The Hallelujah Effect

PDF The Hallelujah Effect Copyright Year 2013

Author in the category "Miscellaneous"
  1. Babette Babich
The Hallelujah Effect

This book studies the working efficacy of Leonard Cohen's song Hallelujah in the context of today's network culture. Especially as recorded on YouTube, k.d. lang's interpretation(s) of Cohen's Hallelujah, embody acoustically and visually/viscerally, what Nietzsche named the 'spirit of music'.

Today, the working of music is magnified and transformed by recording dynamics and mediated via Facebook exchanges, blog postings and video sites. Given the sexual/religious core of Cohen's Hallelujah, this study poses a phenomenological reading of the objectification of both men and women, raising the question of desire, including gender issues and both homosexual and heterosexual desire. A review of critical thinking about musical performance as 'currency' and consumed commodity takes up Adorno's reading of Benjamin's analysis of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction as applied to music/radio/sound and the persistent role of 'recording consciousness'.

Ultimately, the question of what Nietzsche called the becoming-human-of-dissonance is explored in terms of both ancient tragedy and Beethoven's striking deployment of dissonance as Nietzsche analyses both as playing with suffering, discontent, and pain itself, a playing for the sake not of language or sense but musically, as joy.

General Editor’s Preface

The upheaval that occurred in musicology during the last two decades of the twentieth century has created a new urgency for the study of popular music alongside the development of new critical and theoretical models. A relativistic outlook has replaced the universal perspective of modernism (the international ambitions of the 12-note style); the grand narrative of the evolution and dissolution of tonality has been challenged, and emphasis has shifted to cultural context, reception and subject position. Together, these have conspired to eat away at the status of canonical composers and categories of high and low in music. A need has arisen, also, to recognize and address the emergence of crossovers, mixed and new genres, to engage in debates concerning the vexed problem of what constitutes authenticity in music and to offer a critique of musical practice as the product of free, individual expression.

Popular musicology is now a vital and exciting area of scholarship, and the Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series presents some of the best research in the field. Authors are concerned with locating musical practices, values and meanings in cultural context, and draw upon methodologies and theories developed in cultural studies, semiotics, poststructuralism, psychology and sociology. The series focuses on popular musics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is designed to embrace the world’s popular musics from Acid Jazz to Zydeco, whether high tech or low tech, commercial or non-commercial, contemporary or traditional.

Professor Derek B. Scott Professor of Critical Musicology University of Leeds


The first words to be said on the Hallelujah effect are those of thanks, words that usually go without saying, words that never say enough.

This, when it comes to music, is as it should be, for without music, so Nietzsche contended, life itself would be a mistake, as music transfigures so much of life and to comprehend this is such a challenge for philosophy. The theme in its many modulations is one I have been thinking about for many years, back to the 1970s and 1980s, and maybe all my life; yet despite this personal preoccupation, this book is one that could never have been written alone, in particular not without the electric and personal dynamism that may be traced back to an important catena of emails between myself and Ernest McClain at the end of April and early May 2011. Where other scholars dismiss and sometimes denounce alternate approaches as ones “they do not understand,” McClain “transgressed” this common academic habitus, and this venture and the resultant adventure of this encounter continues to draw my admiration and respect. I could not begin to thank the great musicians, Leonard Cohen, John Cale, k.d. lang, Jane Siberry, Joan Baez—just to name some of the living voices I draw upon here. What is significant, and this is where Adorno’s study of what he called the “current of music” comes in, is that this living power continues in sound and image, on YouTube, as k.d. lang’s powerful performances make very clear, and as one can also see and hear in musicians lost to us, such as Nina Simone, whose performances I also discuss. I am grateful to the filmmaker Percy Adlon for conversation on k.d. lang, to Robert Kory for his kind and very human email correspondence with regard to Leonard Cohen, and I thank Joshua Grange (not only for retweets).

In addition, I gratefully acknowledge Jason Gross’s kind permission to reprint parts of my original essay, “The Birth of k.d. lang’s Hallelujah out of the Spirit of Music,” which appeared in the fall of 2011 in Perfect Sound Forever. I note that Perfect Sound Forever differs from most journals as it also includes a very performative subtitle: Perfect Sound Forever: on line music magazine presents ... This journal is also itself an exemplar, or phenomenological illumination, of the value of an online publication which one might otherwise take for granted as a simple replication or virtual version of text or print. Bloomsbury Books also granted permission to reprint parts of my “Mousiké techné: The Philosophical Praxis of Music in Plato, Nietzsche, Heidegger,” which had originally been invited for a Continuum collection edited by Robert
Burch (to whom personally I also owe special thanks for inspiration and the graciousness of our correspondence) together with Massimo Verdicchio, Gesture and Word: Thinking Between Philosophy and Poetry. I am thankful to Ralf Kläs for permission to use his photography, as I am also indebted to Alois Steiner. I am very grateful to Janet Morgan for permission to use her mother Barbara Morgan’s astonishing photography; I thank Ursula Zollna, Peter Zollna’s widow, for permission to reprint his photograph of Theodor Adorno; and I am grateful to Michael Schwarz for his help. I thank Bettina Erlenkamp of the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden for her help. I also thank Katharina Siegmann of the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and I acknowledge the kind offices of the Villa Stuck for permission to use Franz von Stuck’s Orpheus on the cover of this book. I am grateful to Joan Baez for permission to cite Diamonds and Rust and I thank Jane Siberry for her permission to quote from her song, love is everything. In addition, I acknowledge Sony/ATV and Random House for permission to cite Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah here. But above all, I thank the artist, I thank the poet Leonard Cohen for his song.

