New Book: Boulez, Music and Philosophy

This looks interesting:

Boulez, Music and Philosophy by Edward Campbell

Series: Music in the Twentieth Century

Cambridge University Press

While acknowledging that Pierre Boulez is not a philosopher, and that he is wary of the potential misuse of philosophy with regard to music, this study investigates a series of philosophically charged terms and concepts which he uses in discussion of his music. Campbell examines significant encounters which link Boulez to the work of a number of important philosophers and thinkers, including Adorno, Lévi-Strauss, Eco and Deleuze. Relating Boulez’s music and ideas to broader currents of thought, the book illuminates a number of affinities linking music and philosophy, and also literature and visual art. These connections facilitate enhanced understanding of post-war modernist music and Boulez’s distinctive approach to composition. Drawing on a wide range of previously unpublished documentary sources and providing musical analysis of a number of key scores, the book traces the changing musical, philosophical and intellectual currents which inform Boulez’s work.


1. Preparing the ground; 2. Early influences and movements; 3. Dialectic, negation and binary oppositions; 4. Boulez, Adorno and serial critique; 5. Deduction and the scientific model; 6. Serialism and structuralism; 7. Post-structuralist encounters; 8. Boulez, difference and repetition; 9. Expanding the virtual; 10. Continuity and discontinuity of space and time; Conclusion; Bibliography.

The monotonous ursurpation of “the Other”

Here are the first few paragraphs of an article (or review), “Back to the Other Levinas: Reflections prompted by Alain P. Toumayan’s Encountering the Other: The Artwork and the Problem of Difference in Blanchot and Levinas,” by Michael Fagenblat (incidentally, I’ve been enjoying his new book on Levinas in my non-existent spare time):

Since the exultant reception of Levinas work, particularly in the United States, an imposing obstacle to this oeuvre has steadily been erected. It is not Levinas complicated, often unstated philosophical disputations, nor his exhortatory style, nor even the originality of his argument that constitute the most formidable obstructions to his work today. On the contrary, the greatest difficulty today is the ease with which Levinas is arrogated, a facility that risks making him so accessible as to be wholly irrelevant. The ubiquity in contemporary intellectual circles of an ethics of the other leads, from ever diverse paths, directly to Levinas; and it is just this that prevents us from reading him well. Continue reading

Madness of the Day (Blanchot)

I found The Madness of the Day (trans. Lydia Davis) on scribd:

I am not learned; I am not ignorant. I have known joys. That is saying too little: I am alive, and this life gives me the greatest pleasure. And what about death? When I die (perhaps any minute now), I will feel immense pleasure. I am not talking about the foretaste of death, which is stale and often disagreeable. Suffering dulls the senses. But this is the remarkable truth, and I am sure of it: I experience boundless pleasure in living, and I will take boundless satisfaction in dying. I have wandered: I have gone from place to place. I have stayed in one place, lived in a single room. I have been poor, then richer, then poorer than many people. As a child I had great passions, and everything I wanted was given to me. My childhood has disappeared, my youth his behind me. It doesn’t matter. I am happy about what has been. I am pleased by what is, and what is to come suits me well enough. Is my life better than other peoples lives? Perhaps. I have a roof over my head and many do not. I do not have leprosy, I am not blind, I see the world—what extraordinary happiness! I see this day, and outside it there is nothing. Who could take that away from me? And when this day fades, I will fade along with it—a thought, a certainty, that enraptures me. I have loved people. I have lost them. I went mad when that blow struck me, because it is hell. But there was no witness to my madness, my frenzy was not evident: only my innermost being was mad. Sometimes I became enraged. People would say to me, Why are you so calm? But I was scorched from head to foot; at night I would run through the streets and howl; during the day I would work calmly.

Withdrawn Even From Myself (As An Object)

According to the latest twist of OOO mind-bending doctrine, “objects or substances are withdrawn from themselves – I have no clue what this is supposed to mean, but I will take it on faith that this paradoxical formulation (which is a nicer way of saying “this nonsense”) is true, which means I myself withdrawn from myself (as an object). Right?

In any case, speaking of withdrawing – I know it’s affected and vain to announce things (and, yes, doing it knowingly is even more affected and vain, but nonetheless), but I think I will take a short break from blogging. Fall semester is here, books need to be read, deep thoughts need to be thought and snark needs to be polished. Hopefully, by the time I return OOO will still be producing beautiful nonsense for me to mock. Levi Bryant’s monumental volume will finally see the light of the day and I will stop being irritated by his references to his yet-not-published book as if it has already hit the shelves and everyone’s read it. Graham Harman will probably write 13 more books about everyone and everything (including one on South American butterflies and Amish goat cheese). Tim Morton will produce a dozen or so of YouTube videos in which he will address the non-existent audience and explain some intricate point of his profound thought. Ian Bogost will probably make more snarky remarks about adjuncts or not being a Marxist.


