Listening in, hearing back

by Seth Brodsky, author of From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious


I’ve been thinking a lot about the categories historians rely upon, and their strange mix of power and precariousness—all the more so when music is involved. So I wanted to point to what I think is the most precarious (and yes, maybe the most powerful) category in my book From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious. It’s that last word: unconscious.

Cover image for From 1989

I agree with psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Miller that the matter of the unconscious ultimately comes down to a question of faith—which is to say, something that doesn’t necessarily belong in a history. As Miller puts it: “Do you believe—or not—in the existence of the unconscious? Of something more or less like what Freud called the unconscious?” Freud’s most schematic account of the unconscious, from 1915, makes clear he’s not talking about some personal cellar of the mind. He’s talking about something that is, still today, is very difficult for culture to digest: a site of self where all the acts and manifestations which I notice in myself and do not know how to link up with the rest of my mental life must be judged as if they belonged to someone else …” If the unconscious is a cellar, it’s not your cellar—but it’s still in your house.

This suggestive power would seem to disqualify the psychoanalytic unconscious as a foundation for serious history writing. We sit now on a century of various histories-of-spirit, psycho-biographies, and highbrow hack-jobs masquerading as hermeneutics-of-suspicion, all fueled by the roaring irrefutability of the Freudian unconscious. Ironically, the latest entry is from the career Freud-basher Frederick Crews, who does nothing less—I don’t think I’m exaggerating!—than reveal how Freud’s unconscious desires invalidate his entire project.

I’m a believer in the unconscious—the unconscious in general, as an unprovable but dynamic element of individual psychic life and collective social life. But in relation to music history, I felt a strong urge to contain my engagement with it; I’m not especially interested in psycho-biography and with the allegedly “whole person”; in dealing with the work especially of living composers, I wanted to avoid getting too far in their heads. I wanted to stay more in their ears—to try, paraphrasing Freud, to hear all the acts and manifestations” in their musical life that could be “judged as if they belonged to someone else.” The 1989 project hence began as a robustly intertextual one, a way of re-organizing an otherwise meaninglessly organized field—say, the alphabetized list of all works written and premiered around 1989—according to the axiom of a contained otherness: incorporated, repressed, misrecognized, flaunted. My first attempts (below) were crude; they owed something to Freud’s Rome, imagining the year as an archeological site literally resting atop its own sedimented musical history.

I was struck by the existence of actual canonical strata—a Bach layer, a Schubert or Beethoven layer, even a Liszt layer. Were these evidence of something coherent, consistent beyond the mere invocation of a common name and corpus? Beyond any of the resulting book’s successes and failures, I still think this intertextual paradigm is the most promising, the most catholic: what, after all, is more embracing than the question of what newer music has done to be-or-not-be older music? Music history as a millennial game of telephone, the noisiness of reception. How might new music histories be histories, not just of hearing, but mishearing? And how might the history of a long musical modernism—of music trying very hard to be new, modern, modo, now—intensify this process, making mis-hearings and missed encounters the very paradigm of musical desire? A desire for less signal and more noise.

These questions eventually led me to organize European new music in 1989 through an series of “heterotopian networks,” (above) in which intertextual and thematic coincidences yielded webs of works all linked by some other music. The newer work became what Michel Foucault called a heterotopia, an “other space”—radically autonomous, but actually existing —in which older music was misheard, reconfigured, or, in the book’s eventual concept-metaphor, analyzed, not unlike a patient in a psychoanalytic clinic. These networks, eventually formalized, ranged from fairly objective—a group of six “Schubert” pieces, say—to quite subjective—a group of works all dealing with non-existent places, u-topoi, and which I labeled “nowheres.” And each of these networks was themselves a kind of Freudian Rome.

The “Lyric Suites” network, for instance, grouped a series of otherwise very different string quartets that all had some connection to song—but a repressed or stifled song, hidden or encrypted, sung sotto voce or at night, to lost time or lost communities and persons, or to the dead. Emergent nodes began to quilt the otherwise proliferating associations in place: Luigi Nono’s 1980 quartet Fragmente—Stille, an Diotima, Alban Berg’s Lyrische Suite from 1926, Ludwig van Beethoven’s late quartets from a century before that. In one case, a thread emerged leading from the sixteen-note “shadow song” near the end of Helmut Lachenmann’s Second String Quartet from 1989; to the “broken song” from Nono’s Fragmente, quoting a 15th-century chanson; to the “hidden song,” setting a Baudelaire poem, that Berg encrypted in the last movement of his Suite; to the “failed song” that the first violin stutters in the famous “beklemmt” section from the Cavatina in Beethoven’s Op. 130.

