Joshua B. Mailman

Renewing the Riverbed: Critical Aesthetic and Epistemological Purposes for Analysis, Fueled by Performative Theory

This paper examines naïve assumptions about purposes of music analysis (distilled in Nattiez’s semiotic tripartition). It then proposes analytical practice (especially Lewin’s, Hanninen’s, Ockelford’s, and Hasty’s) has outgrown these assumptions. For this to have happened, analysis must have been, and still is, fueled by an alternative dual-purpose that has remained largely unarticulated. This dual-purpose synthesizes from a cluster of ideas presented in philosophical aesthetic writings of Isenberg (1979), Sibley (1959), and Lycan and Machamer (1971); music meta-theoretic writings of Lewin (1968-69),  Morris (2000-2001), and Cook (2002); cognitive linguistic work of Reddy (1979); the ecological approach to music theorized by Oliveira and Oliveira (2003); and Whitehead’s (1929/78) metaphysics. It is driven by critical aesthetic and epistemological concerns, which cover existing analytical practice thoroughly, and leave more room for future developments in theory and analysis.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, analysis cannot reveal how music ‘really is’ in a neutral sense. This is because ostensibly neutral analysis derives from paradigmatic comparison, based on repetition and recurrence, which have become highly relativized by theory, through Lewin (1987), Ockelford (2005), and Hanninen (2003), and thus are non-neutral. Transposition is rendered non-neutral by Lewin’s (1995) non-communitive GISs; repetition is rendered non-neutral by Ockelford’s zygonicity and Hanninen’s recontextualization, not to mention Bergson (1910), Whitehead (1929) and Heraclitus.

The proposed dual-purpose of analysis is critical aesthetic and epistemological. Isenberg’s theory of critical communication proposes the purpose of criticism is not to judge, but rather to teach indirectly an appreciative perspective, pointing out details that lead to this perspective (what Oliveira and Oliveira (2003) call ‘self-tuning’). Convenying such appreciation, however, demands attention to precision of information (what Peles (2007) calls ‘initial conditions’), an indirect approach suggested by Reddy (1979) and Whitehead (1929), and explained further by Mailman (2010, 2012), and exemplified with LeCaine’s electroacoustic composition Dripsody (1955).