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Decentering MusicA Critique of Contemporary Musical Research$
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Kevin Korsyn

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195104547

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195104547.001.0001

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The Tower of Babel and the Ministry of Truth

Decentering Music

Kevin Korsyn

Oxford University Press

This chapter begins with a discussion of the crisis confronting musical scholarship. Musical research is described as becoming like a Tower of Babel, where members of opposing groups seem to be speaking different languages or playing different language games. When individuals stake their identities on particular language games, they regard each other's work with indifference or even with contempt. The Ministry of Truth — a pyramid of “glittering white concrete” seen in George Orwell's 1984 — is also used to symbolize the current state of musical research. In this building, a vast bureaucracy toils relentlessly to serve Big Brother, propagandizing the entire population to produce an absolute political orthodoxy. One of their tasks is to transform all discourse into Newspeak, an artificial language intended not only to replace standard English but also to render politically deviant thought impossible. When individuals are compelled to measure themselves against quantitative standards, when they must address administrators who are remote from the work itself, when they are forced to objectify themselves, to police their own thought, they come to resemble the inhabitants of Orwell's dystopia.

Keywords:   musical scholarship, discourse, language, musical research, quantitative standards

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