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Title: Out of the Past
Recontextualizing the Utopias of Film Music; Excerpt from "Strains of Utopia", Princeton University Press
Author: Caryl Flinn
Out of the Past
Caryl Flinn, 1992
Although the Classical approach to film music dominated a specific historical and institutional setting, and although that setting, though fully situated in the twentieth-century, adhered to the aesthetic ideology of late nineteenth-century romanticism, it is by now apparent that romanticism's influence extends well beyond the golden era of Hollywood film scoring. Virtually all of the approaches to film or popular music we have covered subscribe to at least one of its tenets: that music offers something more than conventional language; that it reveals glimpses of a better, more unified world (or a more profound experience of our own); that it unveils universal truths or essences and opens doors to exotic situations or lands; and lastly - and perhaps most importantly - that it can capture the sense of lost integrity and grandeur. Romantic ideology seems to have given critics the green light to remove cinema music from its discursive and institutional contexts and then to reassert its immunity from these same concerns. (1) In many ways, film music has been handed down to us as something ethereal, timeless, and deeply ahistorical. It is easy to see how a utopian understanding of it can emerge - and indeed has emerged - from this particular set of assumptions.
The ensuing conception of utopia, moreover, is utopian in the strictest sense of the word, a "no-place," an impossible, unrepresentable, and idealized condition with little in common with the facts of actual social and historical existence. Others before me, including (and especially) Marxists, have critiqued the concept of utopia for this reason. Orthodox Marxists have met the idea of utopian thought with special distaste; Friedrich Engels ties the concept itself to the ideology of the bourgeoisie. Yet there are sound reasons to retain and rework the idea. First, its very pervasiveness suggests that no matter how politically or theoretically problematic it might be, the concept cannot be wished away. Second, the idea is especially crucial for political critics to consider since it enables what is largely known as negative criticism to begin, as Fredric Jameson has influentially argued, a constructive, "positive" agenda. Even the pessimistic Frankfurt School thinkers (especially later members such as Marcuse) presented a philosophical sense of an eschatological goal that could be likened to the idea of utopia or utopian rebellion. Consider, for instance, the analysis of twentieth-century serial music by Ernst Bloch (whom I will be discussing in greater detail below): In contrast to Adorno and Attali, Bloch argues that serial music is not the structural expression of alienated relations under postindustrial capitalism but the fulfillment of this culture's desire for openness. Openness is created through the absence of set keys and prescribed paths of musical development. Thus, while it mav be read as one of late capitalism's most fragmented, alienated aesthetic forms, serial music also constructs the hope for an alternative working against this same alienation. (2)
Of course the problem even with political criticism is its tendency to systemize the idea of utopia to such an extent that it becomes impossibly idealized, resting outside of history and culture as we know it. As we have seen, criticism often works to abolish difference, enclosing utopia within a sealed-off imaginary. It should be recalled here that even Thomas More located his utopia on a remote island. Indeed, utopias have consistently provided a womblike haven from the world, replete with their soothing waters - something as true today for feminists who glorify the maternal and its aimniotic chora as it was in More's scenario. Femininized or not, however, the utopian condition is obsessively marked by escape, excess, and as something beyond discourse. The task of this chapter, as the title suggests, will be to rematerialize and reconsider the notion of utopia in regard to film music. For, as I have alreadv begun to indicate, utopian thought serves an important critical function, one that provides commentary on the society it purportedly transcends.
It is difficult to recontextualize utopia without assigning it the same function it has always had simply in less troublesome terms. Indeed, the concept needs to be rethought in new ways altogether. Utopia does not always entail active resistance - to argue this implies a monolithic conception not only of dominant ideology but of the alternative or marginal practices that might oppose it. Instead, as I stress in the introduction to this study, utopia is fleeting and partial; its signs offer strategies and tactics, something akin to what Michel de Certeau has called "ways of making," ways of putting the practices of everyday life to different and unexpected ends.
De Certeau's discussion culls examples from the working class (for whom la perruque, "the wig," disguises workers' labor from their employers, e.g., writing notes on company time, using business equipment for personal projects, and so on) and from native Americans colonized by Spain (who, although subjected to a foreign culture brutally imposed upon them, "used the laws, practices and representations . . . to ends other than those of their conquerors"). (3) De Certeau stresses the resistance expressed through the seemingly minor acts of everyday life, small rebellions against larger imposed dominants. Not surprisingly, he associates these activities with popular culture - certainly a significant gesture for any critic interested in the Hollywood cinema. Moreover, de Certeau's focus on the idea of the secondary production involved in using "already produced" representations, images, and sounds firmly emphasizes the active role of interpretation, an emphasis we will want to preserve in our own study of film music.
Another way to begin to concretize film music and utopian thought is offered through Elizabeth Cowie's discussion of fantasy. Cowie argues that fantasy does not involve the objects of specific desires so much as the process , by which desire is put into a scene, the staging "of what can never directly be seen." (4) Like de Certeau, Cowie emphasizes the actions and structures through which desires are set into play, bestowing importance upon the critical act of interpretation. Moreover, her remarks suggestively imply that sound and music might take up where vision, fundamentally impaired, leaves off, since, as she puts it, the things of fantasy "can never directly be seen."
Insofar as film music is concerned, it is important to recall that the untraditional traits associated with its utopian capabilities (its emotional pulls, abstractness, non-representationability and so on) do exist but that they remain, like the music itself, historically bound products of discourse that are not automatic or naturally guaranteed. The escapist, excessive, and utopian properties of film music must be considered in light of the cultural, institutional, and ideological functions it serves at a particular time.
