On the Musicalization of Thought: Do You Hear What I Hear?
But the existence of music suggests that some types of meaning are intrinsic. They do not have to point to anything beyond themselves in order to be meaningful. Still, this is very weird, and needs to be reflected upon in order to be fully appreciated.
Zuckerkandl writes that "the word and its meaning are independent things. Here is the word -- a complex of sounds or signs; there is what it means. The two are separable; each exists by itself, the word without the thing, the thing without the word." This no doubt contributes to our common sense, default dualistic view of the world -- of thoughts and of things. What could be more obvious than the existence of these two very different worlds?
But again, the existence of music is a direct challenge, both to dualism and to any attempt to collapse one side of the dualism into the other -- to either reduce information to matter, on the one hand, or matter to idea, on the other. In other words, music doesn't fit into either a materialistic or an idealistic metaphysic, for "when meaning sounds in a musical tone, a nonphysical force intangibly radiates from its physical conveyor."
Clearly, "the musical significance in the tone is of a nonmaterial nature." However, unlike the word -- which points to something else -- the significance of the tone cannot be separated from itself: "The acoustical event and its musical meaning are in no sense two independent phenomena, existing by themselves. They cannot be imagined separate." Oddly, "tones must themselves create what they mean" by "pointing into themselves." It seems to me that this "inward pointing" is the key.
Zuckerkandl only touches on the potential religious significance of this mystery. For example, he writes that "we find a similar kind of 'being in' in the religious symbol. The symbol is the representation of a supernatural -- that is, physically indemonstrable -- force in a material form."
One immediately thinks of icons, which are a kind of transparent membrane through which divine energies flow back and forth -- or in and out, down and up. We can look "in" toward the divine, while the divine radiates out toward us. Transfered to the plane of music, you could say that the icon is simultaneously speaker and microphone, a two-way vibrating membrane, depending upon which way you look at it.
You could even say that the icon -- or host, for that matter -- is not a symbol, but an unsymbol, that is, an existential reality that nevertheless isn't merely what it is. It points, but like music, it points further into itself. Zuckerkandl seems to understand this connection: "The religious symbol is not a sign that merely indicates the divine being to the believer" -- again, in the manner that a word refers to a thing.
Rather, "the deity is directly present in the symbol, is one with it, and is also directly beheld in the symbol by the believer." The symbol doesn't cause one to have a "thought" of God; rather, it provokes a kind of merger with him, in the same way one merges with music. When we listen to music, we become one with it. If we can't "get into" the music, then we haven't really heard it at all. Rather, we have only bounced off its exterior -- or vice versa.
Thus, just as music reveals immaterial forces, so too does the religious symbol manifest transcendent forces in a material medium. And just as the tune deaf individual hears the notes but not the melody, the spiritually autistic soul sees the religious symbol, but not the forces it embodies and radiates. Zuckerkandl: "Do normal eyes suffice to see the god in the symbol? The believer sees him; the unbeliever sees nothing -- who is right? The believer himself says that the unbeliever can see nothing there. What does disbelief prove against belief?"
Note that in order to get deeply into a musical performance, it is not a matter of "belief." It is, however, a matter of faith, especially for challenging music that doesn't condescend to meet us where we are. For example, it took me many years of "practice" to (literally) "get into" modern jazz, and to hear what it was all about. In this regard, faith was an absolute prerequisite, in that I had to have faith that people with better ears than mine weren't lying, and that there really was a there there, even if it sounded like chaos to the uninitiated.
But through patient faith, I eventually found my way "in" to the music. Thus, I do not say that I "believe" in modern jazz. Rather, I would say that I now have access to the immaterial existential reality it conveys. If some musical philistine tells me that there really isn't anything there, what can I say to him? It's not as if you could use any kind of scientific instrument to prove to him that the musical reality actually exists.
That this reality is "not physically in the tones, that no instrument would register [its] presence, is no argument against [its] existence." Rather, "to him who opens himself without reservations to symbols, their meaning will gradually become clear of itself."
Bottom line -- or cadenza: "Because music exists, the tangible and visible cannot be the whole of the given world. The intangible and invisible is itself part of the world, something we encounter, something to which we respond."