Magnusson, Thor (2019). Sonic Writing. Technologies of Material, Symbolic and Signal Inscriptions. London: Bloomsbury. <>


In Sonic Writing. Technologies of Material, Symbolic and Signal Inscriptions, Thor Magnusson focuses on understanding “how emerging digital music technologies trace their concepts, design and functionality to practices that precede our culture epoch” (2). Magnusson’s approach to music takes its lead not from the “work-concept”, whether in the form of music scores or recordings, but from its “technological” character. This implies considering the musical instrument not as the medium between the composer’s ideas and the finished work, but as an “epistemic tool” that embodies the actual music theory. Magnusson is interested in the “unstable” character of musical instruments, insofar as they possess a material excess in regard to the theory they are supposed to embody. He names the instrument’s potential for expression, its discoverability and its depth: its “ergodynamics”. On account of the tension inherent to this “embodiment” between its epistemic and its ergodynamic character, Magnusson approaches “sonic writing” in relation to the practices of material, symbolic and signal inscription; that is, to the design of the instruments, notation and recording technologies.

There are two main genealogical traits in Magnusson’s approach to digital musical instruments. Firstly, the abandonment of the “sedimentation” of the “work-concept” by the “music score” during Romanticism, and its consequent radicalization in the 20th century by the “music recording” and its “commodification”. Secondly, a “neo-baroque” character that arises as a result of the digital decoupling from a physical interface, making digital instruments more epistemic, in the sense that the theoretical system becomes the music itself, like in generative music. There’s a risk of “idealism” in this gesture, analogous to the philosophical “material” turn which Magnusson refers to, in which “matter” does not name something external to our thinking but the proper act of self-reflection. Magnusson acknowledges this risk in the lack of “depth” that digital musical instruments have in comparison to their analogue counterparts, yet he is confident that by way of “generativity”, “machine learning” and the “multimedia” and “networked” character that code allows for, they could enrich their ergodynamics.


Part I. Material Inscriptions

In the first part of the book, Magnusson approaches the “musical instrument” in terms of its material inscription. Instead of asking what an instrument is, he defines it, by referring back to the Greek organon, as that which mediates the motion between the mover (the doer) and the moved (the deed). He traces this “organology” of musical instruments throughout the whole of European history by always paying attention to the sense of this mediation or “inscription”. In Ancient Greece, he recognizes a tension which is exemplified by the division of the musical instrumentation in string and reed instruments. The former, by way of their mathematization in discreet notes, serve as an inscription of rationality as cosmic and political harmony, whereas the latter are related to the body and the instinctive, as well as to ecstasy and bacchanal, because of their harmony dispersion and their alteration of the body. We could then say that the “organology” of the musical object can only be accounted for in terms of its material inscription, which “oscillates” between it being the representation of a preestablished harmony that at the same time effaces its material character and, on the other hand, a materiality as a support of sense transformation. It is the former character that is privileged in medieval thought in its hierarchization in a “music of the spheres”, the natural music of the voice and the artificial music of the instruments. In the Renaissance, there’s a shift from music belonging to a cosmic harmony, to music having its place in the human domain. This involved a process of abstraction or of “sedimentation”, as Husserl would say1, by the industrialization of musical instrument production and the “standardization” of design, playing technique and notation syntax. By this shift, the musical instrument was no longer either the embodiment of cosmic or underworld transcendence, as in Ancient Greece in the tragic dialectics between Apollo and Dionysius; nor of religious transparency, by means of the celestial voice; but the representation of the mathematical harmony of the universe, similar to a scientific instrument. Magnusson ends his historic overview of music instrumentation by pointing out that the 20th century marks a shift from a standardization of discreet instrumental notes to a focus on “timbre” and that the 21st century is beginning to show a move towards an algorithmic nature and automation.

