Simon Høffding’s book A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption (2019) contributes to a growing field of research focusing on the artist’s and performer’s experience, as significant for philosophical understanding of on the one hand expertise and skill-formation, on the other art and artistic practice. Høffding’s work is based on a qualitative study of the world-famous ensemble The Danish String Quartet, and has two purposes according to the author: first, to answer a question that arises when confronted with expert musicians’ descriptions of their experiences: “Who is playing?” While deeply concentrated – absorbed – during rehearsal or performance, musicians have described the feeling of something else taking over: the body, the fingers, the instrument, the music. What kind of self is present in this experience and what kind of consciousness does the musician have of her own performance and of the musical work that is performed? Second, Høffding presents a phenomenological account of the experiences at issue, that is based on thorough empirical work and analysed with tools from phenomenology and cognitive science. While not mainly concerned with philosophical aesthetics, the musical work itself has an important role to play in answering these two questions. In the book, Høffding shows with wonderful clarity the value of listening to and analysing performers’ depiction of their experience, not only in order to provide a theoretical framework that can account for the particular experiences associated with expertise but also to prompt philosophical understanding of artistic/aesthetic experience, art and creativity. There are, however, certain problems with his account. One is the internal conflict between the idea that absorption can be experienced at any level of music making, and the claim that only professional experts can experience absorption in its stronger form, without giving a clear argument for this differentiation. Another is Høffding’s desire to present his work as a “paradigmatic case”, resulting in a certain lack of generosity vis-à-vis precursors and other scholars, and interpretations that are not always backed up by the interview material. In general, there are a number of unclear references and loose ends, that this reader would have wished to be worked out in detail. This being said, Høffding has uncovered a thought-provoking path that I hope will be continued.
Keywords phenomenology, skilled performance, music, absorption
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DOI 10.1007/s11097-020-09662-6
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Overcoming the Myth of the Mental: How Philosophers Can Profit From the Phenomenology of Everyday Expertise.Hubert L. Dreyfus - 2005 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 79 (2):47 - 65.

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A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption, Written by Simon Høffding.Eva Schwarz - 2019 - Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 50 (2):265-272.
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