Saturday, March 04, 2017

on the post-Cold War deadlock of American civic religions as competing visions of the telos of American cultural imperialism for the "left" and "right"


http://www.mbird.com/2017/03/another-week-ends-more-outrage-more-zoltan-more-tebow-more-busyness-plus-a-whole-lot-of-death/
...
Rod Dreher’s new book was reviewed (negatively), and Dreher quotes an Australian reader’s comments on that review, who argues that the reviewer’s picture of secular democracy is one of the great problems of liberalism: that we’re going to get there one day—that we’re going to realize the great vision of the ideal.
And then people like Bruenig who say… you can accomplish your goals through politics, you have more political power than you realize.
What that…group just don’t get (partly because you Americans have postmillennialism deep in your DNA, whatever your faith and theological commitments are, and so you really do think that history’s arc bends towards justice, and so you are so insufferably pollyannaish that you think all stories can have a happy ending if we just tried harder. I’m not sure there has ever been a culture as resistant to being theologians of the cross rather than theologians of glory as Americans) is that their advice is going to make another part of the problem worse under your diagnosis. Throwing oneself even harder into rituals of social life in a democracy on democracy’s terms will just increase the catechizing and formative effects of those rituals and liturgies.

It might be useful to quote a substantially longer segment from the Australian correspondent Dreher quoted from.  All of the bold emphasis is going to be added:

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-liturgies-of-secular-democracy-benedict-option/

The liberal-democratic order is founded on suspending the question of whether God exists or not (and has authority over human life) and relegating that to the level of personal opinion. This means that democracy itself functions as though atheism is metaphysically true—there is no God whose demands on people must be embraced—but gives people the freedom to shape their own lives around theism (or deism, or polytheism etc). In the short term this is a great solution to the problem of religious wars, by simply punting ultimate questions of morality and metaphysics and seeking to create a society where people can live together despite deep differences.

The problem is that this arrangement is unstable for two reasons. First, living in a western democracy catechizes people into practical atheism. Because the underpinnings of society forecloses the question of God and makes material reality the ultimate horizon, then society itself is run on atheistic presuppositions. The more you invest in being a good citizen and are part of democratic public life, the more you are shaped by the rituals of democratic life into thinking, dreaming, desiring, acting, as an atheist.

Second, as democracy goes on its horizons are increasingly limited to the individual and the state—the individual as the reason and justification of all social life, and the state as the ultimate horizon of human experience and life, accountable and subordinate to nothing beyond it. Hence why ‘government is just the word we use for things we do together’ is thought to be just common sense, and why politics is considered to be *the* vehicle for human flourishing. Everything is politics, because politics is the final horizon that shapes the conditions for individual liberty.

But making everything base around the individual will (almost) inevitably make everything be reduced down to hedonism—happiness through pleasurable experiences, and the pursuit of wealth and social status that preserves the maximum kind of individual freedom that liberalism recognizes and esteems. Increasingly democracy gains confidence in its metaphysical position (this world is the only meaningful horizon) and begins to move from a naked public square to enacting its vision of the good that expresses that metaphysical position (the good life has to be justified entirely within the constraints of this life).

As a consequence increasingly democracy actively seeks to form people as little more than worker-bees, consumers, and pleasure seekers and begins to use its authority to maringalize and harass those groups that seek to create a social life that catechizes people into a different vision of the good life based on different metaphysics. That is increasingly incomprehensible to them—simultaneously irrational and abusive. At most it can be permitted as an individual choice, but not at the level of a social choice within democracy – unless the group basically removes itself from broader social life almost completely (the Amish option). It also fuels new wars of religions—really weird ones because they are so secular, where the goal is to impose our practical atheism and vision of the good life on the world—killing people to bring our version of the triumph of the individual, to promote hedonism, to push countries towards democracy. These are crusades fuelled by the same underlying convictions that give rise to more overt religious wars.

Let's interrupt the lengthy quote at this point to propose that what secularists will probably fail to understand is that you can have a civic religion that can function pretty easily without an explicit deity.  The Democratic and Republican parties have managed to pull this off in the last century, formulating civic religions in which the practical "god" is the ideology or platform of the respective parties.  Walter A. McDougall might be a bit of a crackpot but since Promised Land, Crusader State he's been proposing that American foreign policy has been stymied by the ways in which American civic religions have guided foreign policy toward (you may have guessed this) an American crusader state. What McDougall may have a point about, though, is in the proposal that, regardless of the formal distinctions between red and blue parties, since the Wilson era U.S. has operated with a campaign of cultural imperialism that may formally look different from colonialism and imperialism as practiced by the European powers but that is not necessarily functionally or informally different.

