The French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy opens his book Listening/À l’écoute (2002) with two questions: “Is listening something of which philosophy is capable? … Isn’t the philosopher someone who always hears/entend (and who hears everything), but who cannot listen, or who, more precisely neutralizes listening within himself, so that he can philosophize?” (2007, p. 1)
The philosophy of music is a rather new and limited field of inquiry. The names associated with it remain few – in order of year of birth, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Bloch, Ingarden, Jankélévitch, Adorno, Barthes, Deleuze, Cavell, Bernard Williams, Badiou, Kendall Walton. (I am not considering here the substantial work of musicology.) Arguably, since E. T. A. Hofmann most important reflections on music have been written by fiction writers (Balzac, Thomas Mann, Carpentier), poets (Rilke, Stevens, Zagajewski), and musicians (Berlioz, Wagner, Schönberg, Stravinsky, Thomson). Furthermore, some of the most penetrating and influential musical aesthetics have been fully musical, that is, composed and not written. From Schumann to Schnittke we discover in song, opera, sonata or quartet tremendous immanent reflections on music making.
And of course the history of Western musical thought can be written simply by tracing the figure of Orpheus over the last five centuries.
Yet philosophers are notorious for being un-musical or even anti-musical. (Even Heidegger’s “attunement” has nothing to do with tone.) In a 1990 interview Derrida wondered “if philosophy, which is also the birth of the prose, has not meant the repression of music or song” (Points…, p. 394) In our theoretical explorations Pantelis Polychronidis and I are surprised to see us rarely refer to philosophers. Why then do they find it uninteresting or impossible to reflect on music in contrast with their extensive work on poetry or painting ? Could it be because music is the supremely reflexive art, the one that most persistently and radically poses the question of its nature?
December 12, 2104