The course is nearly over. We’ve had our run, friends. We discussed a mountain of things, from Sardinia to ethnomusicological sailboats, and in the process we’ve listened to a great deal of music and written a great number of words.
I should have learned not to write in generalities like that, but I wanted to capture a bit of what this course was aside from writing assignments and being up by 9:40 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We actually did engage with material separate from writing method, and oftentimes that material was fused into our learning. I constantly asked myself how exactly this was, that we could simultaneously be learning about a new subject and learning about the process of writing, and came to the conclusion that we must only have learned a tiny fraction of what ethnomusicology truly is. That’s ok, I think. The style of writing demanded by the subject is appropriately meticulous, honest, forthright, and, in a way, quite bare. While it, like many subjects, asks a great deal of one’s analytical skill, it asks in a way that omits unnecessary detail and challenges one’s ability to truly observe a situation rather than simply describe it. I found it quite strange. I’m used to looking at works of art like films or novels and weaving the author’s intention into my analysis of what exists and why it does. However, in the style we’ve used in this course, I did precisely the opposite. The things that happened served as evidence for the purpose of that which I described. And my paper’s not done, of course, but it is truly bizarre to think that one could draw any knowledge from the limited observations we make about the world every day, the kind that make up that paper’s research. Narrative story building, such as that in media, becomes all the more clear, at least to me, as something unsure and questionable. The style of writing that we studied had its limitations. The research process puts a boundary on knowledge, and, as my old high school history teacher said, even if you know the facts, you may still not really know much of anything at all. Even things that we are absolutely sure of about the musical contexts we look at could change at any moment–someone we observe just has to want to change them.
The class, too, is a human context subject to volatile change. It had its consistencies: certain people talked more than others (sorry! the boat metaphor was great though), the pedagogical circle stayed loose, and we always had fun with any strange gadgets or ideas that Dr. Weinstein brought in to be played with. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed something quite so much as I enjoyed the phonograph; there was something fascinating about hearing music stored so very long ago. However, that music is truly gone, and the strange sort of nostalgia it inspires seems impossible to satisfy. Moreover, the music is, I think, no longer ours. We are a generation made separate by time from that music. If the old music there can be anything, it must first by alien; perhaps that’s what allows it to be “academic,” as it were.
On that note–in high school, I discussed the idea of an “intellectual” or an “academic” knowing that it would be a person educated moreso than others, but I was unsure of how that was. I think I understand now. It comes in nuance of expression, in technique and style, and the careful way in which one organizes an argument not only for themselves, but for others. I don’t think I want some snooty form of intellectualism, but rather one which adheres to the “for others” part of that sentence. I want to make the arguments I make accessible to more than myself, and my experience in this course has conducted my mind towards that end. There’s a lot of learning left to do; that said, this blog post probably qualifies as disorganized and difficult to follow. For that, I apologize. I have a distracted style. I’m working on it, and I will probably continue to work on it. For now; consider me reflected, at least somewhat, in this post.
Have fun writing, everyone.