In other words the ideological platforms of the red and blue state voters fulfills the telos of civic religion regardless of whether or not any formally named deities are invoked.
Now someone predicted that once modern technocratic societies embraced propaganda wholeheartedly that even ostensibly democratic societies would functionally become totalitarian cultures.

PROPAGANDA: THE FORMATION OF MEN'S ATTITUDES
JACQUES ELLUL
Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 1965 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7


page 249
... Once democracy becomes the object of propaganda, it also becomes totalitarian, authoritarian, and exclusive as dictatorship.

pages 249-250
... This really is the ultimate problem: democracy is not just a certain form of political organization or simply an ideology--it is, first of all, a certain view of life and a form of behavior. If democracy were only a form of political organization, there would be no problem; propaganda could adjust to it. ... But if democracy is a way of life, composed of tolerance, respect, degree, choice, diversity, and so on, all propaganda that acts on behavior and feelings and transforms them in depth turns man into someone who can no longer support democracy because he no longer follows democratic behavior.


pages 251-252
...
But the creation of the etiological myth leads to an obligation on the part of democracy to become religious. It can no longer be secular but must create its religion. Besides, the creation of a religion is one of the indispensable elements of effective propaganda. [emphasis added] The content of this religion is of little importance; these feelings are used to integrate the masses into the national collective. We must not delude ourselves: when one speaks to us of "massive democracy" and "democratic participation," these are only veiled terms that mean "religion." Participation and unanimity have always been characteristics of religious societies, and only of religious societies. [emphasis added]


page 256
... A man who lives in a democratic society and who is subjected to propaganda is being drained of the democratic content itself--of the style of democratic life, understanding of others, respect for minorities, re-examination of his own opinions, absence of dogmatism. The means employed to spread democratic ideas makes the citizen, psychologically, a totalitarian man. The only difference between him and a Nazi is that he is a "totalitarian man with democratic convictions," but those convictions do not change his behavior in the least. Such contradiction is in no way felt by the individual for whom democracy has become a myth and a set of democratic imperatives, merely stimuli that activate conditioned reflexes. The word democracy, having become a simple incitation, no longer has anything to do with democratic behavior. And the citizen can repeat indefinitely "the sacred formulas of democracy" while acting like a storm trooper.  [emphasis added]


McDougall's proposal that American foreign policy has been guided by civic religion seems like a deliberately provocative claim.  It is one, of course.  What makes American civic religions only slightly unique is that the god is not necessarily a personal god or an infinite god but a god in the form of a principle.  At this point, well, why not throw in some comments from Emil Brunner:

The Mediator
Emil Brunner
https://archive.org/details/mediatorastudyof013169mbp
page 25
...
Whether he adored his totem animal or the gods of the sun, the moon and the stars ; whether by the practice of magic he tries to gain control of supernatural forces; whether by the practices of asceticism and of Yoga he achieves union with the 'Wholly-Other'; or whether in union with his fellow-countrymen he brings a solemn sacrifice to the high gods, or somewhere in solitude he approaches the Ground of all being in mystical contemplation; one thing remains the same, namely, that just as man is homo faber, so also he is homo religious. He is this even when he renounces all mythology, all ideas of a supernatural being, and becomes an agnostic or an atheist. The dimension of the infinite, of the absolute, of the unconditioned, is not empty for any human being, even when he has cut himself adrift from all traditional religious ideas. If he no longer has any personal gods, all the more surely he has one or more impersonal gods-something which he regards as taboo, something which may not be touched at any cost, whether it be his Communism or his Nationalism, his civilization or 'life.' 'Man always has God or an idol.' [emphasis added]...


Or, in more contemporary American terms, the god may be the Democratic or Republican party platforms as totalizing visions of ideal human flourishing.  Now perhaps in lieu of a simply identifiable external adversary such as we had in the Cold War or World War II we're stuck with the power of propaganda transforming our own neighbors, friends and family into political adversaries whose sin is not worshipping the same god we do.  And as can be readily observed in blue state and red stat partisans who profess to be Christians the ease with which Americans bend the scriptures to the ends of justifying their preferred political means hardly merits a detailed explanation in a simple blog post.

