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Interdisciplinary Barthes$
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Diana Knight

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266670

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266670.001.0001

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Barthes and Insignificant Music

Barthes and Insignificant Music

(p.180) 12 Barthes and Insignificant Music
Interdisciplinary Barthes

François Noudelmann

British Academy

Barthes kept music separate from semiology, refusing to regard sounds as signs. By analysing music from the perspective of his body, he made audible its discreet phenomenologies. Many experiences, mental, psychic, and corporal, are at stake in performing and listening to music, and they played a subtle role in Barthes's thought. His listening and his musical practice led him to favour a relationship to his piano that permitted an imaginary appropriation and erotic play. Musical pulsation develops an intimate resistance to the law, one that combines repetition and perversion. Barthes highlights obsessive rhythms such as accents, syncopations, and off-beat rhythms. His writings on music, alluding to the language of the solitary body, emphasise erections and back-and-forth movements. He frequently over-interprets the performative indications on musical scores, such as the rubato or fingering, choosing to hear in them the sexual power of desire which leads the pianist towards a disseminated jouissance. By recording himself playing the piano, he extends this pleasure to enjoyment of his own rhythm as in an onanistic practice. From a theoretical perspective, musical practice allowed Barthes to bid his farewell to semiology and to maintain a subjective resistance, both philosophical and psychological, to social language.

Keywords:   Roland Barthes, music, phenomenology, listening, piano-playing, rhythm, rubato, jouissance, fingering, musical scores

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