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Experimental Poetry (and other artistic work?) in academia

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Author Topic: Experimental Poetry (and other artistic work?) in academia  (Read 682 times)
IanP
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« on: June 17, 2009, 11:30:38 am »

I saw this blog linked to at another place, and was so struck by the arguments it makes I wanted to post it here and see what people's thoughts might be. Certainly much of it also rings true with respect to new music, not least in terms of some of it being valued to the extent that it stimulates a certain type of secondary discourse which ticks the right boxes in terms of intellectual fashions.

But, with respect to the following:

Quote
Discourse about poetry will be placed as central, rather than poetry itself, and necessarily and inescapably both discourse and poetry will be valued which require further academic processing above poetry (and discourse) which do not.

Can this phenomenon can ever be really avoided and are alternative situations which exist outside of higher education necessarily any better? Are not new music, experimental poetry, or whatever, similarly valued to the extent that they produce another type of non-academic secondary discourse, specifically that which appears in newspapers, magazines, etc., often focused upon only the most generalised aspects of the work, even preferring biographical and other related information? Will anything be read, listened to, looked at, etc., by any sizeable number of people, without some form of secondary discourse to somehow attract their interest?
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Reiner Torheit
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« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2009, 12:39:24 pm »

As soon as art becomes an academic discipline it's dead in the water - ossified, and reduced to being handy firewood from which a PhD or a book, or at least tenure for a further year might be wrought.   

But I suppose the production of more musicologists does at least keep Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken assured of future counter staff.
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IanP
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2009, 04:24:36 pm »

Do you think that Rimsky-Korsakov, after he was appointed Professor at the Petersburg Conservatory (not a university, but certainly some sort of academic environment for teaching composition and orchestration), and set about an intensive study of theory, harmony, counterpoint, etc., of his own, would have agreed with you? Or when he set out to theorise on orchestration (as Berlioz did before him and Strauss did afterwards)?
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Tony Watson
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« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2009, 10:45:27 pm »

I did a degree in English literature and I have had mixed feelings about it ever since. English as an academic subject at university did not exist until the twentieth century - it was previously thought that you could read novels and poems in you leisure time - and in its early days there were suspicions that as a discipline it was not difficult enough, hence compulsory Anglo-Saxon. It has been said that TS Eliot was a godsend to Eng lit courses because here at last was poetry where you could sit around and discuss what it meant, unlike the more obvious appeal of Longfellow, say.

I remember going to a lecture on Dickens and coming away with the impression that academics were trying to make something difficult that never should be. So I gravitated to medieval literature, Anglo-Saxon (which stopped being compulsory after the first year - this was London) and Old Norse, figuring that it would be difficult to study such things later in life and Jane Austen could always wait.

By the way, did anyone else see the programmes on BBC4 about various poetry topics, such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? I enjoyed those two very much.
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Reiner Torheit
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« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2009, 11:30:21 pm »

Do you think that Rimsky-Korsakov, after he was appointed Professor at the Petersburg Conservatory

I carefully said musicology  ;)   Orchestration is a skill, and it can be taught in the same way as playing the violin is taught - and I've certainly not inveighed against the teaching of technique!  Mastery of the technique enables its user to put the entire scope to new and creative uses, and makes the student the master of the craft... and not its slave.

Frankly I would say that Rimsky was a skilled orchestrator but a dull composer - his advanced ability in orchestration concealed his creative limitations.  Anyone who has ever sat through THE TSAR'S BRIDE (as I have for at least five different productions) will know what I mean ;)

Stravinsky & Prokofiev were both Rimsky's pupils - neither could be accused of being "a chip off the old block", I'd say?
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IanP
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« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2009, 11:48:21 pm »

