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Roger W. H. Savage

CRITICISM, IMAGINATION AND THE SUBJECTIVIZATION OF AESTHETICS

he growing discontent with reductivist practices signals a new current in contemporary criticism’s understanding of music, literature and art. George Levine’s unease with critics who are unable or unwilling to account for their continuing preoccupation with literary texts they expose as “imperialist, sexist, homophobic and racist” illumines the contradiction fueling the reduction of aesthetics to ideology.1 Cultural studies that deploy literature as evidence of the aesthetics’ socio-historical substance mask literature’s capacity to break open new perspectives on reality by assuming that literary works are politically complicit with the aesthetics’ strategic “mystification of the status quo” (A&I, p. 3). Criticism’s indifference to its philosophical presuppositions exacerbates the paradox of denouncing a body of works that constitute criticism’s aesthetic and intellectual heritage. According to Mario Valdés, literary studies’ coming of age mandates that criticism take account of a tradition nurtured by a succession of philosophers including Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur.2 For Valdés, the post-structuralist realization that literary texts are indeterminate and inexhaustible prohibits replacing the work of art with critical commentaries on it; criticism’s collective and determining role belongs to a shared community of commentary whose history and thought is a record of the changing interpretations and understandings of literary texts’ meanings.
Philosophy and Literature, © 2005, 29: 164–179

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Valdés’s claim extends to the field of contemporary music criticism, where the fashion of denouncing aesthetics as socially pernicious turns against traditional musicology’s institutional authority. By demystifying absolute music (instrumental music devoid of programmatic associations), a self-proclaimed critical musicology revolts against traditional musicology’s perceived political and ideological agenda. Critical musicology militates against the aesthetic conceit that absolute music transcends its social construction. Yet, by overlooking the philosophical presuppositions that set music’s autonomy against practical affairs, new musicology accedes to the schema it recoils against. The tradition nurtured by Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics and Ricoeur’s hermeneutic phenomenology represents a critical current whose significance has been overshadowed by postmodernist investments in decoding music’s social and political content. Gadamer’s critique of the subjectivization of aesthetics and Ricoeur’s meditations on the imagination’s capacity for invention offer an alternative to contemporary music criticism’s reaction against the principle of music’s aesthetic autonomy. Gadamer and Ricoeur question art’s formal separation from reality, which belongs to the history of Kant’s radical subjectivization of aesthetics. Gadamer’s critique of art’s aesthetic differentiation prepares the ground for revealing how socially informed analyses conform to the schema Kant initiates by divorcing judgments of taste from their surrounding cultural ethos. Gadamer argues that, by discrediting theoretical knowledge that does not rely on the methodology of the natural sciences, the transcendental function Kant ascribes to aesthetic judgment lays the foundation for differentiating between art’s aesthetic constitution and a concept of truth that accommodates the standard of the natural sciences. Through reducing the “sensus communis to a subjective principle,” Kant legitimates his critique of aesthetic judgments by denying taste any importance as a mode of knowledge.3 Ricoeur’s hermeneutical reflections on imagination complement Gadamer’s critique of a differentiating consciousness that abstracts art works from their cultural worlds. For Ricoeur, imagination is productive when the fictions that works create affect our understanding of ourselves and our world by re-describing reality. Aesthetics’ alignment with ideology encounters a limit in the power works evince by unfolding different ways of seeing or hearing reality. Ricoeur’s reflections on imagination stand in stark contrast to the idea that individual works represent a form of cultural capital in the struggle for social position

