Reading Hans Gumbrecht’s In 1926: Living at the Edge of Time reminds me of my experience of visiting museums: not museums like the whole Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but museums on a smaller scale that offer special collections on specific art styles, forms or years. Impressionism collection in Chicago Institute of Arts, which occupies seven or eight exhibition rooms, would be one example. Leopold Museum in Vienna, one with the most amount of paintings by Schiele, Klimt, Kokoschka and their early-twenty-century German-austro contemporaries, would be another example.
Gumbrecht’s book is a museum of 1926. He dived into the year of 1926, looked around to see what is still left in the history for us, and collect the remains. What has gone and disappeared about the year of 1926 will always stay as untouchable and unfound. He grabs facts of “maximum surface-focus and concreteness” to “conjure some of the worlds of 1926, to re-present them, in the sense of making them present again.” This is very identical to what museum collectivists would do.
Gumbrecht creates entries in his book. Each entry focuses on specific topics such as dances or jazz and includes some anecdotes of related people in 1926. Behind all these factual and descriptive entries, Gumbrecht applies a general methodology: he deliberately tries to stay descriptive and on the surface, rejecting linear narratives which has dominated our idea of the history and become the primary way of us thinking about historical events. If we are trying to create and re-present history in a three-dimensional model and x-axis represents time, we can say that Gumbrecht is trying to explore further on the y and z-axis, avoiding making the model into a unfaithful and disproportional replica.
Thus, if we apply what Gumbrecht encourages in his book into music history study and research, we might find ourselves focus more on, for example, connections and interactions among music and other art forms and societal forces in the era, instead of development of music styles and compositional innovation from previous generations.