You are on page 1of 2

This week our explorations of intertextuality brought us into closer contact with

the music of Charles Ives. Previously, we had examined Ives’ musical borrowing
techniques at work within his compositions. This week with James Hepokoski’s Temps
Perdu and a return to J. Peter Burkholder’s All Made of Tunes we take a step back to
see Ives in a larger idea-logical milieu. With Michel Foucault’s What is an Author we will
resurrect Ives the functional Author, and ask what the nature of (compositional)
discourse really is.

In Temps Perdu James Hepokoski traces Ives’ “quest for transcendence


through an embrace of the commonplace” by reframing Burkholder’s now familiar
‘cumulative form’ with the synologism ‘teleological genesis’. His analysis of thematic
buildups, which in the 2nd and fourth Violin sonatas lead to botched climaxes lead
Hepokoski to wrestle with the as yet Unanswered Question of Ives ideological stance.
On the one hand, he seems to say, Ives can be seen as a nostalgic realist - his
cumulative forms sputtering out in a realization of the truly passed nature of his
reminiscences. On the other hand, taking into account the darker tone of some of Ives’
writings, Hepokoski leaves us with an all too familiar picture - an old white guy in a
MAGA hat shouting about pussies and faded glory.

The eleventh chapter of J. Peter Burkholder’s All Made of Tunes takes stock of
the massive catalogue of borrowing techniques layed out in the preceding four
hundred odd pages and immediately downplays them, perhaps wondering if Ives is all
dressed up in Brahms and Beethoven with no place to go. In the section titled “Why So
Much Borrowing” Burkholder recounts the reasons for Ives’ penchant for
recomposition, coming up with a list that includes needing a “starting point”; that he
could be exceptionally individual while maintaining “strong ties to tradition”; That he
“would not have borrowed so much had he not had such a wide range of techniques at
hand; and - in his own act of grand teleological genesis - that Ives use of borrowed
music was due to his artistic goals requiring the use of borrowed music. Burkholder
avoids being a fizzling rocket in his final section where he lauds Ives for not borrowing
to widely. Sticking as he did mainly to WASPy music of New England, Ives managed to
avoid the pitfalls of cultural appropriation that marred the works and reputation of other
of his American contemporaries.

Michel Foucault’s What is an Author questions the assertion that the Author has
become a non entity by pointing out that modern discourses maintain an author-
function, (and curiously enough for our discussion Charles Ives fits into it rather well).
These discourses (entities of sequences of signs that are statements in conversation)
are in themselves acts of appropriation and that to the extent that they have authors,
these discourses can be transgressive. This notion of transgression can also be helpful
and is discussed in Foulcault’s A Preface to Transgression as “in that zone which
culture our culture affords fo our gestures and speech, transgression prescribes not
only the sole manner of discovering the sacred in its unmediated substance but also a
way of recomposing its empty form, its absence through which it becomes all the more
scintillating”. Thinking over these notions we can see the nature of the discourse that
Charles Ives was entering into when he aimed in Burkholders words to “talk in music
itself about his experience with music”. Burkholder’s listing of Ives parallels to earlier
classical masters can then be seen as the composer’s transgressive space into which
he inserts himself, discursively.

Foucault’s discussion leads to questions of orders of Discourse, in which some


authors speak within a discourse while others become founders of Discursivity. While
his own assignation of Freud and Marx as the fore fathers of Discourse is perhaps
flawed by his own ideological and theoretical debt to those authors, it is an interesting
question. And leaves us to ponder just where Ives musical discourse began and where
he will finally find his place in it.