Resonant Thoughts: Notes on Formalism in Dave Hickey’s “Pirates and Farmers”


“In music we start with the parts and adduce the whole” (87).

“We try to isolate the critical frequencies, ask the right questions, and never gain knowledge or truth…So formalism doesn’t do answers because answers, would conclude the endless dance of inquiries that keeps the work alive” (88).

“So formalism begins with an instantaneous sense of alien, patterned complexity. We stand before a work of art with no hope of understanding it and no choice but to try. We reenact the primal cosmopolitan moment–the first time a human being stood face to face with a stranger from a strange place with a strange language, ‘sizing things up’ without a dictionary” (89).

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