Peter Szendy

Peter Szendy (b. 1966), Professor at The European Graduate School / EGS



Peter Szendy is David Herlihy Professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities at Brown University. Previously, he worked as Maître de conférences habilité à diriger des recherches at Université de Paris Nanterre, Visiting Professor at NYU and Princeton, and Maître de conférences at Université Marc-Bloch de Strasbourg. In 1995, he obtained his doctoral degree in Musical Aesthetics at École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Ehess), Paris.

Written in the context of heightened debates around Napster, one of the first peer-to-peer file sharing services, and copyright infringement, Szendy’s Écoute, une histoire de nos oreilles (2001; Listen: A History of Our Ears, 2007, with a foreword by Jean-Luc Nancy) interrogates the possibility of sharing one’s listening, as part of the broader question of “who has a right to music”. Szendy uses three different approaches to the aural appropriation of music: “(1) an archeology of politics and ideologies that imprint their mark on the apparatus of copyright and the droit d’auteur; (2) a reflection on the transformations in the practice of transcription or adaptation, in short, on the place of arrangement in musical life, mainly since Romanticism; (3) the sketching out of a history of listening, its organs and instruments.”

The political stakes of such an approach to listening have led Szendy to a continuation of Écoute titled Sur écoute. Esthétique de l’espionnage (2007; All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage, 2016), where he introduces the notion of a panacoustical paradigm, expanding Foucault’s reading of the Panopticon and Deleuze’s analysis of “control societies”. In many ways, All Ears could be considered as a philosophical introduction to the post-Snowden era of generalized surveillance.

After Tubes. La philosophie dans le juke-box (2008; Hits: Philosophy in the Jukebox, 2012), where he explores the phenomenon of hit songs as commodification of the psyche, Szendy’s work took a turn towards the visual. In L’Apocalypse-cinéma. 2012 et autres fins du monde (2012; Apocalypse-Cinema: 2012 and Other Ends of the World, 2015), Szendy considers apocalyptic movies as much more than a somewhat dubious sub-genre of blockbusters: by seeking a strict coincidence between the end of the film and the end of the world, they not only embody what Jean-Luc Nancy calls a “cineworld” (cinémonde) but they also ask us to draw the rigorous conclusion that “there is nothing outside the film” (where one recognizes an archifilmic version of Derrida’s famous “there is no extratext”). Pursuing this line of thought in Le Supermarché du visible. Essai d’iconomie (2017; The Supermarket of the Visible: An Essay on Iconomy, forthcoming), Szendy focuses on an enigmatic sentence in Deleuze’s Time-Image (“money is the reverse of all the images that cinema shows and edits on the obverse”) and suggest an “iconomic” approach to the visible and its commodifying innervations.

Szendy’s “auscultating” approach to sound, film, literature, and theory is thematized in his recent À coups de points. La ponctuation comme expérience (2013; Of Stigmatology: Punctuation as Experience, 2018).

Szendy is also the author of Kant chez les extraterrestres. Philosofictions cosmopolitiques (2011; Kant in the Land of the Extraterrestrials: Cosmopolitical Philosofictions, 2013) and Les Prophéties du texte-Léviathan. Lire selon Melville (2004; Prophecies of Leviathan: Reading Past Melville, 2010). He is co-editor of Transposition (a journal of music and social sciences), member of the editorial board of Po&sie (a journal of poetry, poetics, and theory), and musicological advisor for the concert programs at the Philharmonie de Paris (formerly: Cité de la musique).