Frank Zappa’s musical triptych
Joe’s Garage from 1979 tells the story of Joe and some other characters who are
driven to certain crimes (ranging from noise pollution to sexual perversities)
by that “horrible force called music.” The government finally decides to make
music – the prime cause of unwanted mass behavior – illegal in order to be
better able to control its citizens. From that moment on, Joe can only dream
imaginary guitar notes. In a short comment in the CD leaflet, Zappa writes: “If
the plot of the story seems just a little bit preposterous […] just be glad you
don’t live in one of the cheerful little countries where, at this very moment,
music is either severely restricted or […] totally illegal.” With this last
remark, Zappa was making reference to
As in many situations in the (history of the) Western world, and as highlighted in the examples above, (certain) music is considered as an otherness whose influence on the pure, vulnerable Self should be restricted as much as possible.
Especially in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Zygmunt Bauman, and Judith Butler, however, ethics is presented as a fundamental attention to the other and otherness. The other is presented as that which escapes the Self, understood as ‘the well-known’, ‘the canny’, ‘the common’, ‘the familiar’, etc. Being responsible to and for the other means a principal openness (Derrida calls it hospitality) to that which is not reducible to ‘the Self’.
In this course, the relation between music and this conception of ethics is investigated in several ways. First of all, it should be noted that music itself has long been considered as a manifestation of otherness, opposed to such notions as rationality and reason. But music can also be considered as ‘a Self’, in- or excluding otherness. Much attention will be paid to the question of how specific others are articulated within music: the other as the stranger, the foreigner, the exotic, the alien, and the other as female or feminine. In addition to this, the question will be raised as to how ethical problems are (de)constructed in and through musicology, that is, in writing around music.
Authors whose texts will be discussed: Richard Taruskin, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Zygmunt Bauman, Susan McClary, Richard Leppert, Annette Kreuziger-Herr, Gayatri Spivak, Philip Bohlman, and others.