keynote address

“The Rules of Exceptions: Being and Projecting Difference”

Identity politics and identity theories exploded into public discourse in the 1970s – then across academe, and finally into music studies in the 1980s and early 1990s. These discussions are, however, not always about identity as much as they are about difference – for many of us, our work is often driven by a sense of being disenfranchised, of experiencing the wrong side of a given binarism.

Now, of course, identity politics are a naturalized and acceptable part of intellectual and academic thought. But over the decades the world has continued to change across several levels, as have various interconnected conversations and ideologies – and our constant attention to our existential identities, and to multiple facets of our resulting individual and group social statuses, has created a slight but perpetual entanglement of forces and counter-forces, of interpretations and comparisons.

If we consider the problem psychoanalytically, it might be useful to think of projections: projecting distaste for our identity onto members of an ‘other,’ more ‘elite’ camp, perhaps meanwhile unfortunately entangling it with projections that grow out of our own self-anxieties; or projecting our enhanced or expanded self-respect onto successes achieved despite our identities – or, perhaps most perniciously, amplifying our own self-respect for the existential nobility achieved through our own failures, which can then be interpreted as rooted in the abuses of power structures.

There may never be a stable or clear answer to these interpretations: but, given our human natures, and the endless academic demand to compare, to interpret, and ultimately to understand, we may benefit from expanding this investigation into an examination of our own images in our own mirrors, and into how those images manage us.


Paul AttiPaul Attinellonello is a senior lecturer in musicology and aesthetics at Newcastle University, has taught at the University of Hong Kong and as a guest professor at UCLA, and has lived and worked on four continents. He received his PhD from UCLA, and is published in Contemporary Music Review, Radical Musicology, the Journal of Musicological Research, Musik-Konzepte, Musica/Realtá, the revised New Grove, and a number of essay collections and reference works including the groundbreaking Queering the Pitch: The New Lesbian & Gay Musicology. He has written on contemporary musics, music about AIDS, and related cultural, philosophical and psychological issues; he has edited collections on the Darmstadt avant-garde, on Gerhard Stäbler, and on music in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He is now in training to become a psychoanalyst at the Jung-Institut in Zürich.

Here are some of his online publications: