EOL 3: Music, Myth, and History (Bohlman)


7. Return to Modernity's Contested Borders

Diaspora in Jewish history was always associated with return, or at least with the possibility of reaching the promised land. Return is no less a factor in the history of diaspora that grows from European modernity. Indeed, it is the possibility of return--return to history--that makes our consideration of diaspora in relation to modernity and the New Europe especially relevant. The New Europe, I wish to suggest, has formed from the Old Europe because of the return to the beginnings. Diasporic history has shifted back toward Europe and the Mediterranean, and music provides us with a means of recognizing its path and interpreting whether or how it might lead to the elusive promised land.

The political problem that emerges is how to identify and differentiate the proccesses of returning and reconstructing the New Europe. The musical problem--that is, the ethnomusicological problem that emerges--is how to identify the borders of Europe's new musical landscapes. For many historians and ethnomusicologists, the return to Eastern Europe has been an "exit into history," to borrow the title of a marvelously sensitive book by Eva Hoffman (1993). The historical journey to Eastern Europe takes on a sacred character as one moves along the rivers and pilgrimage routes that defined the beginnings of Eastern European culture. What becomes clear to us as we witness the return to musical nationalisms, landscapes, and sacred sites in the New Europe is that music does narrate histories. Music does point the way toward origins and beginnings. Music also complicates the journey itself, because its symbols are multivalent. Its messages require constant clarification, and the process of returning turns back on itself, with the ultimate clarification for many in the sacred character that motivates the journey back to Europe from the diaspora.

The return to and within European diaspora also has distinctively sacred forms. One of the most striking of these is evident in the revival of pilgrimage in the 1990s (see Bohlman 1996). During the past decade or so, but especially since the political transformation of Eastern Europe in 1989-90, pilgrims have flooded the traditional routes to sites of miracles and healing. Well over 100 million Europeans go on pilgrimages of one kind or another each year in the 1990s. Pilgrimage brings new voices of musical narration and new journeys to European music history. Symbolically, pilgrims return to the beginnings, to the places where Christianity took shape in the Eastern Mediterranean or Rome, or to the very origins of faith itself, in the mountains of Central Europe or in the shrines of Eastern Europe. The diaspora turns in on Europe, arriving again at these beginnings, creating new musics for the mapping of musical experiences of the pilgrims who cross the borders of the New Europe and form new communities from the music that brings them to the shores of the promised land.

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