An Interview: Approaching Texts as Philosophical Improvisations

For those interested, I was interviewed recently by a colleague, fellow philosopher, and friend, J. Douglas Macready, who blogs at The Relative Absolute. In the interview, we discuss informally, what I have called in the past, an “improvisational” approach to texts.  You can access the interview here. The prelude to the interview reads:

Every philosopher eventually stumbles upon the question of method. How should philosophical texts be approached, read, interpreted, and assimilated into one’s philosophical project? How should philosophical inquiry proceed? What are the sources of a genuine philosophical method? Conversely, is method even necessary, or does it impede philosophical reflection?

Recently, I have been thinking through these questions with my colleague Cynthia R. Nielsen, who blogs at Per Caritatem. We have been exploring the methodological potential of jazz improvisation. The possible relationship between jazz improvisation and philosophical methodology arose during a discussion of Nielsen’s dissertation and her forthcoming book titled Foucault and Self-Writing: On the Art of Living as Improvisation (forthcoming, Wipf & Stock 2012.) Nielsen, who is both a philosopher and a jazz guitarist, has been writing at the intersection of music and philosophy for some time (see her “What Has Coltrane to Do With Mozart: The Dynamism and Built-in Flexibility of Music,” Expositions Vol 3 No 1 (August 2009): 57-71,) but recently jazz improvisation has begun to inform her approach to philosophical inquiry in a fresh and innovative way.

In the following interview, Nielsen explains her “improvisational approach” to philosophy, and sketches out the practical application of this approach, it benefits, and its limitations.

2 thoughts on “An Interview: Approaching Texts as Philosophical Improvisations”

  1. Cynthia,

    I read the article you suggested and thanks in part to it I’ve recently come to see that postmodern (or at least Gadamer’s) hermeneutics is pluralist (allowing for multiple interpretations of a text) but not anarchic (everything is permitted). I used to think along the lines of Plantinga’s critique of Rorty, of interpretation being simply “what others let you get away with.” I guess the point your making is that while our perspectives are too limited to grasp the “correct” interpretation of a text, we can at least come up with an exegesis that actually wrestles with the text (I won’t be interpreting Augustine’s Confessions as some kind of self-help book anytime soon).

    Regarding St. Augustine, I am curious as to the place he occupies in Christian philosophy of history. Several questions arise. Did he intend to write the “last word” on the interplay between the two cities in De Civitate Dei or is it the case that Christians in every historical context must face anew the problem of the reconciliation of universality and particularity, of time and eternity? Also, what is the place of Christ in history? At this point St.Augustine and the Christian’s confrontation with history looks like my thesis or dissertation topic.

  2. Hi Eric, On St. Augustine and the “philosophy/theology of history,” I recommend highly R. A. Markus’s book, _Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine.” Also, pretty much anything by Robert Dodaro on Augustine is excellent in my book. Both of these works should address the kinds of questions you are raising (and then some)!

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