david bard-schwarz


Listening Awry: Music and Alterity in German Culture (The University of Minnesota Press 2006).

Listening Awry began with simple auditory experiences that have been repeated and varied in countless ways throughout my life: 1) hearing the whistle of a passing train (how odd that you can hear a sound bend as a train passes while the conductor on the train hears the "same" sound as a steady, sustained tone or interval); 2) feeling a sudden sense of fright at a loud noise (sounds penetrate the body all at once at various surfaces of skin); 3) turning at the sound of a call not meant for you (the call meant for the other embarrasses); 4) listening to the sounds of a foreign language you do not understand (like all objects that circulate in social spaces, words are projections that are language, culture, and context specific), 5) thinking about the discrepancy between seeing the source of a sound and hearing the sound later as it strikes the ear (we "see" a sound as a carpenter hits a distant roof with a hammer; between that moment of sight and the delayed sound striking our ear, we hear silence). Such experiences have caused me to wonder how sounds affect the body and the psyche, how music as representation of structured sounds affects the body and psyche of the listening subject and the cultural context in which music is produced, reproduced, and consumed. Post-Lacanian psychoanalysis can suggest how music envelops the body at our organ of parallel processing--the skin. Applications of post-Lacanian psychoanalysis to ideological interpellation can connect psychoanalysis to culture. Music theory can ground these considerations in precise details of musical textuality.

This is my second book bringing music, psychoanalysis, and culture together. My first one (Listening Subjects: Music, Psychoanalysis, Culture) listened to classical and popular musical texts from post-Lacanian psychoanalytic, musical-theoretical, and musical-historical perspectives. The book succeeded in bringing musical texts and musical contexts together within each chapter, but there was no large-scale unity to the argument, and the discursive technique relied on making and supporting too many one-to-one correspondences between a detail of music and a psychoanalytic detail, such as the sonorous envelope, the acoustic mirror, the objet a, the Real, etc. As Listening Subjects was coming out, I began to imagine a second book that would: 1) focus on Freud and Lacan as primary sources, avoiding one-to-one correspondences between musical and psychoanalytic details, 2) tell a story of historical modernism writ-large in music (late eighteenth century to the present), and 3) theorize an aspect of German culture.

Looking Awry / Listening Awry

In his book Looking Awry, Slavoj Žižek asserts that "What is at stake in the endeavor to 'look awry' at theoretical motifs is not just a kind of contrived attempt to 'illustrate' high theory, to make it 'easily accessible,' and thus to spare us the effort of effective thinking. The point is rather that such an exemplification, such a mise-en-scène of theoretical motifs renders visible aspects that would otherwise remain unnoticed." More specifically, Žižek reads a passage from Shakespeare's Richard II, Act II, scene ii in which the Queen and Bushy, the king's servant, are speaking. The Queen is anxious about the King's fate and Bushy is trying to console her, saying that her tears are distorting her vision. Žižek is interested in two levels of metaphor in Bushy's words to the Queen. Žižek points out that on one level Bushy suggests that the Queen's worries have needlessly multiplied themselves like reflections in cut glass; once viewed directly and straight ahead, they clear. On a second level, Žižek suggests that like an anamorphotic image, things seem confused when looked at straight ahead and only attain internal consistency when looked at awry: "On the level of the first metaphor, we have commonsense reality...a thing split into twenty reflections by our subjective view, in short, as a substantial 'reality' distorted by our subjective perspective. If we look at a thing straight on, matter-of-factly, we see it 'as it really is,' while the gaze puzzled by our desires and anxieties ("looking awry") gives us a distorted, blurred image. On the level of the second metaphor, however, the relation is exactly the opposite: if we look at a thing straight on, i.e., matter-of-factly, disinterestedly, objectively, we see nothing but a formless spot; the object assumes clear and distinctive features only if we look at it 'at an angle,' i.e., with an 'interested' view, supported, permeated, and 'distorted' by desire [emphasis Žižek's]" (Looking Awry 11-12).

