The Philosopher's Touch

Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes at the Piano

François Noudelmann. Translated by Brian J. Reilly

Columbia University Press

The Philosopher's Touch

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Pub Date: January 2012

ISBN: 9780231153942

176 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $32.00£27.00

Pub Date: January 2012

ISBN: 9780231527200

176 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $31.99£27.00

The Philosopher's Touch

Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes at the Piano

François Noudelmann. Translated by Brian J. Reilly

Columbia University Press

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

Publishers Weekly

a remarkable and revealing book.

Library Journal

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.

Daniel Herwitz, Notre Dame Philosophical Review

...essays that pique the reader's interest, rather than bludgeoning it.

Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

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.

Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe

A musical reverie, a meditation, best if savoured slowly.

Cynthia Peck, The Vienna Review of Books

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.

Costica Bradatan, The European Legacy

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.

Music and Letters
The Off-Beat Piano
Why I Am a Great Pianist
The Piano Touches Me

About the Author

François Noudelmann is professor of philosophy at l'Université Paris VIII. He has taught at The State University of New York, Stony Brook, and Johns Hopkins University, and he has served as president of the College International de Philosophie and host of France-Culture's radio program Philosophy Fridays. His publications include Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Image et absence. Essai sur le regard.

Brian J. Reilly is visiting assistant professor of French literature at Johns Hopkins University.