Festschrift for Tadhg Foley
The World, the Music, and the Critic: Some Thoughts on Said’s Musical Transgressions Helen O’Shea 153
The World, the Music, and the Critic: Some Thoughts on Said’s Musical Transgressions Helen O’Shea The analysis of colonial discourse has focused on literary and visual texts, overlooking music’s role in enacting and resisting imperial power. In Musical Elaborations, Edward Said writes of music’s transgressive faculty: its ability to cross over into other domains, to ‘attach itself to, and become a part of, social formations, to vary its articulations and rhetoric’.1 In tracing a well-known song as it is co-opted by nationalists, emigrants, the imperial army, and the popular music industry, I propose to illustrate Said’s proposition that musical practice may be ‘contrapuntal’: may embody and enact both imperial power and resistance to it. As an air and its variants move from the Irish countryside to its urban centres and the imperial hub of London and back again and as it is performed by street musicians, Irish nationalists, homesick emigrants, and all who identify with a romantic notion of Ireland, it illustrates some of the many ways in which musical meanings transmutate across time and space. The World Underpinning Said’s critical work is the concept of the worldliness of lit- erary texts, which ‘even in their most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstance, time, place, and society’.2 A cultural text is not a repre- 1 Edward Said, Musical Elaborations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 70. Further references to this edition will be cited in the text. 2 Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA:...
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