Schelling, Adorno and All that Jazz


Richard Marshall interviews Andrew Bowie in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: You find Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said’s East-West Divan orchestra an illustration of one of the key reasons why you think music important. Can you say something about this and how it illustrates your approach to music that it is only through our activities that the world can be disclosed to us and we can enter into it?

AB: The Barenboim-Said Orchestra offers an example of communication between people whose political views are often totally opposed. Barenboim cites two musicians from the orchestra on opposed sides of the Arab-Israeli disputes who cannot agree at all on issues of justice and politics, but who can agree on the importance of getting the phrasing in a Beethoven symphony right. Philosophers also hardly ever agree on anything, but they have to coexist, so finding modes of communication and interaction which circumvent inevitable differences should be crucial. The point of something like music, where participation is essential, is that what happens in successful participation cannot be fully cashed out in discursive terms. Our political judgements, on the other hand, should have to be publicly cashed out, and this means we often arrive at irreconcilable conflicts, where both sides’ judgements may, of course, anyway be mistaken.

The existence of a practice where a different kind of agreement is possible can help suggest how theoretical differences can be overcome by involvement in a practice. That does not mean that the world of music is devoid of antagonism and disagreement – it is actually notorious for being riven by conflict – but it does also offer examples of cooperation and communication beyond everyday antagonisms in other domains. That is one of the things I love about the jazz scene, where people from wildly different backgrounds, with very different levels of experience and skill, and very different musical conceptions, can play together successfully. People invest in music because it always already makes some kind of sense: establishing what that sense is by a philosophical theory is unlikely to intensify the investment, because the theory is at a different level of sense from the sense that makes people invest in the practice of music in the first place. The objectifying tendency of much philosophy can easily obscure essential dimensions of sense, of the kind generated in participatory cultural activities. That is not to say, as Adorno, not always wholly successfully, reminds us, that music cannot become ideological and open to misuse, but without an adequate prior awareness of the primary level of sense in music, that concern would be baseless.

More here.