Saturday, December 31, 2016

links for the weekend and a few assorted musings on the year that was

Perhaps we should open with a poem, so we will.  Here's a haiku I wrote a while back thinking about all the arts criticism and writing about arts criticism and writing about the arts I've been absorbing in the last few years.  Perhaps it can be a little axiom to ruminate on as a prelude to what's coming next.

every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft

We had a lot of celebrity entertainers die this year.  We've witnessed a lot of outpourings of grief.  George Michael may have had more written about his passing and the extra-musical significance of his music than Roland Dyens may have had written about him.  Pierre Boulez died this year but odds are pretty good vastly more has been written about Prince and David Bowie.  Merle Haggard probably had more written about him than Boulez.  Or perhaps Boulez had plenty written about him.  But that's not necessarily where I'm going.  The poem can suggest a direction, that the artists and entertainers that critics write about are those who are consecrated by the process of criticism.  A. O. Scott can claim that the art of criticism is the art of the voice but what the voice says hasn't stopped being important, has it?  Is the voice enough?  The voice of the critic, certainly if we've surveyed the voices of criticism about arts and politics THIS year, is a voice that either nicely asks or forthrightly demands to be regard as articulating some kind of sacred oracle. 

Years ago, back in my early 20s, I wanted to get into journalism, and I had fun writing arts pieces as a student journalist.  It was fun to talk with artists and theater types and musicians about the ideas that animated their work.  It was fascinating how very few visual artists seem to think in any way at all the way a writer or a musician would seem to think about thinking.  Okay, that reads terribly on the page.  Visual thinkers think deeply but not always in a way that can be articulated in words and so they could at times seem completely inarticulate when I'd ask them about elements of design or approaches to color.  It went better asking VERY concrete questions about using knifework to paint or how to cultivate flooring materials for mosaics and murals.  If the unexamined life is truly not worth living then many of the artists I tried to interview in my journalistic projects had alarmingly unexamined lives. 

But the process of making art and interpreting art was beyond question.  When you meet someone who is interested in being an artist, who is interested in being an entertainer, you can sometimes meet someone who regards themselves tacitly as being part of a priesthood, but a priesthood that most emphatically can and should be able to get laid!

Even if a person goes on to work in some not-so-artsy field after having majored in a liberal art they can go on to collect a paycheck somewhere but the real true love is ...
My real career as a librarian is all very well, but since it’s fundamentally a paycheck, I can’t muster excessive enthusiasm for an institution that provides a lifelong education free of charge for the broadest conceivable public and generally represents American values at their best. I didn’t major in English to serve American values. I majored in English so that I could spend the rest of my life arguing about books and culture, even if I had to do so in my off hours, even if the argument was chiefly with myself. I still think it was the best decision I ever made.
There are too many Americans writing too many memoirs these days.  But then at the risk of interrupting this with more intermittent haiku ...

we yearn to be more
than one life can be so we
look to our heroes

and to go by what some people publish and admire ... to go by the way people like A. O. Scott have talked about the art of criticism being the art of the voice I ... just sometimes ... worry that when we look to heroes through whom we can vicariously live as full a life as we can that some folks nominate themselves. 

if you're the hero
in the story of your life
pick a new hero

By the time I got done with an undergraduate degree in journalism I'd cast off as implausible the idea of majoring in literature or philosophy or music or biblical studies.  I didn't feel any "call" to formal ministry and probably never will feel such a call, even though I have loved reading theological books. I'm slowly plodding through Emil Brunner, for instance.  Adolf Schlatter's Romans commentary is hard-going but I'm still giving it time when I'm not reading musicology stuff.  I'm also reading Calvin's commentary on the Psalms.  I'm still curious about philosophical questions and literary stuff even if I haven't read much fiction and often set books of fiction aside for long stretches.  The last work of fiction I remember going through was Jane Austen's Emma.  In any case, I got to the end of my college days convinced that while it might be nice to one day get paid to do something artistic the expectation of being able to do so as a regular means of employment had to be regarded as nothing less than delusional.  To put it in more 2016 terms, it takes a delusional amount of college-admitted-and-college-graduated privilege to think you not only "should" be able to be an entertainer for a living but that it's some kind of right. 

