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Posts Tagged ‘George Lewis’

Ah, the wonders of Twitter. In a chain of argumentation that wandered around quite a bit today, the question of improvisation (what it is, how best to characterize it, etc.) came up. For those RAIL readers who are classically trained rhetoricians, this question will no doubt call to mind Book Ten of Quintillian’s Institutio Oratoria, which deals with extemporaneous speech. This led to the contribution of the video below by one of the participants.

The expansive talk herein is by George E. Lewis, the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. The general gist of it is that much of human interaction is understandable as improvisation (as understood in a manner analogous to the sort that occurs in musical performance). If this were right, then interesting consequences would follow for argumentation, at least when argumentation is considered as a dialectical process between two or more persons.  For starters, one such consequence would be that argumentation needs to be seen more as a cooperative than a competitive phenomenon. Accordingly, many of the “moves” of various participants would have to be understood outside the scope of strategies for “winning”.  There are other potential results too, I think, but they’re likely to appear differentially according to the approach to argumentation one takes. (For example, I find myself wondering with great interest how those working within the framework of normative pragmatics would understand improvisation in argumentation, but I’ll leave the answering of that wonder to those more qualified than I to speak on it.)

It is an interesting talk, but be warned: it is a little on the longish side and it’s general orientation from within a Continental philosophical framework may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If, knowing that, you’re not scared, then have go at it!

I would be remiss if I did not thank consummate jazz musician Vijay Iyer 1) for getting involved in our Twitter conversation at all and 2) for posting the above video in the hopes of enlightening us as to the nature and power of improvisation.  In return, I post this video of his wonderful trio covering Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” in which they, yes, improvise delightfully.

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