From Musical Performance to the Worldly Text: Potentials and Deficiencies in Edward Said’s Musical Concepts

Wouter Capitain | University of Amsterdam | From Musical Performance to the Worldly Text: Potentials and Deficiencies in Edward Said’s Musical Concepts | Supervisor: Julia Kursell | 2013-2017

Although Edward Said’s writings have stimulated much debate in musicology, the influence of musicology upon postcolonial theory remains scarce. The central aim of this project is to clarify ambivalences in Said’s theoretical framework and to offer alternative approaches to postcolonial theory through a reading of Said’s publications on music. By exploring the potentials and deficiencies of Said’s use of the musical concepts counterpoint and performance, this study will formulate new interpretations of his writings on cultural theory. Therewith, this project will result in the first book-length study on Said’s understanding of music, musical concepts, and its application to cultural theory. Said’s writings on music concentrate almost exclusively on ‘a relatively distinct entity called “Western classical music”’, and, on the rare occasions that Said does reflect on ‘non-western’ musics, this is done in an arguably ‘orientalist’ manner. This inconsistency between his fierce critique of orientalist representation and the Eurocentric nature of his musical writings will be studied in detail. Yet, despite these ambiguities, the concepts of counterpoint and in particular musical performance could not only offer alternatives to the predominantly Eurocentric musicology in which Said positions himself, but can (and should) also contribute to further explorations into postcolonial theory, in particular in its awkward affiliation with post-structuralist textuality.