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March 31 2013 1 31 /03 /March /2013 23:29

First, a warning . . . I suspect this post will appear in my overall blog inventory as having been written before the post on effability. It would make considerably better sense for you to read it after that post.

 

What I intend to do here is to explore to its very limits the potential implications of the metaphor about music used by Terry Eagleton in that earlier post. The consequent exploration may prove too imprecise for some, and perhaps too contrived for others, but what is required for music to have an effect has pre-occupied me for some time, so, after commenting on it in that previous post, I think it's worth while to push the signifcance of the metaphor as far as it can reasonably go.

 

As I've already mentioned, I have long thought that a symphony orchestra is itself a powerful illustration of the cooperative ability of human beings. Each person has a unique part to play, although many play different instruments, and the conductor "plays" nothing, except the orchestra itself, and, through that, of course, the music. It's worthwhile to look at how it all works. Although on any given performance or rehearsal occasion, there is necessarily a specific group agreement as to what the "content" will be, there has already occurred a great deal of independent, cooperative and convergent activity. It is hard to appraise the degree of investment that underlies every independent, cooperative, fragmented and unitary activity of all those involved in what is eventually realized in a given orchestral performance  . . . Years of lessons, practice, affiliation, reciprocal guidance, challenge, and support, both emotional and practical; in addition, recovery from set-backs, conflictual living demands and the everyday demands of life; and more . . .

 

And that is just the musicians themselves. Think, too, of the extensive infrastructure necessary for realizing the simple opportunity to play: the venues, the concert halls, the schools, the public spaces, and the commitment of all those involved in organizing the effective functioning of the services needed . . .

 

Does your mind boggle? Mine does.

 

Behind it all, too, are the composers who are realizing something of themselves in what they write, and thus enabling something similar to become available to us when it is revealed in the performance. What is it, then, that is revealed to us? And why is it important? It is scarcely sufficient to comment that we are "moved", or even that we are perhaps put in touch with aspects of our experience of existence that make us feel what would otherwise be invisible to us. What could those evidences of human musical achievement placed by Carl Sagan into the Voyager spacecraft mean to an alien civilization? I often think of Kurt Vonnegut's fictional message conveyed to a distant alien civilization in his novel, The Sirens of Titan. The deciphered message turns out to be "Greetings!"

 

There is wisdom in this, I think. Our own composers, musicians and artists are all showing us to ourselves, and inviting us in to celebrate who and what we are, and strive to be. Any realization of the potential in us to share both our pain and our ecstasy helps us be more fully alive, and thus more appreciative of other life and other selves. That's a profoundly significant achievement, wouldn't you say?


 


Given Langer's insights, then, I think it's fair to transcend Wittgenstein's ultimate injunction at the end of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and substitute something like the following: "Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we need not be silent. We may well find other modes of engagement. Indeed, we must." I suspect, if Langer's work had been available to Wittgenstein, he would have welcomed the modification.

 

(I'm afraid I've left this post in my drafts folder for far too long, and, as will be obvious from other recent posts, I've recently come to focus on the much larger issues than the one dealt with here. It's still connected, of course, as Bauman, too, comments in his The Art of Life, but I thought it best to simply release this draft as is, and let you make of it what you will!)

 

Cheers,

 

John

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