It is in this sense that the difference between “acoustic”, “electric” or “digital” musical instruments is not approached by means of its “what”, but precisely on account of “how” these different paradigms embody our understanding of “material inscription”. In regard to digital musical instruments, which are the main focus of the book, Magnusson says that his interest lies on the unique qualities of the digital, as opposed to the digital simulation of past technologies. And this means to focus in “the affordances, expressive scope, and theoretical potential offered by the instruments – their ergodynamics” (33). In this sense, Magnusson’s examination of digital musical instruments focuses on setting aside what persists of an “ergomimetic” functionality, insofar as the “what” of the object serves a sedimented “how”; in order to highlight its “transductive” potential, whereby the “what” of the object inscribes a new “how”. According to Magnusson, one of the differences between the acoustic and the electric and digital instruments, regarding their “ergodynamics”, lies in their “interface” (electric and digital instruments have an interface, whereas acoustic instruments are their own interface), which can be subdivided into a gestural interface, a mapping engine and a sound engine. It is this decoupling that, at the same time, enables the object a greater affordance while preventing it from becoming a musical instrument and makes of it just a “controller”. Although digital instruments wish to get rid of the “sedimentation” of their acoustic counterparts, they aspire to their “organic” character in terms both of an “individuation” and of an “institutionalization” as a part of music culture. This becomes evident in Magnusson’s description of some of the contemporary digital instruments, for instance the Karlax, which, despite its great expressivity, lacks standardization of its performance practices, coherent mapping and a system of notation, in order for a repertoire to be built around it. There is a tension between the “open-sourcedness”, which digital instruments allow for, and the lack of “aura”, as Benjamin described it2, that this entails. This tension becomes apparent in the distinction Magnusson makes between “controllerism” and the development of digital musical instruments. The “aura” of acoustic instruments is not just related to a standardization of the music theory it contains, but also to the “singularity” of their ergodynamics. As Magnusson says, there’s a depth, character and resistance that digital instruments aspire to by way of non-linear design. If in “controllerism” there seems to be an organic character in regard to its performance, this comes at the cost of the standardization of the music theory that the controller allows for. On the contrary, in digital instruments, the instrument design becomes indistinguishable from the designing of a new music theory. However, there seems to be an increasing risk of “idealism” in the emphasis given to the instrument “design”, rather than to its “play”.

One of the central theses of Magnusson’s book is that instruments are not just objects that serve as media for a cognitive process or a thought system, but that they embody the process itself, because they change that same cognitive structure. In this sense he focuses on early Modernity, when scientific instrumentation becomes a critical extension of the human intellect. The scientific instruments do not merely follow theory, but they determine it, since they open up the possibility of the unforeseeable. In the Romantic period, Magnusson recognizes a process of standardization where the instrument becomes simply the medium between the composer’s ideas and the performer’s playing, and he argues that with electronic and digital technology the instrument becomes, once again, a vehicle for scientific and musical exploration. However, because instruments are “containers of theory”, there’s an intricacy between what they reveal and what they conceal. They can at the same time amplify new possibilities of musical experience and reinforce music theory sedimentations. If, in the case of acoustic instruments, it is true that they are “epistemic tools”, in that they are containers of a determined music theory, there is an increased level of epistemic dependency in the case of digital instruments. Magnusson recognizes three aspects to take into account with regard to this, namely their materiality, in the form of code writing; their symbolic character, concerning their control; and their sonic character, that pertains to their function. In order to analyze all three aspects in their interaction, in design and performance, he proposes an “organological” approach.

If the primary concern of Magnusson seems to be the overcoming of the division between techne and episteme by means of an emphasis on how technology predetermines knowledge, this entails a permanent tension between the “design” of the instrument and its “use”. Concerning its design, the digital instrument involves a knowledge of sound, signal processing, music theory and interface design, while it is in its “use”, by working with it, that we build an understanding of its functionalities and limitations. In order to work with an instrument, you do not need to be aware of its signal processing or music theory but can simply interact with its interface. There seems to be a presupposed “idealism” in the digital instrument, insofar as its “predefined quality” can be exhaustively described in a manual. Magnusson seeks to counteract this by considering a digital instrument in which its non-linear design would not be considered a fault, but in which the interaction with it, through machine learning, would generate behaviors not previously designed. In contrast with digital instruments, acoustic instruments contain an intrinsic non-linearity that make up their “depth”. The acoustic instrument gains its “singularity” through our interaction with it, in which it is tested to its limits. If an instrument is a “container of theory”, at the same time it cannot be exhausted by the music theory it is supposed to embody. We could say that if, in the history of musical instruments, there was a division between techne and episteme whereby the instrument was considered as a mere medium for knowledge, this would disregard how its technological character determined that same knowledge. There is the opposite danger in digital instruments, where the knowledge would be contained in the technology, whereby “the music results are the instrument” (61).

In accordance with his examination of musical instruments by means of their “ergodynamics”, an analysis of the organizational principles of digital instruments should follow an “organology”, in which the physiological, the technical and the social need to be included. This means taking into account how digital instruments have transformed our ways of symbolizing music theory, our bodily relations to them and the areas of technological and social culture which they involve. Although Magnusson’s aim is not only to approach music instruments as “epistemic tools”, but also as “ergodynamic” artefacts to explore, it seems that this last dimension is more clearly exemplified by acoustic instruments, whereas in the case of digital instruments the emphasis is put more on their design and not in an exploration of their potential non-linearity.


