Dahlem Postdoc Fellowship
November 2017 – December 2018
Acting in Concert: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Politics of Tone (1680-1836)
Gesa Frömming's project recovers an early modern tradition of political thought and a concurrent tradition of music theory which may allow us to productively rethink the ethical and political dimensions of music as a social practice, while enhancing our understanding of the ways in which musical experiences have informed the development of the public sphere as a political institution. It is guided by the observation that, with the paradigm shift towards the aesthetics of musical autonomy around 1800, thinking about music in terms of the musical work of art eventually led to the demise of a once vibrant literary and philosophical tradition which conceived of music first and foremost as a social practice, comprehending it in terms of action, communication, and judgment instead. This made music theory uniquely compatible with a distinct tradition of early modern political thought. Rather than discussing forms of government, legislation, or policy, writers in this tradition thought about political issues by analyzing the political dimensions of everyday interactions within the same conceptual framework - action, communication, and judgment -, while relying heavily upon musical metaphors. Within both traditions, communicative phenomena such as “tact" and “ tone” were understood as politically relevant because they were deemed both expressive of, and constitutive for, political realities. This implied that remodeling them might have important political consequences. Through a critical re-examination of this idea, the project hopes to enrich our understanding of what constitutes a public sphere by drawing attention to the autotelic pleasures to be found in political action, musical production, and judging publicly upon both, if these activities are understood as creative processes constitutive of a world in which living and acting together may be experienced as an end in itself.
Gesa Frömming received her Ph.D. in German from Vanderbilt University in 2011. She has since held positions at the University of Notre Dame, IN, Wellesley College, MA, and the Universities of Greifswald, Siegen and the Freie Universität Berlin. Her major research areas are politics and aesthetics, music and literature, and German-Jewish cultural history.