Eero Tarasti: "The Emancipation of the Sign: On the Corporeal and Gestural Meanings in Music" (4/11)
183

Therefore Weiner's analysis and interpretation serve, to me, as an illustration of the way in which, with semiotics, one can prove almost anything, if the scholar so desires, in the absence of any reason not to do so. But what could such reasons be in the present world, dominated by the desire to be impressive on conference stages, publishers' flyers, and so on?
In any case, if we now return to the gendering problem, which ultimately means, as Ruth Solie shows in her preface to the anthology Difference in Musicology, to create differences, then we could truly think there are corporeal messages in music itself, messages which could be studied and further analyzed. Weiner's theses are based on the idea that the bodies Wagner created on stage represented, to his contemporaries, an immediate ideological reality which brought these bodies to life. Then one can only ask, how do they spring to life in our time? They are still fascinating characters. Are all the admirers of Wagner's operas then implicit anti-semites - among whom Lévi-Strauss included those who considered Wagner a "god" in mythology.
In other words is there a level of corporeality in music which would perhaps be situated somewhere deeper than other musical signs and would determine them?
It is interesting that in American musicology very frequently semiotics is identified in a Kristevan way with the bodily level of music. Let us take another example which is not so extreme, namely Richard Taruskin' s book Defining Russia Musically. It is noteworthy that whenever he explicitly uses the term "semiotics" it occurs in the context of body in music. Particularly when dealing with orientalism as a manifestation of the Russian school in music history, he quite consciously foregrounds the role of semiotics. He juxtaposes the "Eastern theme" which is neutral to "Orientalism" which "is charged" and from which one can presume "semiotics, ideological critic, polemic, perhaps indictment" (p. 152). "If one is going to talk about oriental style as a sign, one must specify its referents" and so "let the music speak [for] itself...so as to let a certain semiotic point emerge". Taruskin then gives a series of illustrations, compositions on a Pushkin's poem with a certain "oriental flavour" from Glinka (Ne poy krasavitsa) to Rachmaninov. In the piano accompaniment he picks up "a characteristic semiotic cluster: a drone (drum) bass ...and a chromatic accompanying line that in this case steadily descends along with the sequences of undulating melismas".. This cluster of signs, to Taruskin's mind, evokes not just the East, but the seductive East that emasculates, enslaves, renders passive. He states that the "syncopated undulation itself is iconically erotic, evoking languid limbs, writhing torsos, arching necks". All these signs he designates by a term from old Russian literary style - "nega". The network of such signs can be easily discerned in Tchaikovsky as well, whose overture to Romeo and Juliet he discusses speaking of its "frank sensual iconicity" particularly in the "strongly marked chromatic pass between the fifth and sixth degrees". Of course likewise many classic works from the Russian repertory have plenty of similar illustrations from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazde to Borodin's Prince Igor (it is certainly not an accident that the dance of the Polovetsian imprisoned girl slaves has the same undulating motif as which Wagner used in his "oriental" second act of Parsifal, to depict the gestures of the "Blumenmädchen").






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21.12.1997