Part II. Symbolic Inscriptions

In the second part of the book, Magnusson provides an overview of the history of “music notation”, which proves to be a perfect example of his concept of “technological inscription”; that is, of the process through which an instrument by means of its material inscription transforms the music theory, its performance and its social and technological culture. If in Ancient Greece, music embodies a sonic expression of political and cosmic harmony, this marked a hierarchy between written music theory (episteme) and music practice (techne) which only survives as oral culture. “Music notation” emerged as a mnemotechnical aid within ecclesial music and, although it was restricted only to pitch, its externalization and spatial arrangement of temporal sonic information soon allowed for polyphonic composition. Moreover, by this “grammatization” of music, the roles of the composer, of the luthier and of the performer became more specialized. With printing, not only a democratization of access to music takes place, but also a whole industry of instrument building. Printed music goes from being a medium of preserving music as cultural memory, to allowing for original musical thinking. With Romanticism, the ideas of musical work, autonomy, authorship and interpretation emerge, whereby the musical score embodies the primary manifestation of the music itself, while the performances of the work become mere instances of it. This transformation of an ontology of music, by means of the affordances that the technological medium of the “music score” uncovered, does not come without a sedimentation of its music theory; mainly of the music “work-concept”. It is in the 20th century that a continuous exploration of the ergodynamics of “music notations” beyond its restriction to a work-concept takes place.

Magnusson approaches this exploration by making use of a dichotomy between “descriptive” and “prescriptive” notation. “Descriptive” scores refer to music notation which was intended as a mnemotechnic aid for performers, while “prescriptive” scores determine the performance of the music. It is not about a quantitative difference concerning how much of the music work is notated, but a transformation of whether the music notation is just a medium or the work itself. Yet, with this sedimentation of the music score as the embodiment of the work itself comes a growing tension about whether its directives should aspire to a mechanical reenactment, that is, what served as a material inscription now effaces its ergodynamic character and must acknowledge its incompleteness as an “open work”. Magnusson explores this tension in “action notations”, in which the composer gives instructions to the performer and the work gains a collaborative nature; in “graphic scores”, in which the composer “grammatizes” not only pitch, time and duration but any possible sonic parameter to be explored; in “multimedia notation”, in which an increasing importance is given to the “play” and “indeterminacy” of the given directions; and in “improvisation”, which tries to break through the “work-concept” still prevalent in the formalism of even the collaborative, indeterminant and generative character of prescriptive notations.

In order to unveil wherein could lie the affordances that digital instruments provide us with, pertaining to computer code as a form of music notation, Magnusson traces again a historic overview of algorithmic and generative music. In doing this, he focuses not so much on music notation as a device of mnemotechnical aid for music performance, but on the music notation inherent to the “music theory” that lies behind its practice. If music could reflect cosmic harmony, by establishing a set of rules, then all music could be derived by way of combinatorial methods. Music composition would consist in the application of algorithmic or generative rules, whereby an infinite number of music pieces could be produced. It is clear how this approach, in which the system itself is considered the music work, resonates with digital instrument design. It is nonetheless symptomatic that Magnusson considers briefly and then dismisses the use of “metaphor” as a way of approaching a generative music work, because “metaphor” embodies precisely the “material inscription” in the domain of language. “Metaphor” predetermines “concept”, in the same way as techne predetermines episteme, both in the sense that all concepts are metaphoric sedimentations, and that within the metaphor lies a surplus of semantic power that goes beyond its use in a conceptual system. Just to mention one of the “metaphors” that Magnusson refers to, digital generativity could be described in biological terms as genotypes and phenotypes, where the software is the genotype that engenders infinite musical instances as phenotypes. However, the phenotype is not an instantiation of a genotype, but precisely its “material inscription”; insofar as, in account of its “plasticity”, it expresses the “ergodynamics” of its openness to environmental factors. If Magnusson opts for focusing on “code” in order to approach generative music, this seems to presuppose that “code” could be “non-metaphorical”. Although Magnusson refers as well to the Deleuzian concept of “virtuality”, which would correspond to the software, that contains the potential to become fulfilled in the “actuality” of the pieces, this “virtuality” should be understood in the sense of a “modularity”. He ends precisely by referring to “modular systems” in electronic music, in which the design of the system functions like a compositional and generative framework; albeit one where an ergodynamic exploration is necessary in order to “play” with it.


