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  • Michael Hooper

While some research results from consistent processes, careful methodologies and detailed planning, much practice-based research resists these strategies, privileging knowledge that remains complex and unstable. This knowledge frequently sits outside sequences of analysis, such as testing or deduction. Yet there is nothing new about the kind of knowledge that resists clarity. In The Progressive Poetics of Confusion in the French Enlightenment, John O'Neal argues for complexity and confusion as essential parts of an Enlightenment project in writing from the eighteenth century, and claims that authors pursued these strategies ‘because they preferred in certain ways to see confusion, not order, as representative of a dynamic new state of mind and society awaiting discovery’. Alongside O'Neal's work, this article considers Gemma Fiumara's The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening, in which confusion is also central. The article explores these ideas in connection with a performance of Michael Finnissy's Confusion in the Service of Discovery. It argues for confusion as a positive aspect of research from beginning to end, rather than as a circumscribed phase that precedes outcomes. The inclusion of a musical performance demonstrates (performs) the different theoretical languages that the prose describes.

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1 A version of this article was given as a paper at the third and final conference of the Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice, Cambridge, 2014.

2 For a relevant history of the literary basis for ‘critique’ in terms of confusion, see O'Neal, John, The Progressive Poetics of Confusion in the French Enlightenment (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2011), especially Chapter 1, ‘Cultivating the Reader's Critical Mind in Crébillon's Les Égrements du cœur et de l'espirit’, and also p. 213.

3 O'Neal, The Progressive Poetics of Confusion, p. 18.

4 O'Neal, The Progressive Poetics of Confusion, p. 24.

5 O'Neal, The Progressive Poetics of Confusion, p. 20.

6 In Diderot's novel Jacques the Fatalist, the ‘multiple paths to knowledge […] reveal the uncertainty and finite nature of human understanding and that give rise to a sense of perplexity’…‘The power of Diderot's Encyclopédie lies in its refusal to subscribe to any predefined narrative of our developing knowledge, leaving it instead as an unfinished and unpredictable adventure of chance and serendipity, in which each reader might become a participant’ (O'Neal, p. 91, n. 27). In reviewing O'Neal's book, James Steintrager emphasises the moments in which ‘the possibility of confusion as a permanent condition, when a mise en abyme—to use one of O'Neal's favourite terms—is not just a heuristic device but threatens to become an inescapable epistemological vortex’. James Steintrager, review of O'Neal, The progressive poetics of confusion in the French enlightenment. Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 26/2 (2013–14), pp. 305–8, here 306.

7 See Foucault, Michel, ‘What is an Author?’, in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, trans. Harari, Josué (New York: The New Press, 1994), pp. 205–21. For a discussion of Foucault's attitude to Cassirer, see Moynahan, Gregory B., Ernst Cassirer and the Critical Science of Germany, 1899–1919 (London: Anthem Press, 2013), p. xxivff.

8 Fiumara, Gemma, The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening, trans. Lambert, C. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), p. 24.

9 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p.35.

10 Matthias Klaes, ‘Confusion and “Interstanding”: A Figured Account of Hope’. History of Political Economy, annual supplement to vol 34 (2002), pp. 263–71. For Klaes this fusing is hermeneutic, since it ‘describes understanding as a fusion of horizons’, and so the work of the messenger is ‘to con-fuse’. Although Klaes' closure here is premature he concludes with a commitment to the ‘ongoing process of fruitful confusion’.

11 My sense is that the self-awareness of practice-based research as a field for research is a problem of confusion, and that this confusion is mostly about the problem of publishing in translation (sound to prose). Within the context of most institutional funding, disciplinary lines are still drawn between writing about music and performing music. Philosophical problems and the political ideologies clash in the difference between what we are paid to do – ‘to say’ – and what, in my experience, most academics want to spend more time doing – ‘to listen’.

12 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 37; her emphasis.

13 Fiumara, after Heidegger, asks ‘why is it so difficult to listen to something without transforming it into nothing or transferring it into our own language?’ The Other Side of Language, p. 39.

14 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 36; her emphasis.

15 For example, we ought to take seriously ontologically challenging ideas in such as writing about performer–instrument collaborations in which instruments are ‘slow to speak’.

16 O'Neal, The Progressive Poetics of Confusion, p. 20.

17 Nancy, Jean-Luc, Listening, trans. Mandell, Charlotte (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), p. 5.

18 Nancy, Listening, pp. 5–6.

19 Heidegger, Martin, Bremen and Freiburg Lectures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), p. 99.

20 My performance can be viewed on (accessed 30 December 2014).

21 See Hanninen, Dora A., A Theory of Musical Analysis: On Segmentation and Associative Organization (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2012), p. 62, and p. 82ff, for the relationship between structure, design, and realisation and perception.

