Driven , inexorably driven we say. I am here because I must be here, and yet that is not true of course. We dip and twist as if caught in an exquisite paradox, as if held here in this elegant ‘interminable’ deadspace, as if twisting in the wind of some awful faceless conspiracy. It is not so. And since it not so, we dream, wait and hold onto the agony of the as if since it alone allows us to weep without knowing it.
When it comes to fado, I am a hopeless and unreconstructed tourist. There, I have confessed it! And my commitment to being a tourist is almost boundless: I love to trace the trails, spaces and territories of the myth-makers of fado, to follow their steps across the mythologized neighbourhoods of Lisbon; I read the guide books, buy the CDs and fill my suitcase with fado kitsch – T-shirts, bookmarks, umbrellas, postcards, I have them all in large number! Through Mouraria, Bairro Alto or Alfama I tumble, my iPod set to fado-shuffle, my thoughts and my very being transported to some place other than here, other than the ‘real’ city of fado. I stalk the past, I lurch from one corner to the other as if Maria Severa or Amalia might any minute pop their heads out from a nearby window, and sing ‘A casa portuguesa’ or ‘Ó gente da minha terra’. I am, then, an aural tourist, that strange creature that maps and remaps cities and territories in which beloved musics are staged. Those musics, in turn, themselves stage, imagine and reinvent the spaces to which they have become resolutely attached: fado is about Lisbon, about the iconic spaces and places of fado practice and about a vernacular imagination of modernity. My approach to fado, then, although born of scholarly interest, is fundamentally about the fantasy of fado. Thinking about fado as a kind of fantasy is not just an interesting twist on the usual repertorial or cultural-historical approach, but that it can help us understand something quite profound about some of the ways in which vernacular musical forms come to take up a special place or canonical significance in discourses about identity, nationhood and, perhaps most importantly, in our cultural memory. Fado is a remembering.
In any critical engagement with masculinity, attention to sonic materials will inevitably challenge the field of men’s studies as it has been constituted since the late 1970s: much of that field has consistently emphasized discourses grounded in the visual (descriptions of male bodies, of uprightness, steadfastness, of muscles, the fetish, the veiled and unveiled phallus/penis and so on) or discourses of control, power and ideology. And with very good reason: the field has had to constitute itself in this way in order to make sense of the dominant mechanisms by which hegemonic masculinity goes about reproducing itself across its numerous cultural fields. Only very recently, then, has it become possible to think about gender, and about masculinity in particular, as part of a broader sensory field in which ideologies are, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s term, ‘somatized’ (that is, embedded in the body such that externally held beliefs come to appear as if originating ‘from within’) and which therefore draw on all the senses to construe masculinity as both cause and symptom of the male sensorium. In this context, then, emphasis on sonic materials is radicalizing, not just because it disturbs the traditional emphasis on the visual, but also because it contributes to an enriching of the field of men’s studies by requiring full and critical attention be given to the ways in which men are construed as acousmêtres or beings in sound.[i]
The relation among the terms ‘identity’, ‘voice’ and ‘discourse’ is best understood in the context of this new articulation, especially since the middle term, ‘voice’, brings the outer terms into a relation with the sonic which is not always granted to them. In particular, what thinking about voice in this context does is to enable the recasting of identities and discourses around notions of making and intervening in cultural meanings through and in sound. This is not something that many theorists outside of musicology have occupied themselves with until recently.[ii] This relation among the three terms, then, is one which makes claim to a radicalization in the name of sound.
The term ‘identity’ in English has a long and complex history, reaching back at least as far as early modern usages. It has been connected consistently both to the idea of ‘sameness’ or similarity and to what we now might call ‘personality’ or ‘individuality’. Even in its most casual of contemporary usages that duality remains, both in terms of the idea of being like something and in actively seeking out (or having thrust upon one) a certain ‘like-ness’. In this sense, then, the question of identity, which has been much theorized in the European philosophical tradition and continental theory, is a question about relatedness, even when liberal discourses might seek to hide that connectedness in discourses about autonomy, sovereignty and so on. In the context of gender studies, identity has been placed under intense scrutiny, from Judith Butler’s now famous Gender Trouble in 1990 to recent more empirical accounts such as John Colapinto’s biography of David Reimer, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl and Georgia Warnke’s controversial After Identity: Rethinking Race, Sex and Gender.[iii] The gender-identity complex is characterized for these scholars as an investment in thinking about the relationship between consciously-held views of gender and the more dispersed and culturally anonymous (but no less powerful) discourses that attend those views.
