Friday, January 23, 2015

Beauty and Sadness

Let's see if we can extract any more nuggets of joy from Schopenhauer's manifesto of melancholia.

Here's some good news: "The inexhaustible variety of possible melodies corresponds to nature's inexhaustible variety of individuals, physiognomies, and ways of life."

But with Schopenhauer there's always a catch: "the transition from one key to an entirely different one, since it breaks the connection with what went before, is like death, in so far as the individual ends there..."


You, see, that's what makes Schopenhauer such a sad guy. He always sees the worst case scenario, the glass half empty. On the one hand, the Blind Cosmic Will in which we participated while alive "lives on, appearing in other individuals," -- BUT -- this "consciousness has no connection with" ours. So we got that going for us. We're still dead, but at least the meaningless impersonal will that willed us wills on forever.

C'mon, Art. Lighten up.

This is better: music is an "unconscious exercise in metaphysics in which the mind does not know that it is philosophizing." Thus, "our imagination is... susceptible to music" and "seeks to give form to that invisible yet lively spirit-world which speaks to us directly, and clothe it with flesh and blood." But for Schopenhauer, this "lively spirit world" is just an impotent Wiener process of the same old impersonal World Will.

Nevertheless, he gets the broad outline correct, that "we may regard the phenomenal world, or nature, and music as two different expressions of the same thing," such that the "unutterable depth of music" reveals the "truth, the inner nature, the in-itself of the world..."

Music is "a perfectly universal language," but unlike, say, the universal abstractions of mathematics, it is both embodied and experienced in the body. Thus, "we might just as well call the world 'embodied music' as 'embodied will."

That's right, Art, so why build your system around the latter instead of the former? Why reduce music to blind will instead of elevating the will to conscious composer?

I'll tell you why: because you are depressed, that's why. When we are depressed, our depression feels like "the truth." In short, your philosophy is an expression of your clinical depression. Dude, you said it yourself:

I would recommend an antidepressant, but they won't be invented for another 100 years or so. Try getting a bit more sunlight, or maybe eat more fish.

Okay. Be that way.

I suspect that Schopenhauer tried to use art in general and music in particular as an antidepressant. In fact, according to his biographer, Bryan Magee, he felt "there is one way in which we can find momentary release from our imprisonment in the the dark dungeon of the world, and that is through the arts." Thus, Schopenhauer regarded art as providing more the temporary removal of pain than the revelation of cosmic joy:

"In painting, sculpture, poetry, drama, and above all music, the otherwise relentless rack of willing on which we are stretched out throughout life is relaxed," and for a moment "we find ourselves free from the tortures of existence." Woo freaking hoo.

True, music does stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that mediates pleasure and reward. But chronically depressed people are probably low on dopamine, accounting for their anhedonia, i.e., difficulty experiencing pleasure and joy.

Schopenhauer was a major influence on Wagner, who attempted to embody the world will in his music. Magee has written of this in another book, The Tristan Chord.

Wagner was, of course, a Nazty Piece of Work, but some people think he is the greatest musical genius in history. I have no opinion on that, but Magee writes that for Wagner, "the function of serious art" is "to reveal to human beings the most fundamental truths of their innermost nature." His music "is the direct utterance of the metaphysical will."

But I'm not sure someone as nasty as Wagner can know the fundamental truth about humans. Magee writes that very early on, "he felt unable to relate to other people," for "they did not understand him." This is a common feature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in that the narcissist is so special that he is in a category all his own.

"As a result, the world always seemed to him an alien place, both puzzling and hostile. He did not understand it, was not home in it, did not like it. He wanted to escape from it."

In fact, "Until his fifties not a year of his adulthood went by in which he did not seriously contemplate suicide."


But again, consistent with clinical narcissism, the depression alternated with intense grandiosity, in that he was convinced that he was the only person in history who could express the ultimate truth of existence: "it is a question here of conclusions which I am the only person able to draw," for "there has never been a man who was poet and musician at the same time, as I am, and to whom therefore insights into inner processes were possible such as are not to be expected from anyone else."

Well, aren't you special. I can't say what it means about his music, but Hitler was absolutely crazy about it, attending performances of it as often as he could, even when he was poor and broke. It "nourished" him like nothing else.

The Blurb from Hell.

I forget why Wagner was such a vicious anti-Semite, but certainly the Biblical view of music is quite contrary to his -- for example, it is God our maker "who gives songs in the night" (Job 35:10), and who puts those new songs in our mouths (Ps 40:3). In other words, music doesn't come from the primordial below, the noumenal will, but is a gift from above.

Then again, maybe I'm just not depressed enough to understand the awful truth about the world.


ted said...

Interesting that I came into philosophy by reading Schopey first. Makes sense since I was a depressed teen. He sort of opened me up to Buddhism too (although I believe he was more exposed to Vedic texts). Now I find him amusing, a caricature of sorts. But he writes well, which ultimately makes some philosophers the celebrities they are.

ted said...

Btw Bob, Have you ever read Magee's Confessions of a Philosopher?. An interesting journey by the English codger. He also writes well, but is all in the head.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I read it. He is a good writer, but limited by his Kantian paradigm,

ted said...

Yes, we all Kant be serious.

Gagdad Bob said...

In his biography, Magee mentions that later in life Schopenhauer drew consolation from his discovery of the recently translated Upanishads, feeling that they pretty much said the same thing he was trying to say. He supposedly kept a copy beside the bed and read them every night before turning in...

mushroom said...

