Thursday, March 5, 2009

Scholarship reactivated

One of my favorite bits about finishing up my dissertation prospectus was just before the last meeting I had with my brilliant co-chairs, I attended a number of talks all of which started sending my mental gears whirring. Philip Auslander gave a talk about Benjamin's concept of reactivation, that a reproduction reactivates the original. And Auslander's comments about how recordings unfold simultaneously as an artifact of the inaccessible past and as a present event of hearing that music now perfectly captured something I'd been treading mostly around rather than into. (Matthew Guerriere has a similar post which propels the argument nicely into the effects of recordings. Also, we have been talking about digitizing of film archives in my historiography- more to add to the sea of ideas).

Right after Auslander, we hosted a graduate conference. I'm very pleased with how it turned out simply because so many of the papers had such fascinating implications across disciplines (a memorable paper on Second Life raised questions of online fieldwork methods, for instance). But many of the papers offered further thoughts- my friend Bryan Parkhurst gave a thoughtful examination of ontological versus phenomenological accounts of music akin, while Bertold Hoeckner's keynote address on film music talked about film (and music)-as-archive for memory, how music gains associations and triggers them, and film's impact on music history.

All of this is wonderful, if maddening to sort out on a timeline. Working through the very muddy waters of musical collage for the dissertation prospectus, it's encouraging to note that these broader issues are important. In a way, it feels like it's not just reproductions that reactivate originals, but the way my own scholarly interests get reactivated every time I read something, or hear an issue in a certain perspective. The original idea I had is still there, but it's like someone has been messing with the controls. The various reasons I like my topic, the examples, the broader issues, sort of ebb and flow. It's something I'm becoming more attuned to, and while it makes setting the ideas down on paper slightly harder (e.g. cutting something because it doesn't really fit even though it's supercool to you right now), I like it. I've always loved the part of research where you go to the library and open a bunch of books and just see, long before the ideas are fixed. It's like staying in a partial, perpetual state of initial research, always with something new to discover, even as you're committing words to page, committing yourself to those exact words.


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