Messiaen and surrealism: ethnography and the poetics of excess.

Sholl, Robert (2018) Messiaen and surrealism: ethnography and the poetics of excess. In: Surrealism and Music in France, 1924-1952: Interdisciplinary and International Contexts, 8 June 3018, London. (Unpublished)

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It is well established that Messiaen adapted the d’Harcourt’s work on Peruvian song in his song cycle Harawi (1945) (d’Harcourt(s) 1925; Hill and Simeone 2005: 156; Balmer, Lacôte, Brent Murray 2017: 372-80). This paper initially presents three different contexts for Surrealism in Messiaen’s Harawi works. It pursues the ethnological background before Messiaen’s engagement and connects it with a revalorization of mysticism that furthers our understanding of Messiaen’s earlier thought (Schloesser 2010: 177-79) as emancipatory (Bauduin 2014: 123), and as a continuing form of enchantment (Josephson-Storm 2017). Further to current understanding of Surrealism as a continuation of western esotericism and magic (Bauduin 2014: 11), I argue that Surrealism promoted a museum culture consisting of a libidinal culture of subversion and fetishisation typical of western syncretism and hybridization. My argument coalesces around three main issues that are alluded to but not developed in an earlier study which focussed on the Surrealist aesthetics of love (Sholl 2007). Firstly, the Harawi is placed in a history of ethnography that is linked to Surrealist interests (Clifford 1981; Tythacott 2003) and this is used to distinguish myth from mysticism. Secondly, I reread the psychoanalysis (Freud) that informed Surrealism, through the gestural language in Harawi through the lens of psychoanalysis and exploit the aporias in Messiaen’s own music theory (Messiaen 1996: 279-315). I understand these musical gestures as indicative of irrationalism (intrinsic to Surrealism), as a form of eroticism, transgression and alienation [Verfremdung], a dreamlike revelation of hysteria and trauma, as a figuring of desire that circulates around drives (Eros and Thanatos), and of jouissance as a liminal, intermedial Symbolic and Imaginary space that defers from the Real (which remains necessarily unfulfilled). Crucially, I examine how this gestural language reinvents the religious symbolic language of excess (present in Vingt Regards), as a “screen” to religion that asymptotically points toward a higher synthesis of the sacred and profane. Finally, I turn the telescope around and move from the presence of Surrealism in this music to the questions Messiaen’s religious-modernist project asks of the listening subject.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Music > Musicology
Depositing User: Robert Sholl
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2018 08:46
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:26

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