In other words, Ellul anticipated what could be euphemistically regarded as the soft totalitarianism of people on the internet.  Once the anxiety and dread of the Cold War has been translated from a clash of civilizations between the United States and the Soviet Union into competing visions on the part of Democratic and Republican partisans as to what the future of the United States is going to be the culture of pervasive propaganda hasn't gone away, it's merely been translated into a post-Cold War context.  The partisans deploy propagandistic methods in ways that establish the competing visions of the ideal America as the basis of the totalizing conflict between two ultimately totalitarian visions of what American life should look like.  The Trump voter and the Clinton voter have this totalitarian mindset in common regardless of what differences they may regard as essential and obvious between themselves and their ideological adversaries, in spite of the fact that their ideological adversaries are, strictly speaking, fellow citizens of the United States.   

Which gets us back to the comments about a review of Dreher's book.  It may be easier to unpack what's being proposed if we keep in mind two basic theories about contemporary American political discourse: 1) contemporary left and right ideologies exist along a spectrum of formal differentiation on position that are not necessarily different on the issue of totalitarian commitment to whatever the position of X may be within that spectrum and 2) this is so because these respective positions have transformed everything into the explicitly political because that is what civic religions (as Ellul described them) necessarily do. 

Bruenig’s review shows just hard it is for people inside that framework to see it in these terms—even as an empathic and imaginative act of walking in someone else’s shoes for a mile. She’s a good reviewer, and been thoughtful and fair, but she just can’t ‘get it’. Precisely the points at where she thinks your positions are incoherent are the places where she needs to grasp them in order to have any chance of getting your position as a whole. What she fixates on is the political dimension because that’s the ultimate horizon for democratically shaped people. [emphasis original] The idea that you might somehow contribute to the common good by disengaging from politics a bit and putting something non-political up as the ultimate horizon of social life just can’t even be heard.

Because (like most of your other critics) seem to think the only problem to be addressed is the last one—the implementation of an ethical vision of the good life arising out of a metaphysics through the agency of state coercion—their reaction falls into two camps. The group you tend to lose your temper with and call ‘jacobins’—who say, nothing must impede the enshrining of an atheistic and hedonistic vision of the liberated individual as the framework of our social life, and any dissent is asking for special legal privileges that are irrational and abusive. And then people like Bruenig who say—too pessimistic, you can accomplish your goals through politics, you have more political power than you realize.

What that latter group just don’t get (partly because you Americans have postmillennialism deep in your DNA, whatever your faith and theological commitments are, and so you really do think that history’s arc bends towards justice, and so you are so insufferably pollyannaish that you think all stories can have a happy ending if we just tried harder. I’m not sure there has ever been a culture as resistant to being theologians of the cross rather than theologians of glory as Americans) is that their advice is going to make another part of the problem worse under your diagnosis. Throwing oneself even harder into rituals of social life in a democracy on democracy’s terms will just increase the catechizing and formative effects of those rituals and liturgies. [bold emphasis added, italic emphasis original ] You might shift the external pressure of the state trying to forcibly encode its view of the good life, but at the cost of being subverted from within. That’s the key part of your analysis that they just seem unable to get their heads around at this point in the conversation.

Which could be a way of saying that the postmillennialist colonialism and the imperialism that has gone with it on the red and blue sides of the same American civic religion "looks" different to the partisans who have chosen which side of the store they want to shop on, but for those who are not in the store, so to speak, they can see that all the partisans are shopping at the same store.  I began to get this impression twenty years ago seeing the culture wars play out.  I came to regard the religious right and their adversaries as both fighting a battle over not whether or not the United States would deploy cultural imperialism across the planet but merely what kind of cultural imperialism the empire should champion.  That postmillennialist sense of obligation to remake the world into the shape of something more in line with the ideals of the American way of life might be so potent it inspired even an atheist like Christopher Hitchens to sign on to it for a while in the way he backed Gulf War 2.