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and power. Contemporary critical practices’ failure to account for the philosophical separation of judgments of taste from knowledge of reality precipitates the impasse criticism encounters when it identifies aesthetics with ideology at the expense of a work’s capacity to affect reality in productive ways. The dispersal and potential disappearance of music’s aesthetic character into the recesses of cultural and political analysis keeps step with the conceptual narrowing imposed by a restrictive sociological critique. Demystifying music’s ideological representations of gender, race and identity purges romantic and formalist ideals through denigrating the aesthetic. By contracting aesthetics and ideology, interpretive strategies that intend to free music criticism from the pretense of music’s aesthetic autonomy turn against the power of imagination exercised in individual works. The recoil against the idea of music’s transcendent nature conceals criticism’s dependence upon the history that frames art’s and music’s opposition to reality. Critiques of music’s role in advancing the cultural prestige of socially privileged individuals and groups unmask its function as a weapon in the struggle for social position. Yet, by deconstructing this opposition without interrogating the schema of Kant’s subjectivization of aesthetics, such critiques impede the recovery of an understanding of the aesthetic beyond the destruction of its romantic and formalist conceptualizations. Gadamer’s critique of the subjectivization of aesthetics and Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of judgment rejoin cultural criticism’s condemnation of art’s and music’s socially instituted autonomy. Music criticism receives a new impetus by engaging this philosophical heritage. Through carrying critique beyond the paradox of condemning as ideologically pernicious works that enlarge our selfunderstandings, this heritage offers criticism a different vantage-point from which to understand how, by inserting themselves in new cultural situations, individual works broaden our horizons.

I
Levine’s discontent with the current literary scene and Valdés’s discomfort with critique’s indifference to its own philosophical presuppositions motivates the search for the history that informs contemporary music criticism’s understanding of its object. By denouncing the modernist myth of the purely musical work of art, postmodern musicologists such as Susan McClary and Lawrence Kramer combat traditional musicology’s isolation of works as aesthetically autonomous

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through contextualizing analyses that reveal music’s ideological content. For these critical musicologists, the illusion of music’s selfsufficiency masks absolute music’s social and political content. Hence, they deconstruct the myth of music’s aesthetic autonomy by drawing correspondences between music’s formal features and these features’ socially constructed meanings. By locating music’s meaning in the social world that produces it, McClary’s deconstruction of absolute music’s master narrative identifies tonality and the sonata form with a patriarchal and imperialist political program. When, for the sake of preserving his own identity, the masculine theme that McClary argues is semiotically marked subjugates the feminine Other, absolute music enacts this political agenda. By uncovering the master narrative coded within the semblance of pure music, this deconstructive critique excises the aesthetic by means of a social semiology of gender.4 Through reducing aesthetics to ideology, criticism recoils against the principle of autonomy consecrated by the formalist concept of a musical work, only to lose itself in the detours of socio-political critique. Deconstructing the myth of music’s aesthetic autonomy shatters the illusion of pure music’s transcendence to reveal music’s socially constructed content within its historical context. Critiques that oppose the contingency of a work’s socio-historical production to formalist conceptions of music’s essential value intend to uncover a work’s social makeup. Yet, by denouncing as ideologically deleterious works that command critical attention, critique falls short of interrogating the condition of a work’s capacity to affect reality. The suspicion that legitimizes these critical strategies operates at the expense of the hermeneutical autonomy exercised by singular works. Distrust of the aesthetic’s ideological complicity aligns critique with the task of unmasking music’s hegemonic representations of gender, sexuality, and the exotic Other. Through capitalizing on the concept of transcendence enshrined in the ideal of music’s formal self-sufficiency, criticism deconstructs art’s isolation from reality. By opposing music’s substantive worldly content to this outmoded ideal, criticism paradoxically preserves and even justifies the schema of music’s aesthetic autonomy. Consequently, critique consigns itself to the desert of endless ideological “unmaskings” through denouncing music’s autonomy as a function of its social emancipation, thereby inverting the schema of aesthetic appearances and real material conditions on which both criticism and instrumental music’s aesthetic autonomy depend.

