On Pärt: the mirror of subjectivity

1. We lose the most important structural insights of intentionality when we approach the objects of experience only under the model of vision and the individuating effects of perspective and distance. In seeing, only the smallest, imperceptible lag—which is known to us only in phenomenological reflection*—separates the continuous synthesis of noemata from the unifying apperception of the one who perceives. The subjective illusion consists in the inversion of simultaneity and difference: the apparent simultaneity of the subject with its noetic activity compels us to affirm a difference between subject and object where in fact that (real) difference is in the subjective. What remains is to demolish the proscenium of the Cartesian theatre fully to understand that the location of consciousness is between subject and object.

*This illusory simultaneity that passes us unnoticed, like seeing our reflection in a mirror, also accounts for why, on the one hand, in the natural attitude we are all solipsists (I insist that the world appears to me and that, should the world be dissolved, I alone might remain) and also why, on the other, the mirror stage can only result in an imaginary act of identification.

Listening, on the other hand, affords the possibility of an experience of pure presence (without, like the sublime object, placing presence into question).

“To be listening is to be at the same time outside and inside, to be open from without and from within, hence from one to the other and from one in the other. Listening thus forms the perceptible singularity that bears in the most ostensive way the perceptible or sensitive (aisthetic) condition as such: the sharing of an inside/outside, division and participation, de-connection and contagion. ‘Here, time becomes space,’ is sung is Wagner’s Parsifal.” (Nancy)

Instead of the distance between the object there and the subject here there is only the pure presence of and as space itself (whereas distance is the measure of space). Listening abolishes not only the difference between subject and object but also the difference between presence and the thing (and therefore presence to …).**

**What Ingarden’s phenomenology ultimately refused to acknowledge—and thus the source of its fundamental tensions—is simply that there is no musical object. To use Benson’s terms, there is only a musical ergon within its energia.

2. What Pärt accomplishes in the tintinnabular technique of Spiegel im Spiegel is to cast in sound what Hegel had said of Romantic poetry where “spirit is pushed back into itself out of its reconciliation in the corporeal into a reconciliation of itself within itself … beauty becomes the spiritual beauty of the absolute inner life as inherently infinite spiritual subjectivity”. Pärt renders the inner life of subjectivity exposed to itself only in being reflected by an experience of bare harmony with little to no melodic interest. The triad is like a prism that divides the unity of the fundamental tone but it is the prism itself that “could be the spirit of the listener”. The subject only finds itself reflected infinitely between the notes of the triad and the accumulation of overtones in a sort of feedback loop where, as we know, even the most minimal differences create infinitely complex phenomena.

3. Spiegel im Spiegel stands in dialectical tension with the dissolution of subjectivity in Beethoven’s symphonies (see especially the third and fourth movements of the fifth and the second movement of the seventh). If Pärt exposes pure subjectivity, in Beethoven subjectivity and subjective intentions are subsumed by the perfection of form. In Pärt there is only the listener; in Beethoven the listener is merely accessory, like the gaudy ornaments for which an austere sensibility has no use. Beethoven’s symphonies are totalities to which the listener has no choice but to submit in unity. The great temptation of the symphonies is precisely this promise of redemption in the completed whole where nothing remains to be done. Between the tyrannical externality of form and its inversion into the infinite self-reflection of subjectivity, it is the world that must be called into question. Perhaps the resolution of this tension, then, lies somewhere between Mahler and Boulez.

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