Music is "a perfectly universal language," ... and love is the key.

Sorry. I went over the edge for a minute.

Tony said...

Scruton's book on musical aesthetics is long, but what I've read so far is very good and clearly written.


Dude, I saw them open for Slayer! They rocked, sorta.

Tony said...

The first sentence of this video is on topic:

Gagdad Bob said...

Interesting too that Judaism emphasizes the hedonic side of things, not the an-hedonic...

mushroom said...

Having suffered from depression in various degree, it's true that during those periods I tend to think I'm the only one around seeing the world realistically.

EbonyRaptor said...

The dour power of Schopenhauer :)

(or maybe :( is more appropriate)

julie said...

The sad dead emojis are cracking me up.

We're still dead, but at least the meaningless impersonal will that willed us wills on forever.

See, this is why I don't really care if reincarnation is real. I can't remember any of those past lives. Unless there is some way to retrieve them on the other side of the veil and make all the lives into an integrated whole (and hopefully with a good karma balance in the cosmic bank account), they seem kind of pointless.

Try getting a bit more sunlight, or maybe eat more fish.

I've found a good B-vitamin supplement to be helpful, too. Though admittedly, there may be a placebo effect.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Julie,
A couple of years ago my Doc found I was running low on B-12 and D. Now that I take supplements I don't get depressed nearly as much as I used to.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Here's a short article from the Mayo Clinic about it:

Nothin' from the Mustard Clinic though.

Skully said...

Looks like Arty was the life of the party.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"This is better: music is an "unconscious exercise in metaphysics in which the mind does not know that it is philosophizing." Thus, "our imagination is... susceptible to music" and "seeks to give form to that invisible yet lively spirit-world which speaks to us directly, and clothe it with flesh and blood." But for Schopenhauer, this "lively spirit world" is just an impotent Wiener process of the same old impersonal World Will."

Not to be confused with Der Wienerschnitzel process.

Gagdad Bob said...

B complex and D3 are good -- make sure it's D3. Also 3 or 4 grams of fish oil -- not of the oil itself, but of EFA and DHA, which are the biologically active thingies. Also turmeric and a couple of teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa. I've been adding the latter to my coffee in the morning, and you can hardly taste it. I think it has made me smarter, or at least slowed down the deterioration.

Joan of Argghh! said...

I find it so hard to comment on music. It carries Spirit as does any other form of communication; i.e., the Spirit that went into its creation comes out when we experience it. And yet it is more than the visual arts, somehow. I can't feel 'saved' without music. It's a glimpse beyond the veil, a healing of the separation we must suffer until all is made whole again. It's the praise that it carries to the throne of the Coolest Cat, the communion of the jokes in jazz, the whole existentialada when we don't have words for the ache, the hurt, the happy, or the hilarious Light of our being in Him.

It's a sensory ignition in the way that scent is, but smells are like a hit of some drug. Music is a spiritual ignition that drills into one's spirit and lingers long after to heal up or break open or just bridge over those troubled waters.

See? I babble. I am its servant. I cannot sing a note if it's to "perform" ... but to worship, I am a helpless vessel of music. It owns me, I do not master it. It is His in some way I cannot express. Feh. I babble.

julie said...

I'd never thought of adding unsweetened cocoa to my coffee. May have to give that a try tomorrow, if I can remember. Lord knows my brain needs all the help it can get these days.

Joan, I know exactly what you mean. I think that's why it's such a complaint for people when the music at church doesn't hit the right notes, so to speak. Not that I'm blaming churches, since they can only work with who they have and chances are that at least some people will object to pretty much everything, taste-wise.

Come to think of it, one thing that does bug me is when they don't include a score. Obviously not everyone can read notes, but it doesn't take much brainpower to figure out when you're supposed to go higher and lower. Nothing like having a mass of people learning a new hymn when only one or two of them actually know how it goes...

Gagdad Bob said...

Give it a couple weeks -- sadly, the effect isn't immediate, like a drug.


And Joan, that's not babbling, that's jammin' on the edge of articulation . I know, because IT'S WHAT WE DO HERE.

Gagdad Bob said...

"<a href="“>If you listen carefully, you will hear, hidden beneath the screeches, squawks, and thwacks of the cosmos, the melodies and counterpoint of breathtaking music. Conscientious philosophers should try to experience that underlying beauty, to understand it, and to add to it</a>."

julie said...

Bad link - try here

Anonymous said...

So, in these mountains bluebirds sit around and talk.
Author, indeed. Enough to make kings dance before the Lord, in undies.

When not depressed, just maudlin. Probably OK, if spread out enough to not matter.

Gagdad Bob said...

Great interview with former Marxist Thomas Sowell.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

That is a superb interview. I never get bored listening to Sowell, or reading his books.
He's a fountain of wisdom and rather than promoting ideology he seeks out and promotes truth.

No wonder leftist rabble rousers hate him so much.

Gagdad Bob said...

I don't know if I've ever seen someone who is so jovial while delivering bad news, except for maybe Dr. Hibbert on the Simpsons.

julie said...


ted said...

Well like he said near the end, one of the good things of being old is he believes he will be spared having to go through the final demise.

Tony said...

Re: Schopenhauer and music, pianist Hal Galper talks from the Inside:

This could not be more spot on.

Gagdad Bob said...

Just got around to watching the video. Very cool! I have a fair amount of Galper playing with Phil Woods -- now I'll hear it in a whole new way!

Joan of Argghh! said...

WOW! Loved that video. And yes, spot on!