Late voices, late movements: Beethoven and the cultural construction of genius
Bishop, Ryan Marion
Tyler, Stephen A.
Doctor of Philosophy
The text represents an experimental work in the intersections of anthropology, history, and literature, particularly as they pertain to notions regarding cultural constructions of common-sense reality (hence, questions of epistemology and ontology). The object of inquiry is one within the Western tradition, an increasingly important concern of anthropology which establishes an Other that is both of us and not us. In this case, the Other is a heavily inscribed individual, Beethoven, and the notions regarding genius which have accrued around him. The Beethoven of the text both is and is not the Beethoven of the historical past; the Beethoven in the text is often, but not always or completely, the trope that Beethoven has become in our culture, the referent for various discursive practices which embody many Enlightenment ideals and aspects of our common-sense understanding of the world. The experimentation of the text emerges in many ways, most explicitly through the work's being a novel. Casting the work as a novel allows the writer to come clean with the fiction of this experiment, that is fiction in the sense as derived from its etymological ancestor figura: the human shaping and fashioning of materials employed. The experimentation also emerges via the explicit employment of inter-textuality as a means of constructing self, other, and community, as well as knowledge regarding all three. The rhetorical device of inter-textuality--the incorporation of "real" documents whole, altered or doctored as suits the author's purposes--leads to a polyphany which is actually only vox humana (the organ stop meant to mechanically reproduce the human voice). The illusion of polyphany, then, is filtered through the machinery of a single writer as the text moves between realist and metafictional narrative and textual devices. Thus, the text engages in the defamiliarization of textual strategies generally encountered in ethnography, history, or fiction, as well as the defamiliarization of the content found in these discursive practices. The text does not pretend to represent or describe anything or anyone. Rather, it hopefully provides for readers of it a co-creative and interactive moment for considering the contingent and constructed aspects of what is often taken as given.
Cultural anthropology; Modern literature; Modern history; Music