Getting Along, In Concert

In an interview, Andrew Bowie, a jazz-playing philosopher, claims that what we can learn about politics from the symphony has to do with practice rather than theory. He points to Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said’s East-West Divan Orchestra, along with jazz, as examples of what he means:

The Barenboim-Said Orchestra offers an example of communication between people whose political views are often totally opposed. Barenboim cites two musicians from the orchestra on opposed sides of the Arab-Israeli disputes who cannot agree at all on issues of justice and politics, but who can agree on the importance of getting the phrasing in a Beethoven symphony right. Philosophers also hardly ever agree on anything, but they have to coexist, so finding modes of communication and interaction which circumvent inevitable differences should be crucial. The point of something like music, where participation is essential, is that what happens in successful participation cannot be fully cashed out in discursive terms. Our political judgements, on the other hand, should have to be publicly cashed out, and this means we often arrive at irreconcilable conflicts, where both sides’ judgements may, of course, anyway be mistaken. …

[T]he world of music is … actually notorious for being riven by conflict – but it does also offer examples of cooperation and communication beyond everyday antagonisms in other domains. That is one of the things I love about the jazz scene, where people from wildly different backgrounds, with very different levels of experience and skill, and very different musical conceptions, can play together successfully.