... and the kinds of people who can pay the bills by writing or acting or playing music saw fit to tell their fans who they should back this year.  The entertainment industry is a kind of priesthood and the priesthood, among many other priesthoods, had set their hopes on one and not another (though neither were particularly inspiring as far as the big two go). 


Commentary from places like Slate withstanding, we couldn't have gotten to the place we've gotten in the United States in 2016 if the traditional left and right had retained their coherency.  I'd read a book by D. G. Hart years ago on evangelicalism and conservatism.  The thumbnail sketch is that the Reagan coalition was a one-off temporary alliance between traditional conservatives, libertarians and anti-communists that ultimately did not survive as a viable coalition in the wake of the end of the Cold War.  The primary point of the book, though, was that if you looked at the sum of the history of what we call evangelicalism in the United States it's as much or more a progressive/populist tradition as a conservative tradition.  Scholars and journalists who labor under the presumption that "evangelical" has always meant Republican will at little length betray an ignorance of both the histories of religion and politics in the United States. 

But ... the contested loyalties and appeals of Clinton and Sanders in 2016 seems like an example of how within the blue scene whatever former unity there was for the liberal/left in the United States also fractured in the decades after the Cold War.  Traditional liberalism, neoliberalism and more hard left elements in the blue America did not necessarily agree on anything any more than the traditional conservatives, libertarians or neo-cons agreed on things in the last decade.  Trump was in some sense only possible because both the left and the right saw their internal coalitions and alliances of convenience fall apart. 

It's fascinating how Ethan Iverson can link to Alex Ross who explained how the Frankfurt school predicted Donald Trump over at The New Yorker.  Over at The New Criterion Fred Siegel can explain at length how Trump's capacity to upset the routine of American politics was the result of the elitism entrenched in high culture by the Frankfurt school ethos.  I remain unconvinced by either. The New Yorker has been in some mode this last month where writers regale subscribers or readers with any number of books and films that somehow "predicted" Trump, which is in some sense a variant of book-of-the-month club advertising.  The odds that the Frankfurt school "predicted" Trump seem ... low. 

Conversely, when conservative intellectuals rue the lack of appreciation the uneducated masses have for Bach or Wagner (ugh!) it's as if the cultural elites left and right and whatever new variables may emerge seem committed to the idea that, whatever nominally populist movement happens the important thing is that if there "were" a class conflict that "we" are not even possibly on the wrong side of it.  When someone at Slate laments that white women betrayed the sisterhood by voting for Trump that may be an example of writers writing for Slate as if they themselves were synchedoches for the entirety of human females across time and space. 

... don't ruling castes and ruling empires regard themselves as the summation of all that is truly human?    Were there no clerics in the medieval period willing to say they had some kind of right to universal political rule?
Perhaps a bit selfishly, I worry about high culture. This past year I noticed how much harder it was to pay attention to the more esoteric arts as the relentless political drama unfolded just a tab away.


Trust me, the bosses at every news organization know exactly how many eyes have seen any given dance review or poetry essay. Click! Share! We are all in this together. Click and share even if you don’t read the whole thing or if you disagree with certain aspects of any given article. At the top of the next century we don’t want Star Wars movies and video games to be the only culture left.

I don't know.  Richard Taruskin has set out to aggravate, to be sure, but when he described in his Oxford History how what we now call the symphony was essentially aristocratic party music that eventually gained acceptance, for a time, as publicly accessible music art how swift should we be in saying that Star Wars movies and video games can't possibly qualify as "art"?

Besides, to go by how liberals and leftists have reacted to December 19 this year why are we sure there will even be a next century, exactly?

But then three decades ago the Terminator franchise was imagining a post-nuclear dystopia ushered in by military-funded artificial intelligence.  There's a paranoid apocalyptic imagination for a liberal as there is for a conservative. 

