Pilzer Sodosori Dmz

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Society for Ethnomusicology

Sdosori (Northwestern Korean Lyric Song) on the Demilitarized Zone: A Study in Music and Teleological Judgment Author(s): Joshua D. Pilzer Source: Ethnomusicology, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Winter, 2003), pp. 68-92 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/852512 Accessed: 09/03/2009 23:15Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=illinois. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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VOL.47, No. 1



Sodosori (Northwestern Korean Lyric Song) on the Demilitarized Zone: A Study in Music and Teleological JudgmentJOSHUA D. PILZER / University of Chicago

ne of music's most interesting powers is its capacity to make things seem possible within its privileged domain, and to leave behind a residue of this sense of possibility. In this article, I give an example of people discovering possibilities through music, people who think, feel, and perform traditional music as a confrontation between reality and dreams. I explore some of the possibilities that music embeds and reveals, some musical techniques of their discovery, design, extraction, and circulation, and processes of revealing, interpreting, and creating the conditions for possibilities. Because I believe that music functions to reveal possibilities, this essay looks forward to a time when music scholars are as concerned with music's potentials as with describing and interpreting its functions. In recent decades, there has been a biennial concert of S6dosori, a Northwestern Korean singing style, on the South Korean edge of the lethal belt of truce territory separating North and South Korea, known in Korean and in international parlance as the Demilitarized Zone (hereafter DMZ). The hourlong concert accompanies a Confucian ancestral worship ceremony that Northern Korean families living in South Korea perform on the East Asian lunar New Year (s6llal) and Harvest Festival (ch'usok, August 15th of the lunar year) at the Imjin River. While the pilgrims bow before the altar, a predominantly female group of singers, most of whom are from the North or of Northern Korean descent as well, stand with their backs to the barbed wire and observation towers and commemorate in song the victims of a century of suffering. Their songs, predominantly secular lyric songs of turn-of-thecentury kisaeng (female professional entertainers) and other entertainers from northwestern Korea, take on the patina of the sacred in this setting, and echo as a prayer for the resolution of fifty years of national and familial division.? 2003 by the Society for Ethnomusicology


Pilzer: S6dosori on the Demilitarized



As most audience members will tell you, the concert is "just a bunch of old songs from North Korea." But the singers artfully arrange the songs in a narrative structure for performances such as this one so that they describe three stages along a trajectory of human experience: first sorrow and reflection, then death and transcendence, and finally a sex- and death-ridden celebration. The singers offer this musical system as a means towards overcoming the material and emotional circumstances of familial and national the political to the spiritual, the material to the ideal, and division-welding relatively stable mythic structures to activities of social transformation. As with other progressive aspects of East Asian modernity, this perspective of overcoming cuts against old essentialisms that found stasis in "the Orient" and new essentialisms that discover and enforce cyclical time in East Asian cultural production. Music and Teleological Judgment

On the DMZ singers situate the details of musical performance within a long-range musical form that relies on goals for social transformation, which in turn rely on concepts of how things are and should be. This process bears many similarities to Immanuel Kant's "teleological judgment," the faculty with which "we attribute to nature our concept of a purpose (Zweck)l in order to judge its product" (Kant [1790] 1987, 8: 1, emphasis added),2 although we must proceed carefully in the comparison.3 For Kant, teleological judgment is the process of organizing the elements of an extant system-whether natural, social, economic, political, technological, or musical-around human purposes, which are themselves organized around principles attributed to an a priori ground of being (i.e., nature, human and otherwise). Music, in its referential opacity, bases some part of its relative autonomy, on its energies which lack a single purpose-which are, in Kant's terms, without being inherently purposeful.5 Teleological judgment in purposive music is a struggle over if and on what terms music is to give up its autonomy and become attached to particular ends. In musics which foreground teleological judgment, people link different types of purposive musical elementsformal propulsions such as tonal/modal trajectories, patterns of ornamental a sense of purdensity, rhythmic sequences, and emotional expressions-to and they authorize this purpose with reference to concepts of a ground pose; of being, which is, cyclically, thought to be the primordial origin of purposive forms in the first place. Such musics are techniques for returning to such a ground, real and imagined, for getting "back to the basics," and beginning again in harmony with basic cultural principles and conditions of being, which are renegotiated in their retrieval. The chain of teleological judgment, in music and elsewhere, can be described as a cyclical process of designing


Ethnomusicology, Winter 2003

and linking these four distinct categories of thought and being: purposive phenomena, purposes, principles, and grounds. Put another way, teleological judgment in music is a series of discoveries and declarations of culturally constituted a priori "conditions for the possibility." It "discovers" and naturalizes ways that musical forms depend on purposes, that purposes rely on principles, and that principles depend on a ground of being. The structure of this article follows this process of linkage in the DMZ concerts, showing how musical elements are harnessed to a purpose of union, how the state of union breaks through to concepts about being, and finally, how the end of the concert "begins again" out of that ground. But first, I venture a description of the historical formation of social purposes and musical forms. The DMZ: the Final Borderpost6 Myriad musical forms enact teleological systems that pass through suffering to its relief, suggesting that the varieties of human suffering are purposeful events on a structured path towards an improved or even ideal state.7 Tracing three religious pilgrimages across Europe, Philip Bohlman describes how pilgrims' physical and musical journey mirrors a spiritual one. Pilgrims sing to embody their connections to "a sacred genealogy that will empower them to look beyond the boundaries of the present, which quickly have proved insufficient to chart the continent's future" (1996:451). Each trek terminates at a "final borderpost"-a shrine, church, border, or other heavily symbolic location that manifests the atmosphere of a spiritual, emotional, and/or political purpose. The purpose is final in the sense that it is an end, the furthest outpost of one's understanding of a thing, the furthest known goal of a teleological scheme. In cases where musical activity represents a journey, music itself can be such a final borderpost.8 The DMZ is Korea's final borderpost, both literally and symbolically. After nearly fifty years of national division, it manifests an atmosphere of dystopian timelessness that threatens and provokes a final purpose of union (t'ongil). Union is a central theme in the multi-layered conceptual and affective work of South Korean teleological judgment, one that predates the DMZ and dreams of national unification but has been given new life post-1945. In contrast to Western teleologies, rooted in Christian notions of original sin and Enlightenment conceptions of historical progress which presuppose the absence of a perfection that must be gained or regained throughout history (or death), most Korean teleologies presuppose a perfect nature that is ever-present "ground from which we begin." present but alienated-an "Transcendence" in the context of Korean Buddhism does not mean going beyond the world but rather overcoming flaws in the human condition, reach-

Pilzer: S6dosori on the Demilitarized Zone


ing through to an immanent perfection (Buswell 1991:57-58). This presuppose