When I’m not excavating prehistoric sites, recording rock art or looking at artefacts in museums one of my favourite pursuits is wandering around contemporary art galleries. One of the best places in art galleries are the bookshops (and the cafes). The bookshop to die for is at the Tate Modern, London, but another great example is the Arnolfini gallery bookshop, in the Bristol Quayside.
Art gallery bookshops have all manner of weird and wonderful titles, and while browsing the shelves of the Arnolfini bookshop I came across ‘The Philosophy of Improvisation’ by Gary Peters (Chicago University Press, 2009).
Why am I reading this? Well I’ve become especially interested in improvisation as a general model of practice since writing my last book which dealt with the performative character of prehistoric artefacts. For those archaeologists grappling with ‘non-representational’ perspectives then this book is certainly for you. This is a book that doesn’t pull any punches philosophically, and certainly isn’t the easiest read. The author is a philosopher and (I think) a musician. It was a delight to read a text that mixed discussions of Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida and Theodor Adorno with musicians like Derek Bailey and Eddie Prevost.
Having struggled through Deleuze’s difference and repetition, this book clearly explains what is at stake in our recent flirtations with issues of non-representation and more-than-representation, and clarified the stumbling proclamations and pretensions of the geographers whose work I have previously relied upon. It also helped to put Tim Ingold’s work into a fuller context. It is worth reading if you want to actually understand the philosophical basis of difference and representation. Peters’ treatment of Adorno’s work, performing an effective deconstruction (in the proper Derridean sense of the term) of his critique of improvisation, only to revitalise improvisation using Adorno is masterly.
If nothing else the book helped confirm why I prefer listening to jazz than classical music, and helps to clarify the prejudices of a dominant group of western philosophers and classical musicians. I think this book will probably become the standard text on improvisation. But don’t take my word for it, improvise….