Graphic of the “Lyric Suites” network

Such threads are what helped convince me to take a psychoanalytic account of musical modernism as more than mere heuristic. From the beginning of Freud’s formalizations, the psychoanalytic unconscious has experienced its own repressions, none more intense and persistent than of its radical negativity. To take one famous example, the “Oedipus complex” is on the one hand a way of accounting for a network of repressed fantasies and fears that seem to mark many people in early childhood. But it soon became a means of repression—repression of the cavernous uncertainties still plaguing patients otherwise convinced, fruitlessly, that they were suffering from Oedipus complexes; repression, on the part of the child, of their own cavernous uncertainty about where they stood in relation to others. This other unconscious is not a positive content to unearth, pin down, expose, judge; rather, it is a persisting negative, unavailable to the psyche that suffers it. For Freud, and for Lacan after him, this unconscious was a fundamentally intersubjective affair, and, more importantly for music, an auditory one. It involved listening, not for proof, but for evidence and testimony; it required an auditor who can hear what consistently fails to give voice to itself. This is where I ended From 1989: trying to listen to failed voices. I asked if musical modernism is not, in some sense, what psychoanalysis sounds like when it wanders into the concert hall. Or, more pointedly, if psychoanalysis is what musical modernism sounds like when it enters the disenchanting space of the clinic.


Seth Brodsky is Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities at the University of Chicago.


Where Photographs Meet Words: A #WorldPhotoDay Reading List

Tomorrow is World Photo Day, a celebration bringing together millions of photographers worldwide to share their stories and inspire global change through the power of photography. A snapshot of some of our great photography titles is below; be sure to check out our photography subject page to browse even more titles, as well as our previous World Photo Day posts.

In the Fields of the North / En los campos del norte by David Bacon 

In this landmark work of photo-journalism, activist and photographer David Bacon documents the experiences of some of the hardest-working and most disenfranchised laborers in the country: the farmworkers who are responsible for making California “America’s breadbasket.” Combining haunting photographs with the voices of migrant farmworkers, Bacon offers three-dimensional portraits of laborers living under tarps, in trailer camps, and between countries, following jobs that last only for the harvesting season. He uncovers the inherent abuse in the labor contractor work system, and drives home the almost feudal nature of laboring in America’s fields.

Told in both English and Spanish, these are the stories of farmworkers exposed to extreme weather and pesticides, injured from years of working bent over for hours at a time, and treated as cheap labor. The stories in this book remind us that the food that appears on our dinner tables is the result of back-breaking labor, rampant exploitation, and powerful resilience.

 

The Uses of Photography: Art, Politics, and the Reinvention of a Medium edited by Jill Dawsey 

The Uses of Photography examines a network of artists who were active in Southern California between the late 1960s and early 1980s and whose experiments with photography opened the medium to a profusion of new strategies and subjects. Tracing a crucial history of photoconceptual practice, The Uses of Photography focuses on an artistic community that formed in and around the young University of California San Diego, founded in 1960, and its visual arts department, founded in 1967. Artists such as Eleanor Antin, Allan Kaprow, Fred Lonidier, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, and Carrie Mae Weems employed photography and its expanded forms as a means to dismantle modernist autonomy, to contest notions of photographic truth, and to engage in political critique.

Contributors include David Antin, Pamela M. Lee, Judith Rodenbeck, and Benjamin J. Young. Published in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

 

Freedom Now!: Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle by Martin A. Berger

In this groundbreaking catalogue, Martin Berger presents a collection of forgotten photographs that illustrate the action, heroism, and strength of black activists in driving social and legislative change. Freedom Now! highlights the power wielded by black men, women, and children in courthouses, community centers, department stores, political conventions, schools, and streets. Freedom Now! reveals that we have inherited a photographic canon—and a picture of history—shaped by whites’ comfort with unthreatening images of victimized blacks. And it illustrates how and why particular people, events, and issues have been edited out of the photographic story we tell about our past. By considering the different values promoted in the forgotten photographs, readers will gain an understanding of African Americans’ role in rewriting U.S. history and the high stakes involved in selecting images with which to narrate our collective past.