A version of this essay may be heard and seen, which synaesthetic combination is the heart of media today, in the form of a video lecture, available on YouTube and, in a correspondingly higher quality, in a video stream on the Fordham University Library video on demand website. I am grateful to the Director of the Fordham Library, James McCabe, and to Michael Considine, Director of Information Technology Services at the Fordham University Library, for making the production and hosting of this video a possibility. I thank the musicologist and television and video expert (and ice climber) Dr Mat Schottenfeld of Fordham University for his assistance, kindness, and productive expertise. I also thank Kate Motush for her help, indirectly, in matters concerning video.

I am grateful to Derek B. Scott as editor of the Folk and Popular Music Series at Ashgate. As an admirer of his work, I am grateful for his input which made a great difference to me. I also thank Heidi Bishop, Publisher, Laura Macy, Senior Commissioning Editor, Music Studies, as well as Pam Bertram, Senior Editor at Ashgate, in addition to expressing my special gratitude to Patrick Cole for his careful and invaluable help in copyediting.

I also thank, for their responses to my inquiries on this theme, and for kind words on this project, Geraldine Finn, Robert Fink, Lori Burns, Ruth A. Solie, and Rose Rosengarde Subotnik. I am also grateful to Lydia Goehr who gave me the opportunity to present a twitter-length version of the final chapter in the aesthetics seminar that she hosts at Columbia University in the fall of 2012. I also thank Fawzia Mustafa of Fordham University for the invitation to talk about this at Women’s Studies Workshop at the same time. I also thank in advance, because of all his inspiration and kindness past, Gary Shapiro for organizing a philosophy panel on Leonard Cohen at the 2013 World Conference of Philosophy in Athens and for asking me to take part.

My friends and colleagues are named in part either in the text or the notes to the text, but I wish to express my gratitude to Eileen Sweeney who was very helpful to me on these themes, to Debra Bergoffen, to Nicole Fermon, to Frank Boyle, and to Fred Harris and Matthew McGuire. For friendship and for musical resonances, I thank Susan Nitzberg, Hans-Gerald Hödl, George Leiner and Bettina Bergo, as well as Nanette Nielsen and Tomas McAuley. In addition to my gratitude to Claire Katz, I also thank Andrew Benjamin for reporting to me that, in the course of one of his lecture tours, a student announced to him that he was “famous” because he was mentioned on YouTube in my lecture on k.d. lang. This is, of course, not true, but it is a charming notion all the same. I thank my husband Tracy Strong for his love and conversation, intellectual and musical. I also thank Richard Cobb-Stevens for his positive response (he is a k.d. lang fan), as well as Patrick Heelan, S.J. for his amused enthusiasm, and William J. Richardson, S.J. In addition, I am thankful to twitter colleagues for kind words, particularly Terence Blake, but also @synaesthete99, @dance_historian, @pettrust and Mark Carrigan and, just for fun, Tristan Burke—@svejky. For his help, long ago now, for his bravery in publishing an essay on the Sokal hoax, and all the complexities of hermeneutics that go along with that, I thank, just gratuitously, in the spirit of Hallelujah, Jeffrey Perl, editor of common knowledge; and another editor whom I admire for similar graciousness, William MacAllister, editor of International Studies in the Philosophy of Science. In the musical arena, where friendship crosses, I am grateful to my friends Annette Hornbacher and Jochen Schönleber for their responses to this work, important because for many years they have been involved in music together, performative on every level, Jochen as ongoing artistic producer and Annette as past stage director of Rossini in Wildbad. In addition, I am enthusiastically grateful to Alexander Nehamas and David Allison (I love them both), as well as to Alphonso Lingis and Stanley Aronowitz. I also thank my students, especially Michael Fabano and Thomas Beddoe. Craig Konnoth and Carrie Gillespie have my gratitude, as well as Jeff Bussolini who now teaches at CUNY in New York City, and I have to say, all my students as well.

I thank Holger Schmid for conversation and for the extraordinary friendship we have shared for more than two decades. And here too, and finally, I thank Bill Strongin, who taught me about David—and his songs.

Weimar, 12 June 2012
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