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Deep Refrains

Music, Philosophy, and the Ineffable

Deep Refrains

Music, Philosophy, and the Ineffable

We often say that music is ineffable, that it does not refer to anything outside of itself. But if music, in all its sensuous flux, does not mean anything in particular, might it still have a special kind of philosophical significance?
In Deep Refrains, Michael Gallope draws together the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno, Vladimir Jankélévitch, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari in order to revisit the age-old question of music’s ineffability from a modern perspective. For these nineteenth- and twentieth-century European philosophers, music’s ineffability is a complex phenomenon that engenders an intellectually productive sense of perplexity. Through careful examination of their historical contexts and philosophical orientations, close attention to their use of language, and new interpretations of musical compositions that proved influential for their work, Deep Refrains forges the first panoptic view of their writings on music. Gallope concludes that music’s ineffability is neither a conservative phenomenon nor a pious call to silence. Instead, these philosophers ask us to think through the ways in which music’s stunning force might address, in an ethical fashion, intricate philosophical questions specific to the modern world.

336 pages | 10 halftones, 20 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2017

History: History of Ideas

Music: General Music

Philosophy: Aesthetics, General Philosophy


"The key virtue of Michael Gallope’s book is that it articulates a framework within which the often dense and puzzling writings on music of four apparently very different philosophers can be seen as bearing productively on one another—as sharing thematic preoccupations, even as they disagree (sometimes radically) about the most illuminating ways of investigating them and about their ethical and political implications. Gallope achieves this by treating all four primarily as philosophers rather than as theorists of music and by relating them genealogically."

Stephen Mulhall, Professor of Philosophy, University of Oxford | Critical Inquiry

"Gallope’s aim is to show that there is a common thread running through four fabled music-philosophical projects of the twentieth century: those of Bloch, Adorno, Jankélévitch, and Deleuze/Guattari, which have seemed separated by profound divides between national traditions, and to take radically different stances towards the question of musical signification.  He shows that this view – espoused for decades – misleads us, and traces their shared perplexity, a fruitful befuddlement about music that represents their common ground.  As marvelous as Gallope’s explications are – and the realigning of twentieth-century music philosophy is extraordinary – his work here is also punctuated throughout with original speculation, and the result is one of the most important books on music philosophy to appear in decades."

Carolyn Abbate, Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor, Harvard University

"Writers on music often encounter the ineffable only to glance quickly off of it, launching a defensive salvo in retreat. In Deep Refrains, Michael Gallope moves in the opposite direction, meditating ever more intently on music’s aporias, which he maps in exhilarating philosophical detail. Eschewing polemic in favor of nimble argument and generous explanation, Gallope opens our ears to arresting sympathetic resonances between diverse thinkers—Schopenhauer, Bloch, Adorno, Wittgenstein, Jankélévitch, Deleuze and Guattari—all of whom have confronted music's potential to elude talk. Gallope deftly braids their insights to reveal a music at once deeper and more precise than we had known."

Steven Rings, Associate Professor of Music, University of Chicago

"Lucidly presented and penetratingly insightful, Deep Refrains reads the most important twentieth-century reflections on music’s ineffability – on the complex ways that music contributes to verbal conceptualization precisely by exceeding conventions of conceptual reasoning. Gallope’s compelling and highly intelligent interventions draw out the ramifications of musical material for contemporary thought, signaling music’s promise without neglecting its subtle perplexity: A resoundingly masterful accomplishment in every sense."

John T. Hamilton, William R. Kenan Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Harvard University

"In Deep Refrains: Music, Philosophy, and the Ineffable, Michael Gallope presents a comparative study of four philosophical projects wherein music has been not only the object but also the method of study."

Cultural Critique

Table of Contents

Musical Examples


Prelude: A Paradox of the Ineffable
0.1 Schopenhauer’s Deep Copy
0.2 The Platonic Solutions
0.3 Four Dialectical Responses (after Nietzsche)

1 Bloch’s Tone
1.1 The Tone
1.2 The Natural Klang
1.3 The Expressive Tone
1.4 Bloch’s Magic Rattle
1.5 The Tone’s Ineffable Utopia
1.6 The Event-Forms
1.7 A Dialectical Account of Music History
1.8 Utopian Musical Speech

2 Adorno’s Musical Fracture
2.1 Adorno’s Tone
2.2 Adorno’s Conception of History
2.3 Tendenz des Materials
2.4 Music’s Language-Like Ineffability
2.5 The Immanent Critique
2.6 The Paradox of Mahler’s Vernacular
2.7 The Curve of Inconsistency

Interlude: Wittgenstein’s Silence

3 Jankélévitch’s Inconsistency
3.1 Bergson and the Inconsistency of Time
3.2 The Aporetic Source of Fidelity
3.3 Charme
3.4 Cosmic Silence
3.5 Unwoven Dialectics

4 Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhythm
4.1 Deleuze’s Rhythm
4.2 The Rhythm of Sense
4.3 A Structuralist Quadrivium
4.4 The Rhythm of Life
4.5 Sonorous Coextensions

Conclusion: A Paradox of the Vernacular
Select Bibliography


Society for Music Theory: Emerging Scholar Award (Book)

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