Since my last trip to the symphony, I’ve been thinking about the violin as a postmodern space. And maybe even the first postmodern space. When I say this, I imagine everyone nodding their heads and murmuring “Hm,” rocking forward in their chairs to show their assent.
But this doesn’t always happen, so I’ll have to explain what I mean.
And I can’t just show everyone this clip of Joshua Bell playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with a youth orchestra from like the Land of Oz, and expect people to be convinced. (Seriously, though, if I could find a way to blog about how rad their costumes are–red pants, white sneakers and all, without things getting too esoteric, I would.)
It has something to do with the bidirectionally of bowing, of course, and with the textures at the violinist’s disposal (I’m thinking of pizzicato). It’s about the elegance of a sustained note (and a technology that allows for sustained tone), and the harmonic possibilities (because aren’t strings narratives, and don’t they comment on each other?) If you listen to the Tchaikovsky concerto, find the moments when the sky-piercing arpeggiating is punctuated by earthy, guttural groans, only to return to the soaring lines of super-generous melody we have come to expect. It’s like you can hear, in distinct movements of time, both the hurricane clouds of resin that rise above the stage as pure as breath and the thundering whinnying of the horses whose tails, yes, have been knitted together into that great bow of fate, the threads of life.
One might argue that this isn’t true, but it’s mostly true at least. That’s all I’m saying. Only a postmodern space could have this much potential for thematic connection. It’s like a cup of coffee. I mean, strings used to be made out of a material called “catgut.” How does this not question the familiarity of falsified barn imagery in our nation’s service economy?
And I’ll try to be even clearer.
A postmodern space
1. Involves a context than can be part of a larger context. A postmodern space can also include other contexts within it, but this is like dividing by zero–probably shouldn’t be attempted even though historians and people I disagree with do it all the time.
2. Can possibly not be explained without recourse to some sort of jargon. Words like “narratives,” “myths,” and “bodies” (all plural). I also like the phrase “in relationship to.”
3. Clothes abstract concepts in concrete sounding words. Like when people talk about square footage when they mean to talk about relationships. Or men’s or women’s bodies when they are really talking about ethics and don’t care about the body. This is up for dispute, but I think our society is more dualist than we prefer to realize.
Other notable postmodern spaces:
Dinosaur stickers. They combine notions of childhood, representation, and the interplay between children’s and dinosaurs’ bodies in both home and school. They are a winner.
Any word your professor writes on the board. It’s not just about the dry-erase ink and the conversation it initiates about the place of irony in a technologically equipped university classroom (I had a classmate who once said, “Your presentation is so old school Dr. M–.” I also had a professor who referred to the marker as “ce machin-truc.”) It’s also about how your professor circles the Greek prefixes in order to invite you into a time of cultural sharing.
A dishwasher. You’d think something found in a discourse community as rich as a kitchen would be a postmodern space. But it isn’t. Everything has a place in a dishwasher, and there is usually one right way to do things. Even when people do different things with dishwashers, like cook salmon in them (seriously, though, check it out), it’s always with functionality and efficiency in mind. As opposed to storytelling, semiotics, and, like the subversion of something.
Nonpostmodern spaces that think they are postmodern spaces:
A banana. Everyone knows they have potassium.
But a bunch of bananas! Now that’s a different story.