Monday, September 15, 2008

Ralston, Laurel. "A Derridean Approach to Musical Identity." POSTGRADUATE JOURNAL OF AESTHETICS 5.2 (2008).

The issue of musical identity—of what defines works of music, gives each its unique character and distinguishes them from one another—is one of the central issues in the philosophy of music. Too often in the philosophical literature it is approached as a purely theoretical question, one that can be answered adequately through careful intellectual consideration of scores and performances. The typical philosophical approach to the performance of Western art music, particularly that composed between the Baroque and Romantic eras, is to offer descriptions of how musical works come into being, what their origins may be, which of their structural and aesthetic elements must be observed and conserved in their representations, and so on. It takes the written notation of a musical work, the score, to be a kind of blueprint created by a composer, defining and describing an autonomous musical entity, the musical work, such that another person might perform it. The work is recognized paradoxically as something existing independently of, yet deriving its identity from, its origins with the composer. In this essay I propose that an alternative to this approach can be constructed by analogy with the ‘textual strategies’ characteristic of Jacques Derrida’s approach to literary theory, criticism and the philosophy of language. Philosophical accounts of literary identity have upheld the supposed immutability of the ‘original version’ of the text and allowed it to remain the ‘ultimate reference’ for its identity. Derrida, however, has pointed out the problematic nature of traditional thought regarding literary texts: that there is a certain tension between the recognition of the enigmatic nature of the identity conditions of a literary work and the continued belief that it is possible to articulate such conditions. The structure of writing, of all writing, precludes any notion of the written text as fixed and eternal, because signification, representation, and the substitution of one meaning or context for another all occur indefinitely within it and without closure. Writing works in such a way that it engages signified meaning “in its own economy so that it always signifies again and differs. . . . [That] which is written is never identical to itself.” The centre that would enclose this economy, that could cause the chain of signification to close itself by linking the origin and the end and boiling all substitutions down to a single, cohesive interpretation, would transgress this structure of writing. Substitution as it occurs in writing does not simply happen once and for all; it is structurally bound to occur ad infinitum. In music this encompasses the substitution of notation for sound—a dual structure set in motion by différance, the playing movement that emerges within musical practice not only as the theoretical interaction of possible interpretations, but also as the concrete exercise of creating sound, time and again: of playing music. This is the case with all written texts—they do not possess a simple origin, because they are originally iterable. . . . Read the rest here:

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