Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Refinement of Space by Music Concepts

Boris Previsic.

Spatial concepts have become increasingly important in literary theory. The definition of such concepts depends largely on the fields of astronomy, theology, philosophy and art theory. But musical theory and practice can also make important contributions to a refinement of spatial concepts – contributions which have thus far been virtually unexplored. The present paper clarifies certain musical terms used in two of Deleuze’s works: A Thousand Plateaus (1980) and The Fold (1988). Most critics have thought that Deleuze’s musical terms obscure more than clarify his spatial concepts. But by explaining their specific references to musical theory, we can expand Deleuze’s spatial concepts and integrate them into literary theoretical discourse. Vibration – the finest mode of spatial penetration – is a primary musical term in Rameau’s "Treatise on Harmony" (1722), a key work of musical theory in the baroque era. Rameau’s work explains a fundamental baroque musical shift: from melody based medieval horizontal theory to a Leibnizian "monadological" vertical theory, in which a horizontal melodic line springs from dissonant vertical chords. In the 20th century, this spatial concept is further developed into "a polyphony of polyphonies" notably in Boulez’s composition "Pli selon pli" (Fold by Fold, 1957-1988). By analyzing and listening to a portion of this great work (Variation II), we see and hear how a certain baroque vector function gives way to a spiral function and abolishes the simple dichotomy between verticality and horizontality, between striated and smooth space. This spatial refinement can be applied to new critical literary theories dealing with space, and can expand their possibilities enormously.


Boris Previsic  (Switzerland)

Department of Comparative Literature
University of Zurich

Born in 1972. Flutist (for old and contemporary music). First prize winner of Swiss Flute Competition in 1999. Cultural project leader and Phd in comparative department (Zurich) in the interdisciplinary field of literature, music, philosophy and arts.

  • Space
  • Music
  • Fold by Fold
  • Spiral
  • Vector
  • Treatise on Harmony
  • Traité de l'Harmonie
  • Contemporary Music
  • Sonnet
  • Sonnets
Person as Subject
  • Boulez, Pierre Rameau, Jean-Philippe Deleuze, Gilles Mallarmé, Stéphane Hölderlin, Friedrich

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)