Fictionalising music/ musicalising fictionThe integrative function of music in Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing

A. Elisabeth Reichel


Twentieth-century scholars tended to describe music either in constructivist terms, as a culturally produced system of signs without real effects, or in essentialist terms, as a universal force detached from sociocultural contexts. Recently, however, the field of sound studies has raised new awareness of the fact that music is, at its core, sound. It is thus both culturally constructed and ineluctably material. Given this shift in the scholarly conception of music, a reassessment of its functions is needed. Starting from the notion that music is a complex system of cultural meanings and concrete sounds, this article investigates its integrative function, that is, the notion that music is able to connect individuals from diverse backgrounds and to integrate them into a community. Richard Powers’ novel The Time of Our Singing (2003) provides a valuable platform for reassessing the integrative function of music, as it unfolds it on two different levels at the same time. On its narrative level the novel insists on the long-term failure of music in uniting people from different racial backgrounds. Yet, by being also a piece of musicalised fiction and, hence, musical itself, the novel tests this function on its aesthetic level as well. It thus shows that, while failing to integrate socially divided people in the long run, in its aesthetic experience, at least, music is able to bring them together for as long as the performance last

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ISSN: 1904-500X

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