I see where you're coming from on this, Tony. Perhaps some of this has to do simply with competing interest groups all vying for equal shares of the higher-education-funding pie, and as such designing their work so as to be artificially 'difficult'. But in some cases very little is achieved through such a strategy other than to benefit those who can make a job out of it. Whilst being one who crossed from performance to academia (or to combining the two things) I have a residual scepticism about the ways in which certain practitioners (composers and performers) are awarded higher education positions, when I don't in any sense believe what some of them do deserves to be classified as 'research' or 'scholarship' in the same ways as other branches of musicology. Historical research, involving inspection of old documents, manuscripts, etc., the preparation of critical editions, sketch study, study of performance practice, detailed cultural history; these sorts of things take serious time and money, as well as finely developed skills built up over a period of time, and can rarely be pursued properly outside of a university environment, unless the individual doing so has plenty of time and money on their hands, and has already developed the skills. But I can't really see that a lot of simple composition and performance, which the individuals would do anyhow (and often get paid separately for), accompanied by a certain amount of tokenistic documentation to satisfy the research bodies, can really be counted on the same level. But university music departments are often becoming increasingly staffed by composers (I can think of two such in the UK which half the faculty are composers with no proper musicological qualifications and experience such as would otherwise be expected of individuals in those positions, and I certainly wouldn't class almost any of those individuals as serious intellectuals), often entrusted with teaching undergraduates and even supervising postgraduates with musicological work, and I worry that the whole intellectual level is being diluted as a result.

The area of musical academia about which I'm most sceptical, when turned into an end in itself, most closely resembles the study of English - hermeneutics. There is a point to interpretation which serves to elucidate works to people and help them penerate deeper into them, but that is rarely what's entailed, quite the reverse. I'm certainly interested in the wider factors (including social factors) that somehow influence musical works, music-making, and musical reception, and think that is an important part of cultural history (which I'd say is as important as any other history, though not always practised so rigorously). But that's a different matter from expending lots of verbiage on 'the meaning' of works - actually quite an old-fashioned approach (distinct from looking at how music (or literature) generates meaning, which has much to do with reception, again part of cultural history) - especially when this is presented in such a mass of jargon that it's unlikely ever to be read by anyone outside of academia. That such work, in whatever artistic field, should be placed on a par with research into nuclear physics, or cancer research, or document-based study of the causes of the First World War, or into performing conditions and practice in 1830s Leipzig, and should receive the same amounts of funding, is something I'm extremely unsure about.

Reiner - how do you define 'musicology' or 'an academic discipline'? And why would the study of orchestration not be part of these (it often is)?

I'm not a great Rimsky fan, but his Third Symphony (some of it written during his intensive period of study, and showing a new contrapuntal facility) is a fine piece.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2009, 12:10:32 am by IanP » Report Spam   Logged
Reiner Torheit
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« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2009, 03:13:57 pm »

Quote
Reiner - how do you define 'musicology' or 'an academic discipline'? And why would the study of orchestration not be part of these (it often is)?

Well, I would rather go for a description like

Quote
where you could sit around and discuss what it meant,

In other words, the sphere of "criticism", rather than of "creativity".  What this ultimately "achieves" is questionable,  and what benefit accrues for the creative/interpretative practitioners is even more questionable.  I would place Rimsky in the orbit of the "creatives" (since he was a prolific composer) who shared his experience with others who wished to create. 

Quote
Perhaps some of this has to do simply with competing interest groups all vying for equal shares of the higher-education-funding pie

That seems to be the motivation behind most "musicology".
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IanP
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« Reply #7 on: June 18, 2009, 05:35:57 pm »

If that's your description, which musicological work from (say) the last 30 years have you read, on the basis of which you arrive at that conclusion? Blanket critiques without any evidence amount to nothing.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2009, 06:36:32 pm by IanP » Report Spam   Logged
John Cummins
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« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2009, 05:47:08 pm »


Quote
Discourse about poetry will be placed as central, rather than poetry itself, and necessarily and inescapably both discourse and poetry will be valued which require further academic processing above poetry (and discourse) which do not.

"...most of these [instrumental students] here are not here to study music; they're here to pursue careers. They're not interested in music; they're interested in careers in music." - Milton Babbitt,  from, Milton Babbitt: A Discussion in 12 Parts - 1. Conservatories, New Music, and that term "Classical Music" http://www.newmusicbox.org/page.nmbx?id=32fp01


Will anything be read, listened to, looked at, etc., by any sizeable number of people, without some form of secondary discourse to somehow attract their interest?

"Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

"Small minds", that means those discourse-sodden academics. 

Of course interest in secondary discourse is valuable when it's required by interest in the primary topic/material.  There's no denying the extent to which one can be interested in the personality which has produced something interesting and in the historical and social settings in which it was produced.  But isn't secondary discourse usually easier than primary, and didn't the scholars and thinkers of the past tend to, necessarily, subsume the secondary in the primary? 
« Last Edit: July 22, 2009, 03:34:38 pm by abu ain » Report Spam   Logged

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