Part III. Signal Inscriptions

In the case of “music notation”, Magnusson approaches the material inscription of music in relation to its “symbolic” transcription. This is germane to the selection of a determined number of sonic parameters, e.g. pitch, time, duration, to which a symbol is ascribed, in order to be reproduced. In the third part of the book, he deals with the history of the dynamic mechanical inscription of sound, with the attempts to investigate “whether sound could be written down, similar to the possibility of writing light with photography” (124). This writing of sound or “phonography” aims to depict the effect of a vibrating object, the actual sound it emits through air. This “signal inscription” aspires to write the actual wave motion, and it is thus not “symbolic” like music notation. Magnusson traces the history of “sonic writing” back to its early attempts in the form of waveforms being etched onto material substances, but still without the intention of “playing back” what was written down, most probably because of its analogy to photography’s “light writing”.

It is with the phonograph that the possibility of reproducing the written sound materializes. The “sonic recording”, on the one hand, is not just the medium for a signal transcription and reproduction of sound, but an “organon” that changes the way in which we conceive music theory, our bodily relation to it and the social and technological culture around it. On the other hand, the “material inscription,” by which the technology becomes the music work itself, carries with it an “erasing” of its ergodynamic character by its sedimentation in the “work-concept”. Magnusson exemplifies this with the “studio recording”. What was at first thought of as a medium for documenting music, soon proved to be the space in which the actual music composition took place. Like with music notation, “sonic writing” went from being the signal transcription of a sound to becoming the material out of which new sounds could emerge. Magnusson describes two tendencies in which sonic writing became the composition itself. On the one hand, he traces the origins of “sound synthesis” back to the first attempts to directly write down the waveform by hand on a material substance. Nowadays you would work similarly with any additive synthesis digital instrument, in order for it to be later transduced into sound. On the other hand, with the invention of magnetic tape, musique concrète was born, whereby recorded sound was no longer approached as a symbolic transcription of a music parameter but through a phenomenological bracketing as “pure sound”. In terms of ergodynamics, its material inscription allowed for new forms of music composition, insofar as tape could be cut and pasted, slowed down or sped up, reversed and so on. At the same time, the material inscription of sonic writing brings a more radical ontology of the work-concept already inscribed by the music score, whereby the recorded music becomes the music piece itself, against which all live performance is judged. The music work is composed through the process of working in the studio, whether by an assemblage of improvisation recordings, or by multitrack recording. In the case of the music score, despite its detailed prescriptive notation, there is still an affordance for interpretation by the music performer. Whereas in the case of the recorded sound, there’s an increased risk of sedimentation of the “work-concept” as proven by the “commodification” of the music record, whereby it is mass-produced, shipped and consumed around the world.

Although “sonic writing” allowed for “signal inscription”, bypassing the need for a “symbolic transcription”, it was an inscription of how the machine ‘heard’, not of how it ‘listened’. In the case of “sound synthesis”, it was necessary to “analyze” the waveform, in order to be able to recreate already sedimented sounds by drawing attention not to symbolic, but to signal parameters; such as the sound’s fundamental frequency, its partials or its amplitude envelope. In the case of ‘musique concrète’ this presented a lesser problem in regard to its composition. Because of it being grounded in a “music score” tradition, “sound analysis” was however necessary, in order to be able to interpret the work and to understand its process. It is with digital instrumentation that this “graphic transduction” of sound achieves its highest point, allowing us not only to see the whole frequency spectrum of the sound, but to re-synthetize it as well. Magnusson shows with great detail how, with digital technology, “analysis is synthesis”. The technological instruments that allow us to analyze sound in each of its signal parameters at the same time generate their own “aesthetic”. This “critical music” approaches a “material” turn in ontology, in which “matter” refers not to something external but is generated by the proper act of music “self-reflection”. This ontology of “machine listening” involves at the same time an enormous technical and cultural impact, from assistance in mixing and mastering by way of spectral analysis to how we listen to streaming music through signal parameter analyzed recommendations.


