In a 2015 piece for the New Yorker (“Music, Fiction, and the Value of Attention”), literary critic Nicholas Dames thus muses on the dwindling cultural prestige of the novel: its difficulty in sustaining relevance, sales, and above all, attention. Music, Dames posits, has access to a cognitive power that prose cannot command, and perhaps this is why it has become the object of such elaborate description in contemporary fiction (Richard Powers's Orfeo, Colm Tóibín's Nora Webster, and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, among other novels). Here, sustained accounts of musical listening aspire to the “waves of [neural] connection” or the “rapt submergence” inspired by sound—forms of focus seemingly unavailable to text. But can accounts of attending to music restore a tragically lost literary attention? Do we even want it back? These are some of the issues Dames raises, in a piece that gestures toward...
Colloquy: Attention, Anxiety, and Audition's Histories
FRANCESCA BRITTAN is Associate Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve University. Her first monograph, Music and Fantasy in the Age of Berlioz (Cambridge University Press, 2017), deals with intersections between sound, magic, and nineteenth-century science. Current projects include a cultural history of conducting and a collaborative project on music, attention, and Romantic cognition. Honors include the 2012 Alfred Einstein Award of the American Musicological Society.
CARMEL RAZ is a Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, where she directs the group “Histories of Music, Mind, and Body.” In 2015–18 she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. She is currently writing a book on theories of musical cognition in the late eighteenth century.
NICHOLAS MATHEW is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Political Beethoven (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and coeditor of the volume The Invention of Beethoven and Rossini (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Recent publications include the colloquy on Quirk Historicism (as coeditor and coauthor) in the journal Representations.
ALEXANDRA KIEFFER is Assistant Professor of Musicology at Rice University. Her first book, Debussy's Critics: Sound, Affect, and the Experience of Modernism, was published by Oxford University Press in 2019, and her articles on Debussy, Ravel, and early twentieth-century musical and intellectual culture have appeared in 19th-Century Music, Music Theory Spectrum, and the Journal of Musicology. She was previously an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at Stanford University.
BENJAMIN STEEGE is Associate Professor of Music at Columbia University. He studies the intellectual history of music in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with an emphasis on intersections with the history of science. His research has been supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. His book Helmholtz and the Modern Listener (Cambridge University Press, 2012) won the Emerging Scholar Award from the Society for Music Theory.
Francesca Brittan, Carmel Raz, Nicholas Mathew, Alexandra Kieffer, Benjamin Steege; Colloquy: Attention, Anxiety, and Audition's Histories. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 August 2019; 72 (2): 541–580. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2019.72.2.541
Download citation file: