Gadamer on the Event of Art, the Other, and a Gesture Toward a Gadamerian Approach to Free Jazz

  • Cynthia R. Nielsen University of Dallas
Keywords: Gadamer and alterity, Gadamer’s hermeneutical aesthetics, Gadamer and free jazz, hermeneutic identity, art’s dynamic ontology, tarrying with a work, Gadamer on contemporaneity, Gadamer and tradition


Several prominent contemporary philosophers, including Jürgen Habermas, John Caputo, and Robert Bernasconi, have at times painted a somewhat negative picture of Gadamer as not only an uncritical traditionalist, but also as one whose philosophical project fails to appreciate difference. Against such claims, I argue that Gadamer’s reflections on art exhibit a genuine appreciation for alterity not unrelated to his hermeneutical approach to the other. Thus, by bringing Gadamer’s reflections on our experience of art into conversation with key aspects of his philosophical hermeneutics, we are able to better assess the viability of Gadamer’s contributions to contemporary discussions of difference and alterity.

Sections two through six focus on key concepts in Gadamer’s account of art’s dynamic ontology and our experience of art. Such concepts include the play structure of art, hermeneutic identity, tarrying with a work, and contemporaneity. The opening sections provide not only a discussion of these central themes, but they also (1) draw attention to the various ways in which difference and otherness are integral to Gadamer’s account, and (2) utilize relevant musical examples that prepare the reader for a more focused discussion of a Gadamerian approach to free jazz in section seven. By highlighting how Gadamer’s understanding of art possesses a dialogical play structure, is characterized by identity and difference, requires actively engaged spectators and auditors, and is amenable to what many criticize as an unintelligible musical expression, viz. free jazz, Gadamer’s project is shown as other-affirming and open to ambiguity and dynamism. That is, the essential structures and concepts characterizing Gadamer’s reflections on art are likewise central to his overall hermeneutical project, and hence are not rightly described as un-attuned to difference or other-negating. Rather, Gadamer’s philosophical project upholds difference, since it requires a dialogical interplay between self and other that creates the possibility for a transformative experience. 

Author Biography

Cynthia R. Nielsen, University of Dallas
Cynthia R. Nielsen is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas (UD). Prior to her appointment at UD, she was a Catherine of Sienna Teaching Fellow at Villanova University, where she taught courses in the Ethics Program, Honors College, and the Peace and Justice Program. Nielsen's research interests and publications are interdisciplinary and have an interstitial quality about them. She is the author of Interstitial Soundings. Philosophical Reflections on Improvisation, Practice, and Self-Making (2015) and Foucault, Douglass, Fanon, and Scotus in Dialogue. On Social Construction and Freedom (2013). Her current research focuses on bringing Gadamer's reflections on art into conversation with the insights and practices of 20th century music and art.


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