The relation of the voice to identity is one characterized both by inclusion (where voice has been taken as an instance of identity formation) and mismatch (where voice appears to mark a remainder or a leftover ‘after’ identity formation). It is important, I think, to hold this twofold function in place because this is precisely how voice has come to be understood in our culture, both as the marker of a personality trait and as something ‘unto itself’, stubbornly uncanny. It has become, one might say, both symptom and fetish. There has been relatively little attention paid to voice (other than a few notable exceptions in cultural history and philosophy[iv]) and this dearth of attention has as much to do with the complexity of constituting the voice as an object as it is with any kind of widely held hostility to the voice in the contemporary mindset. It is that complexity, perhaps, which has left most theorists circling around a few small texts on the voice.[v] In the context of thinking about masculinity, there is much work to be done on the voice. ‘His Master’s Voice’, the voice of authority, and the ‘voice of reason’ are all instances of gendered imaginations of voice that operate according to the discursive restraints of hegemonic gender designations; and yet, every time scholars have tried to pin down the characteristic of voice as ‘gendered’, they are confronted with the uncanny exception that disturbs the field. It is precisely here, I want to argue, that thinking about gender is changed, in this encounter with voice as capricious, wanton, unto itself.
It is in discourse that all this is held: in the statements that can and cannot be made about a thing; in the collection of possible statements which together constitute the discursive field of gender and of masculinity in particular.[vi] And it is discourse, therefore, that theoretical construct that Foucault made part of our everyday parlance yet again, that enables the kinds of analysis that disturb the everyday and estrange us from the mundane sameness thst voice refuses. What an emphasis on discourse enables us to do is to map out and determine the logic of statements that together hold gender designations together through an operation, as we have already seen, of somatization. That process whereby discourses become ‘embodied’ is precisely that process that I am interested in understanding. How, for example, is masculinity held in language? What kinds of statements attend it? How do those statements relate to one another? What are the logics by which one statement is deemed to belong to the discourse and another not? And, perhaps most crucially for our purposes, how do those logics come to feel natural?
[i]This is a term we take form Michel Chion, The Voice in Cinema, trans. and ed. Claudia Gorbman (New York, 1999) and Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, trans. Claudia Gorbman (New York, 1995). An acousmêtre is a voice-character specific to cinema that derives its power from being heard but not altogether seen. The term is an amalgam of the Greek acousma, or ‘curtain’ from behind which Pythagoras is said to have lectured to his students, and être, ‘to be’ or ‘being’ in French. Although the voice character of the cinematic medium is a special case, one could argue, in fact, that, beyond the ‘voice-character’ itself, there is always some sense in which sound detaches itself from its source and in this sense, the relation of sound and character is always in some sense unstable. Hence, we might say, that we are always already acousmêtres.
[ii] See, in particular, Steven Connor, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (New York & Oxford, 2000) and Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More (Boston, MA., 2006). Also, with a specific focus on singing styles, but with much broader application, is John Potter’s Vocal Authority: Singing Style and Ideology (Cambridge, 2006). Of course there is a body of work produced under the banner of ‘acoustic ecology’ which, starting in the late 1960s, sought to understand how human beings (and, to a lesser extent, other sentient animals) use sound to mediate with their environment. See, in particular, Barry Truax, Handbook for Acoustic Ecology (Vancouver, 1978). It is striking that this body of work has not impacted on mainstream musicological methodology, other than in some ethnomuscologically-oriented work (see, for example, Steven Feld, ‘From Ethnomusicology to Echo-Muse-Ecology: Reading R. Murray Schafer in the Papua New Guinea Rainforest’, The Soundscape Newsletter,8 (June, 1994): 9–13).