Reading Group on Nussbaum’s Not For Profit

The Philosophy teaching blog, In Socrates’ Wake, is hosting a reading group on Nussbaum’s Not For Profit. Here are the details:

The start of our online reading group on Nussbaum’s Not for Profit is August 25. I’m also pleased to announce that in addition to posts from the regular ISW contributors and a concluding comment from Martha Nussbaum, Timothy Burke will be guest posting during the reading group. Tim is a specialist in African history, but also dabbles in U.S. popular culture. His blog Easily Distracted is one of the most long-standing, and in my estimation best, academic blogs out there (and indeed, I’ve linked to Tim’s work a number of times here at ISW: on assessment and institutional transparency, students’ impulse to use phrases like ‘fails to consider’ in their writing, and most recently on tenure). I never fail to learn something and be provoked Tim’s posts on teaching and higher education, so I know he’ll offer valuable insights on humanities education from a non-philosopher’s point of view.

Maimon Conference Report

Gary Banham posted a nice report from Maimon conference that took place at Manchester Metropolitan University on August 19th. Take a look:

The event of the week was certainly attending the one-day conference on Salomon Maimon that was staged at my own university, Manchester Metropolitan, this week. The event was organised in celebration of the translation of Maimon’s Essay and it certainly revealed further reasons for taking Maimon seriously as a major philosopher.

More people should read Sarah Kofman

I’ve been re-reading Sarah Kofman’s Smothered Words, as well as some of Blanchot’s recits in The Station Hill Maurice Blanchot Reader. In a volume of essays about Kofman, I came across this comment from J.L. Nancy (it’s the epigraph to the introduction of Sarah Kofman’s Corpus):

What interests me in Sarah’s work, and what knitted much of the friendship between us, is this manner of relating “works” to “life,” rather than the converse. . . . That writing relates to life, and relates it, does not mean the absence of thought nor even its secondary importance. It means that thought does not begin without this gesture of writing and also that, just as it is transmitted by it, so thought ends up with this gesture. But also that “thought,” finally, is caught up in life and relates to it, ending in it and therefore capable of ending it: there is no life after thought. A life of thought is perhaps a life that does not already live enough, or that lives too much, or again, quite simply, it is a life that attests itself, inscrib- ing that it took place.

Kofman was also a close reader of Freud and Nietzsche.  At her memorial (she committed suicide in 1994) Jacques Derrida described her love for them as “pitiless.”  Kofman wrote more and more about her own life, culminating in two rather different autobiographies. If you haven’t read it, Smothered Words, is as excellent as it is haunting.  Kofman attempts to “speak” the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust by weaving together readings of Blanchot and Anteleme, as well as the facts of her father’s deportation to Auschwitz. Equally as haunting is Rue Ordener, rue Labat, a more straightforward account of growing up a Holocaust survivor in post-war France. Anyway, I think more people should read Kofman, really.

Tyranny of Normalcy

I came across this exchange via Slawkenbergius’s discussion of it, but as I read more, I like this Mark Dery fellow, despite the accusations of being a jerk. I think that the most recent discussions of Derrida, especially of his writing style, would be well-advised to raise the same sorts of questions: what’s really behind this tyranny of simplicity, when it comes to philosophical prose? is the demand to be clear and accessible not an ideological position?

In his comment, Dery writes:

Pardon my rant. But I cordially loathe the reactionary politics of style—the anti-intellectual philistinism and Babbitry hiding behind a lot of the calls, here and elsewhere, for clarity and concision. There’s a streak of pugnacious populism running through this mindset familiar from Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in America. At times, it even gives vent to a latent homophobia, linking an allusive, polysyllabic style to velvet-breeches pretentiousness, which is code for an un-Hemingwayesque unmanliness. Furiousthought nailed this point in the other thread, writing, “[Dery’s writing] wears its literary style on its sleeve and a lot of internet people have a taste for keep-it-simple-stupid boilerplate and are keen to beat up art fags.”

The Tyranny of Normalcy demands that all writers aspire to a Gladwellian blandness. It’s killing cultural criticism or public intellectualism or whatever term isn’t too art-faggy for the MeFi mind. Certainly, these two threads, which could have engaged seriously with ideas but opted, instead, for grammatical colonoscopy, are casualties of a killing insistence on the stylistic status quo and the repressive normalcy it embodies.

His point about simplicity=manliness is an interesting one. Is all of that Derrida-hate that’s been going around lately not a good example of some ideological repression? Why do people get so angry with Derrida’s stylistic experiments? He’s not the only philosophical writer who is difficult to read. I think the explanation is the alleged “uselessness” of Derrida’s twists and turns. The ideological message is “be clear or die trying” and “if you can’t express it clearly and concisely, you don’t know it yourself…” Surely, convoluted writing is difficult to process, it slows you down, requires time and thought. So the ideology of clarity-as-normalcy here is the ideology of consumption – if it takes too long for me to “get into” a thinker, it will take too long to “use” his writings for my own commodified thoughts (papers, essays, books), therefore my price as a commodity will rise slower…