Playing With Agawu (!)


1. Some thoughts on Agawu. I must agree with him re: defending analysis against the postmoderns. To write analysis of as merely "formalist," as he suggests, is a crime; however, I also think that, in accusing the new musicology of simplifying the nature of analysis, Agawu is simplifying their problem with analysis and theory (i.e. its truth claims, concerns with coherence, unity etc.) I do think, Melissa, that it is possible to combine a postmodern sensibility (?) with analysis, or rather, with the kind of detailed analysis that Agawu is writing about...the accusation that the new musicology largely ignores the surplus of detail that analysis generates is, I think, particularly cogent.

2. To exand on a point that I tried to raise in seminar last week: I suggested that Agawu was a little confused, perhaps, in that he is advocating an analytical approach (in "Playing with Signs") that seeks to do two things at once; however, my concern was that he doesn't seem to admit this. The main issue, for Agawu, is ostensibly the "communication problem": it is, he says "a central problem for the analyst to uncover the various dimensions of this communication process." He goes on to identify the key concerns of his analyses: "structure" and "expression". These are "channels" through which "meaning and signification" are communicated. His interest, then, is the process. It is "how does this piece mean?" that overshadows the more traditional "what does this piece mean?" question. My concern is this: how does one separate the "what" and the "how"? How can Agawu say how meaning is communicated, without a cocern for meaning? Agawu is concerned with meaning, I would say, and in an explictly critical way: he writes of "preferred meanings" over "fanciful meanings" for example, and yet follows up this statement with a sentence on the irrelevance of "the 'what' question." What, I ask, is going on here?

3. It seems to me that this "how/what" issue is intimately related to the question of analysis and criticism--as if, in the process of analysis, one can simply say "how" a piece works, without some kind of crictical process also taking place. "How" stands for form, I think, and "what" for content. Is anyone really comfortable with their easy separation? If the postmoderns are explictly concerned with how something is presented, insofar as this reveals the ideological/political/epistemological/ontological/historio- economical "origin" or situation of a work, an author, etc., doesn't this pose a problem? Doesn't this ignore the "what"? The "what" is in flux, I suppose, because of the infinite nature of "textuality" and reference, but I would argue that, to some extent, the "what" can be articulated, that it "exists" in "little nuggests of identity," as Agawu writes, and that it is impossible to try to explain how something means without reference to what it means.

4. Agawu writes of the impossiblity of "neutral analysis," one that is free of "theoretical prejudices." Isn't it true that there is more that theoretical prejudice at work in every analysis? And isn't it also true that Agawu makes a huge blunder in suggesting that criticism is that which adds "spice" to an analysis? Is it not this kind of thinking that gives rise to the idea that one can say "how" and not "what", the kind of thinking that sees analysis as "clinical dissection" and criticism as supplemental commentary??

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