John Zorn
John Cage
J-S Bach


Music, Deconstruction and Ethics

[ 1 ] A difficult start. A matricide. A double matricide. It seems so ungrateful. Merciless. (Although we have to keep in mind that a matricide involves respect as well.) An attempted double murder to make (a) space for my own work.
In Of New Musicology I state that many 'new musicologists' take a pragmatic approach to deconstruction and music, presenting deconstruction as a salutary tool (pharmakon) to save music and musicology. (Sometimes deconstruction seems to owe its power exclusively to its popularity. Since deconstruction is no longer a 'hot item', musicologists hardly occupy themselves with it anymore.) Pragmatic arguments. Susan McClary writes: 'My primary concerns are first with justifying (affective) reactions through musical analysis, social history, critical theory, and much else ... my eclectic tool kit of methods has been assembled over the years out of whatever has seemed handy in unlocking particular musical problems' (McClary, p.22-3, my italics). Is deconstruction put into play the moment other models of interpreting music seem ineffective? Is deconstruction (reduced to) a 'handy' tool, useful when other research methods fail? Rose Subotnik, also seems to regard deconstruction as an enhancement of her interpreting repertoire. She describes her deconstructive essays as inquiries 'primarily concerned with establishing new paradigms for the study of music'. For Subotnik, deconstruction 'greatly expanded' the ways in which she thought about analyzing music (cf. Subotnik, p.xxvii-xxviii). Deconstruction is presented as a possible and - more or less - reliable musicological way of seeing which could considerably enrich theoretical approaches to music. However, deconstruction is not an interpretation model for tracking hidden meanings in a (musical) text. It is not a method, not a series of instructions for analyzing music. Deconstruction does not elucidate texts in the traditional sense of attempting to grasp a unifying content or theme. Deconstruction is not deconstructivism. And deconstruction does not cease when it is not in vogue anymore. Of course, McClary, Subotnik and other 'new musicologists' know this too. Perhaps I just used the quotes above to introduce my own work which takes a (slightly) different direction.

[ 2 ] When I try to answer the question why I do, indeed, concern myself with deconstruction and music, I do not want to resort (only) to the arguments of New Musicology. Why am I investigating deconstruction in music? Why do I want to show where and how what is called deconstruction is at work within the musical praxis? What message is it that I want to convey or pass on here? Is there a message at all?
These are important questions to me and (perhaps therefore) hard to answer. I agree with Terry Eagleton where he states that what is important is 'asking first not what the object is or how we should approach it, but why we should want to engage with it in the first place' (Eagleton, p.210, my italics).
Alongside New Musicology's pragmatic arguments, I would like to draw attention to an ethical component in paying attention to deconstruction. Alongside the extrinsic accounts of Subotnik, McClary, and others, I want to take the intrinsic forces of a deconstructive strategy as my point of departure. I by no means wish to undervalue the potential of connecting music and musicological thinking to other cultural or scientific discourses. In fact, it is the object of this site as well and it may yield a series of new possibilities for dealing with music. I by no means wish to undervalue the pioneering work of (these) 'new musicologists' who show in very different ways how deconstruction is at work within music and musicology. But the question remains. Why am I investigating deconstruction in music? My motivation is different from theirs. In formulating a provisional, prudent, groping response to this question, I aim to open a door to the ethical dimension of deconstruction, the ethical dimension of deconstruction in music, (perhaps) the ethical dimension of music.

