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From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious

Seth Brodsky (Author)

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January, 2017.
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What happened to musical modernism? When did it end? Did it end? In this unorthodox Lacanian account of European New Music, Seth Brodsky focuses on the unlikely year 1989, when New Music hardly takes center stage. Instead one finds Rostropovich playing Bach at Checkpoint Charlie; or Bernstein changing “Joy” to “Freedom” in Beethoven’s Ninth; or David Hasselhoff lip-synching “Looking for Freedom” to thousands on New Year’s Eve. But if such spectacles claim to master their historical moment, New Music unconsciously takes the role of analyst. In so doing, it restages earlier scenes of modernism. As world politics witnesses a turning away from the possibility of revolution, musical modernism revolves in place, performing century-old tasks of losing, failing, and beginning again, in preparation for a revolution to come.
Seth Brodsky is Assistant Professor of Music and the Humanities at the University of Chicago.
“In brilliant dialectical prose, Brodsky shows how European postwar modernist music reflected, nourished, negated, and demolished the discourse surrounding the tumultuous but peaceful revolutions of 1989. He perches on the edge of the volcano’s crater, holding tightly to the edge while using the elevation to survey the surrounding landscape, with works as far back as Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and Schoenberg’s Erwartung coming into view.”—Anne C. Shreffler, Harvard University
“Brilliantly written and argued, From 1989 is nothing less than a psychoanalysis of European musical modernism, and Brodsky, its nimble Lacanian analyst. Capacious, insightful, erudite, witty, paradoxical, and whip-smart, it is simply like nothing else in musicology today. It must be read.”—Brian Kane, author of Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice

“Habermas famously claimed that Enlightenment modernity was an ‘unfinished project.’ From 1989 goes him one further to claim that modernity, at least as engaged in works of late twentieth-century European music, was an unbegun project, a fantasy of total transformation that never really got off the ground. For Brodsky—who can effortlessly dissect any piece of New Music you’d care to set down in front of him and who can show you just how each such piece fails to actualize its own structural promises—the real analytical quarry is much larger. He is out to show that it is musical modernism itself that doesn’t work.”—Robert Fink, author of Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practic

“The advent of musical modernism coincided with the advent of psychoanalysis at the beginning of the twentieth century: Schoenberg shaking hands with Freud. Seth Brodsky’s sweeping book scrutinizes this paradoxical intersection from the vantage point of the momentous year 1989—taking stock of the fate of modernism in all its multiple facets, looking backward and forward, and rounding out the work with a splendid chapter on the inaugural moment of Schoenberg’s Erwartung. A magnificent intellectual and musical journey of great lucidity and erudition.”—Mladen Dolar, University of Ljubljana

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