[iii] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London & New York, 1990); John Colapinto, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl (London & New York, 2006); Georgia Warnke, After Identity: Rethinking Race, Sex and Gender (Cambridge, 2008).
[iv] See: Michel Poizat, The Angel’s Cry: Beyond the Pleasure Principle in Opera,trans. Arthur Denner (Ithaca & London, 1992); Dolar, ‘Voice’; Dolar, Voice; Roland Barthes, ‘The Grain of the Voice’, in Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York, 1977), pp. 179–89; Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1988).
[v] Barthes’s ‘The Grain of the Voice’ is inevitably the key text at which most scholars outside the natural sciences begin. See also Guy Rosolato, ‘La voix: Entre corps et langage’, Revue française de psychanalyse, 37/1 (1974): 75–94 and Chion, Voice.
[vi] For a useful overview of recent developments in gender and discourse analysis, see Lia Litosseliti and Jane Sunderland (eds), Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis (Amsterdam, 2002).
The element which holds together a given community cannot be reduced to the point of symbolic identification: the bond linking together its members always implies a shared relationship toward the Thing ... This relationship toward the Thing ... is what is at stake when we speak of the menace to our ‘way of life’ presented by the Other: it is what is threatened when, for example, a white Englishman is panicked because of the growing presence of ‘aliens’. What he wants to defend is not reducible to the so-called set of values that offer support to national identity. National identification is by definition sustained by a relationship toward the Nation qua Thing.[i]
The study of nation formation and nationalism, has become inexorably bound up with the liberal consensus of the Anglophone academy around the problematic nature of national adherence, allegiance or attachment. As Benedict Anderson has shown, nations, nation-states and nationalisms are relatively recent creations that belong to the later phases of the longuedurée of modernity and are ‘cultural artefacts’.[ii] As a critical-discursive field within the academy, nationalism (and its attendant ‘artefacts’ of the nation-state, the nation and whatAnderson calls ‘nation-ness’[iii]) is only located in those territories that have a particular story to tell. The ingredients of that story are well known and invariably emphasise the contested relation of state and nation-ideal: nationalism is born, so the story goes, of a mismatch, a misfire or a hitch in the flow of political power; it is a kind of blockage that needs to be cleared, a crisis to be overcome.
In this hegemonic liberal academic discourse, then, nationalism flourishes,
1.where public political discourse and the operation of statehood are perceived to be in radical discontinuity with each other;
2.where political power is perceived as being exercised by agents external to the national, from outside of the ‘people’;
3.where there is thus a strong martyrological discourse attending the ‘nation’ and its ‘culture’ (often linked to tensions between administrative language and the people’s language);
4.where there is a vibrant vernacular culture (or the perception of it);
5.where there is clear evidence of what Anderson calls ‘unisonality’;[iv]
This story of nationalisms is also a story counter-narrated against a much older and far less ambivalent story, with its origins in the European Enlightenment and in radical liberalism. That older story, narrated endlessly until the middle of the twentieth century, is a story forged in the heat of political attachment to the nation-ideal, the Kulturnation, and invariably imagines the rise of the nation state as the rise of the people: Herder’s declaration, ‘Denn jedes Volk ist Volk; es hat seine National-Bildung wie eine Sprache’[v] points, in this older-liberal imagination of the nation, to a logic of self-ownership, of sovereignty and autonomy and to an internally-facing imagination of the people as constituted among themselves as an ideal unit. What the later, more agnostic liberal stories share, especially after the second world war, is a desire to debunk the dewy-eyed optimism of that originary radical-liberal story: for the later scholar, that story, the story of the great collective rising up and overthrowing its masters, is one which has duped, radicalized and ultimately betrayed the people, led them to mass madness and driven them to a blood-thirsty frenzy with promises of the Sonderweg or blessed path to freedom. This is thus the mainstay of the contemporary critical discourse on nationalism (and in this, Anderson and Gellner can serve as exemplars): the nation state is a fantasy born of a seduction born of a blockage and leads to mass psychosis.
