Public Consciousness

Public Consciousness, Political Conscience and Memory in Latin American Nueva Canción

Chapter from Music and Consciousness: Philosophical, Psychological and Cultural Perspectives, edited by David Clarke and Eric Clarke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)

Abstract
This chapter uses the impact of Latin American nueva canción to explore some of the ways in which consciousness might be thought of as applying to groups as much as individuals. By ‘public consciousness’, I mean those types of shared consciousness that go under a variety of epithets such as ‘collective’, ‘mass’, and ‘social’. I use the word ‘public’ mainly to highlight the ways in which the themes I am interested in are played out in a public sphere connected to politics and what I am calling ‘political conscience’, where ‘conscience’ is not always easily discernible from consciousness’. This interest in public consciousness and conscience emerged from researching issues of music and commitment in Latin America and has been developed as a response to those issues. Nueva canción had as one of its guiding themes the quest for identity and renewal in the postcolonial Latin American world, and the musicians associated with nueva canción act as movement intellectuals in raising and focusing consciousness of these processes, and in maintaining the relevance of this work in a changing musical world. My case studies here are Víctor Jara and Silvio Rodríguez, but I also discuss Ricardo Villalobos, a contemporary Chilean DJ who represents a generation of Chileans at one remove from the traumas of the previous generation and yet intimately connected to them by inherited memory and shared consciousness. If the musical agenda of nueva canción, much like the political agendas to which it attached itself, was guided by notions of collectivity, then this essay is written from a belief that the search for identity inevitably involves a questioning of oneself as an individual that can only proceed alongside recognition of oneself as definable through one’s relationship to a collective.

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