Part IV. Digital Writing

In the final part of the book, Magnusson displays an overwhelming and kaleidoscopic overview of contemporary digital music technology in order to hint at what sort of transformation is taking place in regard to the three forms of sonic inscription previously analyzed. As I have tried to point out, the thesis, according to which the instrument is the music, involves a double risk. On the one hand, using the example of Romanticism, the medium, for instance music notation, becomes the primary manifestation of the music itself and comes with a sedimentation of the “work-concept”. On the other hand, using the example of the Baroque, when the system is the music, too much emphasis is put on the instrument being an “epistemic tool” and not enough on its “ergodynamics”. If there’s a trait amid the plethora of digital music manifestations that Magnusson privileges, it is “machine learning”, which allows him to overcome the aforementioned tension. In the case of “material inscription”, where music theory is written on the body of the music instrument, digital instruments struggle to achieve the “depth” and “mystery” of acoustic instruments as a result of the decoupling of the sound engine, the mapping process and the interface. However, with the implementation of machine learning, the interface becomes a unique object, insofar as it evolves with the performer through their relationship: “The new instruments can be systems that analyze our behavior, share with others, consult from databases of musical works and performances, suggest or predict, all in a bespoke way tailored around users and their musical preferences” (177).

In the case of “symbolic inscription”, Magnusson affirms the formation of an “oral culture”, not in the sense of an abandonment of writing, but of its transformation, from being a medium of archiving to an exploration of, as Derrida would say, its “dissemination”3. New orality is hyper-writing, whereby the sonic process of self-writing and self-erasing is more important than the written product that erases the process. As previously described, Magnusson sees a great affinity between digital music theory and the proto-generativity of Baroque music, insofar as the musical instrument is first and foremost an “invention”; a music system of rules, from which by means of an algorithm or a combinatorics a series of “variations” can be developed. If in digital music instruments, these “variations” reject their sedimentation in a “work-concept”, it is because they are “theoretical systems” that “contain” the music through their ergodynamic potential (183). They are to be thought of not so much as systems, but as “ecosystems”; the act of composition and performance is an exploration of the ergodynamics of the instrument, whether in generative music, new musical instruments, modular synths, live coding systems or even audio games and music virtual worlds.

This shift in “music notation” achieves its apex in “live coding”, in which practitioners perform on stage by writing code that generates audiovisual work, which seems to get rid of the whole problem of a music interface. Since it approaches music composition and performance from the native code of the computer music instrument, like in the case of acoustic instruments, code is the interface. Moreover, the practice of “live coding” often involves networked collaboration in the form of code sharing. As Magnusson points out, due to the fluidity of these digital music ecosystems, “the compositional work becomes more about shaping sonic and human relational processes through time, about creating situated social contexts and narratives that provide apertures or clearings for the interpretation and creation of new worlds” (193).

In the case of “signal inscription”, as we saw, it was the “music record” that produced the most pervasive sedimentation of the “work-concept”, as well as its “commodification”. If digital instruments by means of their “critical” character not only reflect their own music theory, but produce their own ergodynamics, it is not surprising that they generate their own “format” of distribution and play as well. It’s in the case of generative music that this format cannot have the character of a “music record”, but whether in a physical format, in a music app or in a browser-based system, it includes its own ‘ecosystem’ in the form of the runtime version of the software needed to generate it. Ultimately, on account of this shift in the “work-concept” brought about by digital music, Magnusson asks: “could it be that the most engaging, interactive, interpretative, ergodynamic, and personally fulfilling form of musical consumption might be to perform it ourselves?” (218).



Magnusson’s book could have been entitled “a neo-baroque approach to digital music instruments” in resonance with Deleuze’s “neo-baroque” interpretation of Leibniz, in which the “fold” (pli) plays an analogous role to that of “inscription”4. Magnusson seems to presuppose that “code” is “non-metaphorical”, while acknowledging its “ergophoric” character, insofar as it also carries “ergomimetic” traits from older instruments and media, which, once “transduced” in the new medium, are given novel features. One of the main theses of Magnusson’s book is to overcome the division of digital music instruments in “production” and “performative” systems, in the sense that each production system pre-determines the performance both in regard to the music theory as well as the ergodynamics that it carries with. If this overcoming takes place in digital music instruments by way of “machine learning”, “generativity” and “code”, it marks a shift in performance, as we grant the “system” a higher degree of “automation” and limit ourselves to explore its affordances and limitations. Magnusson expresses a somewhat exaggerated optimism in the affordances that this shift may involve: “Not only will they be able to detect how people use their software, which sounds they download or which presets they use; they will also be able to detect emerging trends before the creators are conscious of them” (227). He does acknowledge, however, by referring to Heidegger, the “enframing” (Gestell) power of technology, whereby this “big data” and machine learning interfaces could lead to a homogenization of music composition instead of its fluidity. However, he is confident that through DIY culture, open source software and open data libraries, the menace of aesthetic centralization can be avoided.

