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The Sense of Tact: Hoffmann, Maelzel, and Mechanical Music

The Sense of Tact: Hoffmann, Maelzel, and Mechanical Music
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory ISSN: 0016-8890 (Print) 1930-6962 (Online) Journal homepage: The Sense of Tact: Hoffmann, Maelzel, andMechanical Music Anders Engberg-Pedersen To cite this article:  Anders Engberg-Pedersen (2018) The Sense of Tact: Hoffmann, Maelzel,and Mechanical Music, The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory, 93:4, 351-372, DOI:10.1080/00168890.2018.1507993 To link to this article: Published online: 19 Mar 2019.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 51View related articles View Crossmark data  The Sense of Tact: Hoffmann, Maelzel,and Mechanical Music  Anders Engberg-Pedersen This essay examines the notion of tact at the intersection of technology, music, andliterature around 1800. Focusing on E.T.A. Hoffmann ’ s  Der Sandmann  and  Die Automate , it situates his texts in the longer history of musical automata in the eight-eenth century and alongside the invention of the metronome by Dietrich NikolausWinkel and Johann Nepomuk Maelzel in the early 19 th century. This mechanizationof music spurred debates about the problem of aesthetic order among composers andmusic critics, specifically about different conceptions of musical tact. Against thisbackground the article reads Hoffmann ’ s texts as an attempt to articulate an innersense of tact at once dependent on and irreducible to the mechanical musical instru-ments of his contemporaries. Keywords:  Tact, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Johan Nepomuk Maelzel, the metronome,musical automata, Der Sandmann, Die Automate I NTRODUCTION A round 1800 the term  “ tact ”  begins to crop up in a number of fields  –  in philosophy,in military theory, in pedagogy, as well as in music. In 1798, Kant, in his  Anthropologie , coins the term  “ logical tact ”  in an analogy to the physiological touch todesignate a form of judgment that is efficacious in practical affairs. A few years after,Johann Friedrich Herbart speaks of   “ pedagogical tact ”  as an educational skill that plays a Anders Engberg-Pedersen is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Southern Denmark. He is the author of   Empire of Chance. The Napoleonic Wars and the Disorder of Things  (Harvard University Press, 2015) and editor of   Literature and Cartography: Theories, Histories, Genres  (MIT Press, 2017). Currently he is directing the research project  The Aesthetics of  Late Modern War.  E-mail: Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at 351 The Germanic Review , 93: 351 – 372, 2018Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0016-8890 print / 1930-6962 onlineDOI: 10.1080/00168890.2018.1507993  central role in the interaction between teachers and students. And in the military realmCarl von Clausewitz would soon reflect on what he calls the  “ tact of judgment ” –  the abil-ity of military genius to quickly process a wealth of information and reach an apt decisionalmost instantaneously. Since these discussions around 1800, tact emerged as an importantmode of urban social interaction examined in particular by the 19 th century novel of man-ners, while later philosophers have reflected more explicitly on tact as a concept. WilliamJames, Henri Bergson, Theodor Adorno, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Michel de Certeauamong others have all from their different perspectives grappled with the nature and work-ings of tact. 1 While tact appears in such diverse milieus and is charged with rather different tasks,it is repeatedly invoked as the solution to a common problem: how do we understand andmanage complex phenomena when there are no rules or laws to guide us? In the philo-sophical reflections on the human capacity to manage practical affairs, in the theory of military genius and its ability to control the state of war, and in the display of the erosionof the boundaries between social groups in the novel of manners, tact is conceived as aheuristic tool that helps us navigate and make sense of intricate phenomena and situations.In the absence of a rulebook to rely on, we cannot proceed from principles or apply prees-tablished rules of judgment and behavior. Instead we fall back on an intuitive sense, theability in a disordered jumble of information  “ die Wahrheit herauszuf  € uhlen ”  as Clausewitzputs it, and, on the basis of this, to speak, judge or act appropriately. 