There are, within this pervasive critique of the nation state, also a number of loci classici at which, traditionally, nations and nationalisms have been seen to form themselves. These, inevitably, have tended to be located east, north or south of the old imperial seats of Britain, France,Germany and Austria-Hungary. Hence, much of Ernest Gellner’s discourse on nationalism, for example, focussed on Eastern Europe and theorisations since then have tended to imagine nation states outside Europe as following the same logics, the same pathways as those taken by European nations of the nineteenth century (the same routes to fruition and the same inevitable declines into disenchantment).[vi] That pervasive Eurocentrism has recently come under fire from scholars who, whilst attaching themselves to a similarly agnostic theory of the nation-state, nonetheless also seek to emphasize the rich diversity and complexity of nation states both within and outside the traditional European purview. These more recent theorists have also sought to distinguish, for example, between ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’, ‘liberal’ and ‘organic’, and ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ nationalisms, whilst also sketching out the existence of ‘transnations’, ‘internations’, ‘counternations’ and other cognates of the nation-state that occupy the space between the local on the one hand and the global on the other.[vii]
Nonetheless, a pervasive agnosticism vis-à-vis the nation-state and nationalism in particular persists. What this pervasive agnosticism has consistently missed is the stubborn persistence of the nation (and of nationalism) in political contexts that display few, if any, of the ingredients listed above. The rise of ‘English nationalism’, for example, is a good case in point in which, far from representing a minority state, or even a state in any sense linguistically, culturally or politically ‘disadvantaged’, England is pointedly and poignantly re-framed within a new martyrological discourse around notions of ‘Englishness’ as ‘silenced’ or under some malign threat:
Here there is no threat to the linguistic autonomy of the English, no immanent invasion, no deadly crisis round the corner, no threat to their political hegemony, but, rather, a strongly stated sense of imminent and, crucially, self-inflicted decline. How can this be nationalism? And yet nationalism it certainly is in that it maps out a consistent story of the mismatch of the political reality and the imagined community of England. Notice, also, that Scruton fetishizes the markers of this imagined community: grammar schools, House of Lords, Common Prayer Book, the St. James’s Bible, imperial measures, sterling, and so on; they are all somehow connected, as if there were something, to put it in Alan Finlayson’s terms, that, ‘[gave] them cohesion’.[ix] For Scruton, then, the fetishes all stack up and point in one direction toward some thing, as yet (indeed always) unnamed, but imputed, suggested, imagined and produced in the obsessive-compulsive ordering of the fetishes of the nation. That Thing is the call to order, the call to connect, the call to desire.
Slavoj Žižek has shown how the persistence of nationalism in the European imagination in particular (but also in other contexts) cannot be sufficiently thought in the context of the liberal-agnostic thesis. What is striking in Žižek’s analysis is precisely this: that so-called ‘deconstructionist’ theories of the nation (what we have been terming liberal-agnostic theories here) have too readily ‘reduced’ the nation to mere symptom of an ideology, the ‘product’ of a certain Weltanschauung. As Žižek puts it:
A nation exists only as long as its specific enjoyment continues to be materialized in a set of social practices and transmitted through national myths that structure those practices. To emphasize in a ‘deconstructionist’ mode that Nation is not biological or transhistorical fact but a contingent discursive construction, an overdeteremined result of textual practices, is thus misleading: such an emphasis overlooks he remainder of some real, nondiscursive kernel of enjoyment which must be present for the Nation qua discursive entity-effect to achieve its ontological consistency.[x]
In other words, the liberal-agnostic discourse misses precisely that element of national consciousness that enables its continued persistence, despite the widespread discrediting of its ideology: outside of discourse, outside of symbolisation, there must be some thing that allows subjects to constitute themselves as subjects, to conceive of themselves not merely as symptoms of the flow of semiosis, but also as corporeal fleshy beings, as instances, and it is precisely this that makes nationalism ‘sticky’. For Žižek, then, the kernel of enjoyment that sustains nationalism is bound up precisely with something that cannot be held in discourse, but which falls outside of it, as a nugget of jouissance. The ‘Thing’ that sustains that jouissance is thus something that sustains desire – the desire to adhere, the desire to believe, the desire to demonize the Other.
