Violence and/or Utopia: Cultures of Listening to Music in Literature and Philosophy of Music from 1850-1930

This project continues my earlier work on the history of listening to music in two ways. First, the project opens up the time period under consideration, expanding it into the first third of the twentieth century. Moreover, alongside research into violence-shaped listening experiences, the project has a focus on the utopian dimension of listening (to music). The point of departure is formed by those texts of music philosophy and criticism, especially literary texts, that chronicle, reflect, or actually establish the corresponding auditory experiences. Nietzsche’s and Wagner’s musical philosophies are considered with regard to their contemporary contexts, followed by literary and philosophical texts of the 1910s-1930s, which are analyzed on the basis of their constructions of violent and utopic auditory experiences.

At the same time, the acoustic dimension of the texts themselves should be considered. The question then becomes twofold: (a) how do the texts as acoustic artifacts hold true to their own claims, and (b) how do they conform to a rhetorical tradition stemming from antiquity, in which the effects of the tonal qualities of speech reflect on the listener? Through a focus on literary criticism, the basic medial (in this case, textual) constitution of historical data having to do with listening and, at the same time, the paradoxical connection of listening to speech, will become manifest. For, in the texts that gauge these dimensions, whether violent or utopian, the effects of tones are often attributed to their apparent immediacy, i.e. to a direct interconnection between sound, body, and emotion, which must not necessarily be first “diverted” by or mediated through cognition. It is exactly this kind of cognitive “diversion” that the texts exemplify, thereby showing this claim to be a linguistic construct of a pre-verbal communication. In other words, the texts act as a kind of barrier between experiencing sound directly via the body and the emotions, on the one hand, and having to somehow first “translate” this experience through the cognitive dimension on the other hand. In this way, the literary texts represent not just valuable sources in the sense of a “literary anthropology”; the texts also offer a privileged space of reflection in which to mediate on the fictional dimension of the history of listening and acoustic experience. In this way, the efficacy of many of these constructions become problematic. Moreover, this project traces the influence of Nietzsche’s early theories vis-a-vis the effects of Wagner’s music on the listening practices of Wagner’s fans.