Much of the utopian ideologv of classical film music is founded on the idea of nostalgia, a word derived from the Greek nostos, to return home, and algia, a mournful or painful condition. Although the term was first coined by a Swiss doctor in the late seventeenth century, it did not come into prominence for a hundred years or so. Over time it has become more common, although its demedicalization even as a psychological disorder appears to have only been quite recent. (5) Significantly, the word's entry into our vocabulary corresponds to certain developments in the expansion of market and industrial capitalism, a system that, it should be stressed, also necessitates the idea of "homesickness" through its long history of colonization -the word nostalgia in fact was initially used to describe the melancholia of soldiers fighting on foreign soil - and through capitalism's slow but inexorable disengagement of private from public spheres. With the latter, as social historians are at pains to note, people began to lament a vanishing sense of mass community - a nostalgia, it should be recalled, that János Máróthy links to a bourgeois sensibility. Privatized notions of domestic life began to replace a more communal sense of home. During the era of the Enlightenment, domestic relations were considered primary, the family was idealized and individual needs were believed to supersede social ones. The public sphere grew to become an antagonistically defined other with supposedly less gratification to offer individuals and their families, and "home" functioned as an asylum, a cherished refuge from an allegedly hostile world. The trend, of course, continues, perhaps culminating with the self-contained nuclear family of the 1950s. (Interestingly, and as sociologist Fred Davis notes, it was soon after this that the word nostalgia came to be used as a matter of evervday speech.)' (6)
Máróthy shows how this ideology of homesickness first began to take root in music. Tonality, for instance, always returns "home" to the tonal center of the piece. It also preserves the sanctity of this home by expelling "foreign" elements such as chromaticism or by domesticating those few that are allowed to remain. In an analysis of Bizet's Carmen, for example, Susan McClary has shown how the exotic, sexually "excessive" Carmen threatens the opera formally through the dissonant, chromatic elements associated with her, something which makes Carmen's final undoing as inevitable musically as it is does narratively and ideologically. (7)
The occasional inclusion of musically dissonant elements works to lend special force to the final tonal achievement of a piece. By retarding tonal resolution - and thus delaying the return "home"- Máróthy observes how Western music conveys the idea that this goal is truly difficult to attain, elevating what he rightly perceives as a banal conceit into a grand and noble conquest. This practice, as Máróthy and others have noted, historically helped lead to the gradual sentimentalization of Western music. Based on the idea of desire's impossibility, musical sentimentality relies on formal devices such as melismatics and rhythmic lengthening to stress the irretrievability of the object and to enhance its emotional weight. Lyrics also contribute to the sense of nostalgia and sentimentality, operating in forms as diverse as American folk tunes ("Red River Valley"), popular songs ("Those Were the Days" and "Yesterday" from the 1960s) and lieder (Mahler's "Kindertotenlieder," in addition to'the Schubert mentioned by Barthes). Even the cynical Adorno was led to note that sentimental music caused people to weep over what he called their "missed fulfillment." (8)
And so film scores are not alone in generating the impression of sanctuary for their listeners or of extending a reprieve from currently perceived problems. It is also important to stress here how these problems and lacks enjoy concrete institutional support, as Marxists would remind us and, as psychoanalysts assert, involve some of the fundamental incoherences of human subjectivity. In these ways, utopian thought constantly involves a conceptual movement toward totality at the same time it moves away from a fragmented and lacking origin.
As far as popular film scores are concerned, according to certain Marxist perspectives, music functions not only as a "home" or sanctuary, from capitalism (or Hollywood, or its films) but as a reprieve from its fragmenting and alienating effects (think of Lowe, Ballantine, Shepherd, and especially Adorno). The idea even enters into Máróthy's work, since he too refers to bygone communal epochs that preceded the entrenchment of bourgeois musical forms. But these past epochs function quite differently for him than they do for critics like Adorno, for unlike Adorno, Máróthy argues that this commonality, this potential socialist utopia, can in fact be reactivated within existing social, historical, and representational orders. His position does not so much promote the actualization of an impossible otherworldly "no-place" as it uses portions of it as a model for future change. He associates the anticipatory condition that this involves with music: "The search for the lost mass experience turns the attention of the composers towards the ancient 'Dionysian intoxication' or the surviving collectivity of later periods, for instance Baroque polyphony, (both are present in Beethoven). All this - the critical distortion of what exists or the search for the non-existent - is not only a crisis phenomenon, but a tentative sensing of the future. Of a future which is not behind the bourgeois world picture but begins only beyond it." (9)
As this passage makes clear, Máróthy tries to move beyond connecting music to a regressive, backward-oriented condition, and, given the frequency with which music is linked to anteriority, this would appear to be an important first step. Yet, at the same time, Máróthy's enthusiasm for music's anticipatory abilities is somewhat difficult to share, for there is nothing automatically to link music's abstract nature - that which lends it what Ernst Bloch will label its Ungleichzeitigkeit - to the future any more than to the past.
