Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes at the Piano
Renowned philosopher and prominent French critic François Noudelmann engages the musicality of Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Roland Barthes, all of whom were amateur piano players and acute lovers of the medium. Though piano playing was a crucial art for these thinkers, their musings on the subject are largely scant, implicit, or discordant with each philosopher's oeuvre. Noudelmann both recovers and integrates these perspectives, showing that the manner in which these philosophers played, the composers they adored, and the music they chose reveals uncommon insight into their thinking styles and patterns.
Noudelmann positions the physical and theoretical practice of music as a dimension underpinning and resonating with Sartre's, Nietzsche's, and Barthes's unique philosophical outlook. By reading their thought against their music, he introduces new critical formulations and reorients their trajectories, adding invaluable richness to these philosophers' lived and embodied experiences. The result heightens the multiple registers of being and the relationship between philosophy and the senses that informed so much of their work. A careful reader of music, Noudelmann maintains an elegant command of the texts under his gaze and appreciates the discursive points of musical and philosophical scholarship they involve, especially with regard to recent research and cutting-edge critique.
Who before François Noudelmann has shone a spotlight on great thinkers enamored with the piano? In the lives of Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes, exercising at the keyboard for pleasure was crucial. Yet their writing about music is relatively scant, implicit, or even, sometimes, discordant with their work. Breaking boldly with the academism all too common on the French scene of writing, Noudelmann's The Philosopher's Touch reveals an entirely new dimension of these figures' writing styles and thinking patterns. His piano is a harmonics of three disparate philosophers.
Robert Harvey, professor of French and comparative literatures, State University of New York, Stony Brook
Amateur pianist and philosopher François Noudelmann was jolted into action when he saw a video of Sartre at the piano. Like a recurring traumatic flashback, the Sartrean performance touches off a series of reflections on the covert practices of three highly attuned thinkers. The relation to music, private and protected, offers another register by which to read the unsayable in the imposing works of Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Roland Barthes. Ever vying with language for sovereignty, music disrupts the implacable habits of linguistic positing and delivers these exemplary writers to the scene of their greatest vulnerability.
Avital Ronell, New York University and the European Graduate School, author of The Test Drive and Finitude's Score: Essays for the End of the Millenium
An elegant ode to the emotional and intellectual importance of music and solitude.Publishers WeeklyPublishers Weekly
a remarkable and revealing book.
Noudelmann's book is musically sophisticated and informed by deep knowledge of thepiano...This little book is a unique chapter in the aesthetics of thepiano, and serves as a wonderful opening beat for a suite of others to follow.
...essays that pique the reader's interest, rather than bludgeoning it.
The book probes the meanings of these elective affinities, and speculates on both the yawning gaps and hidden passageways between intellectual and corporeal pleasures, the travails of the mind and the secret life of the fingers.
A musical reverie, a meditation, best if savoured slowly.
In today's philosophical culture, where thinkers seem to have succumbed to a fashion of soulless scholasticism, the significance of an invigorating book like Noudelmann's is difficult to overestimate.
Whether in a text that is scholarly or meditative, and whether, as Barthes put it in S/Z, a text is 'readerly' or 'writerly', music and letters never did comfortably embrace each other, for all that we need them to. Kudos to Noudelmann for offering something expertly imaginative, trying to meet that need.
IntuitionThe Off-Beat PianoWhy I Am a Great PianistThe Piano Touches MeResonances