The Northrop Frye Centre Presents:
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Thursday, October 1, 2015
"An Anatomy of Allegory: Writing, Revelation, and the Body in Arnold Schoenberg's Moses und Aron."
The Northrop Frye Centre Lecture
Prof. Marc Caplan (University of Michigan)
5:00PM (Reception to Follow)
Alumni Hall, Old Victoria College Building (91 Charles Street West)
Arnold Schoenberg’s opera fragment Moses und Aron, abandoned in 1932, reimagines the Biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Mount Sinai, and the construction of the Golden Calf as both an avant-garde parable and a Baroque Tragic Drama. As per his German-Jewish contemporary Walter Benjamin’s take from 1928, Schoenberg depicts Moses as a tyrant and a martyr; Aaron (Aron, in Schoenberg’s idiosyncratic spelling) similarly fulfills the functions of a courtier, betraying the sovereign he serves through his superior eloquence. Like Benjamin's theory, Schoenberg’s retelling of the Exodus narrative is preoccupied with the limits, temptations, and transgressions of representation itself. Where Benjamin argues that the Baroque strategy of allegory is the means by which mythological thinking is transformed into historical consciousness, Schoenberg returns to a myth of origins for the Jewish people to portray the transgressive status of language even at the moment when invested in its lawgiving functions. Though conceived independent of Benjamin’s influence, Schoenberg’s achievement in this opera is both to illuminate the representational logic of his notoriously rigorous musical techniques—and to recoil from it, as well.
Marc Caplan is a native of Louisiana and a graduate of Yale University. Since receiving his PhD in comparative literature from New York University in 2003 he has held appointments at Indiana University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the Johns Hopkins University, Universität Konstanz (Germany), and the Center for Jewish History in New York City. His book How Strange the Change: Language, Temporality, and Narrative Form in Peripheral Modernisms, a comparison of 19th century Yiddish literature with the post-colonial African novel, was published in 2011 by Stanford University Press. Currently he is a research fellow at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, where he is completing a book on Yiddish modernism and German modernity in Weimar-era Berlin.