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  • Variations on the Reprise
  • Jean-Luc Nancy (bio)
    Translated by Irving Goh (bio)

I. The Place of Music in Philosophical Thought1

Rodolphe Burger [RB]:

Jean-Luc Nancy has considered all the aesthetic domains in his oeuvre. Yet one notes a kind of privilege given to the image in numerous texts (the image in painting, photography, cinema, and drawing). There is an omnipresence of the image in the work of Nancy,2 and in that regard, a relative discretion with respect to music as a theme, as an object of thought. At the same time, one can highlight, in the texts that touch on the sensible, the frequent reference [renvoi] to metaphors or categories that belong to the register of the audible; one can note in particular the insistence on the concept of resonance in Nancy.

This is my first question, then: how to explain this relative discretion on music as object of thought, on the one hand, and its omnipresence as the domain of reference in thinking the sensible in general, on the other? This is something that Nancy explains very clearly in his foreword to Peter Szendy's book, Listen: A History of Our Ears.3 I recommend this text to everyone. It is a very short text, yet of an extraordinary density in the questions it raises on the side of the musical. There, Nancy affirms very clearly a prominence of the musical to think the sensible in general. There is thus this paradox in the work of Nancy. But is it a paradox?

Jean-Luc Nancy [JLN]:

To speak of paradox is to immediately adopt a position. In the proper sense of the term, "paradox" signifies "that which does not conform," that which is apart from doxa, that is, from received opinion. It is true that music can be on the side of doxa, but it is not made [faite] to speak about something. For the latter, we think more instantly of the image in general. We do nonetheless say that music "speaks of" something, but we proceed to think that it speaks in a manner much more immediately affective and emotional [sensible]. Without doubt, we hardly see how music lends itself to discourse in general. There is nothing peculiar about my situation: philosophers generally have spoken less about music than the visual arts, and when they have spoken of art, there has always been a prevalence of the visual arts or poetry. (It would be necessary, nevertheless, to elaborate on what Plato says about music, which is linked to an education of the passions, but we cannot do that here.) [End Page 204]

It is only with Arthur Schopenhauer that music becomes important, which is late in the history of philosophy. It comes after Immanuel Kant, who is the first philosopher to have introduced Aesthetics as such to philosophy (why is there not a veritable philosophy of aesthetics before?). One finds Nietzsche, who comes after Schopenhauer, and who gives an important place to music. Between the two, there is Kierkegaard, for whom aesthetics remains subordinated to something else, which is the order of ethics, of the religious. After Nietzsche, there is very little on music in the major philosophers of the twentieth century—Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. Adorno, who knew music and who had composed a little, is the only one who had written on music. Adorno had written on specific things, on specific works, but he did not look kindly upon jazz. Finally, among contemporary philosophers, one finds Deleuze and Derrida. In Deleuze, music plays a significant structural role, and this holds without doubt for the specific relation that he takes into account with regard to the sensible. Deleuze and Derrida clearly do not make up a great number of philosophers; and one must not forget Peter Szendy, who has written Musica Practica.4 This allows us to fairly say that the overture of philosophy to music is tardy: it begins with Schopenhauer but is followed by a forgetfulness, then a completely contemporary reopening to it. I have thus been propelled by the available metaphor of resonance, which is for me a very irresistible idea [une idée...


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