I was on vacation last week (hence my spotty posting to Dial M) but went back to school yesterday — time to get my courses in order for the fall. I stopped by the mailroom and was greeted by our ebullient new mailroom person, Karen, who handed me a package I wasn't expecting. And . . . it's . . . my Representations article! Wheee! It's finally out! Look!
My name on it and everything! And in rather august company. (The Representations website has a comprehensive list of past issues and authors.) Sorry, it's probably unbecoming to show too much enthusiasm for your own journal articles, but I'm proud of this one. If you're wondering what my article ("Taboo: Time and Belief in Exotica") is about, here is the abstract:
In the 1950s, exotica was a genre of pop music that specialized in depicting imaginary exotic paradises and conventionalized natives. By the late 1960s, exotica pop had disappeared, but its tropes of temporal and spatial disjuncture persisted, structuring the music, visual art, and social theory of the utopian counterculture. While 1950s and 1960s kinds of exotica differ in their preferred imaginary destinations, both raise the question of what intermediate shades between belief and disbelief are demanded by aestheticized representations of human life. This essay theorizes exotica as a mode of representation governed by a peculiar mode of reception—one of willed credulity enabled by submission to its spectacle. What exotica demands is what intellectuals are least likely to give, though, and the peculiar pleasures of exotica spectacle are denigrated or rendered invisible in the hermeneutic regime.
And here is the article itself, free for all who might want to read it.
There seems to be something of a boom in what might be called exoticism studies in music at the moment. Ralph Locke in particular has a book called Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections coming out from Cambridge University Press, and I am keenly looking forward to reading it. I read his Journal of Musicology article "A Broader View of Musical Exoticism" only when my own article was in final proofs, so it doesn't show up in the notes, but Ralph's way of thinking about musical exoticism is very congenial to mine. In his gentlemanly and unassuming way, he revises much of the conventional understanding of musical exoticism by showing that exoticism doesn't happen only when the music sounds weird, alien, non-western, etc. Against this "exotic style only" paradigm he posits an “all the music in full context” paradigm, in which an audience's understanding of exoticism takes place within the music's larger narrative frame. Which is a much more satisfying way of dealing with the matter. In one part of my article I write about "Blue Jungle," from the Les Baxter album Jungle Jazz. The theme of this album is South America, as the liner notes tell us in the usual bombastic exotica-album style :
Les here ventures forth . . . this time on a musical exploration into the wilds of South and Central America. Here are the spectacular results. Here the timeless meets the modern in a breathtaking, pulsating whirl of sound. This is music of high adventure with a beat—exotically presented in a Baxter blend of ‘Jungle Jazz.’
And Jungle Jazz is adorned with a particularly, uh, problematic album cover:
But the music itself
— particular "Blue Jungle" – doesn't sound "South American." It sounds like cop show music, or what I call "jazz exotica." I have an article on jazz exotica just out in the Journal of Musicological Research (this has been an exotic year for me) where I define jazz exotica as "music that attempts to conjure filmic images of the urban demimonde perennially associated with jazz and the narrative subject that traverses it." Which is a highfalutin' way of saying that jazz exotica is not so much jazz as music whose topic is jazz. But what does that have to do with the guy on the album cover? In the "exotic style only" paradigm we wouldn't look at the album cover or liner notes, but would insist that whatever the album means is to be found in its musical style only. But popular music just doesn't work that way. You never pay attention to the music exclusively– otherwise it wouldn't matter if KISS performed in business suits or full kabuki drag. Likewise here: as I say in "Taboo," an exotica album "is a system of representations in which music plays the main but not exclusive role in creating an ethnographic fiction." And that "system of representations" is the music plus liner notes, cover art, and what academical types like to call the "discourse" (i.e., talk and hype) surrounding the album. And from that point of view, why yes, this is the music of the mysterious South American native folk! At least it pleases us to think so while we're listening to it. Or, as Heather Hadlock put it to me once, the audience is a participant in its own delusion. (Thanks Heather!)
Which reminds me: thank you, Ralph, for stepping in and writing for Dial M this summer. Those of you who aren't in the biz, this was a little like having Dr. J come and play a little one-on-one on your neighborhood blacktop.