Still, the idea has critical precedent, especially in the work of Bloch, for whom the arts - and music most particularly would forecast the future and give anticipatory "traces" of it. Bloch, of course, is less widely known than Lukács, Adorno, and the other Marxists with whom he was loosely affiliated. This is partly explained by his longtime support of Soviet communism (even after Stalin), something that caused considerable tension between him and other leftists. Moreover, his interest in mysticism, aesthetics, and utopian thought (his magnum opus, Geist der Utopie, appeared in 1918) led to his further ostracization by more conventional Marxists. As Jack Zipes has recently pointed out in a volume of New German Critique devoted to Bloch, his largest audience in the United States has been among theologians." (10) Things, however, are beginning to change, most notably due to Jameson's work in the 1970s and 1980s (especially Marxism and Form) and special issues of journals like New German Critique.
Bloch's belief in music's anticipatory value stems from a dialectic aesthetics that, like Adorno's, holds that art is rooted in the age of its production at the same time it is estranged from it. (A good example of this would be Bloch's interpretation of serial music mentioned earlier. Music does, despite a potentially high degree of displacement, respond to the needs of its time. In regard to film music, one might consider how the score of Gone with the Wind discussed in chapter one plays out the threat of a nation divided at a time when global fascism was on the rise, when the Depression had scarcely retreated, and so forth.) For Bloch, the temporal and historical discontinuities involved in the process enables art to preserve the memory of what he considers earlier forms and "archetypes" while retaining sight of future ones.
To illustrate this point he borrows a passage from Nietzsche: "Music is of all plants the last to appear. Indeed, once in a while music peals forth into an amazed and modern world like the speech of a vanished epoch and comes too late. . . . Only with Mozart was the age of Louis XIV and the art of Racine and Claude Lorrain repaid in gold of the realm; not until Beethoven and Rossini was there a musical finale to the 18th century." (11) Initially, Bloch appears to endorse Nietzsche's remarks, particularly when he notes just how "shallow" matching Mozart with "Austrian Rococo" or Beethoven with the "Empire style" would be." (12) Yet he is critical of Nietzsche as well, protesting the suggestion that meaning in music is produced retrospectively (since for Nietzsche artists "sum up" earlier movements). For Bloch, this position not only relegates music to the past but requires it to reflect this anterior state, not actively building upon existing or future ones. In a gentle but significant revision, Bloch proposes instead that Wagner was the "fulfillment" of Mozart, suggesting less that Wagner's music summed up Mozart or Mozart's age than that it revealed traces (Spuren) of the future that had already been imbedded." (13)
The idea of future traces being latent within the social forms of the present has a crucial place in Bloch's theory of Ungleichzeitigkeit, or nonsynchronous or uneven development. The latter term is taken from The Critique of Political Economy, (14) in which Marx briefly alludes to the disparity between the activities of base and superstructure and between the development of economic and cultural phenomena (consider its usefulness in describing the uneven development in Third-World countries today). The idea, of course, challenges the notion that superstructural phenomena are determined solely by their economic base. For Bloch, Ungleichzeitigkeit offers a way to accentuate the temporal disphasure he deems so important to music, to stress the delays and deferrals he believes to be at work between music and its signifying potential.
Another component of Bloch's theory of nonsynchronous development involves what he calls "cultural surplus," a surfeit that enables music and other art forms to endure beyond their immediate socio-historical and aesthetic contexts. He argues, for instance, that art (along with nature and religion) will outlive capitalism and help articulate cultures that emerge in its stead. The notion of surplus suggestively calls to mind Barthes's and Kristeva's theories of poetic excess, since for them too poetic practices frustrate and surpass mainstream contemporary forms. Yet, whereas Kristeva and Barthes gauge excess chiefly in representational terms, Bloch casts it into a dialectic involving ideology and utopian thought: music then emerges from an historical and ideological base that, in exceeding that base, broaches the utopian. (15)
Art's negative relation to its own time causes Bloch to emphasize the idea of the future - the "not-yet-conscious" - in the artwork: "Every great work of art, above and beyond its manifest content, is carried out according to a latency of the page to come, or in other words, in the light of the content of a future which has not yet come into being, and indeed of some ultimate resolution as yet unknown." (16) Other critics have also argued for the anticipatory powers of music. Attali, for example, has somewhat extravagantly claimed that "every major social rupture has been preceded by an essential mutation in the codes of music, in its mode of audition and in its economy." (To him, 1950s rock and roll anticipates the social protests and upheaval that followed in the 1960s, for example.) (17) Attali argues that because musical codes are abstract, flexible, and change more easily than those of more concrete sign systems, the future is more readily inscribed in them than in other, more rigidly codified forms. His remarks that music is "ahead of the rest of society" and that "as a mode of immaterial production it relates to the structuring of theoretical paradigms, far ahead of concrete production" show the extent to which his ideas are indebted to Bloch's notion of Ungleichzeitigkeit. (18) One even finds the notion circulating in more popular arenas, as Timothy Leary proclaims, "Rock is the voice of the future. The old establishment will always hate it." (19)
There is, as I have already argued, a danger in arguing for music's prophetic abilities. Giving it an anticipatory function is, in a very real sense, much the same as assigning it a nostalgic one, albeit in reverse, with idealism being projected forward instead of backward. Yet the idea that music is "out of sync" with its immediate context is nonetheless quite important. To begin with, it frees music from the passive, illustrative function it so often has been assigned, especially in the classical film. And although music and other art forms are not obliged to reflect their time in this framework, they nonetheless remain connected to it. And giving the concept of utopia the sense of an historical ground relieves it of the abstraction it undergoes at the hands of Attali, Barthes, and other critics Bloch has influenced.