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The blind spot of critical practices that take their bearing from the opposition they denounce elicits an aporia that indicts criticism for its failed self-reflexivity. By taking the contrast between music’s aesthetic appearance and social reality as its point of departure, critique recoils against the claim of music’s aesthetic autonomy without questioning Kant’s departure from the humanist tradition, in which judgments of taste relate to moral or civic interests in the common good. Denouncing art’s separation from reality without interrogating the effects of Kant’s subjectivization of aesthetics severs criticism from the productive potential it seeks when claiming that individual works contest a given social order. By accepting the doxy of art’s ideological character, criticism conceals its philosophical presuppositions and thus blinds itself to the limitations imposed by the theory of art’s social imitation. Criticism encounters this blind spot when, through reproaching music’s and art’s reduction to ideological coordinates, it intends to rescue the aesthetic from its disappearance into the recesses of cultural and political analysis by seeking the aesthetic’s positive social value. Levine pleads for a more imaginative view of the aesthetics as a mode of conduct and expression that operates differently from other modes of social practice and “contributes in distinctive ways to the possibilities of human fulfillment and connection” by creatively engaging moral and political issues (A&I, p. 3). Terry Eagleton, too, argues for the necessity of a productive, as well as a critical, view of aesthetics. The mystifying “escape from or sublimation of unpalatable necessity” that legitimates the cultural separation of processes of fantasy and pleasure from the fulfillment of material wants constitutes one of the aesthetic’s functions.5 Through realizing possibilities for creative self-making, the phenomenon of culture also offers “a prefigurative image of a social condition in which such pleasurable creativity might become available in principle to all” (IotA, p. 411). According to Eagleton, the “imaginative reconstruction of our current practices” is indispensable to avoiding the amalgam of disillusionment and sterile utopianisms that afflicts the Frankfurt school critical theorists, and especially Theodor Adorno’s relentless negative dialectical strategy (IotA, p. 407). As a critique of alienation, and an exemplary realization of our creative powers in proposing an ideal reconciliation beyond the divisions of subject and object, individual and society, and freedom and necessity, Eagleton argues that the aesthetic can combat the political’s postmodern aestheticizations by means of its own inherently contradictory nature. Hence for him, the aesthetic functions negatively as a means of

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sublimating social inequities and injustices, and operates positively by prefiguring alternatives to existing social conditions. The aesthetics’ valorization blocks the aesthetics’ rescue from the confines of social and political analysis by concealing its dependence upon a conflicted concept of a work’s autonomy. The paradox that music’s emancipation from all social functions is itself a function of social conditions that institute art’s separation from reality only constricts the impasse of the aesthetics’ ideological and productive character.6 The charge that music’s autonomy and aesthetic self-sufficiency is socially constructed solidifies the dilemma on which sociologically oriented criticism founders. Carl Dahlhaus argues that, with the exception of those few individuals who adhere to a rigorous aesthetic Platonism, no one would deny the “relative” autonomy of an art form that also performs social and socio-psychological functions. Consequently, he regards proceeding from the aesthetics of autonomy as the basis for musical analysis to be of greater scholarly use than permitting oneself to be misled by the concept of autonomy’s social origins. Nevertheless, by acknowledging that the “autonomy principle itself can be interpreted sociologically,” Dahlhaus concedes that artificial music—instrumental music liberated from its servitude to both a social function and the principle of imitation—is a function of socio-historical developments and hence remains ineluctably conditioned by them.7 Attributing music’s autonomy to its social emancipation indicts the paradox of the aesthetics’ productive derivation. Hence, through reducing aesthetics to ideology, criticism entrenches the impasse that blocks the true recovery of a creatively productive understanding of the aesthetic and of the hermeneutic autonomy of individual works. The claim that music, literature and art reproduce ideological meanings and prefigure alternatives sharpens the contradiction between denouncing a work’s semblance of autonomy and retrieving the possibility that individual works manifest a creatively productive moment by transgressing the limits of a given social order. Calls to temper criticism of the aesthetic with some measure of a work’s autonomy mark the growing resistance among critics to renounce the aesthetic as a separate sphere.8 Yet, so long as the concept of a work’s autonomy remains bound to the structure of art’s separation from reality, attempts to renew the aesthetic fall short of gaining insight into the power of imagination exercised within individual works.

