Vladimir Jankelevitch left behind a remarkable œuvre steeped as much in philosophy as in music. His writings on moral quandaries reflect a lifelong devotion to music and performance, and, as a counterpoint, he wrote on music aesthetics and on modernist composers such as Faure, Debussy, and Ravel. Music and the Ineffable brings together these two threads, the philosophical and the musical, as an extraordinary quintessence of his thought. Jankelevitch deals with classical issues in the philosophy of music, including metaphysics and ontology. These are a point of departure for a sustained examination and dismantling of the idea of musical hermeneutics in its conventional sense.
Music, Jankelevitch argues, is not a hieroglyph, not a language or sign system; nor does it express emotions, depict landscapes or cultures, or narrate. On the other hand, music cannot be imprisoned within the icy, morbid notion of pure structure or autonomous discourse. Yet if musical works are not a cipher awaiting the decoder, music is nonetheless entwined with human experience, and with the physical, material reality of music in performance. Music is "ineffable," as Jankelevitch puts it, because it cannot be pinned down, and has a capacity to engender limitless resonance in several domains. Jankelevitch's singular work on music was central to such figures as Roland Barthes and Catherine Clement, and the complex textures and rhythms of his lyrical prose sound a unique note, until recently seldom heard outside the francophone world.
"Among significant influences in 20th-century philosophical thought on music, perhaps none is as sweeping as that of Vladimir Jankelevitch. Yet until now his works have not been widely available in English... Still provocative after 40 years, this book offers fascinating, fresh, and Occasionally befuddling perspectives on the vital phenomenon that is music."--Choice