Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Music, the half-articulate art

Settembrini the humanist, speaking in The Magic Mountain:
“... I love and reverence the Word, the bearer of the spirit, the tool and gleaming ploughshare of progress. – