Promethean and Posthuman Freedom: Brassier on Improvisation and Time


  • David Roden The Open University



posthumanism, prometheanism, normative functionalism, speculative aesthetics, cognitive science, Ray Brassier


Ray Brassier's "Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom" (written for the 2013 collaboration with Basque noise artist Mattin at Glasgow's Tramway) is a terse but insightful discussion of the notion of freedom in improvisation. He argues that we should view freedom not as the determination of an act from outside the causal order, but as the reflective self-determination by action within the causal order. This requires a system that acts in conformity to rules but can represent and modify these rules with implications for its future behaviour.

Brassier does not provide a detailed account of how self-determination works in improvisation. His text implies that the act of improvisation involves an encounter between rule-governed rationality and idiomatic patterns or causes but does not specify how such rules operate in music, what their nature is or how the encounter between rules and more rudimentary “pattern-governed” behaviour occurs.

I will argue that, in any case, there are no such rules to be had. Instead, claims about what is permissible or implied in musical processes index highly-context sensitive perceptual and affective responses to musical events. I develop this picture in the light of recent accounts of predictive processing and active inference in cognitive science.
This account provides an alternate way of expressing Brassier’s remarks on the relationship between music and history in “Unfree Improvisation” one that eschews normative discourse in favour of an ontology of social and biological assemblages, their affects, and the processes they entrain.

This adjustment is of more than aesthetic interest. Brassier’s text suggests that the temporality of the improvising act models an insurgent relation to time: specifically, the remorseless temporality explored in his writings on Prometheanism and Radical Enlightenment. I will conclude by using use this analogy to elaborate the idea of a posthuman agency adapted to a hypermodern milieu of self-augmenting technological change.

Author Biography

David Roden, The Open University

Dr David Roden has worked for the Open University as a lecturer and associate lecturer. His published work has addressed the relationship between deconstruction and analytic philosophy, philosophical naturalism, the metaphysics of sound and posthumanism.


He contributed the essay "The Disconnection Thesis" to the Springer Frontiers volume The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment. His book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Routledge 2014) considers the metaphysical, epistemological and ethical implications of the existence of posthumans: powerful nonhuman agents produced by human-instigated technological processes.


Other representative publications include: “Radical Quotation and Real Repetition” in Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy (2004); "Nature's Dark Domain: an argument for a naturalized phenomenology" in the Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, Phenomenology and Naturalism (2013); “Sonic Arts and the Nature of Sonic Events”, Review of Philosophy and Psychology (2010).



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How to Cite

Roden, D. (2019). Promethean and Posthuman Freedom: Brassier on Improvisation and Time. Performance Philosophy, 4(2), 510–527.