The tiny world of Swedish musicology has been abuzz (in so far as that's even possible, Maria Ljungdahl's link list notwithstanding) over an opinion piece written by famously anti-feminist maths researcher and shit-stirrer Tanja Bergkvist. She's upset over the fact that the Swedish Research Council has issued a 700 000 kr reasearch grant to study "The Trumpet as a Gender Symbol".
Her reaction to the idea can be summed up as "this is ridiculous".
My reaction to reading about the same idea is "this is so cool".
I'm not sure both can't be true. In fact, I think maybe a bit of ridiculousness is a prerequisite for interesting research to be going on in the first place.
I was discussing the issue with one of my fellow Feminist Intiative members, who worried that seemingly silly research would undermine the credibility of gender studies as an academic discipline. On the one hand, those fears are probably unfounded because the research at a detail level seems eminently sensible - it's all about what tonal ranges on the trumpet were considered "masculine" and "feminine" and how that influenced their use in composition, as filtered through the historical military/male function of the instrument. Perfectly regular musicological stuff.
On the other hand, though, I can't see why we shouldn't welcome research with a bit of a crazy bite to it. "The Trumpet as a Gender Symbol", as a title, is a beautiful juxtaposition of the extremes of basic instrument research and post-structural analysis, and just observing how the researcher is going to manage to bring it all together definitely has the potential to be more interesting than just using gender studies to research, I dunno, male violence or something. Again.
I might be biased on this because I'm a journalist and an old philosophy student, but a good, unexpected angle is killer. In journalism, whatever Mr. Bourdieu says, finding a story with a difference will often be promoted. And in philosophy, they practically love their extremes. Would Berkeley, however good he was at writing, still be remembered today if he hadn't held the frankly kooky position that there's no external world? Would Alain Badiou be a star if he didn't deny the existence of objects?
The result or viewpoint might not be true, as such, but does it really matter? It'll spur others to break out of their established routs and re-examine their own life. Sometimes, like with any good writing, that should be the aim of the research in the first place, above any claims to knowledge.
Research should sometimes be as concentrated and sublime as a great piece of art.
Research should sometimes have the snappiness and punch of a good joke.
And maybe that, in the end, is the research that will matter most of all.
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