2 Tact raises the problem of aesthetic order. The pattern, regularity, or order that lieshidden in the phenomenon at hand cannot be prescribed or imposed on it. Rather, itemerges from the idiosyncratic structure of the phenomenon itself. A  “ troisi  eme, ”  in thewords of the French physiologist Maine de Biran, tact mediates between sensation andmeaning, between the complex mass of perceptions and a meaningful order that a givensubject can detect in their particular appearance. 3 To put it differently, we might say thattact is the cognitive faculty invoked to makes sense of our senses. Establishing an aestheticorder, the sense of tact extends its spectral hands to feel out a truth that does not have theuniversality or regularity of a law, but that nevertheless enables actions that are aptand meaningful. 1 For these terms see, Immanuel Kant,  Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht   (Felix Meiner,Hamburg 2000 (1798), 25-26; Johann Friedrich Herbart,  “ Zwei Vorlesungen  € uber P € adagogik, ”  in  Joh. Fr. Herbart  ’ s S  € amtliche Werke in Chronologischer Reihenfolge , ed. Karl Kehrbach and OttoFl € ugel, vol. 1. (Langensalza: 1887), 290; Carl von Clausewitz:  Vom Kriege , 19. Aufl. (Bonn:D € ummlers, 1980), 961 et passim). See also chapter 3  “ Modus Operandi: On Touch, Tact, andTactics ”  in Anders Engberg-Pedersen,  Empire of Chance. The Napoleonic Wars and the Disorder of Things  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015). For the novel of manners see the study byDavid Russell,  Tact: Aesthetic Liberalism and the Essay Form in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017). My thanks to David for letting me read an earlierdraft of the book. 2 Clausewitz,  Vom Kriege , 233. 3 Maine de Biran,  Influence de l ’ habitude sur la facult   e de penser,  Une   edition   electronique r  ealis  ee   apartir du texte publi  e en 1954, ed. Mme Marcelle Bergeron, 2004, 123. 352 THE GERMANIC REVIEW  ♦  VOLUME 93, NUMBER 4 / 2018  This obscure inner sense is thereby charged with quite a remarkable set of tasks.Tact is indispensible to the military commander, to the politician, to the teacher, to thesocialite. Much later, in his outline of a philosophical hermeneutics, Gadamer invokes thesense of tact as a fundamental element in the scientific methodology and epistemic modeof the  Geisteswissenschaften . 4 And yet its judgments are groundless, its operations semi-conscious at best, and the model of its epistemology is found in the fingertips. The imbal-ance between its lack of a clear definition and the heavy explanatory burdens it has to bearraises a number of questions: how is a physical sense  –  the sense of touch  –  transformedinto an inner sense with the alleged capacity to deal with the knotty mesh and texture of the particular? How does its aesthetic order mediate between sensation and meaning? Andhow does it manage to solve problems that surpass the capabilities of rule and reason?These questions become distinctly audible at the intersection of music, technology,and literature around 1800. While the thinkers of war, pedagogy, and philosophy work outanswers within their particular fields, this essay concentrates on the discourse on music  –  afield in which the concept of tact has arguably played a greater role than in any of theothers and in which its connections between mechanical inventions, musical performance,and literary reception gives the problem of aesthetic order a particular inflection. 5 A scenefrom E.T.A. Hoffmann ’ s  Der Sandmann  may serve as a point of entry. It is the celebratedscene orchestrated by Spalanzani, the mechanic and professor of physics, who introduceshis presumed daughter, the automaton Olimpia, into society by having a party in herhonor. In a display of the highest development of human potential, Olimpia showcases hertalents first at a concert and then during a ball. She begins by playing the piano with con-summate skill and then proceeds to perform a bravura aria with a clear, ringing voice.Nevertheless, while eminently polished and perfectly timed, she appears to be lackingsomething essential. In the words of a member of the audience:  “ Ihr Spiel, ihr Singen hat 4 Hans-Georg Gadamer,  Wahrheit und Methode. Grundz € uge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik  (T € ubingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1990), 13. 