It was slightly surprising that the electoral vote came down to a result in which Clinton LOST pledged votes.  It was not surprising at all that questions about the legitimacy of the Electoral College were brought up in venues like Slate.  Nor is it even particularly ironic that having been aghast that Trump could say that he would accept the outcome of an election if he won that those aghast that Trump won the Electoral College votes would cast doubt on the legitimacy, necessity and viability of a process from an institution that chose someone besides Clinton for the Oval Office.

American red and blue state partisans, or at least a subset of theme, are simply totalitarian ideologues who only recognize something as tyrannical if it's done by the "wrong" team. 

Whether writers at mainstream publications or people within the entertainment industry or academics it can seem as though the thing they have overlooked is the possibility that within a genuinely global market the gatekeepers of economic participation for adult participation in the life of a citizen may not recognize they are part of ruling castes.  To put this in a very blunt way, members of the press did not anticipate that the Electoral College would select Trump because the members of the institutional press, as what Jacques Ellul described half a century ago as the aristocratic caste of propagandists

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7
from footnote on page 252

... The propagandist is a technician and a member of an aristocracy of technicians that establishes itself above the institutions of a democracy and acts outside its norms. Besides, the employment of propaganda leads the propagandist to cynicism, disbelief in values, non-submission to the law of numbers, doubts on the value of opinions, and contempt for the propagandee and the elected representative; he knows how public opinion is fashioned. The propagandist cannot subject himself to popular judgment and democracy. Finally, the propagandist is privy to all State secrets and acts at the same time to shape opinions: he really has a position of fundamental direction. The combinations of these three elements make the propagandist an aristocrat. It cannot be otherwise. Every democracy that launches propaganda creates in and by such propaganda its own enemy, an aristocracy that may destroy it

For such members of this aristocratic caste the worst thing that could happen would be for representation processes in a democratic state to arrive at a conclusion other than the one the propagandists would prescribe.  The problem here is that red and blue state partisans only see each other and not also themselves as members of the propagandistic castes.  Thus we have entertainers who won't perform for the Trump inauguration.  To put it in a diplomatic way, it might be preferable to never perform at the behest of a head of state given the times, and that this might be the way to go whether the head of state were either a Trump or a Clinton. 

But, in any case, after so many entertainers and journalists told so many people who ought to win it would seem that the tedious scut work of, say, redistricting in the wake of political defeat, was not a huge priority for one of the big two parties.  The way the editors of The Stranger put it, the rural red-state people weren't really Americans and their voices and concerns were not legitimate.  Okay ... but as the sorting of red and blue into their respective regions and districts played out ... what happened?  Was the contempt of urbane urban technocrats and information brokers never going to boomerang?  Would people who could afford to go to private colleges and Ivy league schools really never be able to imagine that compared to people in fly over states might not eventually come to view them as ... to just use Marxist terminology ... class enemies?  No particularly affection for Trump being expressed here ... but it's interesting that whether in The New Yorker or The New Criterion the sort of populist resentment that is considered to have catalyzed the election of Trump is the sort of thing writers at both News can double down on. 

Since it turned out Clinton won the popular vote the scapegoating done by the blue partisans of the demographics associated with a Trump victory seemed like ... scapegoating.  Educated deployment of stereotypes by college-educated people is still ... educated deployment of stereotypes by college-educated people.  There seemed to be more than enough bigotry from the red and blue to go around.

I managed to get more caught up on reading arts stuff this year and sometimes I'd read stuff I found immensely helpful (Hepokoski & Darcy's Elements of Sonata Theory, for instance).  Other times ....

