Friday, November 11, 2011

Schoenbergiana III


The conflict remains. Perhaps Adorno wasn't so wrong when he blamed Schoenberg for being naive, for thinking that the historical change derived from the principles of the Enlightenment and the tyranny of reason, wouldn't have any effect on the very essence of music; perhaps holding steadfast to a pure idea at the same time one's adopting free style, retains some of the modern character of synthesis' own negation. However Schoenberg's drama doesn't unfold without its own share of inner contradiction; this is perhaps the magical illusion of the Pierrot Lunaire, the never ending flux of contradictory illusions, cancelling one another; like when in the concerto for piano, op. 11, he insisted on that the illusion of musical space must be destroyed, even though he had been himself its masterful creator. But in his fierce opposition to style being governed by reason, he forgot about history again and thought eidetically that the category of the great composer isn't susceptible to a certain degree of historical variation. It didn't occur to him that even though he refused to compose and perform for the public of his age (just like Kafka), that his own work would be established as a classic when the time came.

Ultimately, he was made to conform to a pedigree that he had claimed for himself but that he also came to reject: Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, and even Mahler and Reger. These strange sounds, so little did he know that his adamant refusal to conceive of tonality would be made part of the same petrification of the tradition. But what does this have to do with music, with logic, with language and ultimately with painting? We've spoken about music as an order of grammar, or grammatology, and what is then the difference between music and language? Music has an inner logic (not an external expression) in which there's a sense of right and wrong but the blocks of meaning can't be abstracted from the music, there's not a consistent system of signs that can ably express something like the Star of Redemption could. Speaking of which, it was Rosenzweig who taught us that the stories, the short stories of Kafka were the most strinkingly similar texts to the Hebrew Bible but that reading them was not necessarily a pleasure.

Let's turn now to Kafka to illustrate how music actually PLAYS IN LANGUAGE: Adorno remarked that not for nothing did Kafka in several of his works, gave to music a place that it had never occupied before in literature. He treated the meaningful content of spoken, signifying language as if they were the meaning of music - in broken off parables; this is the most extreme contrast to the musical language of Swinburne or Rilke, which imitates musical effects and which is alien to the origins of music. To be musical means to innervate the intentions that flash forth, without losing oneself to them in the process, but taming them instead. Thus, the musical continuum is constructed.

I think this is one of the most telling passages ever written about Kafka. It helps to establish new Huelsen about the practice of writing, you see? I had told you about the recalcitrant aestheticism of Rilke and Benn in my previous letter, so that here being a musical person or a poet is nothing of a compliment, it's more like betrayal. It's about altering the grammar into music and not about transforming music into grammar because the inflection thus attained is one of such total loss that the materials are no longer recognizable. This is the Romantic legacy of seeing musical and plastic-artistic forms as indistinguishable from nature, leading to the coining of the term "expression", musical or artistic expression (very different from impression, in expression as the word suggests, everything becomes externalized) define music and art as a grammar of signs (not of symbols) in the logical sense of the Alexandrian grammarians so that in the experience of art, unless the totality is kept intact, everything disintegrates again into dust.

The symbol (and even Hegel knew about this) can never be replaced by a sign because the unities of meaning, though autonomous, cannot exist independently of the cancellation and conflation (Aufhebung) of subject and object. If one really wished to compare an act in the signifying languages with the musical act, it would more likely be the transcription of a text than its comprehension and signification. Hence the accuracy of Rosenzweig's afterthoughts on Kafka because a Biblical text, that is, scripture, so to say, is a loyal transcription more than an encyclopedia of sentiment (a thing absurd in itself but applicable to certain neo-Classical styles of poetry).

Is this perhaps the reason why Max Richter could set to music Kafka's Octavo Notebooks and that nobody has done anything similar with Rilke's Elegies? There're other examples of people who are able to write in music, like Marie-Therese Kerschbaumer, Susan Sontag, Paul Celan, etc. unlike the herds of musical poets that lose themselves so rapidly that the world as a whole is swallowed and lost. What happens with Rilke for example is that he masters/dominates nature so completely and that's his mortal sin (Kafka is so totally removed from nature, his landscapes are apocalyptic, at best, a dog pissing on a tree like Taubes remarked) that his absolute domination over nature turns him against himself as a subject and therefore (just like in Kant) it cancels out all possible experience; it remains so to say at the level of musical grammar; this brings me back to something I left out when I write you about the genius and the visionary: Rilke is and becomes a genius in the moment he begins to dominate nature, but this genius is nothing but mere technique, it's one step both behind and ahead of reproducibility, insofar as it's not the vision of the visionary (there can be no visual element here because one is lost in the pre-image long before he's immunized against light) it has no possible Vorstellung (pre-representation).

Musical-linguistic forms can be separated from the material stuff and followed in their development, can be constructed out so to speak. This corresponds to the practice of Berg and above all to that of the late Schoenberg (but also to functional forms of music such as the soundtrack of films). The task here, in conscious mastery of the musical language, would be cristalize out characters of a linguistic nature, Platonic ideas, themes, transitions, questions and answers, continuations abstracted from the musical material that was previously provided by tonality. This is as far as the effect can be reversed, so that music adopts grammar (like in the exercises of Richter with Kafka and Nyman with Celan).

If this is how language relates to music, then what happens in the case of painting? Music is something we defined as Zeitkunst (art in time) and painting as Raumkunst (art in space), so that in music, as a temporal art, time in not self-evident (as in theology) for it is part of the nature of music that it must have time as its very own problem. Music can create temporal relationships (if they're temporal they can't be ordained from the standpoint of timelessness) among the parts of the FORM, synthesize them through time, and to synthesize through time is more hypostasis than synthesis - apotaktasis. Music must act upon time and unlike Rilke, not lose itself to it. But insofar as a FORM is nothing but the temporal order of music, then the FORM refers from the temporal articulation of music to the idea of spatialization (this is the great vision of the Viennese school).

However, on the other hand, painting is the definite spatial art, as a reworking of space in general, meaning that this performance of re-working approaches a certain tendency to look into transcendence toward or against time.

Music and Painting: Music paints sometimes because it suffers a lot of temporary organization and lets go of the principle of synthesis through which, alone, it assumes a form that approaches the configuration of space; whereas painting also behaves with what we'd call for now, the dynamics of music, trying to capture temporal events, getting exhausted in the illusion of time. In both cases however time is not spatialized into a geometric coexistence (what Kandinsky wrote to Schoenberg) but rather organized as a whole, in the way visual surfaces were once organized.

The unit of construction (returning again to Schoenberg's view of tonality) is only that of a relationship units/tones, here the concept of line in either music or painting is no longer applicable. In the painting, as time itself, as a medium, is transformed purely into a material, and as the things that occur in it are reduced to tonal materials (in music too) so that the path is open for spatialization: space becomes identical with the absoluteness of material.

The greatest challenge at this point is that time by its very nature cannot be forced into identity with space. Anything that is organized temporally is not simultaneous as things tend to appear in paintings but successive so that facts cannot be expressed as such. In painting everything is simultaneous, the synthesis of a painting consists in bringing together things that exist next to each other in space. The transformation of the formal principle of simultaneity into the structure of the specific unity of the elements (forms, parts, pieces) in the painting, that's what we want to call simultaneity. But this process, as something immanent in/through the things by no means belong only to production of space, this is a process naturally characterized by tensions.

If these tensions are not there, if the elements of the painting are not seeking to get away from each other, they do not live in fullest contradiction, then there's only pre-artistic coexistence (what I mentioned about some pieces of Mahler) and no synthesis/hypostasis. Tension however stands outside of the spatial and can't be conceived without time.

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