It is instructive to compare Bloch's discussion of music's physical properties with Barthes's, for, like the author of "The Grain of the Voice," Bloch stresses the material nature of music, maintaining - in a very Barthesian turn of phrase that music "sings of itself." He also highlights music's actual source, be it somatic or instrumental, in considering the effects it produces. But Bloch draws quite different conclusions from these observations than Barthes. Barthes, it should be recalled, believes that the singing voice ultimately signifies a lost condition of subjectivity; for Bloch, it simply means different things within different historical moments. In the nineteenth century, for example, the tenor was equated with erotics, power, and youth, while in the eighteenth century, these qualities were associated with the tessitura and the body of the baritone (e.g., the figure of Don Giovanni).
Bloch upholds a notion of totality, but he refrains from naively endorsing it. For him, it is not something that is ever actual or complete, just as our present-day lacks cannot be projected onto a self-contained past. Instead he argues that traces of the future, traces connected to the utopian promise it holds, are latent within the incompleteness of the past and the social forms of the present. Máróthy's account of jazz illustrates precisely what Bloch means. Jazz, according to him, recalls and fulfills earlier, more ãprimitive" rhythmic forms, although it also surpasses them by creating new ones. And in spite of the adoption of jazz into the middle class, it still preserves its function as a "process from below" that Máróthy argues not only has changed the face of mass culture but extends a partial critique of bourgeois musical forms.
Art and especially abstract art like music, is an especially appropriate medium through which the "not-yet-conscious" of Bloch's theoretical plan begins to take shape since its connotative activity is relatively unstable and unfixed. Because the aesthetic text houses elements of the non-representational it is able to suggest utopia, the dimension that knows no referent. But utopia's struggle to be put into discourse obliges it to rely heavily upon displacement and disguise in order to be conveyed, something described by Fredric Jameson: "The Utopian moment is indeed in one sense quite impossible for us to imagine, except as the unimaginable; thus a kind of allegorical structure is built into the very forward movement of the Utopian impulse itself, which always points to something other, which can never reveal itself directly but must always speak in figures, which always calls out structurally for completion and exegesis." (20) As Jameson makes clear, utopian thought requires critical analysis to uncover and activate it, much the same way that unconscious desires and meanings have to be decoded out of dreams. Curiously, Bloch does not address the role of interpretation, nor does he directly consider the role in this played by unconscious representational mechanisms such as condensation and displacement, in spite of their obvious applicability to the concept of Spuren.
Jameson, however, pursues it in The Political Unconscious, a work that repeatedly gestures toward Bloch, even though it never directly acknowledges him. Jameson advocates interpretation which makes use of what he calls a "reconversion process" that cuts through various displacements and disguises in order to locate the utopian energy and political direction of a given text. The choice of psychoanalytic terminology is, of course, deliberate on Jameson's part, but it should not be concluded that Bloch was completely unaware of its hermeneutic force. In Bloch's discussion of dreams, for example, concern is apparent. Bloch divides dreams into two groups, those analyzed by Freud, the "nightdreams" fueled by repression and memories of the "no-longer-conscious," and the "daydreams," or the dramatizations of wishes that are based on the "not-yet-conscious." For Bloch, Freud errs in associating the unconscious solely with the past, and he redirects Freud's emphasis on the unconscious onto the preconscious, which does not lose memories completely to repression but is able to bring them to light.
Since Bloch maintains that the arts, like dreams, do not directly represent their external reality, his special interest in music seems logical. Music plays an extremely prominent role in his conception of utopian thought, and its abstract quality is doubtless what leads him to make the claims he does about its prophetic capabilities. Comparing music's ability to project utopian thought to that of other arts, he writes: "Even as Gothic art, which crossed all boundaries, it contained something balanced, something homogenized. only music, performed in open spaces, has an explosive effect, and that is why the art of music has always something eccentric in regard to the other arts, as if music were only transposed to the level of beauty and sublimity." (21) It is clear from this passage that Bloch intends to preserve music's distinctiveness as a sign system.
He clarifies the connection between the non-representational aspect of music and utopian thought in a piece on authorial expression. Bloch maintains here that the performance of a musical work yields more meanings than what the composer originally envisioned and, more pressingly, he implies that music's signification emerges most fully from its abstract, non-representational components ("the performer's inflexion, his manner of speech and musical gesture"). In contrast to this, the musical note, a more representational component, "is still empty and uncertain"; the score is merely a "rough indication" of meanings that might be actualized through performance.
"Let us assign to music the primacy of something otherwise ineffable," Bloch insists, "its enigmatic language does not want to hide from us what is already resolved supernaturally. On the contrary, the function of music is the most complete openness. (22) Here he once again anticipates Kristeva and Barthes by associating music with an alternative semiotic field. (No doubt Bloch would be pleased that his work had sufficient "cultural surplus" to reemerge later in poststructuralism!) The limits of conventional sight and vision encourage all of these writers to argue for music's special powers; Bloch casts the idea in especially mystical terms- "[M]usic's different magic resolves this loss of [conventional] sight in a favourable, personally intimate sense, in the more luminous sense of the concept of a spirit-realm." (23) Sight is no longer a reliable centering force and offers nothing in the way of utopian "vision." Years later Attali makes much the same point: "For twenty-five centuries," he writes, "Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible....Today, our sight has dimmed; it no longer sees our future, having constructed a present made of abstraction, nonsense and silence. Now we must learn to judge a society by its sounds." (24)
That earlier social and representational activity persists in contemporary forms as "traces" immediately brings to mind the work of Benjamin and Derrida. For Benjamin, however, as Jameson and others have observed, traces operate as signs of past disaster and barbarism, whereas for Bloch they are anticipatory, hopeful. Derrida concerns himself primarily with its signifactory aspects while Bloch places greater weight on their circulation within an historical sphere. (25) Indeed, Bloch's notion of the trace is important precisely because it equips the concept of utopia with this kind of context.