We are in a position now to inflect the liberal-agnostic thesis of nationalism thus: whilst it is true that nationalism constitutes a fetishization of ritual, behaviour, objects and images around an ‘imagined community’ (for Scruton, grammar schools, the House of Lords, the Common Prayer Book, the St. James’s Bible, imperial measures, sterling and so on), the key to understanding the ideological structure that holds these different fetishes together is not the upper level of that structure (its ‘superstructural’ effects), but the enjoyment that that ordering delivers. In this sense, then, it is a matter of thinking attachment to nation as to something that promises to fill the lack in the Other. And here is something quite profound in Žižek’s theory not merely of nationalism but of the political field in general: the political is, to be sure, always constituted around fantasy, but that fantasy is not the ground, but itself a superstructural effect of what lies beneath, a huge dark and arbitrary (and therefore ‘empty’) structure that casts about for fantasies and which is never satisfied by them. That ‘undergrowth of enjoyment’,[xi] is a space that allows ideology to stitch itself into the Real. To understand nationalism, then, one must not seek to uncover the fantasy that lies beneath, but one must seek, instead, to uncover attempts to cover over the empty and arbitrary constitution of its ground and the erotic investments it makes in that undergrowth.
What is striking in this context, then, is the extent to which the political rituals of nationalism consistently relied on the appropriation and redistribution of regional, vernacular and interior ‘exotic’ musical traditions. Music, therefore, is taken up as fetish, reordered, brought under the logic of the Thing that holds nationalism together and made to project an underlying cohesion which cannot be named: our music tells us who we are, but that is not all that we are – there is something else we cannot get at, an excess that music can only vaguely point to. Invariably, the music fetish is sustained where the threat of the Other seems most intense. Where, conversely, there seems to have been little or no contestation vis-à-vis the status of, for example, bourgeois music, where, that is, there seems to have been a clearly articulated and unproblematic match of a fully-fledged art music tradition with the national ideal, musical nationalism is infrequently in evidence. Where, conversely, the status of the national ideal is in stark contrast to a diagnosed political crisis (where, for example, one language territory is cruelly ruled by another), and where bourgeois art musics are aligned with internationalising tendencies or with cultures occupying the position of interloper or occupier (the Master, the malign Other), musical nationalisms tend to proliferate. There are, of course, some interesting exceptions, where the call of the Master seems to make itself felt even when the nation’s musical cultures are far from under threat. The case of Germany both before (as a Kulturnation or ‘cultural nation’) and after (as the Wilhelmine Second Reich) unification, is a striking case in point.
[i] Slavoj Žižek, Tarrying with the Negative (Durham N. C.: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 201, quoted in Alan Finlayson, ‘Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Theories of Nationalism’, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1998), 145–62: 154.
[ii] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London & New York, 2nd edn 1991), p. 4.
