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From Melody to Theme

From Melody to Theme

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Published by stephen theron
Melody replaces the All in a vision of a desired unknown. Theme "takes up" the all, the whole, in the particular. Everything finite passes to its opposite in lived contradiction
Melody replaces the All in a vision of a desired unknown. Theme "takes up" the all, the whole, in the particular. Everything finite passes to its opposite in lived contradiction

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Published by: stephen theron on May 14, 2009
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06/16/2009

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FROM MELODY TO THEME: ATTEMPTED TESTIMONYThe cunning of Reason! First acquaintance with a Mendelssohn piano concerto at thirteen, aswith other music, goes to make me whatever I am today. "Today", what is that? Also a
moment 
, dialectical, the same as those "days", superseded for that very reason, except in thememory merely. So I am not now, any of us must say, what I am eternally. I
am
not now, morethan phenomenally. I, says Hegel, am the Idea
under the form of 
individuality, am liberty,love, blessedness. For it is thinking (thought as act) which is both I and these other forms of the Idea.
1
We are unable to
mean
anything else when we say "I". The mood corresponds quitewell to the typically Thomist slogan, "Become what you are". Religion, or prophecy rather,counters, "We know what we are but we know not what we shall be."
2
 This though is prior toany questioning of empirical time, engendering the contradiction tolerated as paradox, "andtime shall be no more", a future that is not future, not time.So how did the Mendelssohn form thinking? Of course it might have been Mozart, Haydn or Bach, Gubaidulina (had she been composing already then) or anyone whatever, seen thoughas a contrast or challenge to previous experience and its coincident interpretation. The relationof one's musical taste to one's thinking is closer than many styling themselves thinkers admit.What though is music? Melody? Rhythm? It is certainly perceived aurally, as
 sound 
. Yet it bears the name of a general spiritual inspiration, as from a or any
muse
. Music. The samethough might be said, differently, of poetry,
 poesia
(from a verb to
make
). Hegel, in the
 Aesthetics
, places poetry above music, due to its greater explicitness, to the substitution of sign for symbol while still remaining art in its essential intellectuality. Yet he places musicabove painting, sound above sight, as not "braking" or suspending dialectical flow, whereeverything finite is a stage or 
moment 
, not standing still because not
realisable
in itself, butonly as itself superseded (
aufgehoben
) in the final and eternal
result 
.This in turn means, we should be clear, that we cannot begin to explain this flow itself bysaying "In reality". This is just what is denied, not partially, as in Kant, but of our whole perceived and perceiving finite mind. The flow is peculiar to us, as the cunning of reasonhides from us that all is accomplished.
3
 Just as and only as phenomenally perceived, mindremains intact with its inalienable claim to immediate perception, of flow or of anything else,as is denied
on this level 
in Kant, proposing a
more
immediate reality (subjective idealism).Yet of course we might
 say
that in reality things are not real. It is in part a matter of style, anaesthetic even, though this would be not at all reductively meant.As for this result, Thomas Aquinas correspondingly argued that the
 finis ultimus
(of humanliving) is present, as final cause of action as such, in all that we do. It is God, beatitude or,according to him,
bonum in communi
4
(to be distinguished from
 
the abstract
ens commune,
even though
bonum
is in fact
ens
absolutely). As determinative of all action, hence too of allthinking, this presence is total as totally operative, so that nothing is present except as
in
it. Itwould be "absolute cunning" as intrinsically hidden, latent, since what is open to view is passive to the onlooker. The Infinite cannot be thus limited or, as Hegel will so stronglyemphasise,
external 
to anything. Otherness, that is, is not absolute but, taken as such, abstract,a category in short.Even
 Nature
as a whole is thus to be understood as a
moment 
in this circular dialectic of "thewhole", of 
nous
rather. Whole, too, is abstract, a
 part 
of the trans-organic unity of whole and parts. It is circular as going out and coming back.
 Exitus
is
reditus
, as the circle or sphere,
1
G.W.F. Hegel,
 Encyclopaedia
159 (1827 version, as in Wallace translation, OUP).
2
 
 I John
. 3.
3
Hegel,
op. cit.
209.
4
Aquinas,
Summa theol.
Ia-IIae, 10, 1.
 