In a significant example, Bloch turns to dance and cinema to explore the non-representational component of movement in the utopian sign. He argues that movement produces an effect beyond conventional meanings; he speaks of its "unnatural eloquence:" "The cooking-pots swaying with the ship in Eisenstein's 'Potemkin'  belong here, and precisely here the great rough stamping boots, shown in isolation, on the steps in Odessa." (26) This argument - even this choice of examples from Eisenstein - strikingly recalls Barthes's discussion of the third meaning. For both, the non-representational element of such signs exceeds standard signification, although Bloch makes this claim less explicitly than does his poststructuralist counterpart. Beyond this, however, the two diverge: Bloch maintains that the "cultural surplus" generated by these signs carries over to subsequent historical periods (and it should be added, interpretive contexts), an altogether different argument from Barthes, who claims that this excess evokes a lost, repressed moment.
For Bloch, a utopia based solely on the past is insufficient since it resurrects stagnant models and precludes future change. In fact, Bloch was as critical of the existing literature on utopia as more conventional Marxists were, and he noted the frequency with which the past had been yoked to what he called "false" or conservative utopias: consider the early Nazi movement, which fed off of a widely experienced nostalgia in Germany at the time - a nostalgia for preindustrial relations, a less urban culture, a more powerful sense of national unity and strength - to win grass roots appeal and promote its own agenda.
Film Music and Utopian Thought
Bloch's aesthetics enable us to sidestep three of the main obstacles that have plagued theories of Hollywood film music. First, he avoids the problem of reflectionism by insisting that music articulates more than its social, economic, or ideological underpinnings. By arguing that music points to cultural and historical frameworks beyond its own context, he implies, like Máróthy, that ideology works its way only obliquely into musical techniques and practices, partially uniting the musical works with the social realities of their time, but never fully integrating them into it. Also like Máróthy, Bloch's belief that utopia cannot be directly reflected or represented diminishes the problem of reflectionism.
Second, his notion that utopian thought reveals itself in partial, displaced forms preserves the important idea that music generates meaning, although in different ways from more conventional sign svstems. A crucial component of this - and one which greatly influences the present study - is Richard Dyer's notion of the non-representational sign. Such a sign (involving, for example, rhythm, texture, color, or music) knows no real referent and therefore cannot convey the idea of utopia with any precision. Instead it gives the sense of, in Dyer's words, "what utopia would feel like, rather than how it would be organized."(27)
Like traditional notions of utopia, Dyer implicitly highlights its communal, social aspect, arguing that utopia is always generated out of the perceived lacks and deficiencies of any historical period (he offers an excellent example through his reading of "WeÕre in the Money" from Depression era The Gold Diggers of 1933, in which the glistening costumes of the dancers convey a sense of abundance and pleasure; in the same way, "Edelweiss" of The Sound of Music(1996) promotes the utopia of a rustic and natural landscape, its "noble white" untainted by Nazism, to members of an increasingly urban and high-tech culture). Although I will be taking issue with what is excluded by this, it remains an extremely important emphasis nevertheless. Moreover, although Dyer himself does not use the term, it seems appropriate to describe Hollywood utopias in terms of their being partial utopias, for these films do not promote a full escape so much as the promise or suggestion of one. In fact, Dyer seems to acknowIedge this limitation when he emphasizes how the "entertainment industry" defines and hence constrains utopia for consumers. In other words, the sounds and images of "something better" do not necessarily pose a challenge to the status quo but often will reinforce its basic values. In this way, the HolIywood genre film cannot reasonably be expected to be entirely critical of the industrial and ideological machinery giving rise to it; its inscription of utopian resistance and alternatives must always be partial. So too the alternative component of Hollywood's utopian impulse must be apprehended in a tentative, limited fashion. To put this another way, music and other non-representational traces simply enable us to catch glimpses and impressions of utopia. This generates a promise or feel of utopia that will always be greater than the program it delivers, because utopia, in short, cannot be fully delivered at all.
The third contribution of Bloch's work is equally important. We have seen how theories of Hollywood film music have attempted to resolve at the level of discourse lacks or deficiencies of the present, be this at textual or social levels or within subjectivity, by projecting wholeness onto externalized, anteriorized sites and often "losing" the utopian element into an impossibly lost condition in the process. What distinguishes Bloch from other theorists in this regard is that for him the compensatory process is not fundamentally restorative, that is, it does not strive to regain the past, nor to maintain the present. Instead, it uses the "missing" elements - whether taken from the past or not - as active guidelines for change and social betterment.