This book listens awry by understanding musical meaning participating both at the level of purely objective, internal properties of a work and in conditions in social space which made it possible for such principles of cohesion to come into being in the first place. This book listens awry by cutting against the grain of a fixed relationship between text and context (subordinating one to the other). The book listens awry by bringing out contrasts of genre from one chapter to another; it shifts from more public issues in one chapter to more private issues in the next; it emphasizes an archival, historical approach in one chapter and an aesthetic one in the next; it has few musical examples in one chapter and many in the next; it addresses high art in one chapter and popular music in the next. Such an oscillating approach simply "happened" over the years of this book's writing. In writing these prefatory remarks, it seemed to me that these points of contrast created discursive friction enabling a reader to both grasp each chapter's argument and the evidence upon which that argument is based against the relief, as it were, of the strategies of other chapters.

There are many ideas that appear again and again throughout the book: the other / Other binary, trauma, the Jew, and the look / gaze binary to name a few. The other (with a lower case "o") denotes particular people who belong to categories against which a social space must be protected; the Other (with an upper case "O") denotes the big Other of the Law, Language, that which structures social space. In the history of the conductor, the idea of the masterwork and the need for perfection of musical performance opens a space of the Other at the heart of the musical text and musical performance. Modernist perfection implies that an agency larger than any individual is looking for perfection. The dimension of the sublime in Schubert suggests the embodiment of a contact with the inscrutable Other; in the writings of Kant, the sublime is often connected to God and to the immensity of nature. The discourse of psychoanalysis, as well, circulates around how the psyche organizes itself in relation to the demands of the Other. In German war songs, the other embodies that which must be purged from German social space. In Parsifal, the other is embodied in Kundry whose seductions have stained the community of the Knights of the Grail. And the call of Titurel is the call of the big Other to purge social space.

Trauma runs throughout the book as well; it is inherent in discussions of the sublime in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth centuries. Moving from the beautiful (that formal design of an object which can and must be communicated in social space) to the sublime (that block in the subject evoked by an inability to process the impact of immense forces in nature or infinite numbers) always suggests confronting a breach. Traumatic breach underwrites much of the discourse of the hysteric that turns into the discourse of psychoanalysis in the late nineteenth century. And there is the trauma of National Socialism and its after effects. Trauma is at the core of Parsifal as well. Amfortas' wound embodies the very stain at the heart of the community of the Knights of the Grail. The wound is extraordinarily embodied in Syberberg's film: it is a piece of flesh external to Amfortas' body, and it changes shape each time it appears in the film.

Judaism runs throughout this book as well. One of the most important professional conductors in Germany was Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, one of the most important German-Jewish scholars in German history. The Jew appears in the discourse of the hysteric as particularly vulnerable to symptoms. The Jew appears in German War songs, from proud citizen of Germany in World War I, singing songs in the trenches with non-Jews, to the other that must be purged in the war songs of World War II. The Jew appears in the discourse of nineteenth-century anti-Semitism in which the writings of Richard Wagner played an important role. In his infamous "Das Judentum in der Musik," Wagner singles out Mendelssohn as an example of a composer condemned to surface impressions because his Judaism kept him from sending roots into the soil of Germany.

The look / gaze binary runs throughout the book as well. Eye contact produces a look; looks seeing other looks (or imagining them) produces the gaze, according to Lacan. The conductor is that oddly mute musical virtuoso who communicates always just ahead of the beat what an orchestra is supposed to do in modern orchestral performances. He looks at his musicians who look at him; the audience imagines those looks, sees them at an angle or imagines them (depending on where they are sitting), (re)producing the entire spectacle to his / her inner eye as gaze. A gaze can be embodied in music when notes seem to look at us, as in Schubert's "Die Stadt" and other songs. The gaze is connected to the ideé fixe of the traumatized subject; the gaze is embodied in the music of Anton Webern's Sechs Orchesterstücke Opus 6, no. 4 that concludes with a single, reiterated musical "scream" (Webern describes this piece as a musical representation of coming to terms with his mother's death). In German War Songs (particularly of World War II) the music is powered by a logic of sadism, according to which the subject acts in the service of the big Other whom he imagines is gazing at him, goading him on to action. And Parsifal is all about the gaze--in Wagner's opera and in Syberberg's film. To pick just one example, the audience sees Parsifal seeing Amfortas seeing the Knights who see him fail to perform his office of the Grail ceremony. Such a thickly imbricated knot of looks and their symbolic significance produces the gaze of the work writ-large.