[v] Johann Gottfried Herder, Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (Riga and Leipzig: Hartknoch, 1785), p. 245. Misquoted in Anderson (67-8), this is quite difficult to translate precisely because the German contains an ambiguity that the English does not. The translation depends on the context (the ‘Denn’ refers back o what comes before). The context is as follows: ‘Endlich wünschte ich auch die Unterscheidungen, die man aus rühmlichem Eifer für die überschauende Wissenschaft dem Menschengeschlecht zwischengeschoben hat, nicht über die Grenzen erweitert. So haben einige z. B. vier oder fünf Abteilungen desselben, die ursprünglich nach Gegenden oder gar nach Farben gemacht waren, Rassen zu nennen gewaget; ich sehe keine Ursache dieser Benennung. Rasse leitet auf eine Verschiedenheit der Abstammung, die hier entweder gar nicht stattfindet oder in jedem dieser Weltstriche unter jeder dieser Farben die verschiedensten Rassen begreift. Denn jedes Volk ist Volk: es hat seine Nationalbildung wie seine Sprache.’ The complexity in rendering this into good English stems from at least three problems : first on the repeatedterm Volk because the second would be rendered differently in English than the first, thus losing the emphatic repetition of the German; second, the force of ‘wie’ here is difficult to translate since it could mean both ‘like’ or ‘as if’ in English; third, the term Nationalbildung (hyphenated in the original Herder but now usually given as a single word) has an ambiguity in German that is difficult to render accurately into English – the second element Bildung has a complex history and refers to he notion of a ‘formation through culture’ or ‘culture as process’ and therefore the full term Nationalbildung could mean something like ‘national becoming’, ‘national culture’ or ‘national formation’. ‘Denn’ here is clearly a conjunction that expands the preceding sentence ‘Race leads to a differentiation of origin (lit. racial extraction), which here is either not the case or one [will] encounter a huge diversity of races in every small corner of the world under each flag.’ In other words, race is too crude a marker of nation since it leads either to a false splitting of the origins of a nation or will cause a multitude of peoples to crawl out from under each flag. We might thus render the final key sentence here as something like ‘Because every people is a people (i.e. a nation): each has its national culture (or formation) like [a] language’.
[vi] Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (New York, 1983).
[vii] Ian Biddle and Vanessa Knights, ‘Introduction’, Music, National Identity and the Politics of Location: Between the Global and the Local (London: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 1–18.
[viii] Roger Scruton, England: An Elegy (London and New York: Continuum,  2006), p. 247.
To write in fragments: this is the mode du jour of the late blog style. It is a hysterical, overwrought and supercharged style, symptomatic of the anxiety that attends anything in its late phase. The late style stinks of death, wreaks of an institution in terminal decay, but also holding that end off, keeping it all alive with a supreme effort of will, a willfulness that is written across every prosaic spasm; the late modality, then, is a sysyphian modality.
My friends recently gave a beautiful and challenging talk at my university about the late and posthumous voice. What strikes me in this juxtaposition (late and posthumous) is just how unstable the juxtaposition is, and therefore how intriguing, how gloriously productive. Italian Germanist Massimo Cacciari's Dallo Steinhof, translated into English as Posthumous People, opens with Nietzsche’s famous Maxim: ‘It is only after death that we will enter our life and come alive, oh, very much alive, we posthumous people!’ Nietzsche’s textual self-projection into an abstracted reader-reception after his death touches on a ubiquitous process that had been under way in the Hapsburg lands since the 1850s and which continue right into our own predicament of the late modern – the careful reorganization of education around homogenized standards of reading and an immersion of students into and out of tradition: a kind of gentle dipping motion, like sheep in need of a good barrier against the pests and diseases of the vernacular. Cacciari’s complex but beautiful account of the intellectual and artistic world of fin-de-siècle Vienna points in essence to the observation, metaphorically cast from the Steinhof (a hill above the metropolis on which stands the church of Sankt Leopold designed by Otto Wagner), that tradition and innovation are here ranged against each other, in productive but deadly conflict:
The symmetrical, repetitive rhythm is accentuated from the outside by a revetment of thin marble blocks. The iron clamps and bolts that keep them in place, rimmed with copper leaf borders, give a sense of motion to these walls, yet without any monumental emphasis and without any concession to ornament. Inside, the building’s perfect measure of basic forms is joined, without contrast, by the multicoloured clarity of light that streams through the stained glass windows. Here is the meeting, never realised so well, of the principles of tradition and quotation on the one hand and the Nervenleben [vitality] of the Secession Movement’s images and colour on the other.
In these two juxtapositions (late and posthumous and tradition and innovation), which refuse absolutely to coincide or resonate with each other, we can detect something of what seems to be at stake in the blogging moment (and it is a moment: this too will pass), a provocative and yet utterly hopeless questioning of the extent to which speaking and writing might have an intimate connection.