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II
Contemporary music criticism’s confrontation with traditional musicology deepens the dilemma of a critical riposte that intends to recover the aesthetics’ productive value by denouncing art’s aesthetic isolation. Critical strategies that identify a work’s meaning with an ideological content invert modernist schema of the self-positing subject, foundationalist epistemologies, and aesthetic transcendence. Formalist precepts justify tearing works from their worlds; critical musicology intends to rectify this methodological abstraction by reinserting works in the life-contexts from which formalism forcibly extracts them. By confronting traditional musicology’s methodological violence with the ideologically constructed character of discursive social practices, critical musicology seeks its justification in the idea that all knowledge is relative to the disciplinary practices that produce it and in which it circulates. The destruction of traditional musicology’s idols (Götzendämmerung) censures traditional musicology’s resistance to “radically anti-foundationalist, anti-essentialist, and anti-totalizing”9 postmodern strategies. By proclaiming a “musicology of the future” where criticism “responsibly seeks to situate musical experience within the densely compacted, concretely situated worlds of those who compose, perform and listen,” Lawrence Kramer positions critique in opposition to formalist insistence on studying and analyzing individual works apart from their social contexts (MotF, p. 10). Despite its ethical and political posturing, this “musicology of the future” preserves the effects of the subjectivization of aesthetics’ through reversing music’s separation from reality. By reducing aesthetics to ideology, music criticism’s complicity with the schema Kant inaugurates prescinds the imagination’s productive capacity. Levine’s concern that denouncing the aesthetic brands imagination as delusive rather than liberating argues against a verdict that finds “all individual acts of imagination determined by larger constricting social systems” (A&I, p. 21). For him, “however thoroughly absorbed into dominant ideological formations the aesthetic has been, it has always served also as a potentially disruptive force, one that opens up possibilities of value resistant to any dominant political power” (A&I, p. 15). Through citing the danger art presents to totalitarian regimes as evidence of the aesthetics’ liberatory quality, he argues against aesthetics’ relegation to the byways of cultural studies. As part of a discourse of value, the aesthetics’ fragile freedom as a utopian plenipotentiary authorizes “the exploration of possibilities in ways

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[that] no other modality” of human activity or praxis endorses (A&I, p. 20). Yet, as the closest approximation to a free choice within the field of options society creates and delimits, the aesthetics’ libratory force continues to derive its justification from the schema in which, in the nineteenth century, art and reality part ways. The idea that absolute music transcends reality consummates an understanding that derives from a history extending from Kant’s radical subjectivization of aesthetics to Schiller’s proclamation that “art is practice of freedom” (TaM, p. 82). Kant’s justification of taste’s subjective universality augurs the aesthetics’ isolation as a sphere of freedom divorced from the exigencies of social and political life. Gadamer argues that, in discrediting theoretical knowledge that did not rely on the methodology of the natural sciences, the transcendental function Kant ascribes to aesthetic judgment lays the foundation for differentiating between art’s aesthetic constitution, and conceptual knowledge and truth. Gadamer explains that, according to Vico, “what gives the human will its direction is not the abstract universality of reason but the concrete universality represented by the community of a group, a people, a nation, the whole human race” (TaM, p. 21). When, in obviating the moral and political tradition behind the concept of sensus communis, Kant discovers the principle of a subjective relationship in the feeling of aesthetic pleasure, he contrasts the universality of pure aesthetic judgments with taste’s specific contents. Hence Gadamer concludes that, although Kant retains a connection between taste and sociability, Kant’s transcendental intention excludes the specific contents of judgments bearing concretely on the existence of particular historical communities, thereby laying the philosophical cornerstone for art’s isolation as aesthetically autonomous. The myth of autonomy that critical musicologists deconstruct belongs to the history of Kant’s subjectivization of aesthetics. The difference between aesthetic objects and their sustaining life contexts conforms to concepts of the aesthetic and aesthetic experience that methodologically isolate aesthetic culture from a knowledge of reality dominated by science’s epistemological model. By transforming the transcendental idea of taste into a moral demand, and by formulating that demand as an imperative—“Live aesthetically!”—Schiller invests Kant’s radical subjectivization of aesthetics with a new anthropological content (TaM, p. 82). In proclaiming art to be the practice of freedom, and aesthetic education to be the end of the play impulse, Schiller founds art’s autonomous standpoint in contrast to reality. Gadamer

