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Book project: Philosophy of Improvisation

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Please contact m AT melanieswan.com with any comments.


Working Title: A Continental Philosophy of Improvisation (draft title only)

Potential Co-editors: Marcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback, Peter Hanly, Melanie Swan



The aim of this book is to explore and articulate new perspectives regarding the philosophy of improvisation. In everyday life, improvisation is immediately recognizable as the “yes, and” gambit in theater, jazz and musical jamming, brainstorming, and classroom learning; the flow state experience that envelopes us such that we journey together and emerge at some new bigger place at the end with the feeling that something has happened. While improvisation is well-known in life, it has not yet received a particularly robust philosophical treatment beyond The Philosophy of Improvisation by Gary Peters (2009). This essay volume seeks to further investigate, ground, and determine the notion of improvisation in a philosophically rich and multi-perspectival sense.

Most basically, improvisation is an act of productive creativity, taking up another’s proferred idea, whether as musical refrain, sentence stem, or other instigatory element, adding to it with something new, and transmitting it back to a shared space of collaboration. There are different forms of improvisation from the historical to the poetic; from the cartographic mapping of the interdependencies of power to the purely aesthetic. Meaning and improvisation have a deep and fundamental relationship. Improvisation is simultaneously mimesis, play, understanding, recognition, acknowledgment, interaction, performance, novelty, and creative self-expression. Improvisation is a process of stimulating creativity, resourcefulness, and aliveness in one another. Perhaps there is no greater philosophy of the present than improvisation. There is a relational fabric, a shared space of trust and connection for creating something new that matters through the process of improvisation. The philosophy of mathematics provides one account of this meta space of collaboration as the new third position, the excluded middle, required by Ramsay’s Maxim, Brouwer’s intuitionism, and complexity theory. Beyond the energetic, fun, and creative benefits, in fact improvisation may be a foundational condition for the evolution and progress of life.


Potential Contributions (about 10-12? over-inviting in case all contributors cannot participate this time?) for 4000-5000 word articles (?);

  1. Marcia Sà Cavalcante Schuback "Title"
  2. Peter Hanly "Title"
  3. Jean-Luc Nancy: "History Improvised: A short dialogue between Jean-Luc Nancy and Marcia Sà Cavalcante Schuback"
  4. Johan Redin "Title"
  5. Jacques Derrida: Jazz and Improvisation; SL Ramshaw "Deconstructing Jazz Improvisation"
  6. Gary Peters: invited contribution/update to The Philosophy of Improvisation (University of Chicago Press, 2009)
  7. Melanie Swan "Philosophy of creativity and improvisational thinking as a mode of collaborating your life" (Accepted talk at Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSA), Atlanta, Nov 3-6 2016)


Action Items:

  • Approach publisher: Palgrave?
  • Contract potential contributors
  • Work plan, time frame

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