Saturday, November 14, 2009

On the Musicalization of Thought: Do You Hear What I Hear?

I want to focus on the question of what music signifies. As Zuckerkandl reminds us, musical meaning is unlike any other kind of meaning, since it doesn't refer to anything else but the music to which it refers. Think about that one for a moment. The meaning of meaning is that one thing can refer to another. If it only refers to itself, that usually means that it is meaningless -- a tautology.

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."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Getting Into the Melody of Existence

Zuckerkandl discusses some of the interesting philosophical -- and I would say theological -- problems raised by the existence of melodies. After all, what is a melody? A melody is a succession of tones. However, a cat scampering over a piano keyboard will produce a series of tones, but that's not a melody. Unless it's one very hep cat.

So why are some series of tones meaningful, while others are not? It's a tricky question, because meaning usually involves one thing that stands for and symbolizes another; there is the signifier (the symbol or word) and that which it signifies (the object, concept, activity, etc.).

But melodies don't refer to anything but themselves. Yes, there is programmatic music intended to evoke preconceived ideas and emotions, but that is the exception. The greatest music is completely abstract, and has no external referent.

Zuckerkandl writes that "when we hear a melody, we hear things that have no counterpart in physical nature." This is again why music occupies that third area, the mysterious transitional space alluded to in the previous post. A single tone -- or the cat running across the keyboard -- is not a musical phenomenon, but merely an acoustical one. Does this imply that music is therefore "unreal," like an auditory hallucination? Perhaps, so long as we agree with Terence McKenna that there exist true hallucinations.

What is it that converts the tone into a note, and the note into a melody? I would suggest that it is the same cosmic force that converts an atom into a molecule, molecule into a cell, and a cell into a body. As discussed somewhere in the Coonifesto, one of the problems with philosophical Darwinism is that it presupposes a very particular kind of cosmos, one in which wholeness is built into its very fabric. Neither music nor natural selection would be possible in any other kind of world.

But ironically, Darwinists nevertheless promulgate a very different kind of cosmos, one in which cats running around on keyboards will eventually produce the works of Bach. As a result, there is an infinite and unbridgeable gap -- literally -- between matter and life, to say nothing of life and mind. There is simply no plausible explanation for how a universe of logical atomism -- of distinct notes wholly external to one another -- could every have snapped to attention and begun reflecting upon itself and singing the Sounds of Science.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand tenured maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

Again, as explained in my book, wholeness implies both interiority and meaning. It implies the latter by virtue of the fact that the parts may participate in a higher entity which is their meaning. And it implies the former for the simple reason that meaning of any kind can only take place in an interior. But again, this meaning is not merely an eccentric and wholly private hallucination (although it certainly can be). Rather, it takes place in the transitional space between world and neurology, where truth, beauty, and virtue enter the world.

The point is that a melody is a whole through which the individual note derives its meaning. The note is only meaningful in the context of the melody. Nor does a random succession of tones make a melody, as with the cat. When we perceive a melody, we are perceiving none other than "wholeness in action." Just as we can perceive static wholeness in space -- say, an animal or building -- we are also able to perceive wholeness in time. Thus, we see how intimately related to music are history, biography, and narratives of any kind.

Zuckerkandl writes that "such a thing as 'mere matter' does not exist in music; its very material is permeated with relation to wholeness." In music, "we hear the promise of a whole that it bears within itself."
The promise of a whole. What does that remind me of? (No, not the promise of a-holes; that's a different subject.)

Oh yes. Religion -- and the faith required to "hear" what it discloses if only you sharpen your ears. For "in the outer world there are forces active whose activity transcends the physical, and at least one of our senses is an organ capable of directly perceiving nonphysical occurrences."

Again, the existence of music cannot be understood in dualistic terms, i.e., physical and psychic. Rather, Zuckerkandl speaks of the "external psychic," but one could just as well say "interior material," for both are ineluctable properties of cosmic wholeness. But "so greatly is our thinking under the spell of the two-worlds schema!" As a result, philosophical explanations swing from the one to the other, even while the explanations -- and music -- can only occur in the transitional third. This is why solid matter is "transparent" to mind, which can "see" and "hear" what is going on "inside" of it.

"In." That might be the most mysterious little word in our entire vocabulary, even more mysterious than being, or AM. For science posits a world of pure exteriority, an IT IS, as it were. The problem is how the IT IS ever results in the I AM, which requires something being "inside" the IT IS. But how do we get in?

Many of us don't. Perhaps you've noticed that one of the most painful aspects of depression is that it prevents one from "getting into" things. It is as if the world is reduced to its IT aspect, with no meaning or depth, i.e., interiority.

Stupidity (e.g., materialism, neo-Marxism, Obamism) results in the same thing, which is why it is so depressing to be around spiritually opaque and dense people who are exiled from the deep interiority of the cosmos, or just living in a collective hallucination. Religion is all about disclosing and reconnecting with this interiority, of "being in." This being in is the tonal center of both man and cosmos, from where all the best melodies arise and return.

