Thoughts on philoSOPHIA 2011: #1, Music and Affect

Cynthia Willett’s paper continually drew relationships between the affective and the musical. Her paper was primarily on affect, “affective attunement,” and cross-sensory perception/communication. However, she continually used musical language (e.g., tones and rhythms, attunement, etc.) to describe the phenomena she labeled “affective. This is really interesting to me because my current manuscript-in-process thinks about both music and affect as alternatives to the visual. I hadn’t thought about the possibility that we use musical terms to describe/theorize affect, but this is something I think I need to pursue. Perhaps because music is the one non-visual art form for which we have an extremely extensive technical vocabulary, we turn to it when trying to describe non-visual affective experiences? But why music and not dance or athletics or medicine—all of which more directly concern themselves with felt bodily experience?

The first part of my book discusses postcolonial theroists’, feminist theorists,’ and European political philosophers’ use of music as an example of embodied social inequality—but it doesn’t talk about “embodied social inequality” in terms of “affect theory” or the Rancierian “sensible”. What’s new about the new manuscript is precisely this framing of the issue as one of affect or sensibility. So I need to think not of sound on the one hand, and sensibility on the other, but how sound is used as a metaphor for or example of the sensible, and vice versa. (Deleuze seems like the obvious place to turn, at least in terms of European philosophy. But what about feminist/queer/critical race/poco work? If you all have any suggestions, I’d be really interested in what you recommend!).