Edmund Mendelssohn

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Edmund Mendelssohn’s research focuses on music and philosophy in Europe and the United States from 1800 to the present, with particular emphasis on modernism and French poststructuralism. His first book,White Musical Mythologies: Sonic Presence in Modernism(Stanford University Press, 2023) is a study of four twentieth-century composers (Satie, Varèse, Boulez, and Cage) alongside contemporaneous philosophies of “presence” from Bergson to Derrida. The book’s main contention is that Euro-American composers who have sought over the past century to create shocking, heroically new music have also created an “ontological” (i.e. metaphysical) idea of sound that informs musicians and scholars today. This idea of sound (as “pure sound,” liberated sound, sound-in-itself, etc.) has depended on new technologies and conceptions of writing (écriture), never “purely” present, and is a philosophical product of western ethnocentrism. The book describes how “pure sound” has been historically formed through encounter narratives between “the West” and non-European cultures, as composers have re-imagined and appropriated forms of expression derived from Europe’s others–a dynamic that Lévinas termed an “ontological imperialism” and that Derrida dubbed “white mythology.” Edmund is also a member of thePhilosophy & Art Collaboratory, where he studies with cultural theorist Fuoco B. Fann, and his translation of sinologist John Lagerwey’s “God the Father; Dao the Mother: Western and Chinese Dualisms” is forthcoming in Philosophy East and West: A Quarterly of Comparative Philosophy (Spring 2024).
Edmund has been teaching in the music department since 2015 and received a PhD in Musicology in 2021. In addition to teaching musicianship (Music 20 & 25), Edmund has developed topics-based courses including “Music and Language” (Music 128, 2022) and “Music and Kitsch” (R1B, 2021). He also teaches “Introduction to Western Music” (Music 27) in Berkeley’s Fall Program for First Semester.