What characterizes contemporary music practice is a shift from the “work-concept”; whether expressed as generalizable notes on a score, or as a music record designed for playback, towards a focus on the musical work as a system; an invention or an installation that entails at the same time a materiality, spatiality and situatedness. Magnusson provides a series of examples of post-digital musical pieces as systems in which a renewed focus is given to the materiality and the technological conditions of the musical work. At stake is an epistemic and ontological renewal of the artistic practice, in which the instrument is no longer an inert matter, but the “act” itself of creation and the inner alterity of its embodied performance in its “prosthetic” character. This shift implies as well that the musician can no longer be understood under the separated terms of theorist, composer or performer. In contemporary musical work, “the instrument merges with a sound installation, the performer live codes their instrument, the composer becomes an instrument maker, the audience participates in the composition of a piece with their networked devices, the instruments learn from their players and exchange information (…)” (240).

This means that musicians can no longer limit themselves to practice acoustic instruments and compose for them, but have to become artistic “researchers”. These “inventors”, Magnusson proposes, need understanding in several areas: electronics, in order to create an interface; computer programming, to define the music synthesis; and theory to design the compositional aspects of the instrument and apply methodologies that might include transdisciplinary collaborations. At the same time, the way the “researchers” share their work cannot be exhausted by its music notation or audiovisual recording, but also involves a sharing of the interface, description and explanation, sketches and code. This digital shift involves a fusion of techne and episteme, whereby the model of the “virtuoso” performer should give rise to the “inventor”, who will understand code, design synthesis engines or deep learning networks, map data to sound and create interesting to play compositional structures, but above all who will do “research”. In contrast with the tacit and embodied learning of an acoustic instrument, learning on digital instruments involves information and explicit learning, where each piece poses its own problems in terms of theory, instrumentation, interface, composition, embodiment and transdisciplinary implications. Magnusson cites Plato, in his dialogue Cratylus, describing how the etymology of the term “music” derives from the Muses’ “search for truth”. However, Magnusson fails to acknowledge Plato’s use of irony in this thesis, according to which the essence of the thing lies in the word, by making use of false etymologies. However, Plato’s gesture of showing the material excess that lies within the word in its conceptual “dissemination” resonates precisely with Magnusson’s artistic ergodynamics as an “artificial organ”: “Music is a paradigmatic example of how we produce artificial organs, practice them, and form social institutions around their use” (243). Magnusson’s organology implies that music is a method by which we carry out research on our physical and social worlds: “musical practice is about developing theory and its instruments, exploring mind and body, logic and harmony, self and others. It is about the instrument as an organ that extends our body outwards as well as inspects our psyche inwards. Music is a search, a probe, a ricercare, an invention” (244).



Angel Alvarado Cabellos studied philosophy in Lima, Louvain-la-Neuve, Prague and Wuppertal. He has an Erasmus Mundus EuroPhilosophie master’s degree in French and German philosophy. He is currently finishing his PhD with a thesis about the architectonical ambiguity of the phenomenon of Eros in German and French phenomenology.

  • 1“Sedimentation” is a geological metaphor found in the late works of Edmund Husserl to express the genealogical process of every theory, in which new discoveries settle down and become habitual convictions that inform its epistemological outlook. Cf. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, Appendix VI. The Origin of Geometry, Northwestern University Press, 1970.
  • 2In The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility, Walter Benjamin asks: “What, then, is the aura? A strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be” (23). A work of art has an aura if it has a uniqueness based on its distance from the beholder, that is, an inapproachability, an authority, which is granted by its inclusion within a tradition. The social basis of the aura’s present decay rests on the desire to get closer to things, and its overcoming of the thing’s uniqueness by assimilating it by reproduction. Cf. The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility and Other Writing on Media, Harvard University Press, 2008.
  • 3Jacques Derrida elaborates a critique of Western metaphysics’ “logocentrism”, which always functions by establishing a hierarchical dichotomy, in which the self-presence of the spoken word is privileged over the difference instituted by writing as a representation of speech. He does not simply reverse this dichotomy in order to say that writing is better than speech. He attempts to show that the very possibility of the hierarchical opposition between speech and writing is already structured by difference as much as writing is. In this sense, language is constituted by the very difference it seeks to overcome. In order to account for this process of “self-differentiation” of language (“difference” means in French both “to differ” and “to defer”), Derrida uses the concept of “dissemination”. Cf. Dissemination, The University of Chicago Press, 1983.
  • 4Cf. Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque, Continuum, 1993.