The Theory of Walter Benjamin, Ludwig Wittgenstein & Sigmund Freud Sung by Kenneth Goldsmith

Goldsmith Benjamin_0

Wal­ter Ben­jamin, Lud­wig Wittgen­stein, and Sig­mund Freud: if these the­o­rists share any qual­i­ty at all, they share a rep­u­ta­tion for not going easy on their read­ers. Each of them wrote in a way that exudes a dif­fer­ent kind of intel­lec­tu­al dif­fi­cul­ty — Ben­jam­in’s sud­den swerves into the zone where high rel­e­vance meets high irrel­e­vance, Wittgen­stein’s aus­tere cer­tain­ty, Freud’s elab­o­rate flights into the near-fan­tas­ti­cal  — but all of their work pos­es a chal­lenge to read­ers approach­ing it for the first time. And so Ken­neth Gold­smith Sings The­o­ry address­es the obvi­ous ques­tion: what if you did­n’t read it, but heard it sung instead?

“What is it about aca­d­e­m­ic the­o­ry that begs to be, well, sung by peo­ple who can’t sing?” asks Gold­smith, poet, prof, UBUweb cre­ator, and WFMU radio host, on the sta­tion’s blog. He cites exam­ples from a punk-rock­i­fied Theodor Adorno to a Finnish eccen­tric’s con­ver­sion of the Trac­ta­tus Logi­co-Philo­soph­i­cus into a song­book, even­tu­al­ly com­ing to his own “adven­tures into the field,” which you can hear in the Pennsound archive. Just above, we have have Gold­smith singing Ben­jam­in’s “Unpack­ing my Library” to music by exper­i­men­tal vio­lin­ist Eyvind Kang [MP3]. “Just as Ben­jamin lists copies of oth­er books and the asso­ci­a­tions they bring,” writes Jacob Edmond at Jacket2, “so Gold­smith copies Ben­jamin, cre­at­ing an idio­syn­crat­ic audio book ver­sion. ”

Wittgen­stein Part 1

Wittgen­stein Part 2

“In his per­for­mance of the text, Gold­smith fus­es pre­cise­ly delin­eat­ed musi­cal sec­tions, or move­ments, with the chaot­ic, shift­ing pitch and tone of his voice, par­al­lel­ing Benjamin’s obser­va­tion in the essay that ‘if there is a coun­ter­part to the con­fu­sion of a library, it is the order of its cat­a­logue.’ ” Can you find sim­i­lar par­al­lels between Gold­smith’s man­ner of singing and the the­o­ry he deliv­ers with it when he per­forms Wittgen­stein’s Philo­soph­i­cal Inves­ti­ga­tions to Igor Stravin­sky [MP3 part one, MP3 part two]? Or below, where he sings Sig­mund Freud’s The Psy­chopathol­o­gy of Every­day Life, start­ing on the pas­sage of the “slips of the tongue” which have pop­u­lar­ly come to bear Freud’s name, to The Who [MP3]? After all, style does­n’t count for much, as such a strik­ing­ly dressed char­ac­ter as Gold­smith knows full well, unless it aligns with sub­stance.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wal­ter Benjamin’s Mys­ti­cal Thought Pre­sent­ed by Two Exper­i­men­tal Films

Wal­ter Benjamin’s Radio Plays for Kids (1929–1932)

Wittgenstein’s Mas­ter­piece, the Trac­ta­tus Logi­co-Philo­soph­i­cus, Gets Turned into Beau­ti­ful, Med­i­ta­tive Music

Lud­wig Wittgenstein’s Trac­ta­tus Gets Adapt­ed Into an Avant-Garde Com­ic Opera

Sig­mund Freud Speaks: The Only Known Record­ing of His Voice, 1938

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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