More PoMo than thou: the status of cultural meanings in music

Winter 2008

The New Musicology of the 1970s, in reaction against a conservatorium culture that demanded a single-minded focus on structural analysis detached from its social and cultural ‘contexts’, insisted on finding contestable meanings in musical form; and it coincided with the emergence of composers such as Steve Reich, Laurie Anderson and Meredith Monk, whose music embraced pop-cultural material and spoke to the life-worlds of its audiences. This generation had a sense of the plurality of ‘little narratives’ that seemed capable of blooming once high modernism’s metanarrative had been demoted to the status of just one among other little narratives, or merely one particularly stringent special interest. Suddenly it was possible, even desirable, to compose from a specific subject-position - of a woman, an Australian, a gay man or an African American. But this opening of the art-music terrain to identity politics also raised divisive questions, which McClary explores in the latter half of her article through her commentary on the work of Osvaldo Golijov. If musicological post-postmodernism should come to reject New Musicology’s view of music as meaning-laden sound, McClary is ready to retreat back into ‘that Old Time Postmodernism’.

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66 Postmodernism, Music and Cultural Theory