In a postlude essay to the 1994 reprint of his book Music, The Arts, And Ideas Leonard B. Meyer sketched out the thought that as we continue in a world in which there is no belief in life after death or a resurrection from the dead that a baseline historical optimism would no longer be the shared human experience.  Instead, as Meyer put it:

MUSIC, THE ARTS, AND IDEAS
Leonard B. Meyer
Copyright (c) 1967. 1994 by The University of Chicago
ISBN 0-226-52143-5


page 338
Though we have lost faith in a shining future, the past is still available. Not, however, the past resulting from historical research, but a past emanating from ethno-mythic fabrication. [emphasis added]


page 339
As each subculture creates its own past--magnifying its virtues, glorying in its victories,  sharpening its grievances, and savoring its animosities--it defines its individuality. In so doing, it intensifies and specifies its differences from other subcultures. The search for past roots leads to the isolation of subcultures, an isolation "rationalized" by ideology. That is, the valuing of ethnic identity and community can in part be understood as a very late manifestation of Romanticism in which national cohesion is depreciated as a conventional, arbitrary creation, whereas ethnic relationships are prized as a result of natural, quasi-biological constraints. [emphasis added]

Subcultural, and especially ethnic, isolation is heightened by a vision of the future characterized by uncertainty and hazard. Put the other way around: belief in inherent historical progress directs attention to common cultural goals; and when goals are shared (as they are, for instance, in combat or in team sports) ethnic differences become irrelevant. In the absence of shared goals grounded in a vision of a better future, differences are heightened and the result is interpersonal insecurity and tension. We become uncertain how to behave, or, more precisely, about how others will respond to our behavioral norms. And so we seek the security of our own kind, of ethnic commonality. ...

The isolation of subcultures from one another is exacerbated not only by the vast increase in specialization, characteristic of late twentieth century culture, but by an overabundance of information in each area of specialization.  ...

page 340
The consequences of rampant pluralism are not the same for all realms of culture. In the realms of action--of political, religious, social, and commercial economic behavior--options often appear to be mutually exclusive. Though possible in theory, compromise is hard to come by precisely because positions are conceptualized (and publicized in the media) as matters of principle. For their "Committed" partisans, pro-life and pro-choice positions are incompatible; lower taxes are taken to preclude increased social services; the goals of ecology are evidently at odds with those of commerces; and advocates of the death penalty cannot be reconciled with those who oppose it. The political, economic, and ideological differences between subcultural groups (Israel vs. Arab nations, Serbs vs. Muslims and Croats, tribal rivalries within Africa, and so on) cannot readily be resolved. And these conflicts and rivalries will be intensified by the shortage of resources that results from a combination of the plundering of land with an enormous increase in population.

Meyer went on to propose that pluralism in the arts was possible and perhaps even desirable because, entirely unlike political battles, the stakes were so ultimately low.  He mused as to whether or not the emergence of critical theory had, in part, the role of elevating the arts to being described as having enough political or social content to matter enough so as to be debated as if the arts were at the same level of impact on the human condition as political or economic or religious debates.  To put it indelicately, Meyer wondered whether the popularity of critical theory in the United States had something to do with artists and arts critics wanting what they do to matter as if it had any genuinely political significance in practical terms.  Since the arts, as subjects of commerce and the investment of discretionary income, are for "wants" rather than demonstrable "needs", it's tough to make the case that what artists can do now in the age of Trump amounts to anything much different from what they did in earlier eras, custom-build artistic experiences of things we don't exactly need but that we very much want. 

But a more important observation Meyer made is to suggest that without a belief in life after death or resurrection, and with the supplemental realization that we have something like a global cultural awareness at the "top" of human social and intellectual achievement, the zero-sum game nature of competition for resources and how to distribute or access the resources of the world will only get worse. 

So in a way we could propose, contrary to Dreher's correspondent, that liberalism did not exactly table the question of whether or not a god or gods exist.  It sublimated the question of what the divine will (if any) might be into civic religion.  The trouble with this gambit is that it only works when the civic religion in question is sufficiently inclusive enough and vague enough (per McDougall) to invite a super-majority of those able to participate in a democratic republic to join in.  To the extent that the Religious Right and the Religious Left debate these points within the formally Christian community is the extent to which this debate about the true civic religion can play out in other settings.  perhaps atheists will not debate whether Jesus would be red state or blue state but the debate on the true civic religion is transmuted into a debate about the Founding Fathers as the apostles of the United States civic religion. 

But for non-Americans, or for Americans who are able to step (however briefly) outside the mainstream of the Western liberal idiom, this is a debate between two modes of a common civic religion that may or may not recognize itself as such. 

The trouble with reinventing Jesus in the image of your red state or blue state form of American civic religion is that there's a decent chance that the Jesus you end up worshipping isn't necessarily Jesus at all.  Americans may have simply reinvented Christ to be an American patriot in the way that Enlightenment thinkers in Europe reinvented Christian doctrines into being a license for their particular colonialist or imperialist agendas. 