[ 3 ] In The Ethics of Deconstruction, Simon Critchley describes the strategy of deconstruction as follows: 'To locate a point of otherness within philosophical or logocentric conceptuality and then to deconstruct this conceptuality from that position of alterity' (Critchley, p.26). Otherness. Alterity. Especially in his later works, Derrida often speaks of 'l'invention de l'autre', where 'l'autre' ('the other') may be regarded as that which remains unthought, that which escapes the grip of our concepts. The other is whatever resists, escapes definition whenever definition is put in place. Recognition of the other opens the ethical dimension of deconstruction which consists in opening, uncloseting, destabilizing foreclusionary structures so as to allow passage toward the other. No culturally based directive, but the other appealing to me very concretely. No laws of tolerance, hospitality or acceptance but my singular relationship to a singular other. Deconstruction can be thought of as a reading and writing strategy that takes notice of traces of the other, of the unthought, the invisible, the unheard without absorbing, assimilating or reducing it to the same (to the cognitive power of the knowing subject or self-consciousness). 'The interest of deconstruction, of such force and desire as it may have, is a certain experience ... of the other', Derrida writes (Waters and Godzich, p.36).
Derrida wants to preserve the space of the other as other. But how? How can a deconstructive strategy - a reading and writing practice - pay attention to the other, even the other of or in language, precisely in language itself? The paradox is that what cannot be put into language has to be evoked in language nonetheless. According to Derrida it is this same language that can open the space, the space of the other, that, in fact, never really succeeds in closing it. Thus, the invention of the other implies locating traces of the other within the order of the same. A cautious oscillation between two positions: complete assimilation would deny the other as other, whereas complete affirmation of the difference between the other and the same would render any contact between them impossible. Derrida: 'It is in this paradoxical predicament that a deconstruction gets under way. Our current tiredness results from the invention of the same and from the possible, from the invention that is always possible. It is not against it but beyond it that we are trying to reinvent invention itself, another invention, or rather an invention of the other that would come, through the economy of the same, indeed while miming or repeating it, to offer a place for the other' (Waters and Godzich, p.60).
The other is always something (someone) different. It differs from itself. Not a generality but a singularity. The other. Otherness. No new concepts, no universalities, no metaphysical terms. The ethics of deconstruction can be considered as an appreciation of the singularity of the singular. The other is a singular other that will not disappear in a crowd of others. The ethics of deconstruction is primarily an attention to the concrete particularity of the other in its singularity. Nevertheless, this singularity, too, is only accessible through the general.
The invention of the other evades every conceptual grasp. One needs to suspend, to defer as much as possible, the conceptual horizons of meanings. In that sense, the susceptibility or receptivity to the other that Derrida has in mind is passive. However, this passivity requires a deliberate and conscious effort. At the same time, a resoluteness is required to allow for that which escapes every anticipating horizon; to actively prevent existing conventions from taking command. To be receptive to the advent of the other, to receive the other, requires both an active and a passive attitude. 'The invention of the other is not opposed to that of the same, its difference beckons toward another coming about, toward this other invention of which we dream, the invention of the entirely other, the one that allows the coming of a still unanticipatable alterity and for which no horizon of waiting as yet seems ready, in place, available. Yet it is necessary to prepare for it; for to allow the coming of the entirely other, passivity, a certain kind of resigned passivity for which everything comes down to the same, is not suitable. Letting the other come is not inertia open to anything whatever', Derrida writes (Waters and Godzich, p.55).
The invention of the other. In-vention. To come upon. An activity that is not an activity. Derrida warns that it escapes all programming, that it is beyond any possible status, that the other is actually not inventable. He still calls it invention because one gets ready for it, one makes this step destined to let the other come, come in (cf. Waters and Godzich, p.56).

[ 4 ] How can this ethics of deconstruction be related to music? My idea is to introduce the specific attention to the other as manifested in deconstruction, into the discourse about music and to show how the dimension of alterity is articulated in music. First of all, the question could be posed whether music itself is not a certain manifestation of an other. In Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge, Lawrence Kramer argues that music has been closely related to the 'logic of alterity' since mid 1800s: 'The logic of alterity operates not only internally, within a musical terrain, but also externally, upon music as a whole. And when the internal logic of alterity yields to the external, music as a whole stands for the other' (Kramer, p.36). In this case, Kramer explains, music as the other is associated with irrationality, passivity, stasis or regression, fragmentation. The other stands opposite to the self and opposite to reason, activity, progress, unity, and the integrity of boundaries. Music is regarded as the other of language, of conceptual thought and of conscious self-possession (cf. Kramer; cf. De Groot).
Other questions can be asked. Not about music as other, but about the other in or in relation to music. Is it possible to develop an appreciation for, a receptability and response-ability to the other in and through music? To what extent does the other manifest itself in musical practices? Is it possible to approach music from the place of the other, from an other place? And what could be the other of music? In different pages on this site, in different contexts, with different musical works, I elaborate on these questions, trying to open an ethical space for the invention of the other of/for/with/in music (cf. for example Silence, Noise and Ethics, Education and Ethics, Of the Critics) .

