Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Performing the Theo-symphony

Not much time this morning, but might as well give it a go. We've been discussing the nature of music, and have concluded that music itself, in its very structure, tells us something -- or sings to us, rather -- of the nature of reality.

For example, music is organized and yet spontaneous; continuous and discontinuous; vertical (harmonic) and horizontal (melodic); inexhaustibly creative (despite a finite number of notes, we'll never run out of tunes); always happening in the moment and yet reaching toward its own fulfillment; holistic and particulate; yada yada.

One of the most important properties of music is its temporality. If music really mirrors reality, then this suggests that time is of the essence, not just an entropic field of accidents, repetitions, decay, and disintegration. Something "holds music together" from the inside out, analogous to the surface tension of water.

For example, Frankophiles always talk about how he was able to "get inside" a song. While that sounds like a metaphor, perhaps it isn't. You can take almost any performance by Frank from the Great American Songbook, and it will be the definitive version. Once you hear his, others sound almost fake or mannered by comparison.

If it is possible to "get into" music, this implies that it is possible to be outside it. But isn't that the very definition of bad or substandard music? Even for the great performer who is having an "off" night, it will likely be because he or she isn't able to get "inside" the music. A discriminating listener can always tell the difference, because the music won't be as "alive."

Now, I agree with Rosen that biology must be more general than physics, which is why you can get from life to matter but not vice versa (in other words, not from the bottom up). However, we must think of this ontologically, not chronologically. In other words, Life is ontologically prior to matter but chronologically later: the physical cosmos was apparently here for some 10 billion years before life kabloomed from its colden darkwomb.

But that hardly means that life can be reduced to matter, any more than we could take all the notes of a symphony, put them in a big pile, and say, "that's where the symphony came from." A simplistic metaphysic such as materialism or Islam simultaneously explains everything and nothing, not even itself.

Just flipping through Nature, Man, and Society, and there is an essay by the Tibetan Buddhist monk-scholar Lama Govinda, who writes of the problem of past, present, and future. Again, when we listen to music, it is always in the now. And yet, we are implicitly aware of the notes leading up to the now, while the now is always anticipating its forward movement.

Thus, there can be no abstract, zero-dimensional now that is radically disconnected from the past and future. Rather, this is just a kind of fantasy derived from the quantitative abstractions of physics, or a denial that particles reveal waves and vice versa. (Einstein suggested that time for physicists is nothing more than a "stubborn illusion.")

So, it takes a non-Einstein to realize time is movement. Which I suppose is why a symphony has movements. We could also say that the past must have been pregnant with the now, just as the now is pregnant with the future.

What this implies is that the future has some kind of influence on the present, just as in music, wherein no note can be understood outside the context of the whole song. Again, it is not just moment-to-moment random notes, but a flow of interior relations.

Thus, as Govinda writes, "the future is essentially contained in the past and focalized in the present." Therefore, what we call "evolution" is "the unfoldment in time and space of something that is already potentially existent in its essential features, though indeterminable in its individual realization" (emphasis mine).

That's my story and I'm sticking to it, because no alternative makes sense.

"The manner in which we accomplish this individual realization is the task of our life and the essence of our freedom." In Buddhist terminology our freedom would consist of choosing whether or not to follow and actualize our dharma or "to become slaves of our own ignorance," whereas from the Christian perspective it would be the freedom to choose between good and evil.

The leftist imagines he can bring about goodness by restricting our freedom of choice, but that not only undercuts man's dignity at the root, but denies his reason for being. If we are not free to do bad, there is no merit. Likewise, if success is outlawed, only outlaws will be successful.

This complementarity of notes and melody is a key principle. It implies that it is not a question of being or becoming, but rather, being as becoming, and vice versa. "Both are ever united, and those who try to build a philosophy upon only one of them, to the exclusion of the other, lose themselves in verbal play" (ibid.).

And "just as a picture gets its meaning, i.e., becomes a 'picture,' because it is related to a frame, so freedom has meaning only within a framework of or with reference to law.... Though the frame imposes a limitation on the picture, it strengthens it at the same time" (ibid.).

Which I think is how we might understand the ten commandments, or four cardinal virtues, or three theological virtues, etc. They are like the divine chords in which we compose our melody.

Which I think brings us back to the "arc of salvation," which is like the overall melody -- or symphony -- in which we are situated. Balthasar discusses it in terms of "theodrama," but I think we could just as easily call it a "theo-symphony."


mushroom said...

Speaking of Frank, Steyn's been doing the retrospective, and the first of his essays hits on the very topic of "getting into it". He talks about how "When I Was Seventeen" became a Sinatra song.

Apparently, Sinatra happened to hear the Kingston Trio version on the radio, and immediately saw it as it could be.

mushroom said...

This is all good. I like the relationship between music and freedom.

And this, too: However, we must think of this ontologically, not chronologically.

Yes, what kind of cosmos would we need?

julie said...

Which I think is how we might understand the ten commandments, or four cardinal virtues, or three theological virtues, etc. They are like the divine chords in which we compose our melody.

Back in study today, one thing that comes across to me, over and over, is the key role of free will in the Old Testament. The commandments were given and the laws explained, along with some very important followup: consequences. Abiding by the law will have this effect, and conversely flouting the law will have others (but If..), and then more, (but If...), and worse still (but If...). At any given point, no matter how low they went, all they were asked to do was follow the law. But always, it was a choice.

Also, always, whether followed or flouted, the law was the ground - the chords, if you will - that informed the structure of everything that happened afterward.

Michael Marinacci said...

DAMN! I didn't even KNOW someone else had done "It Was a Very Good Year" before Frank. And I don't want to hear any other versions; Ol' Blue Eyes OWNS that tune.
I first heard it when I was a little kid, and it was on the charts. Loved it, and it's gotten immensely more powerful as I've grown older, and logged memories that, mellowed by nostalgia and the years, are very much like fine wine.

annk said...

Another factor is the relationship between ontology and beauty, and capital-T Truth as beauty, and as God.

Every post here makes me say "Wow" and "Yes, of course!" I have the book on Kindle and a hard copy for when it hits the fan and such devices are useless. I also gave a copy of the book to a friend last week, and another today. I probably should ask about bulk discounts!

Thank you for everything.

Joan of Argghh! said...

I love this place! It's good to be here. Let's build a tent; one for Frank, Van, and John Lee.

ted said...

Back in my more lefty days, the first blog I got into was Andrew Sullivan's (yes, we all have past skeletons). Now, it looks like he's moving on. I still never understood why he considered himself a conservative. Being a gay, Bush-basher, I suppose it made him a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

ted said...

The Great Debate is an outstanding read! One of the best books I've read on right/left political distinctions.