The first class began with the definition of the class key terms: “Socialism,” “Music,” and “Imaginary.” We ran through a sweeping overview of Marxist theory, covered definitions of historical and dialectical materialism, base & superstructure, fetish, alienation, use v. exchange value, ideology, proletarian and bourgeoisie, and other key terms (see and add terms to the course blog’s Lexicon). We examined the stages of history according to Marx. Through excerpts from The Communist Manifesto, we observed how Marx and Engels challenged Hegelian idealism through a materialist approach to history, which emphasizes that all “hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (14).
We also read excerpts from the philosopher Charles Taylor’s The Social Imaginary article, and we threw around suggestions for how we might define “music” in this class (as commodity, as text or process, as sound). We ended with clips of different musical examples as teasers for materials we will cover later in the semester: these included a dissident Tuvan singer, a performance of “Chervona Ruta” in a Soviet-era film featuring Sofia Rotaru, a Cuban neuva trova song by Carlos Puebla, and a bombastic Chinese film performance of The Internationale from the film “East is Red.”
The second class discussion revolved around the prompt that was given at the start of class, to think about how capitalism impacts musical production, consumption, and circulation. We had a very productive and far-ranging conversation about professional, amateur, and personal music-making, and were able to bring in some of the key ideas from the two readings that had been assigned: the opening chapter from Moore’s “Music and Revolution” and Zemtsovsky’s “Musicological Memoirs on Marxism.” Sophie proposed an intriguing definition of “fakelore” to encompass commodified (and often, white-washed) music in capitalist society. Maria reviewed some of the key points from both Moore and Zemtsovsky, emphasizing why the arts were so important in socialist regimes, and the impossibility of fully comprehending what life must have been like under such ideological pressure.
Questions that resonate after class: How did socialist regimes such as the USSR actually mandate that new revolutionary music be created–i.e., on the basis of what musical material? What dangers did folklore pose to socialist states? Would Solzhenitsyn have really written Dallas if he had been born in the United States, as the Cuban minister of culture suggested? And other questions…
What other questions do you have? What are you most looking forward to studying this semester?