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remarks that the idea of aesthetic cultivation we derive from Schiller “consists precisely in precluding any criterion of content and in dissociating the work of art from its world” (TaM, p. 85). By codifying this distinction between art and reality, the ideal of aesthetic cultivation and the process of abstraction on which it depends institutes the work of art and the experience of it as functions of aesthetic consciousness. Music’s social institution as an aesthetic entity confirms the schema imposed by the subjectivization of aesthetics’ history. As a function of the contrast between art as “beautiful appearance” and everyday practices, the process of abstracting works from their supporting life contexts justifies the ideal of a cultured society, whose concept of aesthetic cultivation prepares for an aesthetic education. This education to art consummates art’s separation from reality by sanctifying an aesthetic state of freedom. Gadamer justly identifies art’s transfiguring sheen, which elevates cultivated individuals into this state of freedom, with the sovereign exercise of aesthetic consciousness. In seeking its “own self-consciousness against the prose of alienated reality,” the poetry of aesthetic reconciliation consecrates the disintegration of the process whereby one rises above one’s private interests (TaM, p. 83). By differentiating between the aesthetic sphere and an alien world of moral interests, political struggles, and economic exigencies, this sovereign consciousness elevates the artist’s task while placing an impossible burden on art. In the nineteenth century, the demand for a new mythology and new symbols that would gather a public and create particular communities by uniting cultured individuals, charges art with achieving a measure of redemption “for which an unsaved world hopes” (TaM, p. 88). Since in cultured society “every artist finds his own community,” aesthetic culture serves to unite alienated individuals only in the universal form of the aesthetic (TaM, p. 88). The process of cultivation (Bildung) responsible for taste’s and the sensus communis’s moral and political import becomes the handmaiden of aesthetic consciousness, turning aesthetic culture toward art’s symbolic value as a form of capital in the struggle for social domination. The fight for social position and power consumes aesthetic culture by converting art into a form of symbolic capital. The disintegration and fragmentation of the social bond evinced by this universal form of the aesthetic therefore prefigures the struggle to capitalize on the aesthetic and to impose the legitimate definition of art and music as a means of positioning and strategically advancing oneself socially. As a means of marking and enforcing social distinctions, the cult of

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Bildung and the aestheticism of art for art’s sake ratifies the social process of disintegration instituted by aesthetic culture’s rise to dominance. Pierre Bourdieu’s diagnosis illuminates how, by reversing the logic of economics, music’s aesthetic quality disguises its real value as an instrument of social violence. According to him, music “represents the most radical and most absolute form of the negation of the world, and especially the social world, which the bourgeois ethos tends to demand of all forms of art.”10 An exemplary refuge for the cultivation and development of self-interest that masquerades as gratuitous, disinterested activity, music and musical practices disguise how self-cultivation functions as a strategy in accumulating social prestige. The invention of the “pure” aesthetic gaze devoid of ulterior social interests, the construction of the aesthetic, and the concept of a work’s aesthetic autonomy conceal how the struggle to impose legitimate definitions of art and truth constitutes a form of symbolic violence. By removing itself from the demands of a life of labor by means of this social fiat, the realm of freedom that distinguishes cultural life from practical necessities masks the aesthetic’s strategic position within the struggle for social advancement. Bourdieu argues that the “detachment of the pure gaze cannot be dissociated from a general disposition towards the world which is the paradoxical product of conditioning by negative economic necessities—a life of ease—that tends to induce an active distance from necessity.”11 As a weapon in the struggle for position and power, music, like art, is therefore the “gentle, hidden form which violence takes when overt violence is impossible.”12 Bourdieu’s diagnosis of music’s value as a symbolically misrecognized form of capital explodes the pretense of an aesthetic entity isolated from the wants and necessities of practical reality. Yet, by identifying a work’s autonomy with the struggle for position and power, this social analysis presupposes the schema inaugurated by Kant’s critique of aesthetic judgment. Bourdieu’s science of art’s social representation highlights how the “belief in the value of the work . . . is part of the full reality of the work of art” (FoCP, p. 36). Art’s institution as an object of contemplation anchors the production of this belief, and the constitution of a differentiating consciousness “capable of considering the work of art in and for itself” in the history of the subjectivization of aesthetics (FoCP, p. 36). The creation of private and public galleries and museums, and the rise of a corps of professionals appointed to preserve and maintain art works, is a function of the process of differentiation that marks the advent of aesthetic consciousness. The economic world’s