Composer/pianist Vijay Iyer gave me the first building block I would use to develop my ideas surrounding universal music. In a room full of workshop participants, he said something akin to, “Genres don’t exist. They were invented by record companies to sell albums. Genres are an attempt to categorize a community of people who come together and create something.”[3] [emphasis added]  Once again, I was confronted with a paradigm shift. My musical training, rhetoric, and artistic upbringing had been a world of categories, styles, and genres hinged together. I thought of the countless hours spent trying to play a style correctly and how often I seemed to fail in that goal. At that time, I was already bothered by the mentality that our musical ancestors had somehow received the divine right to invent and that all the rest of us could hope for was to imitate. Yet I was encumbered with the popular notion that I needed to “learn the rules” before I could “break them.” At what point were the rules learned and the breaking could begin? The goal of stylistic execution was perpetually in conflict with my interest as I attempted to occupy both worlds. I embraced Vijay’s comment. He was giving me the words I needed to articulate what I believed and felt all along.

A paragraph like this makes me glad I couldn't afford to go to grad school to study music.  The idea that genres don't exist is so patently idiotic on its face it reminds me of an axiom attributed to George Orwell, the axiom that holds that some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals can believe in them.  Just a few weeks ago I made a long-form case that the boundaries between two musical idioms can be regarded as permeable but both 19th century guitar sonatas and ragtime exist as identifiable genres.  Who could have an incentive to claim and even genuinely believe that "genres don't exist?"  Why would music colloquially and conventionally identifiable as being in a genre really be a categorization given to "a community of people ... "?  The recording process itself commodifies music, reifies it into something that can be bought or sold or pirated or gifted or checked out.  The trouble is that for the sorts of people who write for New Music Box many of them are obsessed with categorizing people as belonging to this or that demographic.  Or, conversely, to aspirations of a "universal". 

There are plenty of complaints that have been and could be leveled at Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music.  He has a not-so-hidden beef with what's called high modernism.  He also can be construed as dropping the ball by writing a history rather than an encyclopedic survey but that's to forget he didn't set out to write an encyclopedia.  However, one of the strengths of the history is that Taruskin builds a case that there were no ultimately benevolent empires of patronage yet each empire of patronage had benefactors and advocates  and partisans and ideologues who were convinced that their particular dynasty of arts patronage and production represented the highest and noblest ideals and values regarding the human condition.  Another way to put it would be to say that Taruskin shows how different empires regarded themselves as expressing in art the universal human condition.

We're closing out a year in which people have become more acutely aware that things that, so to speak, made sense ten years ago can't be brought back as was.  For instance ... let's take Gilmore Girls.
While Stars Hollow may embody some of the best aspects of life in a small town—the intimacy, the democracy, the sense of an “us” to be fought for—it can also, at times, embody the worst: the insularity. The exclusivity. The sense of a “them” to be fought against. [emphasis added] The mingling of all of those things, in the seven original seasons of Gilmore Girls, led to a show that is deeply concerned with questions of belonging—about who may be counted as “one of us” and who, by implication, may not. The show’s Netflix revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, has only amplified those anxieties: The Stars Hollow of 2016 is place that, though it congratulates itself on its cosmopolitanism, remains deeply provincial.

Early on in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Rory gets some bad news: The Atlantic, she learns, has spiked one of her stories.

Rory explains this turn of events to Lorelai as just one of those things: a story bumped for space—a common, if frustrating, occurrence. After watching the Gilmore Girls revival, though, I have come to a different, if totally self-serving, conclusion: Maybe The Atlantic has simply realized what Rory herself has not. Maybe our fictional editors simply discovered that Rory Gilmore, her gleaming résumé notwithstanding … is not a very good journalist. That she might even be, actually, an actively bad journalist.

Most publications have ethics guidelines that their reporters and writers follow. And almost all publications have basic standards that they lay out, which are in turn meant to lend some structure to the day-to-day doings of individual journalists. Here are some of the rough guidelines that Rory systematically violates in A Year in the Life ... [WtH it's a long and impressively dreadful list]

 Gilmore Girls, when it comes right down to it, is a show about white people in Connecticut spouting off pop culture references as rapidly as they can. [emphasis added] For some people, that might be part of the appeal, an escape to an idyllic New England town—or a nightmarish one, depending on your point of view—free from any kind of political turmoil or social unrest. But that’s the same quality that made the show’s 2016 revival feel like such a fossil

Just as Jack Bauer in 24 could be described as a hedonistic red state power fantasy Gilmore Girls could be described as a blue state power fantasy (or The West Wing).  What seemed capable of entertaining and charming a decade ago (I did actually watch a handful of episodes of GG with my sister and Lauren Graham is nothing if not immensely charming on screen) seems to have trouble getting across now.