I do no want to emblamatize the writing/speaking binarism or link the two poles to a simple presence/absence oscillation. It is better, it seems to me, to think of medialities, the materializations that each allows and forbids: when one dose this, their relation is not binaristic, but differentiated along a line of medial fields (channels, ruts, dikes) and speaking and writing are close, very close, but not structurally summative, not able to grasp the full complexity of the late modern imagination of what it is possible to mean.
The late and posthumous voices are thus fragments, parcels of symbolic material hat have broken off and set adrift in a free from reign of terror, of joy, of agony.
This is the logic of the fragment: to run free in chains, to play in strict discipline, to tarry and to leave, to conjure and to bury.
Occasionally (very rarely, in fact) I am caught short by the extraordinarily intense mark of intention that makes itself felt in my writing. It is not that I seek this out or look to say, say and say in a way that is of or for 'me', but that, sometimes, very rarely, I am surprised by the strong impression of encountering myself talking back to me from the 'page'.
Quite why one passage should strike me like this and another doesn't is extremely difficult to ascertain. In such moments I am called to question the popular wisdom in enlightened liberal educational institutions that characterises the programme of education as enabling students to find their own voice.
This emphasis on the search for that singular vocality in writing, for that indelible trace that cannot and will not unhinge itself from the acousmêtre of the author, is grounded in a notion hat the best of writing is always the most original, the most unique, the most individuated.
And yet, those moments that seem to 'speak' to me of me, those intensely reflexive turns in the written prose that speak back are precisely those things I dislike in my writing, Only when I am able to write as if in control of the materials – only as if unfolding an idea in full and erudite spontaneity, as if in short, I were someone else – only then do I feel that the writing is good, secure. In shot, writing is always for me a kind of effacement.
I want to purge those embarrassing Northern vowels, that mark of suburbia, of the Midlands, of bland, safe lower bourgeois, poorly educated autodidact. I want to write as if I were from a glorious and aristocratic generation of emigré Jews, of dissident Palestinians, of Hungarian violinist, of African rebels, or Cuban guerillas; of Clarissa Furtwangler, Szagylyn Passmaker, Hyacinth Smortlyna, Mahmoud Kobal, Cruella Rozhdestvinsky. Wouldn't it be great to be that, to be other than this white, bland, suburban bore?
When students begin to write critically, intelligently, creatively, perhaps the last thing we should do is encourage to write as themselves. Who on earth wants to do that? Why not encourage them to write as if.
AND YET.... In this tendency to efface ourselves is precisely located the operation of a certain power at its most unmediated, in this feigning of boredom with oneself, with the routinely quotidian white. To play act as if in turmoil with oneself, to march endlessly through the detritus of one's average life in search of something else, something new, something Other, is the act of a class terminally ensnared in luxury, in excess without telos, without suffering. It is the feigning, the colonising , the ruthless appropriation even of the pain this class inflicts as if to say – we cause you harm and yet we maintain the right to own your suffering, to colonise it with our soft and whining pettinesses.
Here then is precisely the burden: to rage against self is to play act as if powerless; and yet to valorise the care of that same self is to enact that brutality of a self-obsession in the face of the cruelty inflicted on others.
No way out. No way out???
In that encounter with the self, as if speaking back to oneself from the written page, then, one experiences a moment of extraordinary uncanniness when the promise of some kind of way out is glimpsed if only for a moment: the self becomes performative, split, epistemologically impossible, the creepy doppelgänger that promises both a death and a rebirth.
I am you, speaking back to to you. Who do you think you are?
I have been listening to Mahler. This usually means something, for his is a music that does not give itself up very often. Many use him as muzak, as a kind of everymen’s background pain, ambient suffering, the soundtrack to a bleached and tired film noir, or a strained little ensemble piece. Listen, watch and learn – this is culture, so they would have us say.
But this is all wrong, all skewed, all nailed down. Mahler’s is a music that can be used but always only in so far as it leave a large and untameable excess, a musical core so of itself, so self-referring, so ontologically heavy, as to refuse re-positioning into other material contexts. It is almost as if to listen is to mishear already.
