Affect Theory and the Politics of Ambiguity: Liminality, Disembodiment, and Relationality in Music
This dissertation develops a "politics of ambiguity" through case studies of affect in contemporary works by European, American and Singaporean composers. While studies of intercultural music have focused on narratives of power relations (e.g. orientalism, postcolonial ambivalence), a new method of interpretation can be based on the affective ambiguity that arises from intercultural encounters, indicating a less than totalitarian power and thus forming a basis for political struggle. The focus is on three pieces of music by American-born John Sharpley, Belgium-born Robert Casteels, and Singaporean Joyce Koh, who hail from across the globe and incorporate Asian musics, arts, and philosophies into a variety of modernist, neo-romantic, and postmodern musical idioms. Modalities of ambiguity include: perceptual focus on musicalized Chinese calligraphy strokes, versus perceptual liminality arising from modernist technique; the musical embodiment of Buddhist disembodiment; and, ambiguous relationality of intercultural sounds. Liminality, disembodiment, and relationality mark the cessation of identity politics in favor of a form of cultural hermeneutics that pays heed to the complex interaction between society, sonic media and the neurophysiology of listening.
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