Now there could be a post on Meyer's thoughts on the question of pastiche eclecticism and pluralism in the arts as arguably the signal challenge of our era but that is probably best saved for some other post.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

a discourse on utility music

I.
Surely, no music
is purer gebrauchsmusik
than make-out music.

II.
You are mistaken.
a purer gebrauchsmusik
rests in lullabies.

If you'd like a decade or so of speculation and debate as to how and why humanity first began to sing these two theories have been summarized in haiku.  The pun is as dreadful as it is unavoidable by now, but surely you can see how the two themes are related.  Indeed, the second may be regarded as a colicky descendent of the first.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On the possibility of spatial-temporal syntactic correspondence between ragtime and sonata forms

When I was in college I got into ragtime.  Not necessarily very deeply but enthusiastically, I got into ragtime.  I experimented with writing rags of my own and read about how Joplin aspired to have ragtime evolve into a musical idiom able to explore more substantial concepts than was thought strictly possible in the dance forms it partook of.  This did not mean I ever got around to Treemonisha or that I would necessarily regard Treemonisha as a success.

On the other hand, I did reach early the conviction that ragtime and sonata forms ought to be perfectly suited to each other.  My composition teacher averred that form followed function and since ragtime was dance music, primarily, its form was not necessarily amenable to the functions of sonata form.  Another professor with whom I shared a fondness for ragtime held a different view, that certainly ragtime and sonata form should, in principle, be a workable fusion of idioms.  It'd just be a matter of figuring out how.

The axiom that form follows function can be flipped around, that functions can be assessed by a proper understanding of form.  If I were to jettison any residual understanding of sonata forms predicated on 19th century theory or, to put it more polemically, 20th century givens as to what 19th century pedagogy on sonata form at the dawn of the century (either!) were supposed to be, I might find that it would be easier to assess the possible ways to have sonata and ragtime synthesized if I did not assume a class stratification between "high" (sonata form) and "low" ragtime as dance music). 

So ... one of my lifelong projects has been, among others, to explore how a composer who loves sonatas and fugues as procedural developmental approaches and also loves ragtime might arrive at a synthesis of the stylistic idioms of ragtime with what we'd rather broadly call sonata form(s).  To paraphrase Iannis Xenakis, the most ambitious forms of interstellar travel technology can provide for us may not carry us so far as liberation from our mental shackles could. 

One of the gentle warnings Leonard B. Meyer had about musical analysis is that we should be careful not to forget the distinction between musical analysis as a matter of form and musical analysis as an observation of process.  That these two aspects of musical analysis often overlap does not mean we won't run into trouble if we misdiagnose early on which of these two aspects of analysis will be most relevant.  The kind of modular architectonics that are useful for delineating themes and transitions in a sonata form may be somewhat useless in evaluating the contrapuntal processes guiding a fugue.  While linear expansion and development in a fugue "might" give us insights applicable to a sonata form the expectation of a continuously developing thematic economy may run aground in explicitly dance-derived forms, so the way we'd analyze a Bach fugue will be of little help in assessing a ragtime by Joseph Lamb. 

Which is not to say that study of counterpoint and advanced forms won't be beneficial in finding relatively new ways to approach ragtime as a style.  Being thoroughly steeped in both the history and literature of the sonata as well as the history of ragtime can open up possibilities for the fusion of both idioms that may remain, as yet, under-explored.

Of course to explore those possibilities we may need to establish the basic observations that may be made about these idioms.  Rather than attempt to discuss ragtime in terms more suitable for the unfamiliar, I'm simply going to briefly go over the basic outline of the "Joplin" rag as it's commonly described.

AA BB A CC DD

Give or take an introduction, any transitions, and a coda, that's the basic formal outline of a ragtime.

We know that not every theme will be repeated and there are cases in which a theme that appears earlier may appear again in a modified form.  For instance, the B strain in James Scott's Modesty Rag is recapitulated at the end where the "D" strain would be and it's slightly recomposed.  This example alone should satisfy for the skae of this essay that recapitulating the B group as the final strain in a ragtime already opens up possibilities for a sonata form cast in a ragtime style.  For that matter, where the return of the A strain would typically be could very easily be replaced with what in more traditional understandings of sonata form would be the development section.  The syntactic climax of the return of the A material in a ragtime may be spatially displaced to a point later in a ragtime than we might expect it to conventionally appear but the syntactic climax of the reprise would still take place.  If we bear in mind a simple proposal, that the A or B sections do not have to refer to explicit, literal repeats but may stand in for transitional material, then what we'd call the BB section or B section of a ragtime can be the space in which the second (or also third) thematic strains can be introduced with some suitable transitional materials. 

