Fugue as Method: Episode 2 – How Scholars Have Applied a Fugal Method
“When I am growing up…we girls, big and little, have at our command four languages to express desire before all that is left for us is sighs and moans: French for secret missives; Arabic for our stifled aspirations towards God-the-Father, the God of the religions of the Book; Lybico-Berber which takes us back to the pagan idols-mother-gods-of pre-Islamic Mecca. The fourth language, for all females, young or old, cloistered or half-emancipated remains that of the body” (Djebar 1985, 180).
Finding musical forms subsumed within academic literature is not uncommon. Fugue as method can be seen within the writing of many scholars, even those that do not articulate their fugal approach. Using improvisation, variation and flexibility of form Assia Djebar places various voices and languages side by side. In her novel Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, silence interacts with the written word, love is situated next to and within war, French words replace Arabic and chapters based on documented histories are juxtaposed between memories of her childhood in Algeria. Annemarie Mol’s The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice draws on a variety of voices from the literatures of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, science and technologies studies, and political theory. Mol situates stories based on her empirical work at a university hospital in the Netherlands on top of a subtext, where she delves into the literature and intellectual traditions that help her make sense of her empirical findings. In Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, Avery Gordon places the voices of ghostly beings in conversation with the voices of the haunted. By making the voices of the ghosts the theme and the living responsible for the answer, Gordon provides the reader with a complex new means of understanding the world in which we live. She seeks to illuminate the ways in which silence depends on sound, hauntings define the unarticulated, the ghostly bring the invisible into focus, the continuous exchange between the known and the unknown and the ways in which the “Other” is never really “other.” Each of these scholars creates a work that is fugal in structure, content and relative method, illustrating the importance of a fugal approach to interdisciplinary scholarship and women’s and gender studies.
Assia Djebar clearly embodies the form (or dismissal of form) of the fantasia. It is the title of her novel. However, the relationship between fugue and fantasia is both part of music history and evident in Djebar’s work. In his 16th century work L’Antica Musica ridotta alla moderna prattica, Don Nicola Vicetino proposed a blending of related musical styles into fugal writing, including those embodying free imitative writing such as the fantasia and canzona (Mann 1965, 15). In the 17th century, Michael Praetorius offered the first suggestion that the tonal freedom that is characteristic of the fantasia should be modulated within a frame of consistent tonality, leading composers and theorists to begin to conceptualize the fugue as a slightly more structured fantasia (38).
Although Djebar describes her novel as a fantasia, in many ways it is just as fugal as fantasy. First, Djebar produce a foundational tone around which a variety of voices respond (both verbally and silently) to each other, modulate and then return. Djebar begins Fantasia with a little Arab girl going to school for the first time, the danger in words that could be perennial on paper, the power of language, and the meaning of words. Next, Djebar modulates beyond this tonic experience. She describes the capture of the Impregnable City, the secret love letters of three country sisters living secluded from the rest of the world, the various French historians who chronicle their experiences during French-Algerian conflicts of the 19th century, the 1845 massacre of Muslim men, women, children and oxen in the El-Frachich caves, the memories of her maternal and paternal grandmothers, and those women who lived through the Algerian War of Independence. In the soliloquy, Djebar returns to her tonic. She returns to contemplating the power of words, of her attempt to create a fiction that is autobiographical, the burden of being the one to give voice, through writing, to the men and women who cannot speak for themselves.
In addition, Djebar is a master of placing voices in imitative and contrapuntal relationships with each other. Captain Bosquet and Capital Montagnac are writing war as they correspond with their respective families about their experiences in 1840. Djebar comments on writing love as she contemplates the love-letters she has written and received throughout her life. These voices sound in contrasts of key. Bosquet’s letters sound at a different interval than the correspondences of Montagnac. Djebar’s love letters enter in harmony, not in unison, with those of the cloistered sisters and the postcard her father sends to her mother. Voices such as these create complex harmonies throughout the piece, illustrating the fugal form embedded within Djebar’s Fantasia.
Annemarie Mol argues, “reality is multiple” (5). Her book, The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice, is the embodiment of multiplicity. Mol takes a praxiographic approach, studying practices, which leads her to examine the co-existence of voices, the dangers of bracketing, the encroachment of knowledge and the ways in which coordination, distribution and inclusion serve as structuring devices both within the world of Hospital Z and within academic works. In a similar way, historical fugal theorists engaged in the study of various musical practices to create a fugal process that would bring voices together in co-existence as opposed to isolation, strict imitation or contrast. Establishing a fugal form was one of the greatest challenges of early fugal theorists and composers. Although, polyphonic practices dated back to the medieval period, it was not until the Renaissance the word fuga began to appear as an inscription on musical works (Mann 1965, 4-8). Gioseffo Zarlino’s Istitutioni harmoniche (1558) synthesized earlier studies and practices as a means of distinguishing fugue from other musical forms, most notably imitation and cannon, which isolated and bracketed voices minimizing movement between subjects and the fantasia, which lacked a structured tonal frame. Thus, Mol’s study in empirical philosophy lays out a formula for the comprehension of a fugal approach in a strikingly similar way to Gioseffo Zarlino’s work in the mid 1500s.
The Body Multiple can be examined as a fugal method on three different levels. The first is through the situation of Mol’s empirical findings within the literature of multiple disciplines. The second is the overall structure of the book and Mol’s suggestions for navigating between the upper text and subtext. The third is the ways in which the voices of the doctors, technicians and patients blend together creating polyphonic relationships, reoccurring thematic material, imitation and modulation, and complex moments of tension and release.
