November 5: Holly Watkins (Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester)

Pre-Human, Post-Human, or Somewhere in Between? Locating Music after Humanism

For centuries, music has occupied a variable place between such broad domains of human experience as theory and practice, art and science, concept and percept, and language and number. More recently, music has been plumbed for insights into our species’ evolutionary heritage and harnessed to post-humanist realignments of human music-making with nonhuman communication and the non-intentional dynamics of cultural transmission. The temporal logic of distant past and uncertain future that imbues the rhetorical pair pre-human and post-human seems altogether characteristic of an impending ecological disaster in which the humans responsible for climate change find themselves caught between too late and not yet. In dialogue with the philosophies of Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou, this paper navigates music’s complex geometry of betweenness (especially in regard to language and number) and inquires how that geometry might mutate in response to post-humanist temporalities—of which our own pandemic time is just one manifestation.