“Music, Language, Thought” February 28, 2009 at New York University

The first session of Music, Language, Thought will meet on Saturday February 28, 2009. Schedule and information below.

Music, Language, Thought
Two Interdisciplinary Events

Saturday February 28, 2009
New York University
Silver Center of Arts and Science
100 Washington Square East
Department of Music, Room 220, 2nd Floor
Enter at Washington Place Doors
Admission is free and open to the public

Saturday April 4, 2009
Speakers and location TBA

“Music, Language, Thought” is a new interdisciplinary event series organized by graduate students within New York University’s Music and Comparative Literature Departments. Broadly speaking, the series focuses on the relationship between music and language, and our speakers will examine its theoretical ramifications for politics, aesthetics and historiography. The project stems from ongoing conversation and collaboration between graduate students within these two departments, and will continue on an annual basis.

Sponsored by the FAS Department of Music and the Department of Comparative Literature
With additional support from the NYU Humanities Initiative
Organized by Michael Gallope, Daniel Hoffman-Schwartz, Magali Armillas-Tiseyra, Amy Cimini and Ceci Moss

Schedule for Saturday, February 28, 2009

10am – 12pm

John Hamilton (Comparative Literature, Music and German; NYU)
“The Rape of Euterpe: Music, Philology, and Misology in the Work of Nietzsche”

The pronounced distrust of verbal language throughout Nietzsche’s work, what Socrates scorned as “misology” in Plato’s Phaedo, correlates to a life-long devotion to music. A fundamental conception of music as the art of time—and hence of modification, alteration, and therefore instability or uncertainty—motivates Nietzsche’s singular contribution to philological method and subsequently his destructive zeal against all species of stabilized metaphysical images. What, however, would a “musical philology” precisely entail, and what are some of its ramifications? In what ways can musical sensibility and scholarly inquiry interact? To what extent is a “love of words” grounded in a deep mistrust of communication? Is it not the case that every philologist is, at least potentially, a misologist, an iconoclast, a music-making Socrates—a philosopher with a “third ear”?

Mary Ann Smart (Music; UC Berkeley)
“Rossini and Nonsense”

The recent admission of Rossini’s music to the canon has been founded on an unusual basis: that of the music’s nonsensical qualities, its refusal of musical thought. Rossini’s preference for vocal fireworks over careful word-setting has been celebrated as prefiguring the pure musical patterns of absolute music, as privileging body over mind, and as reflecting the nihilism of post-Napoleonic Italy. This paper will situate these claims in relation to early nineteenth-century Italian thought about mimesis and musical expression, as articulated in contemporary encyclopedias of music, composition treatises, and pamphlets on musical aesthetics.



Jacques Lezra (Comparative Literature, Spanish & Portuguese; NYU)
“The Devil’s Interval”

In Minima Moralia, Theodor Adorno writes: “‘I have seen the world spirit,’ not on horse-back, but on wings and without a head, and that refutes, at the same stroke, Hegel’s philosophy of history.” Adorno’s thought-image places “Hitler’s robot-bombs” alongside the images of Alexander’s corpse, Caesar’s murder or Napoleon’s exile in St. Helena’s, with the goal of “refuting” the Hegelian claim that at certain privileged moments “world-spirit manifests itself directly in symbols” [unmittelbar symbolisch sich ausdruckt]. It is a disquieting, searching image, and it is associated with Adorno’s running critique of the “immediate” presentation of aesthetic experience generally, and of “symbols” particularly. Nowhere does Adorno more emphatically treat the temptation, and the danger, of immediacy than in his writing on music, and in particular in his understanding of the function of rules and of rule-following in modern music. Can we derive a “philosophy of history” from these writings? What principles of change, internal to modern music, take the place of the direct, symbolic manifestation of world-spirit that one finds in Hegel? Edward Said’s late return to the concept of humanism arises from a symptomatic misreading of Adorno’s answer to these questions. (Said’s humanism may amount to a disavowal of the diabolical principles he encounters in Adorno’s work.) This talk approaches the problem through a discussion of the concept of “interval” that develops in Adorno’s account of Wagner and Schoenberg’s different responses to Beethoven’s rethinking of the so-called devil’s interval, or tritone (one might say: from Fidelio through the “Tristan” chord to Moses und Aron).

Branden Joseph (Art History and Archaeology; Columbia University)

The onset of those operations collectively known as the “Global War on Terror” has brought to light the use of music by the United States as a component of physical and psychological torture, a topic which has given rise to a certain amount of discussion within musicological circles. Developing upon such discussions, this paper will trace the affinities of contemporary weaponized uses of sound to “biomusic,” a little-known development within advanced musical practice in the 1960s and 70s. Beyond the possible connections to contemporary techniques of abuse, the investigation will shed light on a number of transformations in the manner in which subjectivity, power, and signification have been conceived and engaged within the later part of the twentieth century.

For inquiries, please contact:
Ceci Moss, clm406[at]nyu.edu

Music, Language, Thought Poster


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