Deconstruction
Education
John Cage
John Zorn
Outwork
J-S Bach










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Justification

[1] This work is the sediment of a quest, a wavering series of explorations, and not the presentation of a set of conclusions. Without diffidence, these texts openly parasitize Derrida's work. However, they are no more parasites than the host-texts they use since both inhabit host-texts, which themselves parasitically feed on their host-like willingness to receive them. The relationship between my texts -  re-inscribed texts - and the so-called original texts is not that of patency and latency, but rather the relationship between two palimpsests. The 'original' texts themselves are the palimpsests of 'pre-texts'; any inscription is (only) a trace of former inscriptions. Referring to textual interpretation, Gayatri Spivak writes in her preface to Of Grammatology: 'The so-called secondary material is not simply adjunct to the so-called primary text. The latter inserts itself within the interstices of the former, filling holes that are always already there. Even as it adds itself to the text, criticism supplies a lack in the text and the gaps in the chain of criticism anterior to it' (Of Grammatology, p.lxxiv).
Texts refer to and depend on each other. This can take on different forms: a quote, a reproduction, a commentary, an interpretation, a summary, an addition, an abbreviation. Regarded as such, a trace of linearity can still be maintained throughout these forms. There is a source or core text onto which other texts graft themselves. Derrida criticizes this idea of linearity. There is indeed a relation between different texts, but these texts make up a network without a center. This principle is called intertextuality, a non-closable system in which texts take on their meaning within a network of mutual references. 'Text'. Derived from the Latin 'texere' which means 'to weave', or 'textum', meaning 'web' or 'fabric'. 'Web' implies that there is no root, no center, no origin. Nothing functions on its own. Everything is interwoven, every text (word, meaning) refers to a vast series of other texts (words, meanings).

[2] I re-read texts by Derrida and others and put them in a different context. Meanings of texts are brought forth through a process of re-reading, a process of re-creation, de- and re-contextualization. (Re-)reading is always caught up in a chain of proliferating meanings that can neither be halted, nor fully comprehended. In Rethinking Intellectual History, Dominick Lacapra calls it 'the worklike aspects' of a text. These aspects are critical and transformative. They deconstruct and reconstruct the given; repeating it, but also bringing into the world something that did not exist before in the significant alteration or transformation (cf. Lacapra, p.29-30). In other words, in rereading Derrida's texts, I will not merely take up a position of servant whose task it would be to elucidate his philosophy. Musical deconstruction - the topic of this study - is not an application of his philosophical lessons to music, but an exploration of textual logic in texts called music(al).

[3] A parasite. My texts are parasitical. But parasites only abstract a part from their hosts. In attempting to introduce Derrida's work to music and the discourse on music, I have cut up his texts, mutilated them. However, as Derrida himself is fully aware, the publication of his texts as texts allows for such a mutilation. It is in fact unavoidable. Or, as Jonathan Culler writes, 'One is tempted to speak of an original practice of deconstruction in Derrida's writings and to set aside as derivative the imitations of his admirers, but in fact these repetitions, parodies, 'etiolations', or distortions are what bring a method into being and articulate, within Derrida's work itself, a practice of deconstruction' (Culler, p.120). To treat Derrida's writing as the original and other texts on deconstruction as modest imitations is to forget precisely what the strategy of deconstruction can teach us about the relation between meaning and iteration, mis-interpretations, and infelicities. Deconstruction persists not as a univocal set of instructions, but as a series of differences that can be charted on various axes.

[4] I write five times around music. Around music. Using different approaches. Every musical phenomenon can potentially be examined from the point of view of all disciplines. This web-site is situated on the crossroads of philosophical, musicological and sociological texts read against musical practices that also function as texts. My analytic strategy will thus consist of reading theoretical texts with musical texts. I do not read post-structuralist theory and deconstruction as philosophers do; that is, primarily in relation to other philosophical texts. I am re-reading these theories in relation to texts of music, and vice versa. However, none of the sociological, musicological and philosophical texts function as a theoretical model to be tested against the empirical. Rather, my form of analysis can be understood as textual dialogue. For example, Gerd Zacher's Die Kunst einer Fuge is re-read, in part, against Derrida's Specters of Marx. But this is not a one-way reading. Derrida's work is also re-read against Zacher's text. Rather than invoke the traditional metaphors of surface and depth, according to which theory is said to lie at a deeper, more foundational level than empiricism or practice, I would say that both types of texts lie in the same intellectual space (cf. Moxley, p. xi). In line with these points of departure, moreover, is the assumption that all fields of knowledge that stand outside the history of music are considered to be equally potent with regard to their function within research around music, and not as borderline, 'sister', or auxiliary. But what does 'outside' mean? Derrida writes that any talk of meaning or structure is ineluctably caught up in a process that it does not control. To him, this signals the dissolution of absolute boundaries that mark off one text from another (cf. Norris, 1982, p.114). Intertextuality easily leads to, already assumes, a challenging of disciplinary boundaries; it has the power to estrange the familiar and to make people conceive of their own thinking and institutions in new ways.

