The technological form we have already encountered: “the dials…the dials.” “Dial twiddling is in its limited way an interpretive act.” The reduction of performance, from public to private, from the sorts of manipulation required by a piano or a guitar or a string section to the sort of manipulation required by a Tascam console can seem to be a great loss, hard to distinguish from the onanistic regression that Adorno ridiculed in “The Fetish-Character in Listening”—those “countless radio listeners play[ing] with the feedback or the sound dial.” The dial is the barest index of interpretive will. For Adorno, that reduction is a falling away from the challenges of real listening; for Gould, the attenuation of effort opens up the possibility of analysis. For analysis to take hold, then, it needed more than technological support; it also required a temporal form: ABA, counterpoint, Romantic revelation.
Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air. Thus chant the three witches at the beginning of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Now it’s clear enough that the witches weren’t talking about formalism; they had more sinister, bloodier business to attend to. But suppose for a moment that they were talking about formalism–in aesthetics in general, or about formalism in musicology, music theory, and composition in particular. What then might their words mean?
Perhaps it makes sense, then, to acknowledge that the impersonal has always been part of the personal; perhaps the generic and anonymity have been part of the private all along. When, in his discussion of Clarissa, Ian Watt describes the cult of letter-writing that motivated Fielding as a “microphone already tuned to the tones of private experience,” we might be tempted to claim that all novels, at least as filtered through Watt, are rock novels.
When Suzan Philipsz won the 2010 Turner Prize, it was the first time in the award’s history that it went to a sound artist. The mere fact of Philipz’s victory often overshadowed critical assessment of Lowlands, her winning piece. It was as if her victory were not simply her own, but a victory for sound art altogether.
My point, of course, is an anti-reductionist one. No amount of mapping of which synaptic vectors alight when can explain why I think that I should interpret a passage (or character, or author) one way rather than another. Nor can visual mapping, in and of itself, explain what I mean to do by interpreting a passage one way rather than another. And that’s because neither normative significance nor meaning is something that synapses, simply, have, and so normative significance and meaning aren’t things that we can, simply, see. Stating the position a bit more carefully: at least in the case of human perception—say, listening to a work of art or, more ordinarily, conversing with a familiar foe—there certainly are cases when normative significance and meaning can be seen and heard straightaway. Moreover, there are interpretive contexts when would-be explainers immediately perceive, and so can intelligibly claim to know, that a given subject is herself immediately perceiving the meaning of some object. But our best account of those instances proceeds…by placing those instances in the space of reasons.
So we have two modes of politics. One that depends on your subject position and one that doesn’t. And we have two kinds of art: one that depends on your subject position and one that doesn’t. And they align themselves, one with the other, according to what they assume about representation and about truth. Which kind of art is Miró’s? Or is it another kind altogether? And what kind of politics does it embody?