 

The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology edited by William A. Ewing and Barbara P. Hitchcock 

Published to accompany a major traveling exhibition, The Polaroid Project is a creative exploration of the relationship between Polaroid’s many technological innovations and the art that was created with their help. Richly designed with over 300 illustrations, this impressive volume showcases not only the myriad and often idiosyncratic approaches taken by such photographers as Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ellen Carey, and Chuck Close, but also a fascinating selection of the technical objects and artifacts that speak to the sheer ingenuity that lay behind the art. With essays by the exhibition’s curators and leading photographic writers and historians, The Polaroid Project provides a unique perspective on the Polaroid phenomenon—a technology, an art form, a convergence of both—and its enduring cultural legacy.

Contributors: William A. Ewing, Barbara P. Hitchcock, Deborah G. Douglas, Gary Van Zante, Rebekka Reuter, Christopher Bonanos, Todd Brandow, Peter Buse, Dennis Jelonnek, and John Rohrbach.

 

Artist as Reporter: Weegee, Ad Reinhardt, and the PM News Picture by Jason E. Hill

Active from 1940 to 1948, PM was a progressive New York City daily tabloid newspaper committed to the politics of labor, social justice, and antifascism—and it prioritized the intelligent and critical deployment of pictures and their perception as paramount in these campaigns. With PM as its main focus, Artist as Reporter offers a substantial intervention in the literature on American journalism, photography, and modern art. The book considers the journalistic contributions to PM of such signal American modernists as the curator Holger Cahill, the abstract painter Ad Reinhardt, the photographers Weegee and Lisette Model, and the filmmaker, photographer, and editor Ralph Steiner. Each of its five chapters explores one dimension of the tabloid’s complex journalistic activation of modernism’s potential, showing how PM inserted into daily print journalism the most innovative critical thinking in the fields of painting, illustration, cartooning, and the lens-based arts. Artist as Reporter promises to revise our own understanding of midcentury American modernism and the nature of its relationship to the wider media and public culture.

 

Uncertain Histories: Accumulation, Inaccessibility, and Doubt in Contemporary Photography by Kate Palmer Albers

The compulsion to dwell on history—on how it is recorded, stored, saved, forgotten, narrated, lost, remembered, and made public—has been at the heart of artists’ engagement with the photographic medium since the late 1960s. Uncertain Histories considers some of that work, ranging from installations that incorporate vast numbers of personal and vernacular photographs by Christian Boltanski, Dinh Q. Lê, and Gerhard Richter to confrontations with absence in the work of Joel Sternfeld and Ken Gonzales-Day. Projects such as these revolve around a photographic paradox that hinges equally on knowing and not knowing, on definitive proof coupled with uncertainty, on abundance of imagery being met squarely with its own inadequacy. Photography is seen as a fundamentally ambiguous medium that can be evocative of the historical past while at the same time limited in the stories it can convey. Rather than proclaiming definitively what photography is, the work discussed here posits photographs as objects always held in suspension, perpetually oscillating in their ability to tell history. Yet this ultimately leads to a new kind of knowledge production: uncertainty is not a dead end but a generative space for the viewer’s engagement with the construction of history.

 

Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe by Rebecca A. Senf and Stephen J. Pyne

Using landscape photography to reflect on broader notions of culture, the passage of time, and the construction of perception, photographers Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe spent five years exploring the Grand Canyon for their most recent project, Reconstructing the View. The team’s landscape photographs are based on the practice of rephotography, in which they identify sites of historic photographs and make new photographs of those precise locations. Klett and Wolfe referenced a wealth of images of the canyon, ranging from historical photographs and drawings by William Bell and William Henry Holmes, to well-known artworks by Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, and from souvenir postcards to contemporary digital images drawn from Flickr. The pair then employed digital postproduction methods to bring the original images into dialogue with their own. The result is this stunning volume, illustrated with a wealth of full-color illustrations that attest to the role photographers—both anonymous and great—have played in picturing American places.

Rebecca Senf’s compelling essay traces the photographers’ process and methodology, conveying the complexity of their collaboration. Stephen J. Pyne provides a conceptual framework for understanding the history of the canyon, offering an overview of its discovery by Europeans and its subsequent treatment in writing, photography, and graphic arts.