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reversal therefore preserves the effects of Kant’s transcendental justification of the judgment of taste at the root of Bourdieu’s diagnoses of the field of cultural production.

III
Preserving these effects justifies Valdés’s and Levine’s misgivings with criticism’s indifference to the history on which it feeds. By framing criticism’s recoil against formalist dogma, the schema Kant inaugurated dominates criticism’s combative stance. Through defying the methodological violence of analyses that rips work from their cultural contexts, critical musicology seeks to restore a significance systematically ignored by formalist approaches.13 Yet, by breaking the methodological shackles of formalist analysis without breaking this schema’s conceptual hold, criticism perpetuates the regimen of music’s separation from reality and thereby ratifies the struggle in which cultural works serve as weapons in the fight for social position and social advancement. Through countermanding the pretense of a work’s self-legislating authority, criticism consequently adopts a political posture that conforms to the process of social disintegration that, Gadamer argues, stems from taste’s abstraction from moral and civic interests. The justification criticism derives from unseating formalist conceits blinds criticism to its own position. The escape from reality that Hannah Arendt argues “gave the physiognomy of the cultural or educated philistine its most distinctive marks,”14 necessitates analyses of how, in the “fight for social position, culture began to play an enormous role as one of the weapons, if not the best-suited one, to advance oneself socially, and to ‘educate oneself’ out of the lower regions, where supposedly reality was located, up into the higher, non-real regions, where beauty and the spirit supposedly were at home” (BP&F, p. 202). Yet, by ratifying aesthetics’ constriction to ideology through confining a work’s transcendence of reality to the illusory region of dissembling ideological representations, criticism abandons itself to the detours of socio-historical explanations of a work’s genesis and meaning. Singular works surpass the circumstances that condition their creation when, through confronting us with the task of understanding what they say, they address us in new contexts and situations. By drawing upon Ricoeur’s insight into the reader’s appropriation of the world that a literary text unfolds, Valdés argues that in the light of the text’s redescription of reality, it “becomes clear that understanding

