Study Day: Critical Theory for Musicology Study Group

‘Musicology after Postmodernism’: Critical Theory for Musicology Study Day
In association with the Royal Musical Association and the Institute of Musical Research

2 July 2016, Senate House, University of London

Keynote Speaker: Professor James Currie (State University of New York at Buffalo)

In recent decades, the postmodern turn in musicological scholarship has prompted a productive interaction between multiple disciplines in order to answer questions of ontology, theory, and praxis that were overlooked in earlier dialogues. It encouraged disciplines to ‘embrace contradictions’ (Kramer 2002), to ‘absorb multiple discourses’ (Horton 2001), and to look outside of themselves to various other disciplines such as literary theory, philosophy, and sociology in order to ‘reconnect “the music itself” with the fabric of human life’ (Cusick 2001). Yet, as Berger notes, ‘the field opened up both thematically and methodologically to such an extent that no one knows what musicology is any more’ (1995). This pluralist notion that ‘everything is permitted’ (Žižek 2011) has led to a state of relativism and— perhaps inadvertently—cultural stasis, in which it is difficult to know how to move forward in either a disciplinary or a socio-political sense. This means that postmodern musicology not only loses sight of the very music that it aimed to reconnect with, but also obscures any potential for social transformation.

If this is the case, then how does musical scholarship connect to human life? How might it reflect current affairs, or deal with questions of urgency, action, or revolution? Is it necessary or even possible for musicology to address the concerns of the world today? We suggest a return to critical theory in order to investigate both the musical and social implications of these questions.