2 weeks ago
Friday, February 5, 2010
Zoe Lang, over at amusicology, has a thoughtful post up looking at the recent discussions in our field over threatened cuts at many schools--most vividly, the elimination of the important Department of Paleography at King's College. She has several good points about the need to have a diverse "musicological toolbox" available. She also notes that there is a certain undercurrent of hostility in some of the discussion towards what is called "critical studies," a term left somewhat undefined, but which I think can be taken to mean those of us who use methodologies and theories common in the humanities at large, like feminist theory or postcolonial studies or what have you. Zoe very rightly points out that it is exactly in these approaches to studying music that connections with other disciplines are most often found, and that we need as much engagement as we can get.
I promised myself I wouldn't get baited by the AMS-l discussion--not even when my own former but dearly-beloved graduate program was described as full of "contemptible levels of narcissism, waste, and entitlement." Alas, I succumb. Luckily, Zoe says it very well. I would only make it a bit bolder: faced with severe economic pressures as we are, defensively circling the wagons around one's own small corners of musicology is exactly the wrong approach. Frankly, paleography of the sort studied at King's doesn't make an ounce of difference to my scholarship. A lot of musicological scholarship doesn't. If I read Jonathan's new book on Chopin's Op. 38, it would only be out of curiosity, not because I need to. But it would never occur to me to suggest that these other approaches and subfields of study are somehow not worthy of study, and not valuable to the discipline at large. They are both. They are exactly what make our field so unusually rich.
Making the case for musicology, like any humanities discipline, is not easy in the era of the rapidly-privatizing university. There are plenty of folks out there who would love to see the performing arts relegated to extracurricular activity, and the liberal arts banished entirely. Those are the attitudes that need changing, not the fact that you might not like someone applying feminist theory to Beethoven. Bashing the work of your colleagues strikes me as an obviously wrong-headed manner in which to articulate the important of our field. Perhaps we could instead chill out and let each other take our own scholarly paths, respectfully disagreeing when those paths cross. Save that anger for the endowment fund managers and state legislatures. The word, I believe, is "pluralism," and it is the sign of a healthy discipline.