What glorious ambivalence, what fabulous disengagement, what studied performativity. His is a music of all musics, a rite, a passing all laid out in self-conscious self-erasing textuality. Its very textiness, its very self-unravelling attracts to itself a certain counterweight, a certain materiality that will not rest at that: it is materiality as material, music as music a grand and beautiful tautology, There is no air of literature, no Friedensode, no dark heart of absurd black, but just the unravelling of the symphony, a poetics of grand, stately, noble and beautiful entropy.
Much has been made of his fragmentary, open-ended nature: his is like a thousand voices, like a polyphony of voices, a clambering for attention. But this fragmentary nature is not about plurality, not about the multitude, but about the hopeless ideal of music for music. Mahler’s of all musics is the most autonomous.
The politics of my enjoyment, then, of my straining to make sense, to break through its shiny and kitschy surface, is a politics of agonising incomprehension. No way in, no way out. It is.
Like a nugget of hard refusal, a lump of void stuff, a heavy, heavy sounding tumult of uniformity, it sits, unwelcome, closed, bitterly foreclosed.
[…] today, the middle classes are deeply moved by the works of the crazy, sick musician. Have they become aristocratic, are they like the nobles of 1814, struck with awe at the will of the genius? No […] they have something wrong with their ears now, they all have Beethoven’s ears. […] All their anatomical details, all their ossicles, labyrinths, drums, and trumpets, have taken on the diseased forms of Beethoven’s ears.
Adolf Loos, ‘Beethoven’s ears’ (1913)
If gender were a sound, what would it sound like? Adolf Loos’s characteristically strange and beautiful ruminations in 1913 on the meanings of Beethoven for early twentieth-century audiences – of a Beethoven that had, until recently, served as exemplar of male creative genius – raise this question (extremely obliquely) by reference to the body (or, rather, anatomy): the dislocated inventory of body parts and instruments (‘drums’ and ‘trumpets’ in the German also resonate with the medical terms for parts of the ear and, of course, for Beethoven’s ear prosthesis ), their disease, their lumpen-mass, points to a rather troubled and contested connectivity between the body and listening, between sound and the flesh that vibrates with it in order to ‘receive’ it.
And that dislocated flesh is the primary site after Loos’s fin de siècle for the thinking of gender. In this short text fragment, gender has become for Loos synonymous with biology, anatomy, medicalised matter available to the scrutiny of science. In this weird and disturbing juxtaposition of listening and anatomy we encounter an eloquent articulation of what many at that fin de siècle perceived as a radical degradation of listening. Indeed, with the intensification of the scientific scrutiny of the body and the medicalisation of discourses on gender and sexuality, listening degrades for the bourgeois male aesthete into a mere mechanistic vibrating of body parts; this is its implication in the degradation of gender into a genitally ordered binarism.
If gender were to make a sound at that fin de siècle, it would be as something vibrating into the body from without, as something somatising, as something seeming to come from within when clearly inflicted, imposed, enforced by the discipline of public culture and institutional science from without. For Loos, as for many growing up in the last years of the German nineteenth century, to obliquely raise the question as to how gender might sound is to raise a whole set of other pressing questions: How can matter breathe life? How is meaning ‘impregnated’ into flesh? How do men come to be as subjects within the body?
In the disease of the decaying ear parts, in the traumatic dissection of the body into lumps of matter, Loos articulates the troubling nature of bodies that listen under the industrial logic of production, of bodies soon, and certainly by the time this prose fragment was first published (1919), to be torn to pieces by the first of two devastating world wars: listening too has fallen under the sway of industry; it too has succumbed to the debilitating dehumanisation of labour.
In Loos’s bitter complaint there is an implicit reproach: listening, of all activities, should have remained aloof from such processes, since to listen at the beginning of the long nineteenth century (in what might be termed the Austro-German romantic economy) was to embrace an exemplary interiority, to deepen one’s humanity, to experience a fulsome abundance in the self. But this reproach is not confined to the end of that long century: indeed, listening seems to come under extraordinary pressure throughout the long nineteenth century to carry the burden of what Germans referred to as Bildung, the development or formation of the exemplary bourgeois self. And in this, listening is seen again and again to fail to live up to these expectations.