[ 5 ] In his book Philosophy and the Analysis of Music, Lawrence Ferrara warns against rigorous methods when trying to say something about music: 'Methods have developed or evolved in ways that do not fully respond to the multiplicity of levels of musical significance ... music comes to mean only what methods allow it to mean' (Ferrara, p.xvi). Our urge to take charge over that which we do not (as yet) have under our control has lead us to apply pre- conceived models of interpretation that are placed over music where they act as a kind of filter. As a result, 'the work responds to the manner of questioning that has evolved in that method ... the music can only answer within the pre-designated tasks of the method' (Ferrara, p.39 and p.45).
Here is my statement. Traditional musical analysis silences the otherness within music. The ethics of deconstruction can teach us to meet music otherwise, to approach music from a point of view that is aware of its multiple and heterogeneous voices. It supports the opening up of this multiplicity. It is the opening up of this multiplicity. It is a susceptibility to other voices without reducing or incorporating them into the same. Derrida: 'The call of the other is a call to come, and that happens only in multiple voices' (Waters and Godzich, p.62). For me, deconstruction does justice to the heterogeneity of music by opening up our ears to hear the other (voices) in music. Deconstruction as the invention of the other in music. Why? One of the reasons could be that deconstruction is not a method, not a (new) analytic model to get a grip on music (cf. Deconstruction: Between Method and Singularity) . Perhaps it shows us the opposite, the impossibility of getting a grip. Deconstruction is not a magic password to provide secure knowledge about music. The password remains a secret, the passage way is uncertain. Deconstruction unveils a secret only to confirm the secret of music. There is always something which withdraws itself from knowledge forever ducking out of the exhaustive readings of hermeneutic interpretations or musicological analyses.

[ 6 ] Deconstruction in music. 'I am talking about the absolute arrivant, who is not even a guest. He surprises the host - who is not yet a host or an inviting power - enough to call into question, to the point of annihilating or rendering indeterminate, all the distinctive signs of a prior identity, beginning with the very border that delineated a legitimate home and assured lineage ... This absolute arrivant as such is, however, not an intruder, an invader, or a colonizer, because invasion presupposes some self-identity for the aggressor and for the victim. Nor is the arrivant a legislator or the discoverer of a promised land', Derrida writes (Aporias, p.34). Why this quote? I think these phrases tell how deconstruction is always already at work within music. The arrivant is deconstruction, the host is music. Deconstruction is not an intruder into the realm of music; it always already operates from the inside. It has no clear and delimited identity. Derrida: 'All sentences of the type 'deconstruction is X' or 'deconstruction is not X' a priori miss the point, which is to say that they are at least false' (Wood and Bernasconi, p.4). Deconstruction does not mean dis-covering music, uncovering everything in music that was concealed so far. Deconstruction in music questions musical identities, musicological assumptions and achievements; it questions the border between music and non-music.

[ 7 ] Deconstruction is not a method. It takes on different shapes, according to the text (music). With every text, with every reading, deconstruction changes. The ethics of deconstruction is about the invention of the other as singular other. What does this mean? Deconstruction has nothing to do with generalizations or abstractions. Traditional musical analysis involves an identification of general and objective particularities in a score, a quest for patterns and structures that can be counted and measured through all kinds of methods. More than the other humanities, it insists on locating unifying principles (cf. most Schenkerian analyses). The essence of the music is sought in a reduction of the multiplicity of available patterns to one motive (motif) that would bear the whole. By focusing on the singularity of a musical piece or interpretation, a deconstructive strategy discloses the limits of these analyses. A further acquaintance with deconstruction at work in music by music(ians) will again and again require a new vocabulary, since deconstructive strategies present themselves in a different manner at all times. A further acquaintance with music will again and again require a new vocabulary, since music presents itself in a different manner at all times. This implies a certain displacement of the traditional working method of music researchers who often are required to establish their method first and then examine a musical work (cf. Ferrara).
Deconstruction In Music. Invention of the other. Hopefully. The other in music. The other of music. Music as other. An other space to write around or beside music. An other space to let music speak. An other music.