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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dilating on life : Ani Difranco’s musical structuring of subjectivity and pleasure in Dilate Harrison, Adelia Honeywood


The experience of subjectivity provided by an art form can consist of the sense of "recognizing ourselves, our feelings, our bodies, our beliefs, or our social positions" in the art work (Middleton, 1990). For fans of guitarist-singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, the identification with a subjective reality experienced in her music is powerful and pleasurable enough to inspire them with ardent devotion. Ani DiFranco's influence may not be simply reduced to her media image as a bisexual feminist, with fanatically obsessive and possessive fans, who has achieved stunning financial success completely independent of any major recording label. It cannot be simply reduced to her left-wing, politically charged lyrics, or her highly personalized autobiographical narratives. Nor has her success been limited to audiences of a particular sub-cultural group that share identity politics. The major force behind the "DiFranco phenomenon" is the music itself. This paper posits the thesis that meaning in DiFranco's music is not simply dependent on cultural influence and reception, but that musical structures play a crucial role in creating meaning and subjective experience for DiFranco's fans. Analysis of musical structures operating in four songs from DiFranco's 1996 album Dilate examines how these structures work to convey a particular sensual, emotional, and temporal reality. Emphasis is placed on various facets of performance that are essential to musical connotations of meaning. The concluding section discusses DiFranco's music as a site for sharing pleasures of identification, emotional communion, physical agency, and empowerment. Also examined is the volatility of a performer-fan relationship based on emotional investment and identification, one that is balanced precariously on the tensions between the personal and the political. The appropriation of the music's perceived messages by particular groups as representative of their own value systems poses as many challenges to artistic integrity as does the commercialism of the music industry.

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