Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language

Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language

by John T Hamilton
     
 

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"In this study, John T. Hamilton investigates how literary, philosophical, and psychological treatments of music and madness challenge the limits of representation and thereby create a crisis of language. He builds his theses around the decidedly autobiographical impulse of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Here, musical experience and mental… See more details below

Overview

"In this study, John T. Hamilton investigates how literary, philosophical, and psychological treatments of music and madness challenge the limits of representation and thereby create a crisis of language. He builds his theses around the decidedly autobiographical impulse of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Here, musical experience and mental disturbance disrupt the expression of referential thought, illuminating irreducible aspects of the self before language can work them back into a discursive system." "Hamilton begins in the 1750s with Diderot's Neveu de Rameau, situating the text in relation to Rousseau's reflections on the voice and the burgeoning discipline of musical aesthetics. Tracing the link between music and madness in the work of Herder, Hegel, Wackenroder, and Kleist, Hamilton then turns his attention to E. T. A. Hoffmann, whose writings in the first decades of the nineteenth century accumulate and qualify the preceding tradition. Throughout, Hamilton considers the particular representations that connect music and madness, investigating the underlying motives, preconceptions, and ideological premises facilitating the association of these two domains." The gap between sensation and its verbal representation proved especially problematic for romantic writers concerned with the ineffability of selfhood. Authors who engaged in self-representation necessarily faced problems of language, which compromised the uniqueness they wished to express. Music and madness unworked the generalizing functions of language and marked a critical limit in linguistic capabilities. However, as Hamilton demonstrates, although various conflicts between music, madness, andlanguage questioned the visibility of signification, they also raised the possibility of producing meaning beyond signification.

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Editorial Reviews

Modern Language Quarterly - Herbert Lindenberger

[A] superb book... a living testimony that philological learning and literary sensibility can be happily compatible.

H-Disability - Ian Miller

An extremely accomplished work that provides a powerful insight into a potentially important historical topic.

Eighteenth Century Music

As a study of a literary obsession, Hamilton's book will remain a key text for those interested in the genesis of the idea of ineffable music.

J. Modern Language Quarterly
[A] superb book... a living testimony that philological learning and literary sensibility can be happily compatible.

— Herbert Lindenberger

H-Disability
An extremely accomplished work that provides a powerful insight into a potentially important historical topic.

— Ian Miller

Eighteenth-Century Music
As a study of a literary obsession, Hamilton's book will remain a key text for those interested in the genesis of the idea of ineffable music.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231142205
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
04/29/2008
Series:
Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts Series
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Eileen Gillooly

Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language is energetically committed to tracing the struggle for power between words and the unspoken, between language and, as John T. Hamilton calls it, 'the unworking of language,' to eighteenth-century continental philosophy and, further back, to the Greek tradition. Hamilton's book is not only accomplished, it succeeds gracefully in appealing to an audience drawn from a number of different disciplines and perspectives. His prose is, as a rule, enviably clear and engaging, often rendering thick theoretical nodes and processes transparent. Hamilton acts as philologist and cultural historian, as close reader and synthesizer of the history of philosophy. He does a fine job in all roles.

Avital Ronell

John T. Hamilton has produced a powerfully insightful reading of the intrusive and often devastating effects of music on the historically sensitive psyche. Erudite, compelling, and wide-ranging, the work follows the strained and vanishing minds of Hölderlin and Nietzsche, the startling scales of Bernhard and Jelinek, among others, as they are capsized by language and thrown against the philosophical limits of musical mimesis—beginning, therefore, with Plato's haunts and bone-chilling melodies that reverberate in the still vibrant texts of German Romanticism. A splendid and necessary dive into the dark regions of musical invention.

Eileen Gillooly

Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language is energetically committed to tracing the struggle for power between words and the unspoken, between language and, as John T. Hamilton calls it, 'the unworking of language,' to eighteenth-century continental philosophy and, further back, to the Greek tradition. Hamilton's book is not only accomplished, it succeeds gracefully in appealing to an audience drawn from a number of different disciplines and perspectives. His prose is, as a rule, enviably clear and engaging, often rendering thick theoretical nodes and processes transparent. Hamilton acts as philologist and cultural historian, as close reader and synthesizer of the history of philosophy. He does a fine job in all roles.

Eileen Gillooly, associate director, Heyman Center for the Humanities, and associate faculty in the Department of English, Columbia University

Stanley Corngold

John T. Hamilton's newest work exhibits a fineness of close reading, a graceful assimilation of theory, and a breadth of historical knowledge that is rare in our current cultural object-besotted climate. He brings the light of his exceptional intelligence into darker zones of the spirit, and he is relentless. Having illuminated Pindaric obscurity in his last book, Hamilton now attends to music in its 'blood relation' to madness as it undoes the language of canonical works of Greek, French, and German literature even in the act of being represented. The sweep and the lights of his survey are dazzling.

Marshall Brown

Music touches the soul and sounds both the heights and the depths of spirit. Beyond all others in Europe, the German lands have cultivated music, yet John T. Hamilton is the first scholar to trace their poetic portrayals and philosophical accounts of music's powers and dangers from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. His astonishingly penetrating, imaginative, wide-ranging, and lucid book will remain the definitive synthesis of ancient and modern myths, aesthetic theories, and imaginative representations of the seductive and dangerous musical realms lying beyond the confines of conceptual reason.

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