Spinoza and musical power

Thompson, Marie (2019). Spinoza and musical power. Textual Practice, 33(5) pp. 803–820.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0950236X.2019.1581686


In one of the few places in which musical experience is discussed in Spinoza’s Ethics, it is used as a means of exemplifying the ways in which an entity, in itself, is not ‘good or evil’: it is neither, or both, depending on the relations into which it enters with other bodies. In this article, I consider what a Spinozist theory of musical power might entail. I argue that the particular, immanent and materialist notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ that can be found in Spinoza’s work and are exemplified via music enable a departure from both ‘aesthetic moralism’ and ‘aesthetic relativism’. With reference to contemporary discourses of musical violence, as well as Pauline Oliveros’ praxis of Deep Listening, I assert that Spinoza makes space for music’s ethico-affective ambivalence. Drawing attention to Spinoza’s citation of deaf experiences of music, I also consider the extent to which a Spinozist model of musical power allows for ‘auraldiversity’. In doing so, I aim to demonstrate the ways in which musical experience might exemplify some of the key tenets of Spinoza’s thought.

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