Grounded in continental philosophy, The Conjectural Body: Gender, Race, and the Philosophy of Music uses feminist, critical race, and postcolonial theories to examine music, race, and gender as discourses that emerge and evolve with one another.. In the first section, author Robin James asks why philosophers commonly use music to explain embodied social identity and inequality. She looks at late twentieth-century postcolonial theory, Rousseau's early musical writings, and Kristeva's reading of Mozart and Schoenberg to develop a theory of the "conjectural body," arguing that this is the notion of embodiment that informs Western conceptions of raced, gendered, and resonating bodies. The second section addresses the ways in which norms about human bodily difference-such as gender and race-continue to ground serious and popular hierarchies well after twentieth and twenty-first century art and philosophy have deconstructed this binary. Reading Adorno's work on popular music through Irigaray's critique of commodification, James establishes and explains the feminization of popular music. She then locates this notion of the feminized popular in Nietzsche, and argues that he critiques Wagner by making an argument for the positive aesthetic (and epistemological) value of feminized popular music, such as Bizet and Italian opera. Following from Nietzsche, she argues that feminists ought and need to take "the popular" seriously, both as a domain of artistic and scholarly inquiry as well as a site of legitimate activism. The book concludes with an analysis of philosophy's continued hostility toward feminism, real-life women, and popular culture. While the study of gender, race, and popular culture has become a fixture in many areas of the academy, philosophy and musicology continue to resist attempts to take these objects as objects of serious academic study.
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Robin James is assistant professor of philosophy at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.Review:
The Conjectural Body is a fantastic and ground-breaking book! While recent cultural theorists have exploited and appealed to music, they have failed to think through its complex implication in race and gender. Music is not a given; it is not merely exemplary of, or expressive of, a raced or gendered identity, any more than race or gender are unproblematically or essentially given. Rather, race, gender, and music are coincident with one another. They all negotiate in complex ways the material/social divide that theorists like to impose upon the world. Such is the sophisticated, nuanced and compelling argument of this book. This is a clearly written, timely book, as original as it is profound. Essential reading for cultural theorists of all stripes. (Tina Chanter, DePaul University)
In this book, Robin James holds philosophy accountable to the pleasures and critical resources of Western popular musics, which many philosophers have disavowed. With verve and determination, she calls on aesthetics to answer these challenges with a vision of the raced and gendered body that allows us to think rigorously about political and social questions we engage as everyday cultural agents. Her discussions give the philosophy of music a salutary update (Monique Roelofs, Hampshire College)
This interesting...book investigates the interrelationships among music (especially popular forms like rock, jazz, and blues), gender, and race. James (philosophy, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte) uses 'conjecture' to refer to the way categories like 'gender' and 'race' are at once myths but yet are important to use in order to advance feminist aims. The categories are not independent entities, separable even in principle from bodies; rather the categories are themselves created through the socialization and music-making process. For instance, race does not intersect with music and then become expressed by music. Instead, race and music are baked together as in a cookie, but whereas the cookie was always in the baked state, the different elements are so intertwined that they never actually existed apart from their combination. This is fascinating stuff. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers/faculty. (CHOICE)
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