Chapter by Chapter with Music

In the first chapter "The Rise of the Conductor and the Missing One," I examine archival sources that describe how orchestras were conducted in the eighteenth century. It was standard practice in the eighteenth century to have two "conductors" in a performance of orchestral music--a concertmaster (usually but not always the first chair, first violin) and a Kapellmeister (a surrogate for the composer playing at a keyboard instrument). There were no concert halls as we know them today; music was played in opera houses, taverns, and churches. There was no standard layout of an orchestra, with clear orchestral "choirs" (strings, brass, winds, percussion) emerging only in the early nineteenth century. The chapter contains diagrams of early orchestral layouts to show how the modern orchestra emerged and how the singular conductor finally took his place at the front of the orchestra with his back turned to the audience. I found that the mid to late eighteenth century was a time at which the idea of the masterwork entered western music history. Early revivals of Händel's Messiah, in particular, form a beginning of the canon and the aesthetic of masterworks to be faithfully performed in public. Contemporary writers were aware that music was being generated by a new kind of artist--the genius, whose works embodied difficult effects that were no longer self-evident to a group of musicians being led by a concertmaster beating time with his bow and a Kapellmeister playing a keyboard, filling-in harmonies as needed. The chapter examines a late symphony of Haydn and a contemporary account of anxiety relating to a detail of the work's complexity that is symptomatic of the reception of orchestral music at the time. The chapter compares the gaze of the singular, modern conductor with the Lacanian gaze. With the phrase "the missing One," I suggest that such elements produce a void at the heart of the modern musical masterpiece. Into this space the conductor steps to call the masterwork into being through his gaze and gesture.

Haydn, Symphony No. 96, IV

In the second chapter "Schubert's 'Die Stadt' and Sublime (Dis)pleasure," I move from the public world of the conductor into the private world of the art song. I begin with a discussion of the sublime in the eighteenth century, moving from general aesthetics to specific writings that discuss the sublime in music. I am particularly interested in the writings of Christian Friedrich Michaelis who argues that there is not only a correlate of the Kantian mathematical and dynamical sublime in music (for Michaelis, a "masculine" sublime), but that there is a quiet, "feminine" sublime as well. Recent musicological scholarship has discussed various registers of delicacy in Romantic Music (Jeffrey Kallberg, Lawrence Kramer, and Charles Rosen). With the support of Michaelis and contemporary musicologists, I suggest that selected songs of Franz Schubert embody a sublime of the delicate. For me, this sublime of the delicate relies on a tension between conventional musical materials that unfold in time and elements of the music that "tug" at that very conventionality. As examples of conventional musical materials, I mean conventional antecedent-consequent phrase structure, harmonic progressions that prolong the dominant, long-range melodic shape that always stretches out the tonic note to an apex followed by a final descent. As examples of elements of the music that "tug" at that very conventionality, I mean notes that sound over and over again, seeming to gaze at the listener as well as structures that seem to "move" but in fact cycle back upon themselves, going nowhere. In this chapter, I discuss "Die liebe Farbe," "Der Wegweiser," "Ihr Bild," for an introductory look at the book's crucial distinction between reiteration and repetition. Repetition serves symbolic mastery; it implies a series. Reiteration, like a cursor on a screen, goes nowhere; it simply registers over and over again. The chapter culminates in a detailed reading of one of Schubert's most reiterative works--"Die Stadt." The work sets a Heine text 'bout a disappointed lover gazing at a town in the distance where he has lost what is most dear to him. I show how the music embodies the fixed gaze of Heine's narrator.

