Thursday 23.06.2022 20:00 — 22:00
Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, ArtLab Foyer

Public Lecture by Lydia Goehr, Columbia University, New York, USA

Errors, Mistakes, and Accidents: New and Old Keys to Analysis in Philosophy and the Arts



My lecture explores three modes of analysis that emerged around 1900: philosophical, musical, and psychological (as in psychoanalysis). Susanne Langer addressed the formal, logical, and discursive aspects of each to outline her method of philosophy in a new key: a philosophy of symbolic transformation. My lecture picks up on what she and others around her marked out as the problem of error. She concluded her book of 1942: “If there is any virtue in the theory of what I have called ‘symbolic transformation,’ then this theory should elucidate not only the achievements of that function, but also its miscarriages, its limitations, and its by-products of illusion and error. Freedom of thought cannot be reborn without throes; language, art, morality, and science have all given us pain as well as power. For, as Professor Whitehead has frankly and humbly declared: ‘Error is the price we pay for progress.’” My lecture pursues the space and place for error, mistakes, and accidents in the pursuit of freedom. Contrary to the thought of errors being a necessary price paid, there is at least one kind of error which we do not want to be without. Without error, where would be the comedy? The question then is whether the error is better called a mistake or an accident?


The lecture will take place in our ArtLab. Admission is free, no pre-registration is required. Click here for directions to our institute.


About the speaker

Lydia Goehr is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. In 2009/2010 she received a Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award, in 2007/8 The Graduate Student Advisory Council (GSAC)'s Faculty Mentoring Award (FMA), and in 2005, a Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. She is a recipient of Mellon, Getty, and Guggenheim Fellowships, and in 1997 was the Visiting Ernest Bloch Professor in the Music Department at U. California, Berkeley, where she gave a series of lectures on Richard Wagner. She has been a Trustee of the American Society for Aesthetics and is a member of the New York Institute of the Humanities.  In 2012, she was awarded the H. Colin Slim Award by the American Musicological Society for an article on Wagner's Die Meistersinger.

In 2002-3, she was the visiting Aby Warburg Professor in Hamburg and a fellow at the Wissenschaftskollegzu Berlin. In 2005-6, she delivered the Royal Holloway-British Library Lectures in Musicology in London and the Wort Lectures at Cambridge University. In 2008, she was a Visiting Professor at the FreieUniversität, Berlin (Cluster: "The Language of Emotions") and in 2009, a visiting professor in the FU-Berlin SFB Theater und Fest. In 2019, she was Visiting Professor at the University of Torino, and in 2020, a Mellon fellow at the Tate Museum in London. In 2022-23, she will be a fellow at the Max Planck Institute (Empirical Aesthetics) in Frankfurt and a visiting professor at the Courtauld Institute in London.


Lydia Goehr is the author of The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (1992; second edition with a new essay, 2007); The Quest for Voice: Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy [essays on Richard Wagner] (1998); Elective Affinities: Musical Essays on the History of Aesthetic Theory [essays on Adorno and Danto] (2008), and co-editor with Daniel Herwitz of The Don Giovanni Moment. Essays on the legacy of an Opera (2006). Her 2021 book from Oxford University Press is Red Sea-Red Square-Red Thread. A Philosophical Detective Story. And she is co-editor with Jonathan Gilmore of Blackwell's A Companion to Arthur C. Danto (2022).  She has written many articles on the work of Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Arthur Danto. She offers courses in the history of aesthetic theory, the contemporary philosophy of the arts, critical theory, and the philosophy of history. Her research interests are in German aesthetic theory and in particular in the relationship between philosophy, politics, history, and music. With Gregg Horowitz, she is series editor of Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts, Columbia University Press.

She also leads the Faculty-Students Aesthetics Group which meets weekly during the semester and welcomes students and faculty from many disciplines, from Columbia and the New York area.