The Subject of Utopian Thought
Dyer, who acknowledges Bloch's work, and Attali, who does not, inherit from their German precursor a strong concern for community and the belief that music is a key force in giving it shape and definition. As Attali writes, in a comment reminiscent of Eisler's remark on music's function as a "social cement," "All music, any organization of sounds is . . . a tool for the creation or consolidation of a community, of a totality." (28) Now given the Marxist convictions of these critics, the emphasis on community is hardly surprising. In fact, Bloch moves quite easily from the idea of communitv to that of commonality and communism: All Utopias, or nearly all," he writes, "despite their feudal or bourgeois comission, predict communal ownership, in brief, have socialism in mind."' Indeed, Bloch is at great pains to integrate Marxism's goals into his own recommendations for utopian change. Jameson, for his part, is convinced enough of this to use the words utopia and classless interchangeably in his work, and to argue that utopian thought is most solidly embodied or perhaps one should say embedded-within working-class consciousness since the working class would be the first to perceive the need for social and economic transformation. (One is also reminded of de Certeau's examples of practices selected from the working class and other disempowered groups.)
Bloch's, Dyer's, and Jameson's emphasis on community and utopia's social dimension is in keeping with most utopian literature in that it designates utopia as a specific social program. Yet it fails to consider the role subjectivity and agency play in the formation of utopian thought. Their importance is twofold: first, the desires of a particular kind of subject - specifically, a gendered subject - help determine the content of any given utopian projection. In other words, an idea, a sign, or a piece of music is going to appear utopian only to certain listeners, much the same way that its overall significance will depend on its particular social, historical, and institutional context. (Recall here how Barthes's and Kristeva's notions of music and poetic language took as their organizational center the desires of a male subject.)
The subjective factor is equally important at the level of interpretation. Earlier I indicate how Bloch failed to address adequately the role played by the subject in deciphering utopian signs or rather, in activating their meanings to begin with. Instead, he suggests that utopian meaning is fixed within the trace itself, that its significance is somehow immanent, already there in the text and not shaped by reading - think of his critique of Nietzsche's reading of Mozart, which argues that the sign is "in" the musical composition and realizes itself in later periods. Considered in this way, Bloch's trace is its own ruler, able to put itself into discourse, and shape its own interpretation: "the utopian function not only discovers the cultural surplus as something that belongs to it, but also fetches an element of itself from the ambiguous depth of the archetypes that is an archaically stored-up anticipation of something not-yet-conscious, of something not yet-accomplished." (30) Although the phrase "utopian function" obscures the matter somewhat, it is clear that there is not much room here for subjectivity to intervene. (Elsewhere, Bloch focuses on the "subjective" dimension of utopian thought but uses the term only insofar as it opposes the allegedly "objective" facts of concrete social existence.)
Since interpretation involves a context, one with historical, discursive, and subjective dimensions, analyzing a text for utopian meanings is not a "subject-less" act any more than it can be neutral or self-effacing. (31) In this light, it is useful to approach the utopian traces of HolIywood film music as part of a utopian sensibility constructed by the analyses critics perform on them. For if utopia is, as Bloch avers, contingent upon its hermeneutic context, the subjects who shape and are shaped by this context have to be taken into consideration. Interpreting subjects and subject positions are never as absent as critics might have them be (as evidenced in the work of Barthes and Kristeva), nor are the utopian meanings of the trace fixed or immanent within the text (as Bloch's work suggests). Instead the trace produces meanings as a partial and tentative sign; it has no stable referent but nonetheless prompts certain readings by readers who project utopian functions onto it. It is, in other words, given utopian form. To turn Bloch's phrase a bit, it is the consumption of texts that is never complete. Mary Ann Doane, in a discussion of the woman's film, offers an astute quote from the managing director of the International Division of the Motion Picture Association in 1947: "The motion picture is one product which is never completely consumed for the very good reason that it is never entirely forgotten by those who see it. It leaves behind it a residue, or deposit, of imagery and association, and this fact makes it a product unique in our tremendous list of export items." (32) The emphasis of the cited speaker is on the successful commodification of such "residue," of course; Doane's focus falls on its subsequent defamiliarization; my own is on how we can appropriate and restrategize it as critics.
The question of subjectivity also raises the issues of gender and sexual difference, issues that have been conspicuously absent in most of the discussions so far. For Jameson, Attali, and Dyer, this is an especially noticeable omission since feminism has distinctly shaped the political and intellectual milieu out of which they write. Their failure to address these issues is all the more striking in light of their concern with other contextual factors - such as class and ethnicity - involved in the cultural production and reception of utopian discourse.
Writing from an earlier historical time, Bloch's scant references to gender are somewhat less surprising. Yet Maynard Solomon has recently broached the topic (if inadvertently) and suggests the stakes involved for contemporary feminists in Bloch's work. According to Bloch, he notes, archetypes function as expressions of utopian thought and possibility, and Medusa is cited as one of the few archetypes utterly "without hope."(33) Now given the frequency with which Medusa has been appropriated as a sign of feminine strength and resistance (Cixous's "The Laugh of the Medusa" comes quickly to mind here), and given the nature of the mirth itself, it is obvious that any despair and "hopelessness" she suggests is going to involve a conventional masculine subject. We saw this "male" despair reach great proportions in Kristeva's work on music and the maternal body; we also saw it hinted at in Goethe when he consigned music to a feminized past. Since these - and other - accounts of music and its utopian pleasures are imbued with such a strong sense of nostalgia, the relationship of nostalgia to sexual difference and subjectivity needs to be raised and interrogated as well.