Schubert, "Die liebe farbe";

Schubert, "Der Wegweiser";

Schubert, "Ihr BIld";

Schubert, "Die Stadt";

Schubert, "Der Doppelgaenger";

In the third chapter, "The Birth of Psychoanalysis and Anton Webern's Sechs Orchesterstücke Opus 6, no. 4," I offer a synoptic overview of the history of the discourse of the hysteric in the nineteenth century as it evolves into the discourse of psychoanalysis. Although I touch on developments in England and America, the focus of this survey moves from the French school (that viewed hysteria as a sign of degeneration) to the German school (that viewed hysteria as the product of a traumatic symptom registered on the body). I am particularly interested in theories of trauma and how they enter western discourse in the age of industrialization and increased mechanization of warfare. The survey of the birth of psychoanalysis provides a context with which to understand Webern's Sechs Orchesterstücke Opus 6, no. 4 (subtitled "Marcia funebre.") In the music, I found a delicate but powerful "tonal" element--a large-scale organization of the work around a single note--D-natural. Like Kandinsky's abstract paintings of the period in which traces, signifiers of representational shards can be seen, so, too, in this highly expressionist, atonal work, the faintest outlines of an obsessive D-natural-ness can be heard.

Webern, Opus 6, No. 4 "Marcia funebre";

In the fourth chapter "Left! Right! Left! Right!: Music, Bodies, Fascism," I show how national socialist musicians skillfully turned the entire history of German classical and popular music to the right. The title of the chapter condenses this left-to-right political and musical conversion. The chapter opens with a look at how music functioned in national-socialist Germany, generally. The chapter then moves to war songs from World War I, with texts written by a wide variety of writers, ranging from progressive poets, to a descent of Felix Mendelssohn, including men and women articulating a wide range of patriotic sentiments. The music of World War I songs is simple metrically and melodically, suggesting folk songs. For the music of World War II songs, a profound change occurs. The texts have been appropriated from a wide range of music from Lutheran chorales, folk songs, socialist worker songs, and explicitly national-socialist propaganda songs. And the music changes radically. The music often uses uneven rhythms and odd combinations of rhythms. Many melodies are in modes (with archaic connotations); some are in keys (with modern connotations). I focus in this part of the chapter on a single volume of songs that appeared in 1934, published by Bärenreiter entitled Wohlauf Kameraden! Ein Liederbuch der jungen Mannschaft von Soldaten, Bauern, Arbeitern und Studenten. This book contains intriguing juxtapositions: folk songs with songs celebrating Hitler, updated versions of Lutheran chorales with calls to war against the enemy. There are also three different versions of "Brüder zur Sonne zur Freiheit" with texts embodying varying degrees of hatred of the other. The chapter builds to a discussion of one of the most often-sung songs of the SS--"Volk ans Gewehr," a song that incorporates a Klezmer-like opening melody and a call to purge the German blood of foreigners and Jews.

Pardun, "Volk ans Gewehr";

The chapter and the book conclude with Parsifal told-twice, in opera by Richard Wagner (of course) and again in the film of Hans Jürgen Syberberg. Syberberg sets the entire opera in his film, with extraordinary interventions. He has an introductory scene before a visual representation of Wagner's Vorspiel. With only the exception of one scene, the entire film takes place in an interior space on a huge death mask of Wagner. The crucial Grail scenes take place inside Wagnerss head, and Syberberg sets the powerful Transformation Music of Act I to Parsifal moving through passageways lined with flags of German history moving in reverse chronological order. This is symptomatic of Syberberg's entire range of psychic trajectories--regression to a fantasy of bliss before sexual difference, to name just one. And this one is important for Syberberg; he splits Parsifal in two. Parsifal I and II are intertwined in an egg-like union at the outset of the film. They split and Parsifal I (a "boy" with feminine attributes) performs all of the action of Act I and most of the action of Act II (through Kundry's failed seduction); at the end of Act II, Parsifal II (a "girl" with masculine attributes) emerges. At the crucial Grail ceremony of Act III, "they" sing in unison of the redemption of the community of the Grail. Syberberg raises a commonplace in filmed versions of opera to a self-conscious aesthetic device. He has all of his characters' voices (even those who actually sing their parts) added to the film in post production. Thus the film is visibly silent. The only diegetic sound in the entire work is water that we first hear in Titurel's grave / cave as he utters the ominous question / demand "Mein Sohn Amfortas, bist du am Amt?" in Act I, and the sound of water as Parsifal II passes a fountain on the wa' to the Grail ceremony in Act III. The chapter concludes with a consideration of the role of puppets in the film and a consideration of Syberberg's reactionary aesthetics in the context of Federal Republic politics.

Wagner, "Transformation Music" from Parsifal, Act I