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The Philosophy of Improvisation

Improvisation is usually either lionized as an ecstatic experience of being in the moment or disparaged as the thoughtless recycling of clichés. Eschewing both of these orthodoxies, The Philosophy of Improvisation ranges across the arts—from music to theater, dance to comedy—and considers the improvised dimension of philosophy itself in order to elaborate an innovative concept of improvisation.

            Gary Peters turns to many of the major thinkers within continental philosophy—including Heidegger, Nietzsche, Adorno, Kant, Benjamin, and Deleuze—offering readings of their reflections on improvisation and exploring improvisational elements within their thinking. Peters’s wry, humorous style offers an antidote to the frequently overheated celebration of freedom and community that characterizes most writing on the subject. Expanding the field of what counts as improvisation, The Philosophy of Improvisation will be welcomed by anyone striving to comprehend the creative process.

200 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Music: General Music

Philosophy: Aesthetics, General Philosophy


The Philosophy of Improvisation is like Lewis Hyde’s The Gift; it is a book that academics and general readers will find both stimulating and enjoyable. It is a prodigious rethinking of the philosophical problem of improvisation, which brings together an impressive range of thinkers—Adorno, Deleuze, Derrida, Heidegger and Levinas, among others—but does so with a light touch. It is a terrific book.”

Ian Buchanan, Cardiff University

“Gary Peters draws on many sources to construct a model of improvisation that is true to the experience as attested by artists and yet escapes the criticisms that various theorists have leveled against the idea of improvisation. Laced with bits of humor, satire, and irony, this is a work of considerable imagination.”

John Sallis, Boston College

“This is an unusual book on improvisation: a genuinely philosophical contribution to the literature. . . .It’s impossible to summarise the book’s many ingenious arguments in the space of a short review—this is a rich and intriguing discussion.”

Andy Hamilton | The Wire

"This aptly titled work considers not the how-to of improvisation but rather the motivations and meaning behind spontaneous creation. . . . A work for anyone who teaches or wishes to reflect on the creative process."


Table of Contents



Chapter One: Scrap Yard Challenge--Junkyard Wars

Chapter Two: Freedom, Origination, and Irony

Chapter Three: Mimesis and Cruelty

Chapter Four: Improvisation, Origination, Re-novation

Conclusion: Improvisation, Thinking, Writing



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