One of the few straightforward moments in Mol’s The Body Multiple is her approach to literature. Mol draws on a variety of literatures, taking a truly interdisciplinary approach to understanding ontology in the practices of modern medicine. Opening her research up to the notion that more than the physical is addressed by modern medicine, Mol includes the literature of medical anthropology and medical sociology. She plainly articulates, “…There are so many other fields, places, literatures to related to. Crucial among these are the dispersed studies about framing the boundaries between biology and the social sciences” (17). For Mol, access to theoretical knowledge should not be limited by discipline. To truly understand the complexity of what is occurring at Hospital Z, she must blur the boundaries between medicine and social science, biology and psychology, veins and the distance one is able to walk.
Although structure and method represent different aspects of an academic work, the two relate to each other in a number of ways. The structure of a work is often determined by an author’s method and in some cases method can be influenced by how the author conceptualizes or structures a project. In The Body Multiple, Mol positions the ethnographical stories that came out of her research at Hospital Z on the top of the page directly above sections of subtext, where she delves into the literature and intellectual traditions that shape her understanding these empirical findings. This structure is somewhat self-reflexive, providing Mol the opportunity to engage with the text and placing her voice in interaction with the voices at Hospital Z. Mol does not provide the reader with direct instructions on how to read the upper text and subtext. Instead she states, “Readers who regularly surf between television channels will find this book easier to read than those who don’t, since they are likely to find out how to shift between the upper text and the subtext more quickly. Others will have to invent a way of reading that works for them from scratch” (ix). Here it is the reader, not the author that is responsible for placing the voices together in a way that is meaningful and relative. It is a complex means of bringing together different voices. Depending on the reader, the voices embedded in the upper text and the voices of the subtext might take turns in a subject-answer relationship, they could overlap and interrupt each other, or speak in solo as a subject in their own right, illuminating a multiplicity all their own.
Mol also uses a fugal approach to highlight the relationships between the patients and medical staff at Hospital Z. One example can be seen in the description of the experience of a patient who meets with a doctor for the first time to discuss pain in her legs. “This phenomenon goes by the medical name intermittent claudication. Whatever the condition of her body before she entered the consulting room…Mrs. Tilstra did not yet have this disease before she visited a doctor. She didn’t enact it. When alone, Mrs. Tilstra felt pain when walking, but this pain was diffuse and not lined up to a specific walking distance on flat ground” (21). In this case, the lived experiences of Mrs. Tilstra give the doctor the information necessary to make a medical diagnosis. There are no blood tests, no x-rays, no internal examinations. Instead there is dialogue: a fugue. There is a tonic; Mrs. Tilstra has pain her legs. The doctor’s voice enters. He asks Mrs. Tilstra how many meters she can walk. Her voice enters the dialogue; “fifty meters I guess” (21). The doctor asks if she can continue walking after a rest. She answers in the affirmative. The voices must respond to the subject before there is a diagnosis, before there is intermittent claudication, which sounds in the final entry over the tonic center of pain.
Annemarie Mol does not suggest that her work is fugal. However, her work embodies a fugal form on three significant levels. First, Mol understands that importing texts from other fields provides a mechanism for making “new” claims and that by doing this, she is also able to illustrate that disciplinary boundaries need to be fluid, overarching and interrelated. Mol also structures her book in a way that gives the reader the freedom to place the voices from the ethnographic work performed at Hospital Z into a number of various relationships with the literature of theorists, scholars and academics. Finally, Mol illuminates the fugal relationships between doctors, technicians and patients as they create expositions, episodes, entries and finales within the walls of Hospital Z.
On the surface it might seem unlikely that a book about hauntings could be examined as a fugal work. However, in Ghostly Matters Avery Gordon suggests ghosts not only have voices, but that these silent voices create intricate, complex, imitative and relational harmonies with the living to make the invisible hypervisibile. Throughout the history of Western art music, silence and sound have been placed together as a means of creating dramatic tension in musical compositions. Since the 1500s, fugal theorists have suggested that rests, especially those of rhythmically uneven length that produce moments of haunting tension, precede the return of critical thematic passages. As early as 1597, Thomas Morley was theorizing the role of the rest in fugal compositions suggesting, “The odd rest giveth an unspeakable grace to the point…[for]…it is supposed that when a man keepeth long silence and then beginneth to speak, he will speak to the purpose” (Mann 1965, 29).
The tension produced by silence is only one fugal element of Gordon’s Ghostly Matters. By giving the silenced voice, or complex personhood, Gordon is able to delineate the ways in which fugal forms resound in daily life, even though many choose to ignore the interaction between voices. To further illustrate her point, Gordon uses “literature as history” as a vehicle of explanation. Turing to the case of the reign of terror in Argentina during the 1970s, Gordon sets up a fugal story with an exposition highlighted by the plot of Luisa Valenzuela’s He Who Searches. Gordon summarizes Valenzuela’s novella to introduce a multiplicity of voices, specifically those that have been silenced in the past. The reader hears the resounding voice of interrogation; torture; a stigmatized women who seeking organization for those living in the margins; a middle class and professional community who choose to ignore the horrors; the power of photography as a means of haunting; revolutionaries; and the ultimate awakening into reality. Following is a series of entries and episodes based on the voices set up in the exposition. True to the fugal process, Gordon plays with the form, at times alternating between entry and episodes and in other instances removing the connective tissue when it is not necessary. However, the tonic remains stable as the disappeared scream silently throughout Argentina and Gordon’s chapter. By applying this fugal form, Gordon not only gives voice to the characters in Valenzuela’s novella but to the surviving desaparecido, radical psychoanalysts within the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and the ghosts of the desaparecido. In the conclusion of the chapter, Gordon returns to her tonic by stating, “Haunting is…about reliving events in all their vividness, originality, and violence so as to overcome their pulsating and lingering effects” (134).