2012—2013 Forum on Peripheries
SAS Postdoctoral Fellow
Baruch Spinoza and the Matter of Music: Towards a New Practice of Theorizing Musical Bodies
The notion that musical sound is made by bodies and circulates within and among bodies is axiomatic in both popular and academic accounts of musical performance and listening. My research develops an intellectual history of the mind-body problem in order to theorize the pleasure, intensity and sociality typically ascribed to musical embodiment and embodied knowledge in contemporary thought. Showing that much of music studies’ engagement with musical bodies has taken shape as moral opposition to René Descartes infamous mind-body dualism, I develop an alternative ethical approach through the thought and reception of one of Descartes’ earliest and most radical critics: Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). In his Ethics (pub. pth. 1677), Spinoza theorizes the body as constitutive of the mind, overcoming Descartes’ dualism with a robust account of mind-body unity and interaction. Reconstructing Descartes’ dualism through his Compendium of Music (1618), I render its Spinozistic overcoming as a challenge to rethink how music distributes ethical and social knowledge through its material action upon and within bodies.