 

The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen

The Last Pictures, co-published by Creative Time Books, is rooted in the premise that these communications satellites will ultimately become the cultural and material ruins of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, far outlasting anything else humans have created. Inspired in part by ancient cave paintings, nuclear waste warning signs, and Carl Sagan’s Golden Records of the 1970s, artist/geographer Trevor Paglen has developed a collection of one hundred images that will be etched onto an ultra-archival, golden silicon disc. The disc, commissioned by Creative Time, will then be sent into orbit onboard the Echostar XVI satellite in September 2012, as both a time capsule and a message to the future.

The selection of 100 images, which are the centerpiece of the book, was influenced by four years of interviews with leading scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, and artists about the contradictions that characterize contemporary civilizations. Consequently, The Last Pictures engages some of the most profound questions of the human experience, provoking discourse about communication, deep time, and the economic, environmental, and social uncertainties that define our historical moment.


Save 30% with UC Press during the Modernist Studies Association Conference

The 2017 Modernist Studies Association Conference convenes August 10 – 13 in Amsterdam.

Check out our landing page featuring UC Press across various disciplines, including Art, Music, Visual Culture, and Cinema & Media Studies. Save 30% online with discount code 17W6815, or request an exam copy for consideration to use in your upcoming classes. The discount code expires September 30, 2017.


Medardo Rosso’s Moment

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.


by Sharon Hecker, author of A Moment’s Monument: Medardo Rosso and the International Origins of Modern Sculpture

The sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858–1928) liked to tell people he was born on a train, for he did not feel attached to any single country or national heritage either in his life or his art. Rosso’ sculpture was extraordinary in its anti-monumental and anti-heroic approach, presenting a modern, alienated yet deep feeling for interactions between self and other. His art was also transnational: he refused allegiance to a single culture or artistic heritage, declaring himself a citizen of the world and maker of art without national limits.

Born and raised in Italy, Rosso spent three decades in Paris, where he made highly advanced, experimental sculptures, but struggled as a foreign artist trying to make a name for himself in a city dominated by the overwhelming artistic and personal presence of Rodin. In his time, he was hailed as both the founder of Impressionist sculpture and the forefather of Futurism. Auguste Rodin, Umberto Boccioni, Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, and Henry Moore admired his revolutionary ideas. Rosso continues to inspire contemporary artists such as Tony Cragg and movements like Arte Povera, and his sculptures are held in more than one hundred museums and collections around the world. He remains today one of the most original figures in the history of modern art.

9780520294486

A Moment’s Monument is the first historically substantiated, critical account of this innovative sculptor, who also made highly experimental photographs and drawings. I show that as a cosmopolitan, Rosso felt at ease circulating among several communities. He became a key figure in the transition from the traditional forms of sculpture that persisted throughout the nineteenth century to the experimental forms that developed in the twentieth. The radical ways in which he promoted his work by creatively using the newest advances in photography and unorthodox exhibition strategies foreshadowed countless practices that became part of the vocabulary of modern art.

My book reshapes the Franco-centered view of the origin and development of modern sculpture to include the contributions of artists from other nationalities such as Rosso.

I develop an alternative narrative to the one regularly told, in which Rodin plays the role of lone heroic innovator. I offer an original way to comprehend Rosso, negotiating the competing cultural imperatives of nationalism and internationalism that shaped the European art world at the fin de siècle.


bio_pic_10-16Sharon Hecker is an art historian specializing in Italian modern and contemporary art. Based in Los Angeles and Milan, she has published extensively on Medardo Rosso, Lucio Fontana, and Luciano Fabro. Her publications include Medardo Rosso: Second Impressions.

Hecker co-curated an exhibition of Medardo Rosso’s work which is currently on view through May 13, 2017 at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, MO. Watch a video about the show to learn more. It is also reviewed in the Wall Street Journal and The New Criterion


Worldly Affiliations Wins the 2017 Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize

We are delighted to announce that Sonal Khullar was awarded the Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize for her book, Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990 on behalf of the Association for Asian Studies’ South Asia Council.

9780520283671

The Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize each year honors outstanding and innovative scholarship across discipline and country of specialization for a first single-authored monograph on South Asia, published during the preceding year.

Published by the press in 2015, Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990 has received considerable praise from reviewers, and we’re proud that Sonal’s work has earned this significant recognition.

