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Democratic Theory and Musical Improvisation

Joshua Mousie

Published: 2010-07-23

This article overviews Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau's reformulation of democratic politics, which avoids depicting consensus as an underlying commitment. Their articulation of democratic politics, which maintains that consensus politics dangerously reduce politics to 'popular' politics (excluding many and discouraging difference), is compared to musical improvisation in that its representation must maintain a sense of its practice and spontaneity as essential to identity. Ingrid Monson's definition of jazz improvisation, and the ideas of Gary Peters, provide an explication of musical improvisation as producing 'beginnings' not limited to the framework of a 'work', and the article ultimately suggests that, like Mouffe and Laclau's radical democracy, improvisation is a practice that stands apart from other forms guided by consensus.

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Musical improvisation is a crucial model for political, cultural, and ethical dialogue and action.

– Ajay Heble