Motor intentionality and the intentionality of improvisation: a contribution to a phenomenology of musical improvisation

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The intentionality of improvisation represents surely one of the most pressing and controversial issues in contemporary action theory: how do we find the way to characterize the proper intentionality of improvisation, which is an unplanned yet intentional action? This article will address this question bringing together Merleau-Ponty’s motor intentionality and Bergson’s conception of duration. My argument will unfold in three main stages. First, I will briefly describe the traditional scheme that is used to think of intentional action in contemporary action theory and discuss how the phenomenon of improvisation casts doubts on it. Second, I will outline an initial, and provisional account of improvisation by crossing the descriptions of musical improvisation provided by Jankélévitch with the testimonials of two improvisatory composers—Enrico Pieranunzi and Keith Jarrett—and reports from Charles Rosen, an American pianist and Roger Sessions, an American composer. Finally, I will refine the basic concepts and lay out a phenomenological account of improvisation, by extending and applying the phenomenological notion of motor intentionality to the examples and testimonials gathered from the observation of a specific kind of improvisatory activity—musical composition. This methodology is intended to contrast both with more standard philosophical approaches based on hypothetical examples, and with more standard laboratory-based methodologies in cognitive sciences, psychology, and experimental philosophy. Overall, this approach is intended to redress the balance of action theory—one-sided directed towards planning, as a key aspect of human agency—with an analysis of the bodily and responsive aspect of intentionality.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContinental Philosophy Review
Volume52
Issue2
Pages (from-to)203-224
Number of pages22
ISSN1387-2842
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

    Research areas

  • Aesthetic experience, Motor intentionality, Musical improvisation, Phenomenology, The intentionality of improvisation

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