Turtles All the Way Down (On the “Purely Musical”)

Susan McClary

in Conventional Wisdom

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2000 | ISBN: 9780520221062
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928084 | DOI:
Turtles All the Way Down (On the “Purely Musical”)

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This chapter sets out the purpose of the book, which is to explore in music history the kinds of processes Raymond Williams calls “structures of feeling,” Fredric Jameson the “political unconscious,” Roland Barthes “mythologies,” Thomas Kuhn “paradigms,” Kaja Silverman “dominant fictions,” or Ross Chambers simply the “social contracts” that establish the conditions for the production and reception of artworks. Whatever we label these structures, they are intensely ideological formations: whether noticed or not, they are the assumptions that allow cultural activities to “make sense.” Indeed, they succeed best when least apparent, least deliberate, and most automatic. Although musicologists and theorists often grant these kinds of formations the status of the “purely musical,” this book treats them as conventions—albeit conventions which so permeate human transactions that we usually fail to notice their influence. It examines the values they represent, the interests they reinforce, the activities they enable, the possibilities they exclude, and their histories within the contested field that music inevitably is. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented.

Keywords: purely musical; musical convention; conventional practices; music history

Chapter.  9390 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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