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must be self-understanding, that the truth of the text is in fact the truth of ourselves” (PH&SoL, p. 68). Our experiences of works therefore contravene sociologically motivated critiques that combat the pretense of aesthetic transcendence by subordinating the work’s capacity to speak anew to socio-historical analyses. By seeking its normativity through communicating a “fitting” solution to a problem, question, or perplexity, a work’s exemplarity testifies to the power of thought and imagination at work in exceeding its circumstances of production.15 Through prefiguring imaginative alternatives, works run ahead of reality, thereby going beyond a given order from within the histories of which they are a part. According to Ricoeur, a singular work achieves its normativity “only in its capacity to communicate itself indefinitely to others” (C&C, p. 181). This “communicability does not lie in applying a rule to a case but in the fact that it is the case that summons its rule . . . in rendering itself communicable” (C&C, p. 183). Consequently, the work’s capacity to address us within the horizons of our experiences shatters the convention of socio-historical contextualizations. Ricoeur argues that if reflective judgment is to be reconciled with the rule of practical reason, retrospective judgment cannot be allowed to preempt or prescind reflective judgment’s prophetic dimension. Judgment receives the full measure of its futurity when, through reconciling its retrospective and prophetic dimensions with practical reason, it operates within our ethical or political projects. Expunging judgment’s prophetic dimension marginalizes critique by abandoning it to the search for a work’s ideological coordinates.16 Through escaping its original horizons to broaden our own, a work evinces the point of futurity that gives the paradox of a work’s singularity and its exemplarity its depth. By inserting itself in the world, a work distances itself from reality, thereby transcending reality from within. The hermeneutical autonomy that works exercise by transgressing and surpassing their social and historical circumstances attests to the power of thought and imagination. Gadamer suggests that a work’s aesthetic quality of formation does not distinguish the work as a mere object of aesthetic and historical enjoyment, but is instead “only the condition for the fact that the work bears its meaning within itself and has something to say to us.”17 The autonomy he identifies with the world that a work unfolds, and that Ricoeur attributes to a work’s temporal configuration, distinguishes a work’s vehemence from the aesthetics’ ideological narrowing.18 Socio-cultural analyses that deny this vehemence subvert a critical understanding of a work’s power to

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open new perspectives on the world. Ricoeur cautions that, by refusing to confront the problem of the intersection of a work of art with reality, and by regarding as irrelevant the question of literature’s impact on life, we paradoxically ratify the positivist prejudice that “the real is the given, such as it can be empirically observed and scientifically described.”19 Through deconstructing the conceit of music’s self-sufficiency, criticism turns against the culture of aestheticism by condemning the pretense of a closed world of autonomous musical works. Yet, with the denigration of the aesthetic, the conceptual constriction that obturates the hermeneutical insight into a work’s capacity to productively affect reality imposes on critique the prejudice that it struggles against. This hermeneutical insight into the power works exercise through contesting, subverting and refiguring the moral, cultural and social order, does not preclude critique. On the contrary, critique is indispensable to unmasking dissembling meanings that operate beneath the sheen of a cultivated world of aesthetically autonomous works. Yet, when criticism loses itself in its deconstructive detours, critique contracts aesthetics and ideology. That works manifest prejudices, fears and hatreds that we rightly denounce as unjust and unjustifiable makes critique vital to any interpretation that discloses a work’s power to affect our understandings of who we are through modulating and transfiguring our outlooks on the world we inhabit and in which we act. However, in acknowledging the power at work in reinforcing ideological prejudices, criticism is compelled to admit the possibility that a work’s capacity to affect and refigure reality opens new horizons for experience and thought. The task of rescuing aesthetics from its critical denigration, which Levine seeks by identifying the aesthetic with the imaginative exploration of alternative possibilities, and which Eagleton presupposes whenever art works creatively prefigure a reconciled society, lies along the path of the hermeneutical critique of a work’s aesthetic autonomy. For this hermeneutical critique, the power of thought and imagination communicated by the singular “fit” that the work exemplifies is the true measure of a work’s autonomy. This hermeneutics does not countermand the role of critique. Rather, by placing the properly historical question: What did the work say? under the control of the hermeneutical question: What does the work say to us and how do we respond to the claims it makes? this hermeneutics of criticism recognizes that the critical detours necessary to uncovering ideologically distorted representations do not exhaust the work’s capacity to speak anew.

