The Philosophy of Improvisation
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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.
improvisors, however, things are not quite so straightforward partly because the openness to chance and error so celebrated by improvisors is seriously compromised by the play of aesthetic judgment both on the work (from the audience) and within it (from the performers, not uninfluenced by the audience). There is an idealism in improvisation that is heart-warming but misguided. The terminology that inhabits and informs the hegemonic dialogical language of care, enabling, sharing, and
Their entry into us is one with our entry into them. Rhythm represents a unique situation where we cannot speak of consent, assumption, initiative, or freedom, because the subject is caught up and carried away by it. The subject is part of its own representation. It is so even despite itself, for in rhythm there is no longer a oneself, but rather a sort of passage from oneself to anonymity.56 This, unhappily, shows the dark side of all organically conceived participatory cultures: in an effort
the latter is assured, committed, and challenging (question-raising). Maurice Blanchot identifies the same reversal in the thought of Simone Weil. He writes of her (not uncritically): Freedom, Origination, and Irony 55 We enter into thought . . . only by questioning. We go from question to question to the point where the question, pushed toward a limit, becomes response. . . . Such a way of proceeding is foreign to Simone Weil. . . . [I]t would seem that she first responds to herself, as
surrounding jazz improvisation, but which of course have a hold over him too. The achievement of individuality requires a principle of free choice that runs right through the Western tradition of postromantic art and its legitimating discourses. Such discourses put increasing weight on individual acts of creation, subjectivity, intentionality, and originality, thus forging a language (or “terminology” as Adorno describes it) rich in possibilities for the self-promotion of improvisation. In truth
the ironic position is never a critical one outside of the object of irony, but a movement within it (immanent), an infinite “becoming” as Schlegel describes it, but one that mirrors rather than transcends the given. Describing romantic poetry in his famous “Athenäum Fragment, No. 116,” Schlegel’s words apply equally to the irony that is at the heart of this concept of poetry: It can—more than any other form—hover at the midpoint between the portrayed and the portrayer, free of all real and ideal