This would be a way of synthesizing ragtime and sonata form in cases where we have sixteen-measure ragtime strains.  Of course this would not be the only way a sonata form in a ragtime style could be composed.  In fact if we were to make use of material more characteristic of early (rather than late) 19th century sonata materials we might find themes are more apt to be as short as eight measures.  If our thematic strains are 12 measures or less immediate and literal repetition might be ill-advised and it might also be less effective, given the fact that so very often thematic differentiation is a weakness in ragtime compared to other styles, then any structural repetitions we might plan to introduce that could bridge the conceptual space between a ragtime and a sonata form would have to lean more toward a conventional understanding of a sonata form than a ragtime. 

This basic adjustment to small-scale sonata form to resemble the style of ragtime is actually not the least bit difficult.  Rather than an AA BB paradigm as we'd expect in ragtime we could substitute a short repeating exposition that would present as AB AB that could fill the commensurate durational space (George Rochberg's concept for this, called "time-space" is inelegant and bluntly literal, but it's arguably the best possible term we're looking for.  After all, for the aim of this essay we ARE looking at corresponding durational time-spaces within sonata form and ragtime for any possibilities of fusion.

So that's to say this, if a ragtime strain is conventionally understood to be sixteen measures long and a conventional ragtime has an AABB procession before A returns, then the number of measures in that durational stretch would be sixty-four measures.  This means that if you have a small-scale sonata exposition (something in the zone of forty measures) then you would be able to fulfill the cumulative AABB in a ragtime best with an AB exposition that has an internal structural repeat.  A simple but perhaps necessary observation about sonata forms in the 18th century is to note that the repetitions should be considered structural.  If you keep this in mind then an exposition with two themes can be mapped out as
exposition  repetition  development   recapitulation
A  B           A   B         C                     A  B 

Oh, wow, what does that resemble?

verse chorus    verse chorus    bridge   verse chorus

In strictly modular, macro-structural terms, the sonata form with a repeating exposition that's observed before the development and recapitulation can be thought of as remarkably similar in its overall concept to a standard pop song format.  There are crucial, substantial differences in thematic developmental economy between a sonata form and a pop song, to be sure, but the differences are not necessarily reducible to a matter of sheer modular form.  Rather, we're looking at a continuum of differences in the realm of procedural development and expansion of thematic content.  When advocates of high art musical culture dismiss popular music they do not necessarily reject the elegant simplicity of pop music at the level of macro-structural considerations. They're rejecting the rudimentary presentation and repetition of thematic materials without long-form development.

Okay, fine, but who says this isn't possible in vernacular or popular idioms?  Just because a majority of composers or musicians don't try out the possibilities of a fugue based on blues or ragtime vamps doesn't mean Henry Martin and Nikolai Kapustin haven't written such fugues.  And even if you were to decide their attempts at a fusion of blues or jazz idioms with fugal writing don't "work" this can be a case in which the question is not whether the experiment is worth doing (at any rate I'll say directly I think it is) but why this or that experiment somehow falls short of a successful fusion of diverse musical idioms.

So we've established at a conceptual level the potential for macro-structural overlap between an 18th century sonata form and a 20th century pop song.  Given the lack of redundancy we observed at the outset in the AABBACCDD of conventional ragtime don't we run into the problem of a lack of redundancy across themes?  Won't we run into a problem in which it seems that the recursive interiority of ragtime strains preclude the possibility of thematic development?

Well, no.  The short reason for this is to say that at a melodic and harmonic level the boundaries between a ragtime strain, as a form of late 19th century music, and a sonata form from the same period, are permeable.  The long reason for this was my survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas in which I highlighted the ways in which a number of sonata themes by Giuliani and Carulli lent themselves to simple transformation from sonata material to ragtime material.  For all of that go over here.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/search/label/a%20survey%20of%20early%2019th%20century%20guitar%20sonatas

But if you still don't believe me and want a case study for how an early 19th century sonata form for solo guitar could be recomposed into the style of ragtime, here's an example I worked on this last weekend (after the break).