The Revolutionary Kernel of Reactionary Music

Wednesday 20 June 2012, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr J.P.E. Harper-Scott (Royal Holloway)

This paper outlines a new dialectical theory of modernism in terms of faithful, reactive, and obscure subjective responses to a truth-Event, and argues for a strong link with past and coming forms of communism. It offers an exposition of Alain Badiou’s theory of subject-formation in Logics of Worlds (2009), before translating it into musical terms. It defends an insistence on emancipation of dissonance as the essential foundation of all subjective responses to modernism, on grounds that it constitutes the most significant revolution in musical metaphysics since at least the time of Ancient Greece. The official antagonism of consonance and dissonance that modernism breaks free of is related to similar official antagonisms in the modern nation state and the general deadlock of ideology. In delineating the obscure subject of musical modernism, in music and also in criticism, the closing section uses the example of different forms of ethnomusicology to point to the ethical risks of postmodern musicology, which a renewed dialectical focus on modernism can mitigate against.

J. P. E. Harper-Scott is Reader in Musicology and Theory at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has written widely on Wagner and post-Wagnerian opera and symphonic music (particularly Elgar, Britten, Strauss, Vaughan Williams, Walton) and his work draws extensively both on Continental philosophy and psychoanalysis (Heidegger, Marx, Badiou, Agamben, Žižek, Lacan) and on music theory, particularly Schenker. His fifth book, and his third single-authored, is The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism, out in August with CUP.

Location: D/003