Spontaneity in music and literature: revisiting Chomskian perspectives on communication

Tobin Chodos
UC San Diego

Maya Kronfeld
Comparative Literature
UC Berkeley

The aim of this working group is to explore the implications of innate improvisation and spontaneity in language use for the domain of musical communication and expression. We hypothesize that musical creativity—rule-governed but unbounded, communicative only secondarily—bears a formal resemblance to linguistic creativity. If this is true, this group’s project can be seen as part of a larger effort to defend the role of humanistic inquiry in a century that has, so far, not been kind to it. If Chomsky’s “Cartesian” linguistics can be read as a defense of the fundamental indeterminacy of human creativity, and if the musical follows the linguistic as an index of that creativity, the stakes for quantitative modeling of aesthetic phenomena are considerably higher than they might seem. If, in other words, our failures to create an adequate model of aesthetic experience betray broader failures in contemporary theories of mind, then a detailed picture of those failures — a picture to which this group hopes to contribute — may amount to a potent argument in favor of the humanities themselves.