What changed?  Trump?  Or is it possible that the insular and self-congratulatory nature of the blue state power fantasy inherent in a show like Gilmore Girls had plausibility enough in the age of George W Bush that couldn't withstand 2016?  Rory won't win the Pullitzer, it seems, because as one author put it, here personal and journalistic ethics are so disastrous it's only within the fantasy realm of the entertainment industry itself (which may only be capable of seeing any attempts at journalism as alternately advertising or to serve an adversarial role to demographics looked down upon by entertainers) that Rory could be imagined able to pay any bills writing for publications.

If you like Gilmore Girls as it was, no problem.  But it seems the reboot had mixed results and one of the concerns fans of the old show came to express was that something felt off.  Let's propose that what felt off about a show that imagined, so to speak, Al Gore won 2000, was that there was something in the self-congratulatory blue state power fantasy that seems "off" now, perhaps a discovery in the last ten years of what is now called white privilege, perhaps?  Or perhaps the tide of superhero films is a problem?  Or, what if even our allegedly naturalistic/realistic dramas are more suffused with a super-heroic sensibility than we've imagined?  I couldn't get into 24 because Jack Bauer had cell phone reception that would be the envy of Batman and I figured this, if I was going to watch superhero stories I wanted the characters to officially wear capes.

 A lot of what passed for realistic drama ... journalists in movies talk to people and write a few notes and then produce articles that "change the world".  Generally that's not how it works.  As TV show depictions go the closest thing I've seen to a presentation of how research tends to play out was Karen Page spending hours reading and reading every article in a week's worth of newspapers and finding nothing particularly interesting about what she wanted to find out.  THAT is more like it.  Of course we didn't get shown that, we got shown Daredevil and Electra fighting a bunch of people while the character Karen Page did all her research off-screen. 

In the realm of entertainment there are ideas and processes and results that are regarded as best kept off screen.  One of the laments in the wake of Trump's election is all the nasty resentment and loathing that, thanks to the Electoral College vote, liberals and progressives have had occasion to witness.  But Oregon, for instance, was in many ways chartered as a white separatist utopia that forbade slavery and barred blacks from being able to contract.  It's not as though racism across all categories ever went away, it was just, so to speak, off scene or off screen.  There's a level at which those upset by Trump's victory may not understand there's a potential for self-incriminating judgment when they say, in far more words than this, that the wrong people have been allowed to have a voice in influencing the outcome of national politics.  The majority should never be allowed to lord it over a minority in the political realm in theory but in practice blue state partisans are astonished that Trump won because of how districting played out.  Gerrymandering should not have allowed for this to be possible because, well, Trump shouldn't have won, right?  Maybe ... but had Clinton swept the Electoral College and the popular vote would there be any complaints about a numeric minority of rural/red state voters being treated as though they had nothing to contribute?  Let's consider that the editorial staff of The Stranger declared in an earlier decade that the rural red-state people weren't Americans.  If it's only a disaster that the red state electorate returned the favor then perhaps the problem is with both the red and blue state civic religions.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected, it is the liberal schools that are worried about possible threats to their very survival based on the overweening power of the federal government.

So the overweening power of the federal government ONLY became a terrifying problem because ... Trump won?  Why was it not terrifying during the Obama administration?  Or was it terrifying?  One of the reasons I regard the United States as a spent force culturally and economically and spiritually and intellectually is because it seems the partisans of red and blue don't seem to care about something being despotic unless the kool-aid being dispensed has the wrong food-coloring.  In the age of the internet it seems that tyranny is only tyranny when "they" do something and not when "we" do something. 

