Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Organization Man

Warning: Boring Academic Navelgazing

The next phase of my graduate school career is passing another exam in January. Unlike the comprehensive knowledge exam I took in Mary, this next exam is a test of me knowledge of a particular field. The idea, according to our department, is to develop a specialty framed in the terms of a job announcement. For instance, nineteenth-century opera, or American popular music, or eighteenth-century instrumental music. Basically, we are told, the sub-field of musicology towards which our dissertation will eventually contribute.

At a progressive department such as ours, it is actually a bit difficult to figure out what your field should be. For instance, one of our students is writing a dissertation on piano fragments from Schumann to the present. There is no one widely-recognized sub-specialty that such a dissertation would belong to. It is conceptually organized, rather than by genre or period. I have a bit of this problem myself. I'd really like to see my dissertation be a whole range of different musics, bound by a particular conceptual thread and a tight chronological focus. Ideally, it would contribute both to popular music studies, and to twentieth-century modernism. In the end, I've chosen to focus my special field on just one of these areas--modernism, specifically American modernism from about 1920 to about 1965. I know the literature better, and I feel (slightly) more comfortable in those circles.

Having chosen a field, I then have to put together a list of fifty books and musical works which, after having studied, will give me mastery of the field. Although my list isn't officially approved, I have a rough draft of it that is providing me with reading material for the summer. Today I've started on an interesting section of the list: social theory from the 1950s. I tentatively have put five books on the list, under the category of primary texts. John Kenneth Galbraith, C. Wright Mills, David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, William Whyte's The Organization Man, and some yet-to-be-determined Adorno. I probably won't have all of them on my final list (one of my committee members didn't really like including them, another loved it. Sigh) But as I constantly refer to these intellectuals in a lot of my work on post-war American culture, it seems like I should read them all anyhow. I'm reading The Organization Man now, William Whyte's best-selling polemic against the decline of individualism. It's a little boring, to be honest, but worth the time.

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