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IV
The hermeneutical critique of the concept of the aesthetics’ ideological narrowing opens the way to recovering a productive understanding of the work. Criticism’s indifference to its philosophical presuppositions, which Valdés argues impedes criticism’s ability to give an accounting of the tradition that nurtures it, conceals the history of the principle stemming from Kant’s radical subjectivization of aesthetics. By acceding to the schema this history institutes, criticism perpetuates and even deepens the impasse of denouncing aesthetics as ideologically pernicious. That music and art function as forms of symbolic capital in the fight for position and power delineates a struggle within the field of cultural production. However, this diagnosis does not escape the schema imposed by the subjectivization of aesthetics. Critiques that denounce aesthetics as the refuge of a hidden social violence do not extinguish the power of thought and imagination at work in individual works. A hermeneutical concept of a work’s autonomy re-enervates criticism’s engagement with individual works by retrieving a work’s capacity to open new paths for thought and action from the aesthetics’ ideological constriction. The productive recovery of the aesthetic and of the power works exercise in inventing, or discovering, imaginative alternatives to the existing social, moral and political order indicates the path of hermeneutically informed critical practices that recognize their dependence on the artistic traditions and intellectual heritages in which they participate. As critics, we can no more escape the effects of the histories to which we belong than can works, authors and composers, readers and listeners. Criticism misunderstands the scope of its task when, in laying bare imperialist, sexist, and racist constructions in individual works, it reduces a work to an ideological matrix of prejudices and hatreds. The stubborn prejudice against aesthetics eclipses the work’s hermeneutical autonomy. Critics who are either unable or unwilling to account for their continuing preoccupation with works they censure as ideologically suspect only impede the critical recovery of a work’s hermeneutic autonomy. New adventures await a criticism that understands its encounter with cultural works as both a risk and a wager, where the task of interpreting the work is as much a confrontation with ourselves as it is a challenge to follow the work’s trail. University of California, Los Angeles

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1. George Levine, Aesthetics and Ideology (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994), p. 13. Hereafter A&I. 2. Mario J. Valdés, Phenomenological Hermeneutics and the Study of Literature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), p. 7. Hereafter PH&SoL. 3. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd revised ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1989), p. 43. Hereafter TaM. 4. Susan McClary, Feminine Endings: Music, Gender and Sexuality (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), pp. 53ff.; Susan McClary, “Narrative Agendas in ‘Absolute’ Music: Identity and Difference in Brahms’s Third Symphony,” in Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Musical Scholarship, Ruth Solie, ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). 5. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), p. 411. Hereafter IotA. 6. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Theodor W. Adorno, Introduction to the Sociology of Music, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 1989); Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984); see also Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, pp. 367ff. 7. Carl Dahlhaus, Schoenberg and the New Music, trans. Derrick Puffett and Alfred Clayton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 238. 8. See Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, pp. 24ff., p. 371; see also Joel Garland, “The Turn from the Aesthetic,” Current Musicology 58 (1995); Peter Brooks, “Aesthetics and Ideology: What Happened to Poetics?” Critical Inquiry 20:3 (Spring 1994). 9. Lawrence Kramer, “The Musicology of the Future,” Repercussions 1:1 (1992): 5. Hereafter MotF. 10. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 19. 11. Bourdieu, Distinction, p. 5; see Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 264. Hereafter FoCP. 12. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 196; see p. 192. 13. See Lawrence Kramer, Music as Cultural Practice, 1800–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Lawrence Kramer, Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Rose Rosengard Subotnik, Developing Variations: Style and Ideology in Western Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991); Rose Rosengard Subotnik, Deconstructive Variations: Music and Reason in Western Society (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); Gary Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); McClary, Feminine Endings; see also Susan McClary, “An Exercise in Mediation,” Enclitic 7:1 (1983).

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14. Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 202. Hereafter BP&F. 15. Paul Ricoeur, Critique and Conviction, trans. Kathleen Blamey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 178ff; see Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols., trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 1985, 1988). Hereafter C&C. 16. See Paul Ricoeur, The Just, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 108. 17. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, trans. David E. Linge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), p. 97. 18. Gadamer, Truth and Method, pp. 110ff.; Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, vol. 1, pp. 52ff.

19. Paul Ricoeur, A Ricoeur Reader, ed. Mario J. Valdés (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), p. 148.