2023 Rose Rosengard Subotnik Prize
Honors in Music Thesis:
“Nobody, Nobody, Nobody: Mitski—The Ineffable”
This thesis explores the singer-songwriter Mitski’s music, through which I construct an interpretative pathway to music centered on the aporia that musical experiences pose. First, through a reading of her music’s explosive reception on social media, as well as her status as a queer, non-white woman in the indie scene, I propose that Mitski has remained resistant to any reification of her identity and music, despite remaining potently political and affectively profound. Instead of constructing another theoretical edifice that will “solve” her opacity, my thesis works on this resistance to interpretation itself, turning to works by philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch and musicologist Carolyn Abbate on what the former has called “the ineffable.” My work does not stop at a mere reappraisal of their concept: I will offer a drastic re-interpretation of their work by bringing into conversation a wide range of writing by philosopher Martin Heidegger. Through the emulsion of their works, this thesis offers a radical approach to music that attempts both to preserve the particularity of musical experience, while simultaneously understanding the aporia that Mitski’s performances uncover. Finally, this thesis inverts the paradox I listed above, where Mitski’s music remains moving and politically significant, despite its resistance to being pinned down: Mitski’s music is imminently political and emotionally charged because it remains fugitive to any attempt at interpretation.
Hiro Cho writes on music. His research mostly concerns itself with the subtle dissonances created in the clash between continental philosophy, cultural studies, and opera studies. Hiro’s senior thesis investigated the question of the ineffability in Mitski’s music, and after Brown, he will be a PhD student in music history and theory at the University of Chicago. Outside of his work in musicology, Hiro is a lapsing pianist, as well as a lover of long walks and old clothes.