Here's a swingin' little loony coon for you:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Eternal Harmelody of Adams

It is an existentialist cliché that modern man is "exiled in time," since he has lost his mooring in the eternal. But this cannot be quite correct, unless we forget what time is.

For time is not a successive appearance of independent "nows," or "points of time." Rather, it is a serial unfolding of past--> present--> future, in which the past anticipates the future and the future recalls and retains the past. Again, one cannot understand time -- or history -- by isolating a single point of it, any more than one can understand a melody by hearing one of its notes.

But since postmodern secular man is not in real time, where is he? Good question. I would suggest that he is in the same place existentially as is the contemporary pop music listener aesthetically, which is to say, "nowhere." I have no idea what's in the Top Thirty these days, but I'm pretty sure you won't find much beauty.

Now, if time is indeed a melody -- or, to be precise, if music is the image of time -- then we should expect time to have all of the same fundamental qualities as music, which include melody (the horizontal component), harmony (the vertical component), and rhythm (the repetitive, containing, or "boundary giving" component).

Modern man doesn't lack for rhythm, except that the beat is either jagged and inhuman on the one hand -- dragging him along by the ear with it -- or as boring as a nine-to-five-to sixty five to the grave necronome on the other.

Nor does he lack for melody, except that the melodies are either trite and sacharrine, or overly "free," verging on not being melodies at all, just a succession of notes with no internal consistency.

What man really lacks of the time element is harmony, and it is harmony that lends music its richness and its depth. Now, transferred to the human plane, to what could harmony be the analogue?

The first thing that comes to mind is tradition, especially the deep tradition of the orthodox revelations, through which man resonates at the same frequency as millions of other living souls, past, present and future. Ultimately one resonates with the first man and the last, or Adam and Christ. Compare this to metaphysical Darwinism, in which one resonates only with an animal and ultimately material past.

In other words, in the case of the Judeo-Christian stream, the harmonic tradition extends back to the dawn of man as we know him -- but really, to the (vertical) origin of the cosmos. To say in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, is analogous to the da-da-da-DUMMM that enunciates Beethoven's fifth and keeps coming 'round until it is resolved.

Thus, when we harmonize with this tradition, we are still our own note or chord, so to speak, except that it is given a kind of infinite meaning by being situated in the vast cosmic Symphony of Man. Here again, ritual, prayer, meditation -- these are all specific ways of adding a voice to the celestial choir of temporal resonance.

Now, the beat -- the rhythm -- is exceptionally important in these meters. As alluded to above, meter involves repetition, containment, and boundaries. Without it, we could not "think" musically, since it would involve one endless display of novelty, with no breaks (i.e., boundaries) or patterns. A beat is like a unit of time that allows us to think about it.

Transfered to the human plane, this means that we live in various natural rhythms, i.e., the day, season, year, developmental stage, etc. This is how we can say that all Sundays -- or Christmases, or Springs, or Weddings, or Adolescences -- are the same, and yet different. Thanks to rhythm, we have retention with variation. And of course, we can all add in our own groovy little syncopations in order to make life swing. Now that I haven't been blogging every day, I've noticed how the whole thing depended on being locked into a certain rhythm. I'm guessing that most creative people find this to be true, at least if the creativity is to last.

Time is motion, or movement. This is why the ears in general and music in particular are so ideally suited to disclose it. Interestingly, Zuckerkandl observes that "A God enthroned beyond time in timeless eternity would have to renounce music," because "temporal omnipresence would make the revelation of audible beauty impossible."

Imagine what temporal omnipresence would be like: you would hear all the notes of, say, a Mozart symphony, except all played simultaneously instead of in succession. Just one eternally cacophonous OMMMMMMMMMMMM going out and returning to itself. In fact, there wouldn't even be enough time for OM, just OOOOOOOOOOOOOO..... Or O. And O would literally have no content.

But -- and we will have more to say about this later -- if God is not one but three (or three-in-one), then this has definite implications for the Cosmic Symphony, for it means that there is an intrinsic time element in the Godhead. After all, no matter how you play it, it takes some kind of time for the Father to give birth to the Son, even if it's a timeless time. I don't intend to start an argument, but it can't be literal timelessness, or it could never "happen." And this is the position of non-dualism, that "nothing happens" in God. Rather, there is no time, no individual self, no nothing, just a static eternity, compared to which everything else -- including notions of Trinity or personal God -- are illusion.

The Christian God is clearly not monistic, i.e., a "simple one." But nor is reality dualistic, i.e., God and creation. Rather, a key point, both for man and music, is that God is trimporphic. That being the case, perhaps the trimorphism of music can tell us something about the interior of God.

And when we say "interior," we mean this literally. Again, as Zuckerkandl notes, the eyes reveal the exterior of things, while the ears reveal the interior. Remember, a mere tone can be situated in the external world, but a melody cannot be. But nor is the melody simply on the side of neurology, since the tune-deaf person hears the identical notes, but not the melody.