For a relationship does exist between the theories of musical utopias we have been covering and subjectivity, however implicitly they have appeared so far. In chapter two, the issue was inadvertently raised by John Fiske, for whom MTV was "orgasm . . . when signifiers explode in pleasure in the body in an excess of the physical." The question to pose at this point is, just whose pleasure was Fiske talking about? whose body, whose orgasm? Since Fiske's claim is made in reference to a medium known for its heavy metal groups, rap, and "cock rock," (34) the answers are not difficult to divine. A similar example can be found in an analysis of Warner Brothers musicals from the 1930s written by Mark Roth. (35) Arguing that these films are far from "escapist" (something earlier critics were prompted to assert given the extravagant stvie of auteurs like Busby Berkeley, known of course for his highly abstract, visually impossible geographies), Roth ties them to the contemporary ideology of the New Deal. He goes somewhat too far in drawing exact analogies between characters of backstage musicals (linking Jimmy Cagney, the director of the musical in Footlight Parade  or Warner Baxter, the director in 42nd Street ), with the country's own political "director," FDR). More useful is Roth's emphasis on the collective nature of the films' utopian spirit, which suggests that the show - and presumably, the United States at large - can be pulled together only through group effort and cooperation. Yet, in spite of this focus on united collaboration, the female form is depicted in curiously fragmented forms, something Lucy Fischer has observed in her article on Berkeley's Dames (1934). Severed from any notion of the whole, the women appear, in the revealing words of the choreographer, "matched like pearls" through the fetishistic repetition of isolated body parts. (36) Roth tellingly remarks that these close ups "border on being foolish," presumablv when compared to the coherent, unified efforts (and representations) of the producers, directors, and backers featured in the film's story. (37) To Roth, then, these films construct a utopian sensibility, a serious, "harmonious nation" that, as he notes, is definitively political (in replicating the ideology, of the New Deal) but, it should be added, is just as definitively male.
The close analyses of the next chapter will insist on the involvement of subjectivity and gender in the making and apprehension of film music's utopias. Although this is not to diminish the significance of the factors already taken into account by other critics, it is to redirect the path of the investigation and ask how the sense of utopia comes to be "engendered" at all. For it is apparent that women, to modify Jameson's comments on the working class, have a tremendous amount at stake in creating utopias and proposing social change. The theoretical issues involved are equally important since femininity is so frequently cast alongside music as a form of representational excess or difference, and subsequently ostracized from symbolic relations and social discourse.
With this in mind, it bears repeating that for as much as critics might like them to, utopias do not always work toward politically progressive ends or causes, just as I would argue that wholeness in and of itself is not a reactionary concept. For instance, the communal and nostalgic dimension of utopia - so crucial to the Marxist theories we have been investigating - can be harnessed to reactionary political ends, as it was under German fascism. The non-representational utopian trace Bloch proposes offers no semantic or ideological assurances; its reliance on displacement and disguise, in fact, would seem to insist upon the ease with which it can deceive. (Jameson has pointed out how fascist utopias masqueraded as a brand of socialism - literally, a "national socialism" - while courting a profoundly regressive, reactionary politics.) Thus utopian signs, like music, do not guarantee specific political readings or effects; they are not automatically subversive and may actually be bound to forces that seek to preserve and not better unjust social conditions.
Following this, Jameson, like Bloch, before him, suggests that the utopia of fascism is a "false" one. Insofar as socialism was commandeered by Nazism as a disguise for its reactionary agenda, and to the extent that this agenda advocates restoration and return instead of actual change, this is true. But the problem here is that Jameson and Bloch assume that only utopias that promote change to the left are truly "authentic." To lay claim to discursive authenticity, however, is not necessarily to politicize oneÕs argument. It seems far more useful to me to assess utopian thought in terms of its utopian and dystopian contours and to consider its abilities as well as its inabilities - to conceive of change, rather than to categorize it as either true or false.
Although I am finally not interested in Bloch's questions of authenticity, two utopian impulses he associates with the true and false utopias may be usefully approached by comparing the emotional and psychological activity of each. This will prove important to our understanding of film noir and melodrama in the following chapter. What Bloch considers the faux utopia involves a restorative and idealized psychological model, something to which he aligns the idea of "filled affects or emotions, which in turn project an "inauthentic future," as he puts it (Jameson calls it an "unreal psychic space"). (35) Here, future fulfillment involves simply the preservation of the present, changing it by redressing a few present-day lacks, adding objects as they are desired, and so forth. Jameson labels this approach "infantile" and "primitive," remarking on its inability to conceptualize substantial social change. It cannot, he argues, recognize the fact that change depends upon more than just remedying isolated problems; it needs to consider the interrelationship among worldly phenomena, something that the allegedly more "authentic," second utopian impulse is equipped to do.
The psychic activity associated with this second group is comprised of what Bloch calls "expectation affects," which can be, like those of the first group, either positive or negative, hopeful or fearful, utopian or dystopian. But, rather than promoting change at isolated or individual levels, they work toward organizing a new, different world. To be sure, one would be hard-pressed to find an example of this without recourse to a full-fledged blueprint of utopia, like those of More and other influential utopianists. But more to the point is the fact that this second approach does not have utopia replay the past but instead reworks it as a "way of making," an active act defaire.
Because utopian thought knows many forms, it must be stressed that film music, to which we now return, performs vastly dfferent utopian functions in Hollywood genre pictures as well. These texts also engage competing forms of subjectivity. Moreover, although many are fueled by the notion of nostalgia, and although the films "themselves" take many of classicism's precepts as their starting base - especially insofar as they link music to an idealized past - the musical utopias that they construct are actually quite different. Much of that difference, as I hope now to show, depends on notions of sexual difference.