22 The capital letter is Finnissy's, and the preface states: ‘For Mandolin with pre-recordings.’

23 See Hooper, Michael, ‘The Start of Performance, or, Does Collaboration Really Matter?’, Tempo, vol. 66 no. 261 (2012), pp. 2636; and Hooper, ‘The Well-Tempered Oboe and the Tradition of Innovation’, Musical Times, 154 (2013), pp. 6790.

24 OED 1. ‘Of or relating to hearing. rare

25 Thomas Blount, Glossographia; or, A dictionary interpreting all such hard words, whether Hebrew, Greek or Latin... as are now used in our refined English tongue, 1st edition (London, 1656).

26 For a discussion of the ‘horizontal position’ and other viol postures in sixteenth century Italy (and elsewhere), see Woodfield, Ian, ‘Posture in viol playing’, Early Music 6 (1978), pp. 3640.

27 The second part asks for the lower courses of strings to be retuned as: A, G quarter sharp and E, D quarter sharp; the scordatura for the third part is B flat, A quarter flat and G flat, F.

28 The title, 旅, was earlier translated as ‘journey’. See Siddons, James, Toru Takemitsu: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001.

29 Bringing together Takemitsu's piece with Finnissy's further calls into question the designation ‘mandolinist’, since in classical technique one spends no time thinking about how not to pluck a string, and so one of the most striking features of the composition is that its ending requires no plucking.

30 Kinshi Tsuruta's performance of Voyage includes a semitone rise amidst scraping that sounds remarkably like the opening of Smetanin's piece. See Tsuruta, Voyage. Takemitsu: In An Autumn Garden; Voyage; Autumn & November steps. Deutsche Grammophon, CD ADD 0289 471 5902 5 GH (2002), 3′50″.

31 See also the opening bars of Sting, at http://youtube/v4wVxoPWnJs (accessed 4 December 2014).

32 The thread I have just described, of Finnissy listening to Takemitsu, and rendering silent the scraping, is thinking in process: ‘If we read the point of discerning a consequential thread in the utterances of “the other” over and beyond apparent fragmentation, listening is then converted into a maieutic process; this emergent consequentiality in which the fragments of one's own interior world organize themselves, perhaps represents thinking in the process of its formation’ (Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 144).

33 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 151.

34 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 144.

35 A further chain of consequence might be that Sting produced a new kind tremolo, in association with a series of cadenzas by the composer Eric Gross, in which the thumb pivots the plectrum, changing the angle that the plectrum crosses the string from zero degrees to approximately 30 degrees. This alteration of angle, part plucking and part scraping, enables greater control of soft and fast tremolo. This change entered mandolin technique in the mid-1980s through the collaborations of Adrian and Paul Hooper (who both taught me at this time) with Gross and Smetanin, among others. It is a technique that is very useful in the third section of Finnissy's piece, where one needs to have close control of very brief tremoloed notes.

36 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, pp. 82ff.

37 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 82.

38 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 86. For Heidegger, ‘gathering is more than mere amassing. To gathering belongs a collecting which brings under shelter. Accommodation governs the sheltering; accommodation is in turn governed by safekeeping. That ‘something extra’ which makes gathering more than a jumbling together that snatches things up is not something only added afterward. Even less is it the conclusion of the gathering, coming last. The safekeeping that brings something in has already determined the first steps of the gathering and arranging everything that follows' (Fiumara, p.4). For Fiumara the danger is that we stop there, and allow the dominant mode of operation – logos – to overwhelm the listening to which saying is necessarily bound.

39 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 84.

40 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 42.

41 Robert Morris, ‘Notes on sculpture, part iv: beyond objects’. Artforum (April 1969), pp. 50–54, here 54.

42 Fiumara, The Other Side of Language, p. 84.

43 O'Neal, The Progressive Poetics of Confusion, p. 72.

44 O'Neal, The Progressive Poetics of Confusion, p. 89. ‘Emphasized in this case [a conversation in the novel], however, is precisely a simultaneity of voices on at least three separate planes […]’. O'Neal argues that the interpolation happens on a scale ‘much closer than any other interpolated tale’ (p. 87). Throughout the novel ‘Diderot emphasizes action over description, telling or the act of narration over showing’ (p. 87).

45 Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture, part iv’, p. 54. Morris was heavily influenced by Anton Ehrenzweig, and both writers make frequent reference to music. Ehrenzweig's explication of his theory of the mind returns to the confusion (including in its meaning of con-fusion) of musical polyphony again and again, particularly in his book The Psycho-Analysis of Artistic Vision and Hearing (London: Routledge, 1999).

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