rather, is the denial of finite figure, "the shape of the real absence of shape".
5
Thus thecontours of the Idea are perceived in Nature too, the
 partes extra partes
, as in the unity of a painting, but potentially merely. In nature the Idea is self-alienated, that is to say. Such is
materia, non ens
, potentiality merely, while light, Hegel will say, is the first ideality,dependent upon sight as heat is not. Nature is not a painting but needs always to be painted,sung of, ascended from in praise of its creative Spirit. It needs to be understood by Spirit as inits ultimate nothingness,
ex nihilo
, contained as a "moment" in the dialectical ascent to the oneWord or self-manifestation which Reason essentially is. Thus art is above, higher than, morespiritual than nature. Art is the first form of the
content 
of the Idea, the Concept, as returningto itself from Nature in absolute Spirit. Art leads on to religion and religion to philosophy, onHegel’s view, but the
content 
is the same.At age thirteen then one's individual mind developed through music, naturally allied to thesexual impulse. Impulse recalls pulse and there one can question the equation of music withsound. Hegel speaks rather of a vibration, a trembling, as before the Lord, the
numen
. Is therhythmic pulse heard? Could not a deaf man sense it? The vibration is “in the blood”,apprehended in that most generalised of the senses, touch, which includes sense of one’ssensing, one’s “body”, as “tact” (touch, but also beat, rhythm) is presupposed to con-tact, anidentity with the other as two vibrating strings produce one new sound.Sex might seem to found music as the dance embodies courtship. Yet one dances for the God,like David before the ark, typically to an ecstatic death, in love, con-tact. Here is the root of music in the whole, in penetration to the heart of things. But this is precisely the sexualimpulse, eros. So sex is more than sex. Alone, it is abstract, as is soul or body. But nothingfinite is thus alone. This is the ground of dialectical flow in music, or of music as the prototype of dialectic, rather. Music is essentially a celebration of the all in each and the eachin all, as are the rites of religion (
 sumit unus sumunt mille
) or as is thought thinking itself.Being might be said to precede thinking yet, more fundamentally, I am because I think andnot merely as a supposed condition for thinking.
 Forma dat esse
.Yet so much music is “incidental”, either to an occasion or even to a story one tells oneself inone’s mind. Here one says one makes the story follow the music, but really one invents aframe for the music to follow, that one can think of while one listens. Such programmedmusic, or opera, is essentially incidental, as was not, incidentally, the case with Wagner.This is also the problem of the
 Lied 
, where the music might seem be incidental to poetry.Perhaps one is not disturbed by this, once poetry, like liturgical celebration, is reckoned“higher” than music, equally transcending occasion in sign, symbol and metaphor. In poetrysound, the only external matter which poetry retains, is in it no longer thefeeling of the sensuous itself, but is a sign, which by itself is void of import…Yet this sensuous element, which in music was still immediately one withinward feeling, is in poetry separated from the content of consciousness… alltypes of art… poetry runs through them all… Poetry is the universal art of themind… ends by transcending itself… passes… into the prose of thought.
7
Hegel refers here to the arbitrariness of linguistic signification, as condition for its intellectualeffectiveness. Music, all the same, like all the arts, has a right to be considered and enjoyed onits own, as in the Mozartian
 Divertimento
. The name suggests it be taken as representing the
5
Hegel,
 Philosophy of Nature
239 (
 Enc.
, version of 1817).
6
From a (liturgical) poem by Aquinas on reception of the eucharist which can be understood, context shows, aswhere, or when, one receives all (a thousand) receive. Otherwise no insight at all would be expressed. "You areall members one of another". He would be recalling this "apostolic" text.
7
Hegel,
 Lectures on Aesthetics
, 4c3.
 
"pure play" of the notion, more above than below the "time of the sign", looking to
 parousia
rather.The "prose of thought" is clearly not the prosaic as negatively opposed to the poetical. Indeedinsofar as it is poetry that transcends itself towards thought we infer in reverse that thought isoften better caught in poetry, witness Parmenides or Eliot. Music too can be taken as attainingto expression of what cannot be said, thus bypassing the whole "time of the sign", on earth asit is in heaven, ignoring the stairs and taking the elevator, so to say. There is of course thatgreater particularity peculiar to sense, but this is an instance of the "concrete universal", thenecessity of the infinite's infinite differentiation. This is further brought out by theineradicable differences between any two "performances", as in the need for a performance atall. Speech acts of course provide analogies here, even at the level of the sign. Indeed theatonal revolution introduces a doubt in regard to Hegel's simple exclusion of music from theintellectuality of poetry. A Sartre can misread poetry as "the music of words"
8
, seeing music asan abstractly sensuous entity, as Hegel does not. The question here though is whether makingmusic the
natural 
language of the soul, in distinction from the artificiality of language, is theonly other option.One may say that the Schönbergian tones stand even less for anything outside themselves,except someone decree this. The impression remains though that music too is somehowintellectual, poetic. The composer is a
Tondichter 
. A given passage does not "symbolise" grief or courage or humour. It
 says
it, or rather says something related which is inseparable fromthat very passage as heard. D.H. Lawrence insisted similarly that our actual emotions arenever fully caught by the names at our disposal. The anger in a room is an abstraction fromthe moods of each man individually. Once, however, we expand language to individual namesfor each individual thing then there is no longer language. And that is the case with music, atleast if viewed
musically
, I would say "muse-ally". The piercing beauty is always that it is
 just this
. This is why it is important to stress, possibly against Aristotle, that the Absolute musthave perfect knowledge of (and providence towards) every particular, whether sparrow or Spaniard. When we speak of beauty, in fact, even the beauty of an intellectual construction,we always refer to its individuality, e.g. as just this construction or theorem, just this flower.Our grandparents' craze for sunsets was a (somewhat formalised) intuition of this.All in all we may be a little bit sceptical of Hegel's limiting of music, which he after all callsthe art
 par excellence
for the Romantic age. He is anxious to maintain, against certaincontemporaries, the superiority of thought over feeling. Yet his contemporary Wordsworth, inhis poem
The Prelude
, coined the phrase "feeling intellect". Or, what is a feeling that is not athought? Hegel himself stresses content of consciousness as a common denominator. Onlythus could he say that "everything is a syllogism".Music depicts, stands for or is a sign of itself, born anew as such at the commencement of anycomposition or improvisation, to die and fall again, since substance is superseded and thedialectic is not "braked". In this sense it is the "food of love", of union with the Notion beyondall abstractive particularisation but inclusive of all things, the "great Apocalypse" or 
 finisultimus
.Thus "music is a greater revelation than the whole of religion and philosophy", said another child of the year of grace 1770, for what it reveals, in epiphany, is the very principle of revelation. Like God it can only reveal itself and not some other thing. In doing so though itreveals all, reveals, that is, that it is not external to some other entity but is its own utterance,and this one utterance is ever itself. Here there can be no
other 
thing. Thought (
nous
) thinksitself, beyond even ex-istence.Yet an insufficiency, at least for us, asserts itself:
o Freunde, nicht diese Töne
. That, however,is
also
sung as within music and its power. "Power is the morality of those who stand out
8
Cf. J.-P. Sartre,
What is Literature?
, 1947.

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