The politics of music

“By voicing the fears of helpless people, [music] could signal help for the helpless, however feebly and distortedly. In doing so it would renew the promise contained in the age-old protest of music: the promise of a life without fear” (Adorno).

“… [music] is not a copy of the phenomenon, or, more accurately, the adequate objectivity of the will, but is the direct copy of the will itself, and therefore represents the metaphysical of everything physical in the world, and the thing-in-itself of every phenomenon … music gives the universalia ante rem and the real world the universalia in re” (Nietzsche).

A sort of constellation: Adorno and Nietzsche. But, instead of drawing a line through Wagner (as Bauer and Ramply have already suggested in their respective ways), perhaps we need instead to detour through Kant’s first Critique.

The temptation is to think that what we need is an undistorted image of suffering, such that there could be a direct correlation between representation and the will by means of the concept. But it is precisely because of the distortion of the image that an aesthetics of thought is possible—through a secondary mimesis that refers thought to nothing other than non-coincidence. But this space is unlivable, perhaps even unbearable—and we express or discharge this experience in our bodies: in a tremor, the closing of our eyes, in the next step, in the sense that something—I know not what—has happened.

Addenda: 1. “Music” cannot be the name for a genus. There is no essence of “music”. We can only relate singular performances to a unique line extending to each of its inter- and contexts on the one hand and to its future effects on the other. Consequently, there is no one criterion for music (and its redemptive power).

2. After hearing “Blue Cathedral”, one would be quite justified in the hope of a truly feminine music from Higdon. Unfortunately many of the other works, such as “City Scape” ultimately amidst the bombast try to do too much, i.e., attempt to communicate a concept or a representation instead of quite literally creating a new space (a new aesthetic) through the material of the sound image (which is the greatest virtue of the tone poem). Instead of an image proper, “City Scape” gives us the self-indulgence of infinite romantic subjectivity masquerading as a beautiful object.

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