Figuring out new projects now that the book is drafted
My friend Jill has a tradition of blogging every day in December, and this year she asked people to join her. I will try to join her. I just finished a book manuscript the day after Thanksgiving, and that means that the thing that has been driving my writing time for, well, at least two years (but really more like five) isn’t behind the steering wheel anymore. I thought this would be a good way to keep me in the practice of writing, and give me a chance to barf some ideas out that may be worth revising into something else.
I do have some ideas about where to go next. In the short term, I’m building on some work I did several years ago about feminist interpretations of Vladimir Jankelevitch’s work on music. His work was kind of a trend in musicology for a while, but he really hasn’t made much of an impact in philosophy. In late November 2017 I did a search of his name on PhilPapers, and the English-language secondary literature on him consists in a whole five articles and two books. Jankelevitch was a close associate and interlocutor of Levinas. My dissertation adviser wrote and edited a few books on Levinas and feminism. Once, I thought I was going to write a dissertation on sound in Levinas (oddly, that was in 2003, right before the Jankelevitch book on Musical Ineffability was published in English–think of how trendy that dissertation could have been, lol). As we know now, I never wrote *that* dissertation. But I have several seminars worth of (12-year-old) notes and writing on Levinas, sound, and “the feminine.” Since femininity is kinda the crux of Jankelevitch’s discussion of music, and he is thinking and talking with Levinas, it’s important to bring that feminist literature on Levinas to bear on Jankelevitch’s work. I did a one-off conference paper on this in 2013, so I’m going back to that. So this whole project is basically diving back into work I did in grad school, and work I did four or five years ago. I’m writing on this for a chapter in a collection on French aesthetics, and I don’t really imagine this project going beyond that. But I am happy this work finally has a place and this dangling project can be completed.
The other idea has to do with, basically, this conference paper. I have a big-picture argument that goes something like this: The conventional wisdom about the demise of commercial Modern Rock station WOXY says it died because in the first decade of the 2000s nobody knew how to turn internet radio into a sustainable business model–this is basically about media and capitalism. But I think its demise has at least as much if not more to do with the declining salience of “Modern Rock” or “The Future of Rock and Roll” as an aesthetic category. If you look at the station playlists and top-of-the-year or genre lists, you’ll see that they went full Omnivore back in 1983, 13 years before the Peterson & Kern article about omnivorous consumption. So, as omnivorous consumption gets mainstreamed, it doesn’t register as avant-garde or underground. Second, underlying concepts of the future change, from modernist avant-garde machismo to neoliberal ideals of forecasting and investment; as Michelle Murphy argues, these neoliberal ideas of the future as a forecast privilege women, girls, and femininity as sites of investment–they start low so when they sell high investors make the most profit. Futurity is less about novelty and more about success. Who needs new sounds or genres when our aesthetics privilege (probabilistic, financialized ideas about) success over novelty? I’m still not sure what this means aesthetically, but figuring that out is high on the list. (Part of the aesthetics piece has to do with shifts in where musicians get their inspiration–modern rock drew heavily on British indie/post-punk/etc., but once hip hop was widely available that changed.) This shift from novelty to success happens across music–it’s not just in the trajectory out of post-punk (through modern rock, alternative, and indie). Will Robin’s work on “indie classical” suggests that “new music” has transformed into a genre defined by entrepreneurial success rather than aesthetic newness.
At some point I’d like to write a more trade-oriented history of WOXY. I figure I can do that research while I do the research on the ‘future’ project.
So that’s where I am. It’s exciting to be able to work on something that’s not one of the two books I’ve written in the last five years. I just gotta get a more concrete picture of what that will be, beyond the Jankelevitch article I’ve committed to writing.