By Benjamin Davis (PhD Musicology)
The object I have chosen is Fredric Jameson’s book Marxism and Form (1971), in which he postulates that history, as absent cause, shapes cultural forms and leaves traces in them of the situations of their making and reception. Jameson reads works of culture and their formal construction as signs, symptoms of disease and fragments of larger social narratives, driven by the dialectic of ideology and utopia. These larger social narratives, in turn, can be ‘read’ from our own situations and particular methodological biases.
In our PG Forum following Robert Fokkens’ ‘Bird’ Lecture – in which he spoke about his plans to compose a monodrama and why that interested him – we discussed some of the formal challenges that might present. In particular, we talked about what might constitute the form of monodrama that made it differ from a song-cycle, opera or piece of music-theatre, as well as the significance to the composer, performer and audience of the naming of genres. This developed into a discussion about narrative perspectives from which to communicate plot and story.
From citing Jameson, the Forum discussion then touched upon the position ‘composition’ might hold in the current hierarchy of research methodologies, acknowledging the importance of who the collaborators to Robert Fokkens’ project might be in determining the form and potential value of his composition. This is of interest to me as an opera director and PhD student curious about how we both read and tell stories with music and what they mean to us.
In my own practice-led study, in the context of on-going debates around the perceived value of the arts and opera in particular, I am looking into the notion of ‘performing realism’ as a trans-historical dialogical mode of discourse, in the way specific opera productions are made and received. I draw on Jameson’s approach to the close reading of cultural artefacts and am interested in their interpretation by groups of people for the purpose of performance, as well as the dynamics of how interpretations are agreed upon, or not, and their relationship to the wider social world. I view the making of opera productions as a form of cultural cartography, or a political exercise in mapping the confluence of actual and virtual aspects of reality. In this context, performance can be likened to a form of orienteering in which the performer reflexively navigates such maps and where various media recordings become dialogical cartographies to the event of live performance.