Sunday, July 31, 2011

M is for Metaphor

I've been working my way through Beard and Gloag's 'Musicology: The Key Concepts' (2005), using musicology as a lens through which to study dance. To be frank I've found the book a bit of a struggle, more due to the density of subject concepts than the writing style (see the review in a later post). But along the way, there's plenty of stimulus for thought. Take the opening section on the entry for 'Metaphor':


Metaphor is a concept that defines our relationship to music. For example, music cannot be said to be sad; rather, sadness is a quality that we may ascribe to it (Neubauer 1986, 151). Metaphor arises in all forms of discourse about music, even when, as in theory and analysis, it attempts to treat music as an autonomous object (see autonomy). Naomi Cumming has summarized metaphors about music as 'a projection onto sound of aspects of our own mentality' (Cumming 1994, 28). In a critical appraisal of Roger Scruton's discussion of ways in which metaphor has informed musical descriptions, Cumming comments:
If explanations of music commonly make it an 'intentional object' by treating it as the object of understanding, not as a thing which can be described 'in itself'... then references to qualities which derive from our own cognitive mechanisms rather than from any acoustic property of the music are bound to appear.
(ibid., 28)

An aspect of the philosophical use of analogy is that confidence in validity of the comparison depends upon the level of similarity between the things being compared. Based on the Latin American concept of 'ritmo' which refers not only to rhythm in music also to its associated dance, we can derive these analogous statements of high confidence:
  • Metaphor is a concept that defines our relationship to dance. For example, dance cannot be said to be 'hot'; rather, 'hotness' is a quality that we may ascribe to it
  • Metaphors about dance (can be described) as a projection onto movement of aspects of our own mentality
  • ...references to qualities which derive from our own cognitive mechanisms rather than from any kinesthetic property of the dance are bound to appear
Through this lens, we can pierce the marketing veil to look at underlying constructs and contradictions.

Of Hot and Hotness
A glance of the salsa dance listings in the United Kingdom is replete with terms like: fuego [fire], fever, heat, and spicy. The marketing implication is that one can be 'hot' like the constructed Latin American. However if we ascribe the property of 'hotness' to salsa, or at least the potential for it, then it leaves responsibility for achieving it in the hands (and bodies) of the interpreters.

'Hot' allows the engagement to be passive, just by participating in the activity renders the dancer 'hot'; whereas 'hotness' demands active engagement, requiring the conscious and continuous act of interpretation to realise potential. But as salsa is rendered here as a decontextualised activity, how much Latin American hotness should we expect to achieve?

Projections of our own mentality
In the content of our salsa lessons, move vocabulary vastly outweighs rhythmic strength demonstrating our cultural pursuit of the pinnacle at the expense of the fundamental. That our prevailing style skims across the surface of the floor instead of deriving a strong hip action off it, privileges the European roots over the African.

Qualitative references derived from cognitive mechanisms
The segregation of salsa communities into those brandishing salsa, mambo, contratiempo, On1 and On2 markers tell us that salsa is the being treated as an 'intentional object'. It causes us to ask the question, "what is the underlying intent?" driving the promotion of these markers.

And the next concept is 'Modernism'... Hmm...

Loo Yeo