Theses Doctoral

Musical Aesthetics, Drugs, and Subjectivity in Germany, 1770s–1820s

Colonna, Sean

This dissertation reads the history of Western art music aesthetics alongside the history of drugs in order to analyze some of the different conceptions of subjectivity that these histories enabled, constructed, and reconfigured. Focusing specifically on ideas that emerged in German-speaking territories between the 1770s and 1820s, each of the four chapters presents a case study in which I compare texts that describe and theorize musical experience to texts that sought to do the same for various kinds of drug-induced experiences.

These case studies analyze texts from a variety of discursive fields, including musical aesthetics, medicine, and literature. Each chapter focuses on different phenomenological building blocks that have helped construct the experience of selfhood during the time period in question, including its conditions of possibility and dissolution. Taken as a whole, this study demonstrates that there are significant similarities between historical descriptions of music- and drug-induced phenomenology, a fact with both epistemological and disciplinary implications.

Among other things, this dissertation argues that a comparative study of music and drugs enables us to gain both a nuanced understanding of how theories of human selfhood have been constructed and the subtle ways in which culturally-localizable beliefs can become naturalized through the language of aesthetics and medicine.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lewis, George E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 10, 2023