Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language

Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language

by John T Hamilton
     
 

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In the romantic tradition, music is consistently associated with madness, either as cause or cure. Writers as diverse as Kleist, Hoffmann, and Nietzsche articulated this theme, which in fact reaches back to classical antiquity and continues to resonate in the modern imagination. What John Hamilton investigates in this study is the way literary, philosophical, and

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Overview

In the romantic tradition, music is consistently associated with madness, either as cause or cure. Writers as diverse as Kleist, Hoffmann, and Nietzsche articulated this theme, which in fact reaches back to classical antiquity and continues to resonate in the modern imagination. What John Hamilton investigates in this study is the way literary, philosophical, and psychological treatments of music and madness challenge the limits of representation and thereby create a crisis of language. Special focus is given to the decidedly autobiographical impulse of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, where musical experience and mental disturbance disrupt the expression of referential thought, illuminating the irreducible aspects of the self before language can work them back into a discursive system.

The study begins in the 1750s with Diderot's Neveu de Rameau, and situates that text in relation to Rousseau's reflections on the voice and the burgeoning discipline of musical aesthetics. Upon tracing the linkage of music and madness that courses through the work of Herder, Hegel, Wackenroder, and Kleist, Hamilton turns his attention to E. T. A. Hoffmann, whose writings of the first decades of the nineteenth century accumulate and qualify the preceding tradition. Throughout, Hamilton considers the particular representations that link music and madness, investigating the underlying motives, preconceptions, and ideological premises that facilitate the association of these two experiences. The gap between sensation and its verbal representation proved especially problematic for romantic writers concerned with the ineffability of selfhood. The author who chose to represent himself necessarily faced problems of language, which invariably compromised the uniqueness that the author wished to express. Music and madness, therefore, unworked the generalizing functions of language and marked a critical limit to linguistic capabilities. While the various conflicts among music, madness, and language questioned the viability of signification, they also raised the possibility of producing meaning beyond significance.

Columbia University Press

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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:
9780231512541
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
07/16/2012
Series:
Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
File size:
17 MB
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This product may take a few minutes to download.

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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