26 November 2011

An Intellectual Experiment ~ Ethics and Improvisation

I came across this lecture by philosopher Arnold Davidson and subsequent discussion that focus on the intersection of improvisation and ethics, jazz and philosophy. The philosophical sources of the lecture are Foucault, Hadot, and Cavell (the latter channeling Emerson, Throreau, Wittgenstein). Unfortunately. Davidson is ill-prepared time-wise and skips nearly all the musical examples he had prepared, sticking instead to familiar terrain of philosophical texts. Even then he gets to the punch line late (starting around minute 30:00 or so) - there he says “ . . . Since improvisation is the free creation of differences, it challenges and calls for intelligibility. These differences in intelligibility are a source of discomfort.” And various forms of improvisation are an aid in the face of such discomfort too insofar as they evidence both fluidity and coherence they can, by generating work that is “fluid but not amorphous, coherent without being frozen” help establish and reestablish intelligibility by, I think, generating and settling discordance. I think this is plausible and will try to hunt down more refined versions of the argument as they appear. Interestingly, Davidson is collaborating with the esteemed musician/composer.historian George Lewis [1] [2] on a broad project here.

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