1. Jerome McGann's study, The
Romantic Ideology: A Cfitical Investigation (Chicago:University of Chicago
Press, 1983), explores how the scholarship on literary romanticism has also
replicated the aesthetic ideology of the period.
2. Edward Said has recently offered
a cogent critique of Adorno's belief that specifie forms and styles of composition-like
Schšnberg's atonal music, or Wagner's use of the leitmotiv-articulate larger
social patterns. Said notes how this idea (he includes Mann in Doctor Faustus
as well) shows the ethnocentricity of Western thought since it "elevate[s]
admittedly discernible patterns in Western society during the modern period
to the level of the essential and the universai." Edward W. Said,
Musical Elaborations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 51.
3. De Certeau, Practice of Everyday
Life, p. 32.
4. Elizabeth Cowie, "Fantasia,"
m/f No. 9 (1984): 73, 75.
5. See Fred Davis, Yearning
for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia (New York: The Free Press, 1979),
especially chapter one, "The Nostalgie Experience: Words and Meanings,"
for a fuller discussion on the etymology and development of this word.
6. Ibid., pp. 4-5n.
7. Susan McClary, "Sexual
Polities in Classical Music" in Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and
Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991). My reference
to Carmen's "undoing" is once again indebted to Catherine Clement's
recently translated work Opera, or the Undoing of Women, with a foreword
8. Adorno, "On Popular Music,"
9. Marothy, Music and the Bourgeois,
10. Jack Zipes, "Bloch and
the Obscenity of Hope," New German Critique No. 45 (1988): p.
11. Quoted in Ernst Bloch, Essay
On the Philosophy of Men, trans. Peter Palmer (Cambridge- Cambridge University
Press, 1985), pp. 7-8.
12. Ibid., p. 7.
13. Ibid., p. 52.
14. In his notes concerning the
problem of production, Marx writes, "The unequal development of material
production and, e.g., that of art." This is followed by a very brief
discussion. See his introduction in A Contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy (New York: International Publishers, 1970), p. 215.
15. Jameson develops Bloch's dialectic
at great length in The Political Unconscious (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
University Press, 1981), a work that is fundamentally indebted to Bloch's
austhetics and his philosophy,
16. Quoted inFredric Jameson,
Marxism and Form (Prineeton,N.J.:Prineeton University Press, 1971), p.
17. Attali's position here clearly
invokes Bloch's idea of nonsynchronous development between superstructural
and economic phenomena. At the same time, however, he fails to consider fully
the interrelationships of these two spheres. In the end, Attali embraces a
kind of reflectionism in reverse by having the superstructural phenomenon
of music illustrate the economic base albeit one of a later period. See Attali,
Noise, p. 10.
18. Attali, Noise,pp. 11,
19. Timothy Leary, quoted in Spy
(July 1989): A4 (advertising supplement).
20. Jameson, Marxism and Form,
21. Ernst Bloch, "Art and
Utopia," in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, trans.
Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988), p. 147.
22. Bloch, Essays on the Philosophy
of Music, pp. 139, 138.
23. Ibid., pp. 119, 118.
24. Attali, Noise, p. 3.
25. See Jameson, Marxism and
Form, pp. 121-22. In addition, see Zipes's introduction to Utopian Function
for a useful discussion of these ideas.
26. Ernst Bloch, The Principle
of Hope, trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight (Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1986), vol. 1, pp. 407-8.
27. Richard Dyer, "Entertainment
and Utopia," in Altman, ed. Genre, p. 177.
28. Attali, Noise, p. 6.
29. Quoted in Maynard Solomon,
"Marx and Bloch: Reflections on Utopia and
Art," Telos No. 3 (Fall 1972): 70.
30. In Bloch's "Art and
Utopia," p. 126.
31. The oversight seems all the
more remarkable since Bloch indirectly acknowledges the importance of subjectivity
to utopia - not to mention utopia to subjeetivity - in commenting that "to
be human really means to have utopias." Quoted by his son, Jan Bloch,
in "How Can We Understand the Bends in the Upright Gait?" New
Gemwn Critique No. 45 (Fall 1988): p. 33.
32. Gerald M. Mayer, "American
Motion Pictures in World Trade," The Annals
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 254 (November 1947): 34, quoted in Mary Arm Doane The Desire to Desire: The Wonman's Film of the 1940s (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 37.
33. Maynard Solomon, Marxism
and Art: Essays Clagsic and Contemporary (New York: Vintage Books, 1974),
34. I borrow the term cock rock
from Angela McRobbie and Simon Frith. Although they were undoubtably not the
first to coin it, theirs is one of the few solid critical efforts to address
the term. See "Rock and Sexuality," Screen Education No. 29
(Winter 1978-79): 3-19.
35. Mark Roth, "Some Warners
Musicals and the Spirit of the New Deal," in Altman, ed., Genre,
pp. 41 56.
36. Lucy Fischer, "The Image
of Woman as Image: The Optical Politics of Dames," in Altman,
ed., Genres, pp. 74. The quote from Busby Berkeley appears on p. 74.
37. "When, as he occasionally
does, Berkeley isolates chorus girls with the camera, or has their faces follow
each other filling the screen, the dances are least effeetive and border on
being foolish," Roth, "Some Warners Musicals," p. 55.
38. Jameson discusses this in Marxism and Form, pp. 126-27.