[5] Deconstruction in music. Derrida considers himself unqualified in the sphere of music. He wonders whether most philosophy might only be possible when it represses music (cf. Points, p.394). Univocality, conceivability, controllability, appropriation - ideas that inhabit most Western philosophy (perhaps the only exceptions would be post-structuralism and deconstruction) - are diametrically opposed to music in its quality of the experience of impossible appropriation and a multiplicity of voices (cf. Derrida's Ear) . The experience of impossible appropriation and a multiplicity of voices. Precisely two points Derrida constantly emphasizes in his own work: no text can escape from them although most philosophers try to avoid them. Do deconstruction and music touch on each other here? Are there in fact close similarities? Can the strategies of deconstruction and the workings of music teach us more or less the same lesson? Still, Derrida considers himself unqualified to write about or around music. So he does not. In spite of the fact that Derrida's deconstruction of a text by Rousseau (in Of Grammatology) deals with the hierarchical relation between melody and harmony, this can by no means be called a musical deconstruction or a deconstruction in music.
In Deconstruction and the Visual Arts, Derrida confesses: 'Music is the object of my strongest desire, and yet at the same time it remains completely forbidden. I don't have the competence, I don't have any truly presentable musical culture. Thus, my desire remains completely paralyzed. I am even more afraid of speaking nonsense in this area than in any other' (Brunette and Wills, p.21). Obviously, Derrida does not exclude the possibility of a musical deconstruction with this. On the contrary, according to Derrida, every text - that is to say, each chain of signifiers considered as the product of differences - carries with it its own deconstruction in principle. Derrida even states that 'the most effective deconstruction is one that deals with the non-discursive or with discursive institutions that don't have the form of a written discourse ... I would say that the most effective deconstruction is that which is not limited to discursive texts and certainly not to philosophical texts' (Brunette and Wills, p.14). Even though Derrida does not become involved with musical deconstruction, these words certainly open the possibility of disclosing deconstruction in disciplines other than those around which he orients himself: in music, musicology, music education. (In Deconstructive Variations, Rose Subotnik describes her encounter with Derrida during which she tells him she wants to apply deconstruction to music. At first, Derrida believes she means deconstructing a musicological text. When Subotnik explains she wants to deconstruct a prelude by Chopin, he is pleasantly surprised at the idea of applying deconstruction directly to music. In Of New Musicology, I elaborate upon and criticize Subotnik's way of using deconstruction as a kind of interpretative tool.)

[6] So the work of Derrida does not neatly map opportunities for tracing deconstruction at work in (the discourse on/of) music. But this should be regarded as something positive. It prompts an investigation of deconstruction in musical practices, which would be more closed off if his work did map it. It means that we can not only reread and rewrite Derrida's texts, but also embroider, develop and go beyond them.
However, is it actually true that Derrida has not involved himself with the musical? Yugoslavian musicologist Mirjana Veselinovic-Hofman states that '... it cannot be denied that Derrida, truly quite indirectly, arrived at musical questions as well, especially at the non-semantic treatment of verbal material in 20th century music. He managed this by advocating the thesis that linguistic communication in itself hides the rupture caused by non-discursive sonority' (Suvakovic, 1997, p.11). The non-semantic aspect of language and non-discursive sonority. Derrida touches on this in an interview stating: 'You know that I love words ... And if I love words it is also because of their ability to escape their proper form, whether they interest me as visible things, letters representing the spatial visibility of the word, or as something musical or audible ... [it] probably has something to do with a non-discursive sonority, although I don't know whether I would call it musical' (Brunette and Wills, p.20-1).
Derrida hesitates to equate non-discursive sonority with the musical. He does not say why. He does not elaborate on this statement. But a probable answer could be that the musical cannot be reduced to non-discursive sonority. Non-discursive sonority is just one part of the musical. Nevertheless, this idea of non-discursivity opens a way to connect Derrida's thoughts to music. Veselinovic-Hofman points this out to us as does British musicologist Steve Sweeney-Turner in his essay 'Speaking Without Tongues'. According to Sweeney-Turner, non-discursive sonority can easily be recognized in the so-called 'musicalization of language' where 'vocal delivery does not so much communicate something as perform it. The voice has become an instrument, and is all the more musical for that' (Sweeney-Turner, 1995, p.186). Especially in 20th-century music, there are many examples that have the voice act as a non-discursive sonority. Let me mention just a few. German composer Wolfgang Rihm calls the practice of setting words and actions to music, as is customary in opera, old-fashioned. In his work, words, actions, and images are adopted into the music. The semantics are subordinated to the sound; the music needs to be wrested from the text. For John Cage, the voice is an instrument like any other. In his Roaratorio, the importance is not the meaning of the words; rather, the (pure) sound is. Vocalist Yamatsuka Eye from John Zorn's band, Naked City, hardly uses any words at all. His screams and howls communicate in a purely non-discursive way. Derrida's claims that the idea of linguistic communication itself is ruptured at every point by non-discursive sonority agree with Belgium composer Karel Goeyvaerts' conception of language as non-semantic primal sound in his composition Aquarius. Goeyvaerts is concerned with creating the possibility of communicating from the quality of the sound itself before any (conventional) (ascription of) meaning. But perhaps the best example of vocal non-discursivity can be found in jazz music where singers use their voice as an instrument during improvisation, a principle called 'scatting': sounds without discursive meaning are produced.

[7] 'Speaking Without Tongues' leads to the challenging thought that Derrida, despite all his professed incompetence in musical matters, has nonetheless provided musicology with unprecedented opportunities: 'Perhaps, instead of musicologists looking to linguistics for new paradigms and methodologies, it should be linguistics knocking on [their] doors' (Sweeney-Turner, 1995, p.186). Although challenging, I will not deal (solely) with the non-semantic and non-discursivity of music while elaborating how deconstruction is at work within musical practices. I hope to make clear that deconstruction in music surpasses this idea.