Nietzsche 5 : The Fragmentary (2015)

Michael Schwab, Paulo de Assis (co-author)

About this exposition

‘Nietzsche 5 : The Fragmentary’ is a collaborative research exposition, which presents a number of compositions by the young Friedrich Nietzsche (organised top to bottom) as well as various layers of reflection, interrogation, and speculation (organised left to right). It focuses on a moment of transformation around 1872 when Nietzsche moved from a serious interest in music composition to a career as a writer and philosopher. This period also coincides with the breakdown of Nietzsche’s friendship with Richard Wagner. The exposition suggests that Nietzsche’s own music as well as that of Wagner serves as a (negative) point of reference for the later Nietzsche, whose work, following Maurice Blanchot amongst others, can be characterised through the notion of the fragmentary, which places it also in relation to early Romanticism, in particular the writings of Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis, and Friedrich Hölderlin. While Nietzsche’s more monumental compositions, such as his unfinished Mass (1860) and the symphonic poem Ermanarich (1861), may be more problematic, the exposition suggests that in some smaller pieces – in particular in So lach doch mal (1862) and Das ‘Fragment an sich’ (1871) – a sense of the fragmentary in Nietzsche may already be constructed. Beyond interpretations that focus more narrowly on Nietzsche’s work, this research exposition sets out to render the notion of the fragmentary productive for the wider context of artistic research. It does so with reference to Nietzsche’s notion of the untimely as a way to challenge both the dominant instrumentalisation of research and the notion of contemporaneity that seems central to present-day artistic practice. This not only provides perspectives into artistic epistemologies but also, more concretely, provides the methodology by which the research itself and its exposition have progressed. The overall mode is, thus, also that of the fragmentary, in which various media including text and image as well as audio and video recordings are distributed across a two-dimensional grid allowing multiple relationships and readings to emerge. The research exposition aims not only to discuss but ultimately also to employ the fragmentary so as to touch upon a specific artistic and intellectual motivation that we have come to identify with Nietzsche and which we suggest is also relevant today.
typeresearch exposition
keywordsNietzsche, artistic research, contemporaneity, epistemology, expositionality, fragment, the fragmentary, historicity, MusicExperiment21, untimely, Wagner, work
published inRuukku
connected toRuukku

Ruukku portal comments: 2
nimetön/anonym/anonymous 05/02/2016 at 09:59

The research exposition “Nietzsche 5 The Fragmentary” addresses an interesting topic: the relations between musical composition and philosophical thinking in Nietzsche's life and work. The exposition's mode of approach is challenging: it presents a dynamic mixture of musical performances and theoretical reflections. Methodically, it attempts to draw from Nietzsche's notion of the fragmentary: it does not organize its elements around a clearly defined interpretive centre but rather offers them in an open form so as to allow the possibility of various readings. Linking the idea of the fragmentary to the concept of the untimely, the exposition sets as its goal to open productive perspectives on artistic research, especially concerning relevant epistemological and methodical models.


The visual structure of the exposition makes navigation somewhat difficult: in order to move, one must simultaneously be attentive to both top-to-bottom and left-to-right directions. This seems to be the authors' deliberate choice, but its makes it laborious for the user both to find one's way to new elements as well as to find one's way back to already watched ones.


The musical recordings situated on the left side of the page are reached easily, as well as their commentary. Listening experience is as good as it can be on a PC, but watching video recordings of talking heads is less enjoyable. The biggest problem in navigation concerns the reading of theoretical texts, which are difficult to access in any reasonable or even creative order. Again, this seems to the authors' choice and part of the rule of the game. However, since the texts passages do not have the literary quality of fragments, but rather present small pieces of more or less academic discourse, the overall impression is scattered.


The immediate experience of the theoretical part of the exposition resembles more an encounter with a research plan than with an accomplished research. Although the exposition is presented as part of a work in progress, linked to previous and still forthcoming events, it gives the impression that especially the theoretical part of the research work is in some respects unfinished, and that the attempted goals have not been reached.


The research exposition seems at first sight interesting and promising, as it addresses a topic often neglected in academic research in an experimental way, utilizing the potentials of rich media publication, and as it sets itself challenging goals with respect to urgent questions of artistic research. However, a closer look gives rise to various critical questions and comments, especially as the epistemological and methodical models to be gained from the approach remain in many respects unclear.


Methodically, the approach to Nietzsche seems vague. There is no real consideration of Nietzsche's text, its ways of developing the questions of music, art and science, or its rhetorical, metaphorical and musical qualities. Instead, the exposition proceeds by offering short quotations from Nietzsche and his interpreters, without sufficiently considering their different contexts (theoretical, literary, personal etc.) and without elaborating the links between those quotations. This is clearly an academic requirement, and one could contest its value in artistic research context; however, the reflections presented in the research exposition deliberately adopt an academic approach with references, arguments, conceptual developments etc., and the text does not show any significant non-academic (literary, performative or other) qualities.


Consequently, the seemingly academic discourse is affected by unclear argumentation and reading that is not always as rigorous as one would expect from an academic point of view. In fact, one would like to ask whether it would be more appropriate, with respect to the explicit aims of the exposition, to be able to read more about the authors' own developments of Nietzschean ideas than to be referred to other, absent or scarcely presented sources?


