Sounding the Virtual: Gilles Deleuze and the Theory and Philosophy of Music

By Rammos, Yannis | Notes, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Sounding the Virtual: Gilles Deleuze and the Theory and Philosophy of Music


Rammos, Yannis, Notes


POSTCLASSICAL Sounding the Virtual: Gilles Deleuze and the Theory and Philosophy of Music. Edited by Brian Hulse and Nick Nesbitt. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010. [xvii, 288 p. ISBN 9780754667735. $119.95.] Figures, music examples, notes on contributors, bibliography, index.

There are two groups of listeners that American "music theory," with few exceptions and in all its institutional rigor and card-carrying professionalism, has been inclined to marginalize: amateurs and philosophers. That Gilles Deleuze and his partner Félix Guattari, with whom he coauthored his best-known works, belonged in both suggests at the outset the radicalness, complexities and potential complications of the endeavor undertaken by editors Brian Hulse and Nick Nesbitt. "The explicit reference to music has receded in most post-structuralism," observes Martin Scherzinger (p. 107), and skepticism towards a thinker most often associated with film, political theory, and feminist theory may furthermore be quite difficult to dispel. The editors implicitly acknowledge the challenge by extolling as early as possible the "lavish attention Deleuze accords to music," perhaps overestimating it compared to that of other philosophers in their pithy and inviting introduction to the volume (p. xv). They also clarify that "much of what Deleuze wrote about music was not transparently consistent with his overall philosophical project" (p. xv), much as no explicit illustration of this divergence is to be found in the volume (a possible disappointment for readers drawn to it by prior knowledge of the primary sources). The second challenge confronting the contributors is a pervasive opaqueness, the contradictions and iconoclastic poetry of the French poststructuralist's language- qualities essential to his thought and not merely ornamental-and they negotiate it with an expert balance of authorial fervor and scholarly detachment. Overall, they are able to refrain from the temptation to canonize Deleuze despite the evident inaugural enthusiasm permeating the volume, which largely originates in a 2008 conference at the State University of New York and is only the second book-length text in English on the subject (following Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swiboda, eds., Deleuze and Music [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004]).

It is actually laudable that the book does not attempt a systematic introduction to the philosopher's ideas, as they are hardly conducive to textbook-style treatment or, alas, schematic "definitions." The twelve chapters may be read in almost any order, in fact, although consecutive chapters coalesce into tacit thematic areas. The first two studies, by Christopher Hasty and Brian Hulse, challenge the conceptual underpinnings of music theory from a Deleuzian perspective and in doing so also introduce key terms that recur throughout the volume. The next three explore the boundaries of Deleuzian "music" as a domain- namely, and in oversimplifying brevity: its assimilation of sonic material traditionally rejected as "noise"; the extent to which Deleuze's ideas apply to all music or, alternatively, to particular "minoritarian" repertoires evading genres and canons; as well as a political critique of Boulez's post-1951 serialist technique and its implied nomination by Deleuze and Guattari as exemplary. Attention in the following chapters is directed, broadly speaking, towards the philosophical origins of Deleuze's project, which are traced in Nietzsche, Bergson and, in terms of emphasis in the volume, especially Spinoza. But it is probably the final five essays that may most appeal to practicing musicians and "analysts," as they most closely pertain to aspects of musical praxis and current musicological discourse: performance studies and the source of expressivity in improvisation (Nesbitt), analytical methodology and metatheory ( Judy Loch head, Ildar Khannanov), the poetics of music analysis (Bruce Quaglia), and "becoming" as a modality permeating musical meaning in the aftermath of the Deleuzian assault against fixed "signs" and subjectivist "interpretation" (Marianne Kielian-Gilbert). …

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