ranging, for example, from musics outside the Western paradigm, music from within the canon, from the mid-twentieth century, historical contexts from the 1600s and 1700s, music from late-twentieth-century performance art, many incorporating— unsurprisingly—a strongly feminist bent. All are viewed through the prism of "the kaleidoscopic world of perception" (p. 1), in the service of furthering the epistemology of embodiment...