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PA

Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson is associate professor of American Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is author of Deep River: Music and Memory in Harlem Renaissance Thought (Duke University Press, 2001) and has published essays in Critical Inquiry, American Literary History, Criticism, Jazz Perspectives, Current Musicology, and other journals. As a musician, he composed and performed the soundtrack to the Emmy-winning HBO document The Art of Failure (2008).  

"'I’ve Looked at Clouds': Joni Mitchell’s Collapsed Pastoral and Affect Theory"
In the classical pastoral, a shepherd takes a moment to observe his flock under a setting sun. A modernized hippie pastoralism informed important folk and rock albums inspired by Laurel Canyon and Woodstock in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Joni Mitchell’s alternative approach to the bucolic toggled between the patriarchal dream of restoring or stabilizing an idealized pastoral harmony and her darker reflections on the ideal’s failings and its seeming inescapability. One might mark this as the distance between her Edenic anthem “Woodstock” (“we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”) and such odes to ambivalence as “Both Sides Now” and “Court and Spark.” Her insiders’ critique of folk and hippie pastoralism operated at the levels of lyric, melody, harmony, and arrangement. Again and again Mitchell’s work evoked and then collapsed the pastoral idyll as a harmonious scene of reconciliation.  The presence of clouds overhead in the classical pastoral scene hints that the shepherd’s idyllic calm is but a passing moment. Mitchell’s interest in clouds and their shifting movements marks an interest in the phenomenology of the human moods shifting to and fro on the ground. The pastoral, her best work realized, is not a final state to be arrived at but a transient moment to be passed through, hence the mirroring relationship between moods and cloud banks. The moment of discovering the failure or passing of the pastoral idyll—a moment of melancholic rumination on what remains, a collapsed pastoral—richly animates Mitchell’s work and its vein of social commentary on gender norms and romantic ideals. This paper brings Mitchell’s work into
conversation with current scholarship on affects as public feelings, the phenomenology of moods, and the notion of occupying aestheticized moods as a vector of beholding or reception.