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  • Historical Alternatives to a Poststructuralist Reading of Johannes Kepler’s Harmony of the WorldResponse to Jonathan Owen Clark
  • Michael Fend (bio)

At the heart of Jonathan Clark’s essay lies the problem that our spoken or written words, as the most frequently employed means of communication, do not always carry the deepest of meanings. We quite often mean more or less than what we say and vice versa. Moreover, if words are sung, the potential for composers’ and singers’ intentions and listeners’ (mis)understandings is massively increased. The challenges of conveying and comprehending an intended meaning are considerable when listening to contemporary music, and may be even greater with historical repertories. Clark uses this basic insight to articulate a critique of poststructuralism in general and recent historiographies of the voice in particular. Choosing Kepler’s The Harmony of the World (1619) as the main topic of his investigation, Clark might thus have proceeded to reveal the shortcomings of a poststructuralist interpretation of Kepler’s cosmology, followed by his own proper consideration of its musical, affective dimension.1

Yet Clark’s three poststructuralist authorities have at best a tangential link with Kepler. Foucault’s omission of the astronomer cannot come as a surprise, because, as he stated at the outset of his The Order of Things, “In France at least, the history of [sixteenth- to eighteenth-century] science and thought gives pride of place to mathematics, cosmology, and physics—noble sciences, rigorous sciences, sciences of the necessary, all close to philosophy: one can observe in their history the almost uninterrupted emergence of truth and pure reason.” Opposed to this view of early modern France, Foucault favored the study of “living beings, languages, and economic facts,” which he thought his colleagues “considered too tinged with empirical thought, and too exposed to the vagaries of chance or imagery.”2 Given his criteria for selection, Foucault might have investigated music, but his aesthetic interests were directed toward literature, painting, and architecture. As far as I know, he referred to Kepler only in a review of Alexandre Koyré’s La révolution astronomique (1961), which is quoted by Clark.

Lacan, the second source for Clark, had an even less developed interest in early modern science. By Lacan’s own admission, his main statement on the astronomer [End Page 328] during a seminar in December 1960 was based first on Koyré’s earlier book From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (1957) and second on Arthur Koestler’s Les somnambules (1960), which had been published the year before in New York as The Sleepwalkers and was to become an internationally best-selling history of cosmology. Lacan used the history of astronomy merely to indicate the persistence of “spherical thinking,” and hence the “egocentricity” of humanity, despite the Copernican heliocentric worldview and the elliptical orbits of the planets discovered by Kepler.3 Clark’s third poststructuralist author, Gilles Deleuze, apparently does not refer to Kepler at all. Nevertheless, Deleuze’s different applications of the concept of “series,” in particular “series of affects and passions” and their “surplus value” as factors overlooked in historiography, serve Clark as a bridge to seek a new understanding of Kepler’s harmonic cosmology via its hidden “voice” and its “affective” dimension.

Despite the minimal overlap between Kepler’s astronomical cosmology and the ground covered by Foucault, Lacan, and Deleuze, Clark adopts Foucault’s central thesis from The Order of Things, namely the idea of an epistemic shift from “resemblance” to “representation” in early modern European history. Put simply, objects in this world were no longer perceived as resembling or mirroring other, especially higher, objects and were instead taken to represent what they actually were, without any metaphysical reference. Clark wonders whether music could have played a role in this epistemic shift. In support of Foucault’s thesis, Clark accepts Tomlinson’s interpretation of two Monteverdi madrigals, Sfogava con le stelle and Lamento della ninfa, as the musical embodiment of that shift, because in Sfogava Monteverdi employed madrigalisms to suggest gazing at the stars as a remedy for a lovesick man, whereas in Lamento he projected a woman’s woes more directly in his music.4 In their dichotomous construction of...


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pp. 328-334
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