The Philosophy of Improvisation

The Philosophy of Improvisation

Gary Peters

Language: English

Pages: 200

ISBN: 0226662799

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Improvisation is usually either lionized as an ecstatic experience of being in the moment or disparaged as the thoughtless recycling of clichés. Eschewing both of these orthodoxies, The Philosophy of Improvisation ranges across the arts—from music to theater, dance to comedy—and considers the improvised dimension of philosophy itself in order to elaborate an innovative concept of improvisation.

            Gary Peters turns to many of the major thinkers within continental philosophy—including Heidegger, Nietzsche, Adorno, Kant, Benjamin, and Deleuze—offering readings of their reflections on improvisation and exploring improvisational elements within their thinking. Peters’s wry, humorous style offers an antidote to the frequently overheated celebration of freedom and community that characterizes most writing on the subject. Expanding the field of what counts as improvisation, The Philosophy of Improvisation will be welcomed by anyone striving to comprehend the creative process.

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perpetrated in the 1960s is not the “healthiest notion,” this, perhaps, has less to do with the era and more to do with the notion. However, one could be forgiven for thinking it somewhat ironic that jazz, of all genres of improvised music, implicated as it is in a whole history of drug- and drinkrelated excess, should give birth to a cultural movement dominated by the desire for the realization of an “aesthetic dimension” that has liberated freedom from its own imperfection, cleaned it up and

the artist and the conventions and constraints of the artwork. But irony is much more than this; it is also the positive freedom-to act, to mark without further ado the unmarked space in the full knowledge that each and every mark could be other. The ironic position is not uncommitted; it is absolutely committed to the now—the moment so celebrated by free-improvisation—but committed to it in its contingency. If, as Niklas Luhmann argues, art is the “emancipation of contingency,”92 and if

dialectics that steadfastly refuses to settle upon either the subjective or objective poles of art practice—artist/artwork—Adorno’s fleeting (and infuriatingly undeveloped) reference to “real improvisation” speaks not of the individual or the collective but of “oppositional groups” improvising out of “sheer pleasure.” This is a strange statement for Adorno who almost never speaks of art in terms of pleasure. He is indeed alluding to a strange moment, when the forgotten pleasure in the

by Wagnerian music.”34 But as both the extant examples of his own musical compositions and his oft-repeated expressions of aesthetic taste confirm, he was by no means the avant-gardist he is sometimes claimed to be. Indeed, even his writing—the real pinnacle of his improvisation—although presented as an “untimely” “philosophy for the future” is engaged above I m p r o v is a ti o n , O r i g in a ti o n , a n d R e - n o v a ti o n 139 all with the re-origination of the ancient thought of

Ibid., 137. 49. Caygill, “Benjamin, Heidegger, and the Destruction of Tradition,” 20. 50. Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity, 152–53. 51. See Bryson, Vision and Painting. 52. Haring, “Untitled Statement (1984),” 370. 53. Kant, Critique of Judgement, 137: Hence it is that a youthful poet refuses to allow himself to be dissuaded from the conviction that his poem is beautiful, either by the judgement of the public or his friends. And even if he lends them an ear, he does so, not because he has

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