John Zorn
J-S Bach
John Cage


My Thesis

[1] In 'Letter to a Japanese Friend' [Lettre à un ami japonais], Derrida writes that deconstruction is not an initial act of a self-conscious subject, but an event that can be found everywhere: 'Deconstruction takes place, it is an event that does not await the deliberation, consciousness, or the organization of a subject ... It deconstructs it-self' (Wood, p.4). Hastily, however, Derrida adds that 'it' should not be thought of as an impersonal matter, opposed to an ego-logical subjectivity. Deconstruction is not something that is added to a text; rather, it constitutes a text in the first place. In fact, deconstruction is always already at work in the texts studied by Derrida. Incidentally, it is the paradoxes in the texts of De Saussure, Husserl, Plato and Freud, for example, that particularly give rise to deconstruction: 'Deconstruction is therefore an activity performed by texts which in the end have to acknowledge their own partial complicity with what they denounce', says Derrida (cf. Norris, 1982, p.48).

[2] Hence, deconstruction is not identical with Derrida's work. However, when a text deconstructs itself, what then is Derrida's significance? Hugh Silverman attempts to answer this question in his statement: 'Deconstruction is the general name for the practice in which Derrida engages. In practicing deconstruction, however, Derrida does not make it his own property. It is his own when he practices it, but it is an activity of appropriation when he does so. Indeed, the particular form of appropriation is one in which he inscribes the deconstructive practice in a text which is itself the writing of the reading of another text' (Silverman, p.61). The triangular relation of Derrida, deconstruction, and text is subtle and complicated. Derrida considers every text to have a surplus meaning, and by that is susceptible to deconstruction. This surplus is inherent to language. No author can avoid or circumvent the multiplicity of meanings of a text, a word, music. However, this should not be perceived as a weakness of the author. In fact, the multiple possibilities of meaning are what enable the text to be. Still, Derrida does recognize the need for an active subject: only a (reading and writing) subject can expose this multiplicity.

[3] If deconstruction can be characterized as a reading practice, a writing of a reading, then the repeatability of the practice is evident. To a certain extent, the word 'deconstruction' is a banner under which Derrida and others conduct an entire series of practices. Hence, we can dissociate deconstruction from Derrida. Moreover, one must say that an imitation of Derrida's style does not make for a deconstructive practice as such. (By a deconstructive practice, I mean showing how deconstruction is at work in texts, in music, in education, in institutions.)
What consequence does this have for music and for my thesis? Music can be 'linked' to deconstruction in a number of ways. The first one implies a deconstructive reading of texts on music (see for example McClary, p.9-17). The second type follows the same procedure in reading music as a text. Deconstruction here often becomes a new interpretation-model. These points, however important, will not be the object of this thesis. I do not wish to examine the actuality of deconstruction in music by concentrating on verbal articulation. My interest is not directed to the relation of a verbal text towards another verbal text or a score, as is usually the case when deconstruction is discussed in relation to music. (In a 1999 review article on the relation between deconstruction and music, Christopher Norris writes that deconstruction is often regarded as a project with 'emphasis on those moments of textual aporia (contradictions, paradoxes, and ideological stress points) that emerge in the discourse of mainstream musicology'. His overview only involves deconstruction in discursive verbal aspects of music at any rate.) Rather, I aim to focus on the workings of deconstruction in the field of musical utterance, that is, the relationship of music towards music. As Susan McClary states: 'For the study of music, music itself remains the best indicator' (McClary, p.30). In other words, I aim to delve into the question as to whether music, while 'reading' itself, realizes this in a deconstructive way. For this reason, I will speak of deconstruction in music and by music(ians). The attempt here is not a mere 'application' of certain theories or written texts on deconstruction to the musical domain (even if the project occurs on the surface of a written text). Rather, several strategies will be employed to gradually uncover the working of deconstruction within musical concepts. Questions relating to this are: How does deconstruction occur within music? Taking into account Derrida's above-mentioned position, how do musicians and composers uncover deconstruction at work in music? Tracing deconstruction in music will raise questions of borders between music, musicology, and the philosophy of music. Thinking about music and music 'itself' are not always two clearly distinguishable domains as Beethoven has already showed us in his D minor Sonata, for example, where, through music, he comments on the classical sonata form.

[4] In my opinion, deconstruction always already is and has been a part of the musical praxis. This means that my investigations are not limited to music that is explicitly related to deconstruction. In many instances of its development, music has related towards itself in a deconstructive way, although this has not always been explicitly articulated. By making this relation between music and deconstruction somewhat more explicit, I hope to initiate a (culturally broader) discourse on music.
The basic methodological assumption refers to the idea that music, while reading itself, realizes this according to a strategy that can be characterized as deconstructive. A twofold problem then occurs: first, deconstruction in music is exclusively enunciated in musical language, thereby impeding non-musical enthousiasts in tracing deconstructive moves. Second, neither musicians nor composers generally refer to their work in deconstructive terms. However, by introducing the music of John Zorn (cf. Restitutions, Shibboleth or Aporias), John Cage (cf. The Gift of Silence [donner les bruits]) and Gerd Zacher (cf. Specters of Bach) as concrete manifestations of deconstructions at work within music, these composers come to act as a kind of musical Derrida. Their works - which I deem as a kind of 'musical readings of music' in which reading is simultaneously writing and listening - show how deconstruction has always already been present in music. (What I describe as a musical reading of music implies that I think of music as a text. cf. Music Is a Text ).

[5] Of course, it is very possible that deconstruction has inspired musicians and composers (of which John Zorn could be an example). I do not oppose this line of thought. I do oppose the view that deconstruction is only a recent phenomenon and therefore only contemporary philosophy and art can be regarded deconstructive. 'Deconstruction happens and it already happened in Plato's discourse in another form, with other words perhaps, but there was already an inadequation, a certain inability to close itself off, to form, to formalize itself, which was of a deconstructive order' (Derrida in Kaplan and Sprinker, p.226). Deconstruction is taking place. It is happening. Always already. It does not wait for the completion in a musico-philosophical analysis. A deconstructive 'analysis' is infinite; it merely intervenes in music. (Deconstruction is not an analysis in the ordinary sense of the word. cf. Deconstruction: Between Method and Singularity .) It is inscribed upon it.
In compositions from times long gone, as well as in contemporary music, deconstruction is at work. In this sense, it is cumbersome to speak of 'deconstructive music'. All music, every composition, every improvisation, every performance (in principle) works deconstructively, but each in a different way. I concur with Geoff Bennington in the following statement by him (and replacing the word 'painting' by 'music'): 'Deconstructionist painting' could not be the result of a  successful application of Derrida's theory. Deconstruction in painting has always already begun. Of course, painting can be 'influenced' by Derrida's writing. This does not ipso facto make it 'deconstructive'. It is quite possible that the most 'deconstructive' painting should (have) happen(ed) in ignorance of Derrida's work, though knowledge of Derrida's work might help us to talk about that painting, and others' (Bennington, p.7).