Date of Degree
Aesthetics | Continental Philosophy | Musicology | Music Theory
schema theory, Eubie Blake, Joseph Schillinger, Louis Andriessen, OOO, philosophy of music
This dissertation brings the ideas of the philosopher Graham Harman (b. 1968) into a musicological context. His “object-oriented ontology” is widely known in continental philosophy, but it has not yet entered rigorous contact with musicology. Certain factors pose difficulties at first glance, such as Harman’s focus on metaphysical issues (originating in his critique of Martin Heidegger) and his rehabilitation of the widely criticized concept of aesthetic autonomy. But these are also sources of novelty that could make an object-oriented encounter with musicology fruitful. In the first chapter, I outline the main features of Harman’s thought. He critiques assumptions about the nature of reality that he interprets as reductive—and which are by no means restricted to philosophical discourse. According to him, real things are “withdrawn,” or irreducible to their genetic components and the outcomes of their encounters with other things. In short, literal knowledge cannot exhaust them. Yet an indirect approach to reality is still possible. Aesthetic encounters such as music epitomize indirect causation: a listener becomes absorbed with a musical object that is in tension with its own features and thus enters the interior of a new real entity like hydrogen in a water molecule.
The next three chapters apply Harman’s ideas to specific topics in music theory, history, and criticism. Chapter 2 finds compelling parallels between Robert Gjerdingen’s galant schema theory and Harman’s philosophy. Still, an object-oriented schema theory requires that certain persistent reductionist tendencies are avoided. It also entails that the difference between a schema stage and event, noted by Gjerdingen, is taken more seriously as a necessary interpretive moment in the analysis of schemata. Chapter 3 discusses the topic of historical influence through the lens of the mid-twentieth-century encounter between the ragtime pianist, songwriter, and composer Eubie Blake and the music theories of Joseph Schillinger. The object-oriented viewpoint differs from both older and more recent tendencies to treat influence as a direct exchange of knowable properties. For Harman, influence is not cultivation, corruption, or a symptom of a larger relational system. Instead, it is an indirect fusion of one thing with the “style” of another. Furthermore, Harman’s historiography incorporates counterfactual speculation as a corrective to the assumption that what actually happened is more relevant to the being of historical objects than what could have happened. Finally, Chapter 4 addresses music criticism of the concert work De Staat (1976) by Louis Andriessen. (“Criticism” is meant in the sense of interpretive judgment.) In their impulse to reject formalism, critics of De Staat have tended to accept formalism’s basic taxonomic division between the sonic form “in itself” and its context. They emphasize the latter, meaning the conditions of the musical work’s genesis and the network of concepts and socio-political meanings around it. But according to criticism that is object-oriented rather than context-oriented, De Staat may contain supposedly “contextual” elements within its form through their aesthetic handling. Critics who attend to these aesthetic or nonliteral facets of experience may thus find common ground with object-oriented theorists and historians.
Taxier, Eric, "Object-Oriented Musicology: Some Implications of Graham Harman's Philosophy for Music Theory, History, and Criticism" (2020). CUNY Academic Works.