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The Philosopher's Touch

The Philosopher's Touch: Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes at the Piano

François Noudelmann
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  • Book Info
    The Philosopher's Touch
    Book Description:

    Renowned philosopher and prominent French critic François Noudelmann engages the musicality of Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Roland Barthes, all of whom were amateur piano players and acute lovers of the medium. Though piano playing was a crucial art for these thinkers, their musings on the subject are largely scant, implicit, or discordant with each philosopher's oeuvre. Noudelmann both recovers and integrates these perspectives, showing that the manner in which these philosophers played, the composers they adored, and the music they chose reveals uncommon insight into their thinking styles and patterns.

    Noudelmann positions the physical and theoretical practice of music as a dimension underpinning and resonating with Sartre's, Nietzsche's, and Barthes's unique philosophical outlook. By reading their thought against their music, he introduces new critical formulations and reorients their trajectories, adding invaluable richness to these philosophers' lived and embodied experiences. The result heightens the multiple registers of being and the relationship between philosophy and the senses that informed so much of their work. A careful reader of music, Noudelmann maintains an elegant command of the texts under his gaze and appreciates the discursive points of musical and philosophical scholarship they involve, especially with regard to recent research and cutting-edge critique.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52720-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
    (pp. 1-6)

    My inspiration for this book came from watching a video of Jean-Paul Sartre playing the piano. The scene takes place in 1967, a time when this writer-philosopher is engaged on all fronts of international politics. He has been traveling the world lending support to revolutionary struggles, holding discussions with the likes of Castro, Tito, Khrushchev, and Nasser. Since 1945 he has become a man of incendiary declarations. Threatened with death by the defenders of anAlgérie française, he is also feared by de Gaulle. At the Russell Tribunal, he had judged the Americans for their crimes, and now they have him...

    (pp. 7-48)

    Was Sartre interested in music? To establish the range of our probe, we can begin by perusing the many studies that he devoted to the arts, including matiériste painting, kinetic sculpture, photojournalism, popular cinema, African poetry, the American novel. His works present a near encyclopedic repertory. Almost nothing escaped Sartre’s drive to capture what was new. An insatiable curiosity lies at the bottom of his conception of the total intellectual, someone authorized to speak about everything, beyond any disciplinary specialization. There was no need to be an artist or a historian to write seriously about art: Intellectuals, on principle, get...

    (pp. 49-94)

    Nietzsche’s legacy can be seen in unexpected places. Sometimes we find it in a small wooden frame decorating a room in one’s home, or perhaps inscribed above an entryway: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Every music lover, no matter how unfamiliar with philosophy, knows this maxim, and the importance that Nietzsche accorded to music has largely been established. Although he was not much read during his own lifetime, this philosopher wrote to his friends that monuments would be constructed to his work in a hundred years . . . or perhaps five hundred, or a thousand. Yet, whatever...

    (pp. 95-144)

    The wordamateur in French has an ambivalent set of meanings. It can refer equally well to the discriminating connoisseur or to the approximating amateur. Anamateur de pianois a connoisseur of pianos, one who knows how to pick out a worthy instrument in terms of both its sound and its mechanics. Such anamateuris able to evaluate the hammers, the soundboard, and so on. She can distinguish among brands and even identify the materials and place of origin of a piano’s construction. Anamateur au piano, on the other hand, is defined by his shortcomings. This type ofamateuronly plays from time to time,...

    (pp. 145-156)

    When they sat down to the piano, did they merely play the piano? By following Nietzsche, Sartre, and Barthes in their regular practice of this instrument, we discover just how much playing music carries with it a whole life of feelings, a life that extends into our social and intellectual activities. This initial intuition leads us, through the touch of these three thinkers, to the metonymic power of the piano. Although often reserved for moments of solitary intimacy, piano playing does not leave the rest of one’s days intact. Even without constructing a theory for it, each of these three...

    (pp. 157-160)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 161-166)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-168)