What first struck me as innovative about Gumbrecht’s “In 1926” was the opportunity it presents for unstructured exploration made possible through the book’s “web of cross-references” and by Gumbrecht’s related insistence that the reader abandon her/his urge to “‘start from the beginning.'” Gumbrecht states in the “User’s Manual” section of this work that “this book has no beginning in sense that narratives or arguments have beginnings.”
This organization seemed important to me in two respects: first of all, I found the idea of ‘creating my own adventure’ to be an exciting and engaging way to approach this material. It was interesting to become aware of connections between topics that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own, and to feel encouraged to follow my own interests instead of feeling locked in to the prescribed, ‘correct’ way of reading. My reaction to Gumbrecht’s model, then, strengthens the claim that his could be an effective example to follow simply in terms of captivating the attention of a music history audience.
Furthermore, the idea of ‘no beginning’ underscores Gumbrecht’s attempts to present the world of 1926 in a non-narrative manner. Instead of trying to embed moral or political lessons in a linear, story-like representation of a slice of history, Gumbrecht strives to create an environment in which readers can become engrossed in “first-hand experience of worlds that existed before our birth.” Instead of “learning from history,” readers should instead be focused on “experiencing” the as-objective-as-possible descriptions of selected episodes from the past. In his attempts to produce this minimally-interpreted explanation of the year 1926, Gumbrecht focuses on the surface details of events instead of trying to extract meaning from these events.
I think this approach is helpful in that it encourages the reader to think for him or herself: If no interpretation of events is given, the reader will likely either lose interest or be forced to question why these events might be important, why they might be problematic. Although Gumbrecht admits the impossibility of writing totally objectively, it seems that more discussion of the bias and hidden “lessons” inherent in the source material an author presents in a supposedly non-partisan manner is needed. Just as there are many paths through which to explore this text, there are, just as in any other text, many paths that cannot be discovered due to the author’s choice of bibliographic material. So, authors and readers alike must take care to reflect not only upon how a writer interprets (or avoids interpreting) their sources but also upon which, why, and how these sources are chosen.