COURAGE

Jonathan Bellman

This in response to Phil’s Blog Fail.  I really ought to take more time with this, but I leave tomorrow for California for a few days, and wanted to respond.  I understand—deeply—end-of-the-semester fatigue, the suspicion that one’s blogs haven’t measured up, haven’t hit their mark, and haven’t produced the kind of intellectual reaction desired, and so on.  Sure; who doesn’t think this? 

However, some shots were taken at our discipline, and I’m fine with that as long as they’re fair, and don’t think they were.  The number of blogs in—ah—Latin and whatever are all very nice, but unless you’ve read them and they have more to offer than other academic blogs—Dial M, say—don’t give ‘em a thought.  How many blogs are more blogger insecurity than anything else?  Are all those Latin blogs really intellectually thriving, or are they a bunch of Latin geeks talking to each other?  Unless you have their usage stats, there’s no evaluation to be made of the extent to which they thrive—and, basically, the list of wikis means not more than a list of listservs.  So what, in other words?  Unless one has gone through all the blogs to ascertain quality, frequency of postings, and readership…

And as far as those vaunted “other disciplines,” which I’ve been hearing about since grad school:  we should not be looking over our shoulder at them, no matter how the insecure among us think we should.  They should be learning from us, because we are a polyglot discipline facing problems shared by philology, linguistics, history, symbolic languages, music theory, morphology, art history, literature, God knows what—not to mention the linguistic competences that are expected.  Oral musical traditions, written musical traditions (difference between them), traditional historiographic issues, all jumble and combine in a way that make musicology perhaps the most complex arts discipline there is.  Which other disciplines have this many methodologies and strains of thought in which they have to function?  It’s true that we see a lot of lame musicology, but much of that happens when we stick too closely to one particular methodology or philosophical orientation: Cultural Criticism or (as you say) Philately or a very narrow kind of analysis or whatever.

Summary: it is when we try to fit the models of other disiplines, “breaking down barriers” and trying to fit in and pass and all that, that we become less than what we should be.  Let the other disciplines come sit at our feet—the dullest musicologist has to master three languages: mother-tongue, oral music, written music.  Other European etc. languages etc. are on top of that.

Prescription for each of us: food and drink, home and hearth.  There are many reasons why we’re not a really populous discipline, logistical and otherwise, but I see no reason to say the discipline has failed in any way.  We’re slugging it out, still; yeah.  As I say, though, tell me what the other disciplines are bringing to the table that even begins to compare.

Sorry to overstep the 24-hour rule, but I’m out the door early in the morning.  Cheers, everyone.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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2 Responses to COURAGE

  1. Pete Jones says:

    I’m always a little incredulous when you try to stack disciplines up against each other. It’s a little like the raft debate*: good fun, but at the end of the night you’re no closer to an answer.
    It’s true that musicology can be quite complex and polyglot. You could say the same thing about architectural history (architecture, history, physics) or classics(have to know at least 3 dead languages to get in the door). In the end, musicology is a relatively young discipline, but one that can only grow stronger due to its polyglot nature. Measuring a discipline by its blogs only measures… well, blogs.
    *At William and Mary we have a debate between a humanist, a scientist, and a social scientist to determine which one gets to “board the raft” and float back to humanity aka which discipline is most useful to society. Costumes and bribery of the crowd seem to play a major part of the evening. I think this happens on many campuses.

  2. Peter says:

    A similar point (and maybe this is a sub/conscious point of reference?) is made by Botstein in his “Cinderella; or Music and the Human Sciences: Unfootnoted Musings
    from the Margins” from ’93 in Current Musicology.
    Botstein’s article is actually, come to think of it, a sort of proto-blog post, and wouldn’t be out of place here in tone or content, more or less and is worth glimpsing during an idle 15 minutes on an academic search engine.
    (Then again, maybe it isn’t proto. Although everything in Doogie Howser takes place offline, I nonetheless consider September 18, 1989 to mark the true birthdate of “the blog” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Doogie_Howser_M.D._episodes)

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