Accepted Paper:

Certainty, Contingency and Improvisation  


Gary Peters (York St John University)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing upon Kant and Hegel’s aesthetics, as well as the latter’s Phenomenology as starting points, an attempt will be made to articulate the improvisatory not in terms of the new, unforeseen or unexpected but, rather, in relation to the contingency ‘emancipated’ (Luhmann) by art practice and the felt certitude of aesthetic judgement, both put to work by improvisation.

Paper long abstract:

The certainty Kant associates with this 'felt' sensation of pleasure and, thus, the certitude (albeit contested) of the aesthetic judgement that it underpins is a hallmark of his aesthetics. Conversely, Hegel begins his Phenomenology with 'sense certainty', the contingency of which he is keen to expose from the philosopher's perspective of Absolute knowledge.

Having established the above dialectic of sense-certainty and contingency, the paper will proceed by claiming that both of these accounts of the aesthetic (one positive, one negative) have much to offer the study of improvisation. The following is indicative content:

• A shift away from a concept of improvisation understood as a response to or celebration of uncertainty and the unforeseeable. Replaced by a situation where the improviser knows what is going to happen while also being hyper-aware of its contingency.

• An emphasis on the singular certainty of improvisation, which (in demanding consensus) initiates a collective reflective process of contestation: improvisation par excellence.

• A recognition that the contingency of this 'this' and this 'now', far from undermining, actually intensifies the commitment to what is 'there and available', an intensity that is responsible for the infinite unconcealment of the given.

• A challenge to the linear model of improvisation in the name of a perspective that emphasises the simultaneity of contingent com-possible worlds, where agility and ironic knowingness replace innovation and novelty as guiding principles.

Panel P33
The art of improvisation