Unfortunately people who say they are conservative tend to fret only about the power of government as though that were the only means of a mass wielding of power toward a negative end.  Do these people forget that lynch mobs involve mass action?  Even William F Buckley could grant in his long life that Ike was right to send the Guard. 

The more time I have had to think about the last Captain America movie the more a failure it seems to be.  Cap takes a stance that organizations can be corrupted.  So can individuals.  The idea that a formal power like government can be corrupted doesn't mean groups can't be.  The mere posing of the question of whether "power" leads to conflict is to forget that not all power is distilled into a readily identifiable individual.  If anything the diffusion of responsibility allows groups to be far more vindictive than individuals would dare to be.  This can be true of racists and white supremacists as well as progressive social justice warriors.  The vindictive capacity is equally alive in both forms of herd behavior.  In that light it's all too easy for educated entertaines to feel as though anyone dumb enough to vote for Trump deserves a disaster. 

And perhaps the aristocrats of Europe had a similar disdain for populist insurgencies in the 18th century.  If the crisis we've seen this year is that neither of the two party machines represented what people wanted the shock and embarrassment of 2016 might be explicable on the basis of a simple suggestion, that this was the year of the spite vote.  People weren't so much unreservedly voting for someone as they were voting against the other, whether we were talking Trump or Clinton.  Once the DNC demonstrated that it would not and could not allow its party to be hijacked by populist agitation (e.g. Sanders) the RNC may have won (for want of a better word) because they were pragmatic enough to decide they WOULD let a populist agitator hijack the heretofore conventional process. 

It's hard to feel much antipathy toward the white evangelicals who are said to have voted for Trump.  That the two party system gave us the options of Clinton and Trump signals the empire is doomed either way.  It doesn't matter which of the two won in the sense that as "the" global empire any nation-state that seeks to rise will automatically have to be regarded as a threat by US and we will have to be a risk variable to "them", whoever "them" may be.  Any attempt to blame Trump for an increased likelihood for us getting into a conflict or Russia or China should force people who think Clinton would have averted all possible military clashes in the next four years merely by dint of not-being-Trump about what stuff she backed in the last sixteen years that might possibly suggest otherwise.  And what about the last two terms of Obama we've had?  Trump may well be the disaster people on the left fear he will be but let's not forget that the United States is the big kid on the playground with nukes regardless of who the executive is.  It seems as though red and blue partisans are only willing to say the President is the antichrist if the wrong party has someone sitting at the desk. 

This was a year where we finally got to dig into technical stuff about music.  The survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas was fun.  In a way that's a commentary on what I wasn't seeing in academic publications that I felt needed to get written.  If guitarist scholarship wasn't going to take Matiegka's work to be serious enough to discuss well, then, let a blogger do it.  If guitarists HAVE (thankfully!) begun to write about different approaches to sonata form in the guitar literature there can (and should be) more written about that. 

One of the things I've been exploring in my reading in the last few years is the disconnect between what I was told sonata form was back in college and what more recent scholarship has unearthed about what has been called sonata form.  More recent scholarly work on 18th century music is basically saying there was no such thing as sonata form as the 19th century called it in the pedagogy of music in 18th century Europe.  There was a grand binary form, for sure, and it had the features we ascribe to sonata form but 18th century music may have been less committed to a "plan" and more committed to a process.  The way my recent favorite writer on music (Leonard B Meyer) put it was distinguishing between a script and a plan, and distinguishing between what he called a syntactic climax and a statistical climax.