Therefore, melody -- which is the meaning of the notes -- is the quintessential example of something that occurs only in the mysterious transitional space, the psychic third where everything -- everything -- meaningful actually takes place.

Indeed, one cannot even say that the the most stubborn external fact exists in the absence of this transitional space, for without it, we wouldn't even know what was important. Rather, everything would be of equal importance, which is another way of saying that there would be no facts. To say "fact" is to say "value" is to connect the dots is to sing a melody, however insipid or profound. And suffice it to say that the left specializes in destroying harmony and insisting that all melodies are arbitrary.

To be continued....

Monday, November 09, 2009

If a Cosmos Bangs in the Void and Nobody Hears it, Does it Make a Sound?

How is music even possible?


I said, HOW IS MUSIC EVEN POSSIBLE?! What, are you deaf?

"What must the world be like, what must I be like, if between me and the world the phenomenon of music can occur? How must I consider the world, how must I consider myself, if I am to understand the reality of music?"

Good questions. They were asked by Victor Zuckerkandl in his cult classic, Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World. Unfortunately, the cult consists only of me, so it seems that no one took Zuckerkandl's ideas and riffed with them. I briefly touched on them in my book of the sane gnome (see page 44-45), but this is another one of those motifs that could have been a symphony in itself. I needed to change keys and move on.

But with my new found slack, I've been revisiting the book. Referring back to the previous post, what if the ears provide a better account of the nature of reality than do the eyes? This would certainly be consistent with Judeo-Christian metaphysics: in the beginning was the Word, not the brightly colored object.

But the Word is only heard by those with ears to hear. Seeing is different. In order to see, all you have to do is open your eyes, and the image forces itself upon you. Remember what happened in the Garden: eating from the tree of good and evil results in the eyes being opened. What were they before?

I would say that before that, the ears were dominant over the eyes. This is how it was possible to have such an intimate relationship with the Creator. Again, the ears do not divide the world in a dualistic sense, as that which we hear is not exactly outside, nor is it inside; rather, as we shall explain in more detail in a subsequent post -- hearing -- or, more specifically, music -- uniquely occurs in the mysterious transitional space between matter and neurology. It can by no means be located in just one or the other (for example, a tune-deaf person hears the identical notes, but not the melody).

Zuckerkandl discusses the interesting differences between the blind and the deaf. Upon superficial consideration, one would think that the blind person would feel more cut off from the world, and have more reason to be irritable, paranoid, and distrustful. "Yet it is not the blind man who shows the typical reaction of the prisoner, the man spied upon, who must always be on his guard; it is the deaf man, whose most important organ of connection with the world has remained unimpaired" (Zuckerkandl).

During my internship at Camarillo State Mental Hospital, my supervisor was a blind man. He was the sweetest and most gentle, not to mention, perceptive, soul you could imagine. But you may have noticed that when people start to lose their hearing, they often become sullen or cranky. Often they deny that it's happening, and blame the world. How come movies these days are so damn quiet! Why does everyone mumble!

For the blind man, "other modes of connection with the world are revealed to him, modes that are otherwise overshadowed by the dominance of the eye -- as if, in the realms with which he thus comes into contact, man were less alone, better provided for, more at home, than in the world of visible things to which the deaf man is directed and to which an element of foreignness always clings."

Now interestingly, there was a time, not so very long ago, that man was blind half the time. It was called night. I don't think we appreciate -- in fact, I'm sure we don't -- the psychological effects of having light at night; not just a little candle, mind you, but the complete conquest of darkness. The total blackness of night is almost inconceivable to us today, and with it, a host of mysteries to which we only gain entrance by facing and living with the darkness. No wonder early humans worshiped the sun, and readily "saw" the connection between light and thought (likewise the feminine moon, which is to unconscious as the male sun is to conscious).

What did human beings do back then in the dark of the night? Well, for one thing, they huddled around the campfire and told stories. As I have mentioned before, there are many things that only make sense at 2:00 AM, in total silence and darkness. Just because they don't make sense at 2:00 PM hardly means that they don't make sense. Think of some of the epic stories of the Bible -- floods, giants, talking serpents, etc. If these aren't engaged with the imagination -- which only comes out at night, or by somehow suppressing and "endarkening" the dominant, light-filled left brain -- then they won't reveal their secrets.

Furthermore, there are some stories we tell by day that make no sense whatsoever in the darkness of night -- for example, Darwinian fairy tales, or silly myths about whole universes suddenly banging into being out of nothing and for no reason. Such things are easy to believe for someone who doesn't know that reality extends beyond the securely enclosed firmament of egoic consciousness. It's like imagining that the world is encircled by the sky, just because we see it by day. At night, the comforting sky recedes into the infinite darkness, and we are confronted by the billions of things concealed by daylight and tenure.

Could it be that "man attains the inwardness of life by hearing and its outwardness by seeing?" (Zuckerkandl). Hmm, let me listen to that question for awhile...


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