Stop it, I like it! Embodiment, masochism and listening for traumatic pleasure

Sholl, Robert (2015) Stop it, I like it! Embodiment, masochism and listening for traumatic pleasure. In: Thresholds of Listening: Sound, Technics, Space. Fordham University Press, New York, USA, pp. 152-174. ISBN 9780823264377

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From the introduction to the book:

Presenting a series of musical case studies. [Robert] Sholl focusses on three aspects of masochistic interaction in musical listening: first, the oscillation of reversibility of role play; second, the dissolution of narrative into fantasy; and third, the desire for but absence of fulfilment and synthesis. Throughout his case studies, Sholl explores how listening is inscribed at the limits of identification, ecstasy. and the phantasmic, respectively. Its liminal position is closely associated with a logic of embodiment as it take place "right at" the body as the site of masochism's endless (and painful) delays and deferrals.

The first part of Sholl's triptych reinterprets Adorno's critique of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring as a reading of spectators' reversible relation to the girl who is chosen to dance her sacrificial dance. In order to understand a listener's relation to the girl, Sholl argues, it is first of all necessary to acknowledge the opacity of her body. While the work appears to invite an identification with power, it is in fact a masochistic reversal that dominates the scene. Embodying the Law of the Father, the girl's (ultimately silent, dead) body deflects and reverses the aural gaze to confront the listener and to occasion a diagnostic auscultation at the borders of life and death.

The second part of Sholl's essay turns towards Saint Francis's ecstasy in Olivier Messiaen's opera St François d’Assise, Dissecting the opera's representation of Francis's spiritual development, Sholl argues that musical silences and dissonances in the work resist the phantasmic bridging of the gap between the human and divine that is suggested by the narrative. They create apertures for the listener to experience the self as contingent and to become aware of a certain "neutralisation of religion" in the opera. Listening to St François appears as a confrontation with the absence of death of God - a movement that began with the crucifixion and that, according to Sholl, is answered by Mosche Feldenkrais's concept of maturation.

Finally Sholl completes his triptych by examining Cathy Berberian's visceral rendering of Luciano Berio's 1960s work Visages, again bringing the body in full focus as a site of liminal aurally. Placing the work in a postwar musical historiography informed by attempts at aural control over the listener, the vocal performance by Berberian is read as an example of how masochistic reversibility may ultimately, and surprisingly, provide a point of listening on the aural, granular self-relation to the other. Berberian, Sholl argues, supremely in control as she is over the phantasmic dimension of listening, opens her body so as to allow the listener to "hear her hearing herself from within." Such reconnecting by reversing power and rationality returns listening to a more mature, embodied, bur also aporetic spontaneity reminiscent of Adorno's vision of an "informal" music to come.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: Music
Depositing User: Robert Sholl
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2016 18:56
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:20

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