Blogging about ways you can manipulate the syntax of sonata scripts and ragtime style so as to arrive as a synthesis or fusion of the ragtime idiom with what we call sonata form is admittedly esoteric.  But in an era in which the presence or absence of jazz at Yale; and in which questions about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of jazz as high art music on par with the tradition of string quartets and piano sonatas; it seems that a way forward is not necessarily through the identity politics or critical theory that fixates on what seems to amount to extra-musical club membership rites.  To try putting this more directly, I've come to have a couple of reservations about critical theory as an option in American academic is course.  This seems to be a pet cause for the sorts of people who by using critical theory can exempt themselves from being a member of one of America's ruling castes.  The second is that If we're going to arrive at a persuasive fusion of musical idioms in which something like a jazz or blues sonata can happen we won't get there through critical theory, not in the way I've seen it deployed.  Journalistic/academic score-keeping about who counts as being able to write in a jazz or Anglo style won't help.  This discourse needs to ratify the reification and boundary-making activities of club membership first and foremost.  It has the illusion of asking questions around music in ways that can close off questions of surface. 

Look, if I wanted to introduce kids to the octatonic scale and chromatic median pivoting I wouldn't do it through a Scriabin piano sonata or symphonic tone poem, I'd do it through Stevie Wonder's Living for the City".  I agree with Taruskin the gap between the academic and vernacular/repertoire canon has gotten too big.  Taruskin's contribution could simply be noting that.  But if music scholars want to help rectify that problem then showing that octatonic linear movement and chromatic mediants can be just as fun in Stevie Wonder as they are in Stravinsky.  Music isn't really a language we all understand (pace Stevie Wonder) but music education could play a role in showing that certain musical possibilities can exist across styles. 

As I've been blogging this year, the boundaries between styles are permeable but if you don't set out to demonstrate they are permeable because you believe that there's really a "black" or "white" way to use augmented sixth chords you may just be part of the problem rather than the solution.  We may have to set aside what the accepted scholarly conventions about sonata are in order to do this.  You can say form follows function but if you misread either function or form you misread the whole thing.  My interest of late has been in exploring what the syntax of musical styles is  in a set of styles so that I can figure out which things to manipulate in which styles to increase the odds of arriving at a synthesis of blues, jazz, rock, country and 18th century approaches we tend to have labeled as forms.  A ragtime sonata or a ragtime fugue is inherently plausible.  People in music who set out to master styles so as to provide persuasive accounts of that style may be doing a worthy thing but as a composer I don't see what the point of mastering a style is unless you plan to compose in it.  Given my essentially post hoc approach to theory, I find what I enjoy first and analyze it for what works afterward.  So I love Stevie Wonder's music and then slowly work out what it is I hear that makes me love the music.  Ergo, "Living for the City".  Ergo, exploring the possibilities of overlap between early 19th century guitar sonata themes and ragtime strains along the way of analyzing a few pieces.

The gap between what an establishment says X is and what X can be observed to be might be the theme.  When the gap between what we're told is going to happen and what happens is really big then it can seem like something went way, way off.   Exploring the gap between the narratives characters tell themselves to convince themselves of their heroism and the way they treat people suggesting that they are not, in fact, heroic, has been a staple theme for both Nolan brothers for a while now.  The more assiduously you convince yourself and tell others you're the hero the more you might ... possibly ... be the bad guy.  Sometimes some simple thing changes that forces us to reassess what it was we saw.  Did we see what was there or what we wanted to see?

Back in 2015 I blogged about an interesting thread of articles and blog posts on the subject of style in music and metrics in the popularity of styles.

anyone remember the old piece in The Atlantic about the shazam effect?

Billboard replaced its honor system with hard numbers in 1991, basing its charts on point-of-sale data from cash registers. “This was revolutionary,” says Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s current director of charts. “We were finally able to see which records were actually selling.” Around the same time, Billboard switched to monitoring radio airplay through Nielsen.When that happened, hip-hop and country surged in the rankings and old-fashioned rock slowly began to fade—suggesting that perhaps an industry dominated by white guys on the coasts hadn’t paid enough attention to the music interests of urban minorities and southern whites.
If you measure things based on intra-industry reporting rather than who actually picks what you can create an intra-industry echo chamber. 

Perhaps ... that's what the American Fourth Estate did to itself on Trump.  The old rock stars were not necessarily as popular as the intra-industry pep talks made them out to be. 

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