A reflection on research process: We should misunderstand

Talking about religion has in general been challenging for me. Although I am aware of the significance of religion upon people’s life, and the crucial impact of religion upon historical and social development, having limited religious background, I feel like I do not have much to say about this topic. Partially because I am severely concerned that my sparse knowledge has little to contribute and would necessarily reach its limit as I am going deeper to the subject, consequently leading to far-fetched misunderstanding.

But anyhow, I need to write this research paper about music and religion. Therefore, I concentrated on the readings we have done so far in class, confirming myself that at least I could come up with some argument based on what I learned in class. The readings that I focused on are Bloxam and Robertson’s articles about the tradition of “chanson mass,” or “parody mass.” In their essays, Bloxam and Robertson argued for credible allegorical readings on the original secular text of the chanson, and justified the religious motivation of borrowing secular material to compose sacred music. Following their approach, I decided to try out similar religious reading on Missa Fors seulement, a sacred mass of J. Ockeghem borrowing secular elements from his own chanson Fors seulement.

As my research processes, I realized that discrepancies if not conflicts are so common between different sources and scholarships, and each of them has some “misunderstanding.” First of all, I looked up several editions of Fors seulement, which disagree with each other on the arrangement of the two upper voice parts because of their similar voice range. Even Bloxam and Robertson, the two main scholars that I refer to, offered distinctive approaches to allegorical readings on secular text. Bloxam focused on Mariological interpretation of the court lady, the dedicatee of the secular chanson, yet Robertson emphasized the Christological approach in which the narrator of the love song was a metaphor of Christ. In other words, all of these scholarships try to revive the past, but potentially they “misunderstand,” since what truly happened during the Medieval remains unknown. However, like what Sorce Keller said in his essay “Why we misunderstand,” “one does justice to a musical work by ‘misunderstanding’ it, by discovering with our intelligence and creativity what kind of sense it can still have in our time.” Therefore, by following what the previous scholars had been doing, I may justify my own misunderstanding on this topic, that is to offer myself, at least, an opportunity to retrospect to the past and scrutinize the idea of the intertwined relationship between the secular and the sacred.

Leave a Reply