5 With Serres ’  The Five Senses  in the 1985 (translated 2008), and especially in the first decade of the21st century with Jean-Luc Nancy ’ s  Corpus  and Derrida ’ s  On Touching  –   Jean-Luc Nancy , touchand tact also entered into the orbit of French theory. Unlike de Certeau, who, referring back to Kant,regards tact as a mental capacity useful in practical affairs, these thinkers include touch within theirlarger philosophical programs to reevaluate the hierarchy of the senses and to develop a new epi-stemic model based on touch (Serres); to perform a shift of focus from the  “ cosmos ”  as an abstractand empty spatial concept of plottable points to a philosophy of the multiple and mutable  “ munduscorpus ”  whose dermal folds and fissures themselves produce space (Nancy); and to deconstruct thealleged immediacy of touch and the haptocentrism of Western thinking (Derrida). In this essay, I amless interested in the later philosophical use of the sense of touch, and more in tact as an inner sense.This is most clearly developed in the historical discourse on tact across technology, literature, andmusic around 1800. Hoffmann ’ s engagement with tact, however, does have some affinities withNancy ’ s reflections on sound and sonority (see below). Michel Serres,  The Five Senses: APhilosophy of Mingled Bodies  (New York: Continuum, 2008); Jean-Luc Nancy,  Corpus  (New York:Fordham University Press, 2008); Jacques Derrida,  On Touching  –   Jean-Luc Nancy  (Stanford:Stanford University Press, 2005). ENGBERG-PEDERSEN  ♦  THE SENSE OF TACT 353  den unangenehmen richtigen geistlosen Takt der singenden Maschine und eben so istihr Tanz. ” 6 In her unpleasant, soulless correctness, Olimpia appears at once as the epit-ome and the perversion of the musical notion of   Takt  . On the one hand, Olimpia isthe acoustic and visible manifestation of a musical principle that was invented sometwo hundred years earlier, viz. the invention of the modern measure or  Takt  . On theother hand, it is just this ordering principle that appears in perverted form inOlimpia ’ s senseless performance. Hoffmann ’ s meditations on tact take place againstthe background of two technological developments: the invention of a series of highly intricate musical automata in the 18 th century and the invention of a deviceto perfect the temporal order of the musical measure: the metronome. When themusical android named Olimpia walks onto the literary stage and sings in a rhythmindistinguishable from the tick and the tock of a clock, her performance thereforetaps into a larger history of musical order that involves sensation and mechanics asmuch as music and literature. Across these fields, tact appears not only as the nameof the order embodied in a series of mechanical contraptions. It also becomes amore abstract sound figure once it travels into the conceptual realm in which com-posers, music critics, and literary authors debate its virtues and vices. Departingfrom Hoffmann ’ s meditation on musical automata in  Der Sandmann  and in  Die Automate , my essay situates his texts in this wider cultural field, and it charts thetransformation of the sound figure as it moves back and forth between mechanics,music, and literature.I will begin by tracing the concept of   Takt   back to its two separate srcins, first, asan organizational principle that helps establish a musical  ratio , and, second, as an aestheticcapacity based on the sense of touch. Against this background I then juxtapose variousmusical androids and devices made by the inventor Johann Nepomuk Maelzel. His co-invention of the metronome enabled a mechanization of music that to Hoffmann and hiscontemporaries challenged their very notion of music and spurred attempts to articulate adifferent sound figure that might capture the more elusive nature of a proper aestheticorder  –  the sense of tact. I T AXIS AND  T ACTUS Takt   derives from the Greek noun  ‘ taxis, ’  which means an  ‘ arrangement, ’  from the verb ‘ tassein ’ ‘ to arrange ’ ‘ to organize ’  or  ‘ to put into order. ’  In antiquity the concept was usedspecifically for the arrangement of the household but also for the ordering of troops withinthe military realm. This forms the basis for the notion of   ‘ tactics. ’  But  taxis  also served asa more general concept of order that denoted something that was  ‘ in accordance with time ’ or simply  ‘ ordered ’  as opposed to  ataxia , a state of disarray or disorder. When Plato in  Laws  or  Nomoi,  speaks of taxis in music, it is therefore as a general ordering principle 6 E.T.A. Hoffmann,  Nachtst  € ucke  (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 2009), 42. 354 THE GERMANIC REVIEW  ♦  VOLUME 93, NUMBER 4 / 2018
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