As an example, I would like to take up the use of the “fragmentary”, the central notion of the research exposition. The exposition presents as its goal to “render the notion of the fragmentary productive for the wider context of artistic research”. Connecting the fragmentary with the notion of the “untimely”, the exposition aims to address critically the instrumental character of research as well as the emphasis on contemporaneity in artistic practices. In such a way the exposition attempts to provide both “perspectives into artistic epistemologies” and a methodology for the present research.

The notion of the fragmentary is presented by referring to Blanchot and Lacoue-Labarthe&Nancy. Since Nietzsche’s name appears in the main title, it is a bit disappointing that the text does not discuss Nietzsche's own ways of developing or practising the fragmentary (for example, there is no consideration of Nietzsche's poems, his perhaps most “musical” fragments.), but is content to offer a lot of quotations from various interpreters. It also remains unclear to the reader, why so much space is given to the discussion of the historical background. The exposition touches upon many interesting but also most challenging topics without really engaging in them, and the reader wonders how these briefly evoked topics can be connected in a way which serves the explicit research tasks of the exposition: “artistic epistemologies”, artistic research “methodologies” and the critique of “instrumentality” in research?


At the same time, the general mode of approach leads to ignore some simple and basic questions which would be relevant for the wider use of the idea of the fragmentary. It remains unclear for the reader, how “fragmentary” writing is or could be practised (by Nietzsche or by us) and how it might affect the possibilities of thought by changing the relations between art and science or practice and theory. It also remains unclear what it means to extend the literary notion of the fragmentary to include non-literary media and the whole field of rich media publication.


These may again seem to be academic comments and not wholly relevant for a text presented in the context of artistic research, especially if it itself follows the methodical principle of the fragmentary. However, the aforementioned problems seem to have decisive practical consequences for the very realization of the research. In this exposition, the notion of the fragmentary runs the risk of being nothing but a name for scattered presentation, which has very little to do with the idea of the fragment in the Nietzschean (or the Early Romantic) sense.


Although the research exposition Fragment 5 presents an interesting and enjoyable mixture of musical pieces and their commentary together with historical material, and although its research questions are challenging and urgent, the exposition remains methodologically rather vague and does not reach its explicit aims.


Reviewer 1


Steve Tromans 05/02/2016 at 13:06

 “Nietzsche 5 The Fragmentary” is an excellent contribution to the field of artistic research in music; a thoroughly enjoyable and informative exposition. Its key point of resonance with the theme of the issue is that of the fragmentary as research gesture. The exposition is a beautiful example a fragmentary presentational format, which encourages its readers to perform and to articulate, in a multi-modal engagement, the gestures suggested by the research. Further, this kind of openness to presentational freedom highlights the question of the relations between the various media (writing, audio, visual) and the multifarious gestures and trajectories to be traced through these by the reader. The reader is allowed to partake in the research process – to be more than just a recipient of the knowledge-project of the authors’ (ongoing) research. In so doing, the research exposition is kept open and fragmentary in a positive and creative way, in a manner that is not achievable via more traditional fixed formats of research presentation.


The encouragement and opportunity for the reader to engage with the exposition in an unlimited number of ways – anything from a more straightforward left-to-right and down the page approach, to a fragmentary “nomadic” singular trajectory of one’s own choice – suits the object and focus of this particular research admirably. The exposition’s fragmentary layout on the (web)page resonates effectively (and affectively) with the theme of the research. I took particular pleasure in accessing multiple elements at the same time – for instance, triggering an audio excerpt and a video clip of one of the authors talking to camera while reading one or more of the written texts.


The artistic practice carried out here is fundamentally grounded in the research project that this exposition is part of. This makes the exposition exemplary of the possibilities and benefits of artistic research as a relatively new epistemological paradigm. The theme of the research – the fragmentary in Nietzsche’s music and philosophy and, in wider context, the fragmentary as a means of exploring early romanticism and contemporary artistry – provides both a focus for the enquiry and also a method of operation and presentation.


The exposition is itself a fragment of an on-going research project (Nietzsche N), and this particular portion of the research (Nietzsche 5) is, in part, itself a multi-modal blueprint for a future research event (Nietzsche 6). This demonstrates the authors’ complex practice-as-research gesturing. The reader is able to garner a sense of the eternally returning, fragmentary nature of the theme/s under investigation, and to experience first-hand (through interaction with the diverse materials presented on the page) his/her own historical perspective as an active (though fragmented) part of the temporal flow/s of the Nietzsche N research project.


The authors’ research is grounded in artistic practice, and therefore the relationship between the two (practice and research) is from the outset a complex one. This is, of course, one of the benefits of adopting a practice-as-research approach: utilising such complexity in the service of engaging with the multifaceted relationships operative both in music and philosophy, via the metaphor as well as the theoretical/practical/presentational tools provided by the fragmentary.


The fragmentary as a method of research enquiry, presentation and artistic practice has important implications for other fields of artistic practice as well. For instance, in my own areas of expertise – jazz and improvising music – I can clearly envisage potential applications and further developments of the fragmentary approach presented here.


Steve Tromans

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