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Musical MeaningToward a Critical History$
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Lawrence Kramer

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780520228245

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520228245.001.0001

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Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

Cultural Memory, Mourning, and the Myth of Originality

(p.258) 12 Ghost Stories
Musical Meaning

Lawrence Kramer

University of California Press

This chapter begins by taking up the question of ownness or authenticity in a narrow aesthetic space, the idea and ideal of creative originality. Musical subjectivity is the main topic in this chapter, both in its own right and in relation to subjectivity in general. The subjectivity called forth musically stands as a simulacrum for an original subjectivity that appears only in the multiplication of simulacra. The reprise of the aria is literal, and its literalism suggests something more boxy than organic. Revenants do not have to worry about originality. They throw into question the romantic and modernist ideal of originality. Originality is based on a conception of sovereign, self-possessed subjectivity that is no longer viable. The great myth of originality requires the continual possibility of unoriginality in order to flourish. One impetus behind specific, self-identified musical revenants, figures of nameable return is to make audible the general scheme whereby music, precisely insofar as it is not original, reanimates the dead: music as magic, animal magnetism, healing touch, resurrection, life-support technology. Music often seems to seek or express the presence of a single originating voice, but this presence is always spectral no matter how real it may seem in the moment. The musical subject has a vivid personality but a nebulous identity. It can be endlessly impersonated but never identified with a person. It appears as a visitor or a visitant within anyone who adopts a subject position that some musical work or event can be felt to address, to uphold, and to call forth.

Keywords:   cultural memory, mourning, myth of originality, musical subjectivity, simulacrum

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