Sonorous body : music, enlightenment & deconstruction
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How forgivable is a musicological text on deconstruction two decades after its assimilation by the other "humanities" disciplines? Moreover, how forgivable is a discipline as a whole which has allowed one of the most challenging aspects of post-war critical theory to pass it by to this extent? In no other field are Laing's remarks more likely to resonate today than that of critical musicology. Even the adoption of the critical epithet itself is a relatively recent phenomenon. However, it is indicative of an emergent desire for musicology to finally engage with contemporary critical discourse in general. Such a call has been made from "outside" the profession by cultural critic Edward Said, who calls for an end to "the generally cloistral and reverential, not to say deeply insular, habits in writing about music." [Musical Flaborations, p.58] From "within" the field, Susan McClary laments that the crucial critical debates are "almost entirely absent from traditional musicology." [Feminine Endings, p.54] Likewise, what is increasingly unforgivable according to Ruth Solie is "our customary methodological behindhandedness [sic]" [Musicology & Difference, p.3]. Various routes away from the methodological backwaters have been suggested. For instance, in a conference paper in 1984, Richard Middleton defined a twofold approach which appears to combine aspects of structuralism and Marxism. Middleton called firstly for a move in to "semiology, broadly defined and stressing the social situation of signifying practise: this should take over from traditional formal analysis." [quoted in Shepherd, Music as Social Text, p.209] Secondly, this should be supplemented with an "historical sociology of the whole musical field, stressing critical comparison of divergent sub-codes of the 'common musical competence': this should take over from liberal social histories of music" [ibid., p.209] As a method for introducing this new musicological mode, Middleton recommends the inclusion of popular music as a field of study. Indeed, his implication is that such a challenge to the classical hegemony would naturally entail a move towards this twofold approach, and would by itself open up "a golden opportunity to develop a critical musicology" [Studying Popular Music, p.123]. In this sense, an expansion of the field of study could lead to a necessary adoption of new methodologies.