“Beautifully written, compellingly argued, Khullar’s book not only offers a major contribution to the study of Indian modernism, it also advances our methodological understanding of modern art at large. A vital addition to an exciting body of emerging art-historical scholarship that promises to fundamentally transform received ideas on modernism in the coming years.”—Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University

“Provocatively argued, this book is a must-read for art students, critics, and all those who are interested in modern Indian art, as well as all concerned with global modernism.”—Partha Mitter, University of Sussex


How the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Brought Modernism to Northern California

by Nancy Boas, author of The Society of Six: California Colorists

The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco shattered Northern California’s artistic isolation with a mammoth display of art from over the world. Tucked away in the fair’s historical sections were some fifty French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings that particularly impressed a group of Oakland painters known as the Society of Six. The Impressionists’ work may have been over forty years old, but it was new to the Six, opening up a different way of seeing and converting them to modernism. Paul Cézanne’s Gulf of Marseilles, Seen from L’Estaque, Camille Pissarro’s The Red Roofs, Claude Monet’s Vétheuil, and Pierre Bonnard’s Dining Room in the Country all offered bountiful inspiration for the new approach to light and color.

Boas_Society

The Society of Six: California Colorists traces the lives and art of Selden Connor Gile, August Gay, William Clapp, Maurice Logan, Louis Siegriest, and Bernard von Eichman and devotes a chapter to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and its influence on the group. Gile responded most dramatically to the lessons of the exposition. Overnight he abandoned his skillful, measured tonalist work in favor of energetic brushstrokes and vivid color. The conversion of Gile, the captain and leader of the group, became the catalyst for the others.

With the exposition, the Six discovered the coloristic tools and painterly techniques they needed to realize their ambitions. They began using color juxtapositions to create light, working outdoors, and revealing instead of concealing the artist’s hand in the painted surface. For their plein-air painting they preferred intimate rustic scenery—humble cottages, fieldwork, barnyards, shacks, and beached boats—usually avoiding suggestions of the industrial world. They rejected painstaking studio work in their desire for speed and direct action. To get the effects they wanted, they sometimes laid down colors separately on the canvas so they would mix optically in the spectator’s eye, or they might paint wet-in-wet, applying color over and into other colors on the canvas before it dried. They preferred small canvases that were easy to handle outdoors and liked to finish a painting in one sitting.

Their paintings took on an edgy New World vitality that constituted a departure from accepted tastes in the Bay Area of the time. On first glance an homage to French Impressionist ideas, these works are distinctly American, with the rough finish of their brushstrokes and the vibrant displays of clear and high-keyed color. Paintings like Selden Gile’s Boat and Yellow Hills and Tiburon Rooftops and August Gay’s Woman in the Garden demonstrate the response of Californians to the French works at the Fair.

Nancy Boas will be giving a related talk, Lifting the Veil: The PPIE and the Society of Six, on Saturday, December 5th at 2:00 p.m. at the de Young Museum.

See also: Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.


Can Robert Duncan’s Literary Vision Save American Art?

The H.D. Book cover imageThe just-released H.D. Book, Robert Duncan’s homage to the modernist poet H.D. that eventually developed into a unique quest toward a new poetics, is turning heads in literary circles, and not just because of that handsome photo on the cover.

Publishers Weekly, Bookforum, The New Republic, and The Nation have all praised the book for the way it reignites a debate about the task of modern poetics and offers guidance for the modern artist.

TNR‘s Jed Perl believes The H.D. Book may even be “the book that could save American art,” saying it “reads like a clarion call. At a time such as ours, when artists are either embattled or co-opted, either locked away in some ivory tower of their own invention or overtaken by market forces and political forces, Duncan argues for the most strenuous artistic ambitions as a dynamic democratic possibility.”

Bookforum’s Erik Davis writes, “Duncan’s enormous daybook crackles with a timeless and disarming wisdom, but in a timely manner appropriate to our era of samples and networks—an era still unsure about how to read those uncanny figures that animate visionary literature as well as the literature of vision.”

PW says “Duncan’s great meditation on modernism’s last remaining question mark finally sees print.”

And in a long and thoughtful review of the book in the February 21 issue of The Nation, Ange Mlinko writes, “As a testimony to poetic vocation, it could not be clearer, and in these confusing times a young poet could use the encouragement…”

The publication of The H.D. Book is part of UC Press and the Jess Collins Trust’s publishing project, The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan.

Read the first chapter (PDF).