The Aesthetic Imperative
The Aesthetic Imperative
LA MUSIQUE RETROUVÉE
Ladies and gentlemen, 1 abundant attempts have been made to define the essence of music. Some people have described it as structured time or as a synthesis of calculated order and mysterious caprice, while others have seen its higher manifestations as the meeting between rigorous form and the gestures of free self-expression, or simply as passion colliding with the world of numbers. Yet none of these statements can match the famous dictum of Thomas Mann in his novel Doctor Faustus . Inspired by Kierkegaard, Mann reached the conclusion that 'Music is demonic territory.'
This phrase, which has since become a mantra for musicologists, is notable for several reasons; moreover, it increasingly requires comment. When it first appeared in 1947 it merely aimed at illuminating the murky secrets of German culture, an area where, it was said, musicality and bestiality had become confusingly intertwined. At the same time, Mann's dictum was supposed to indicate how, on the ground of modernism, artistically beautiful things could change into things that are artistically evil, and how diabolical guile could transform the best forces of a high civilization into their opposite. From today's perspective, Mann's statement has a special impact in that it replaces a definition with a warning - as if the author wanted to admit that it is impossible for some topics to lead to objective theory because they do not remain still while they are being worked on by theory. Instead, sleeping lurking monsters rouse from their slumbers and rear their heads as soon as we talk about them. According to the author of Doctor Faustus , musicologists would be well advised to study the conclusion of Christian demonologists that demons are not neutral. Instead of being model objects that can be investigated at a safe distance, they are a power that responds to invocation. Anyone who calls the dark spirit by name has already invoked him, and the invoking person should be aware that he can be confronted with an authority that will be stronger than he is. That is why folk tales say of Doctor Faust: If you know something, keep it quiet.
Let us briefly look at which kind of demonic possession is involved when we enter the territory of music - assuming that this is about a 'territory' that can be entered like a ground or terrain. We must seek the answer in the acoustic anthropology that has acquainted us with a large number of inspiring new findings on human hearing in recent decades. They have taught us that among members of Homo sapiens , like other mammals or creatures that bear live offspring, and even among many birds, hearing is an ability that is acquired very early, actually in prenatal space. The ear is indisputably the leading organ of human contact with the world, and this is already the case at a point in the organism's development when the individual as such is not yet 'there' - to the extent that the adverb 'there' indicates the possibility that a person is at a sufficient distance from things to be able to point to an object or circumstance. Even in adults, hearing is not so much an effect the subject experiences in relation to a source of sound, but occurs rather as immersion of the sensitive organ and its owner in an acoustic field. This applies even more strongly to the hearing of the unborn child. If the first auditory experience signifies a foetal prelude to the mature use of the acoustic sense, it is mainly because at that moment the feature of floating in a total environment is at its purest. The first hearing experience inherently resembles a pre-school of cosmopolitanism, literally of world openness - yet we attend this school, effectively the école maternelle , at a stage of life when we ourselves are still completely worldless and pre-worldly. The individual-to-be persists as far as possible in its