Today at the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College, I am attending a lecture by musician George Lewis and philosophy professor Arnold Davidson. The title of the discussion/lecture is “Life as Improvisation.” On the surface, I feel like I might have a grasp on the topic. I’m a Black academic with two kids, a husband, a manuscript-in-progress, and a class to teach this semester. I feel like I improvise all the time. However, it’s more complicated than that. Here’s a blurb on the goal of the talk:
In this lecture, Arnold Davidson and George Lewis will explore the relationship between humans and machines, musicians and their instruments, improvisation, social responsibility, and agency–suggesting that improvisation is not limited to the artistic domain, but is an important aspect of everyday life, one that can lead to new models of intelligibility, ethics, and social transformation.
In preparation for a faculty seminar on Friday on the same topic, I’m reading Michel Foucault’s “What is Enlightenment?”, McGinn and Keros, “Improvisation and the Logic of Exchange in Socially Embedded Transactions,” and Pierre Hadot, “Philosophy as a Way of Life.” Heady stuff. I went back to my notes on Kant’s Was ist Aufklarung? to prepare. He, like the other writers above, outlines the role of reason in private versus public realms, the appropriate nature of reacting or defying order within the society (i.e. officer, taxes, priest). The idea that one must question the status quo (i.e. society of clergymen) while also obeying society’s rules is, indeed, more complicated than I think right now.
I’ll tweet about “Life as Improvisation” this afternoon from 4:30 t0 6 (#lifeasimprovisation). I’ll attend the faculty seminar tomorrow. Then, finally, on Friday night, I’ll jam to Vijay Iyer and George Lewis to truly get a sense of improvisation on a musical level.