Music in Bakhtin’s philosophical aesthetics

Gritten, Anthony (2012) Music in Bakhtin’s philosophical aesthetics. In: Music semiotics: a network of significations. Sheinberg, Esti, ed. Ashgate, UK, pp. 59-70. ISBN 9781409411024. [Book Section]


What does music set in motion? What transformations in knowledge, understanding, wisdom, action and creativity does it engender? How might we recognise, individuate, encourage and interpret such transformations in value?
In the final chapter of The Sense of Music, and in an unpublished and more piquant version of the same chapter, Raymond Monelle returns to and pursues these kinds of questions, writing poetically and gracefully as always. However, it is not so much Monelle’s specific conclusions that interest me in this essay, but the attitude with which he approaches and articulates them. I am interested in Monelle’s anti- (or, more accurately, para-)totalising ideology, his lack of anxiety about “The Limitations of Logic” (p. 227), his care with “simple patterns and modest wisdoms” (p. 228), and his concern for the “confusing, provisional, [and] unthinkable, signalling a world without fixed points and a criticism without authority” (p. 232), for these all speak of a certain attitude towards music, its practices, and its objects that can benefit from further attention.
In order to gloss Monelle’s musical attitude (and his attitude towards musical attitudes), this paper turns outwards to the thought of Mikhail Bakhtin. It attempts to imagine what Bakhtin might have said about music’s ethical force, based on the broader philosophical aesthetics articulated in his early writings (Art and Answerability, Toward a Philosophy of the Act and Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity). Operating in the wake of the neo-Kantian thought of Hermann Cohen, Ernst Cassirer and others, Bakhtin outlines an architectonics of aesthetic activity resting on a phenomenology of ethical activity but differentiated from it by the role of ‘outsideness’. Setting in motion the passage between ethics and aesthetics, for Bakhtin, are the phenomenological motifs of ‘love’, ‘silence’, and ‘loopholes’, which configure outsideness in particular ways. Bakhtin’s assessment of the ends of art is tied up with the development of ‘phronesis’, or practical wisdom, and the roles played by these three motifs in its articulation. Bakhtin’s approach will be compared with Aristotle, Kant, and Nietzsche, by whom he was influenced, though it will be claimed that Bakhtin’s particular approach to art and its role in human life is characterised by the special, and theologically driven, place he allocates to the motif of love.
The goal of this essay is to explain with Bakhtin’s help how, according to Monelle, music responds to a certain kind of aesthetic engagement with its ‘sense’ and contributes to the development of a kind of wisdom as part of a full human life. From this essay will emerge a sense of what Monelle himself phrases in the closing lines of the unpublished final chapter: “theory as search, theory as speculation, theory as responsibility, theory as ambivalence, theory as humour, theory as unthinkable” (unpubl., p. 20).

Item Type: Book Section
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts
Item ID: 3635
Depositing User: Dr Anthony Gritten
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2010 09:37
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2016 14:16

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