Lawrence Kramer

in Interpreting Music

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780520267053
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520947368 | DOI:

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Both modernity and its artistic offshoot, modernism, famously involve skepticism and confusion, widespread unintelligibility, and the negation of meaning. How does either modernism or modernity fit, except as a tragic or celebratory passage away from bygone clarities and promises, in a historically sensitive theory of interpretation? Is a hermeneutics of the modern and the modernist possible? This chapter shows that the answer to the second question is yes if the answer to the first one is roughly this: that expressions of modernity typically defer an interpretation they cannot in the end escape. More strongly: expressions of modernity typically present themselves as the deferral of an interpretation they cannot in the end escape. Franz Kafka's well-known parable “An Imperial Message” finds a roughly contemporaneous musical equivalent in the twofold appearance of an offstage post horn, the sound of a message about to be delivered, in Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony. For further insight into the issues broached by Kafka and Mahler, the chapter turns to a short series of iconically modernist moments in literature and music.

Keywords: modernism; modernity; interpretation; hermeneutics; Franz Kafka; Gustav Mahler; literature; music

Chapter.  8921 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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