9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN02 Sociology of the Arts

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Arts and the Shapping of Identities Building II, C6.08

The Ruins of Mitteleuropa: An Investigation into the Cultural Blueprints of the Centre

In recent years, especially with the enlargement of the European Union, the European collective identity has been struggling for an adequate description of the new status quo. With the enlargement came not only a new physical frontier further to the East, but also the uncomfortable but necessary prospect of re-connecting with the European Community's conflicted memory of its imagined Centre. In this sense, the essential aspect of building a new reality of integration also involves the re-invention, or at least a re-vision of Europe's focal point. It is this indecisiveness or hesitation as far as Europe's mobile Centre is concerned that in the end, and in a self-contradictory fashion, might prove to be the most stable, democratic and enduring aspect of Europe's self-image.

The present paper attempts to learn something about a historical moment of one of Europe's centres by thinking about a sample of its music.

The text juxtaposes the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók's and the Czech composer Leos Janácek's theory of music. Both of these well known figures present us with opposite cultural and artistic identities. Bartók's music rests on the re-enforcement of the centre through ethno-musical research, which is then integrated into his high art of contemporary concert-hall music. This attempt looks for the centre away from both the extremes of traditionally pastoral image of folk and country life and the harsh reality of modern metropolis. Bartók's musical solution of the problem is characterized by a hybrid condition of reconciling nature (found in folk music, for instance) and modern culture of the metropolis.

Janácek's project of integrating subjectivity into sound through his technique of speech-melody (sound based on naturally spoken language) and his cosmopolitan vision of modern politics, seems to undermine such reinforced notion of centrality. Janácek is a model figure not only because he attempts the most comprehensive and uniquely successful bridging of music proper and the culture of spoken language, but also because he is consistently on the periphery of the cultural and political margin itself.

The paper concludes with the proposal for a theoretical reformulation of the concept the Center, culturally speaking.