Peter Szendy / Walls & Bridges
Peter Szendy (born 1966 in Paris) is a French philosopher and musicologist. He teaches at the Université de Paris X Nanterre and is a consultant to IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique), an organization that has been a pioneer in electroacoustic innovation and a mecca for contemporary music.
His Écoute, une histoire de nos oreilles (Listen, A History of Our Ears) is a critique of Romantic and Modernist conceptions of listening. Paying close attention to arrangements as “signed listenings” and to the juridical history of the listener, Szendy suggests an alternative model based on deconstruction: listening, he argues (quoting C. P. E. Bach), is a “tolerated theft” and our ears are always already haunted by the ear of the other. In Sur écoute. Esthétique de l’espionnage (Wiretapping. Aesthetics of Espionage. 2007), he draws on Foucault’s analysis of the Panopticon and Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control in order to show how the act of listening always entails issues of power and dominion. In his book on Moby Dick (Prophecies of Leviathan. Reading Past Melville), he develops a theory of reading as prophecy, while reassessing Derrida’s famous sentence: « il n’y a pas de horstexte ».
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Hits: Philosophy in the Jukebox
(Fordham University Press, 2011)
translated by Will Bishop
Hits: Philosophy in the Jukebox is an extraordinary foray into what Apple has convinced us is the soundtrack of our lives. How does music come to inhabit us, to possess and haunt us? What does it mean that a piece of music can insert itself - Szendy’s term for this, borrowed from German, is the earworm - into our ears and minds? In this book, Peter Szendy probes the ever-growing and ever more global phenomenon of the “hit song.” Hits is the culmination of years of singular attentiveness to the unheard, the unheard-of, and the overheard, as well as of listening as it occurs when one pays anything but attention. Szendy takes us through our musical bodies, by way of members and instruments, playing and governing apparatuses, psychic and cinematic doublings, political and economic musings. The hit song, Szendy concludes, functions like a myth, a force of repetition that grows by force of repetition. In the repetition generated by the song’s relation to itself, Szendy locates its production as a fetishized commodity, a self-producing structure, and a self-desiring machine. Like a Deleuzian machine, then, the hit song is a technology of the self, or better, a technology of rule, a bio-melo-technology. After reading this book, one can no longer avoid realizing that music is more than a soundtrack: It is the condition of our lives. We are all melomaniacs, Szendy tells us in his unique style of writing and of thought. We are melo-obsessive subjects, not so much driven to a frenzy by a music we hardly have time to listen to as we are governed and ruled by it.
Proposed lectures (in French or English)
The author will need technical equipment to projects film excerpts.
1. The Art of Listening
2. Earworms, Between Market and Psyche
3. Cosmetics and Cosmopolitics (Kant in the Land of the Extraterrestrials)
4. Exchanges of Views, Economies of the Gaze: King Kong and the Eye of Capital
Dates already booked
-Thursday, October 10th: Walls and Bridges, New York
-Saturday, October 12th: Issue Project Room, Brooklyn
972 Fifth Ave,
New York, NY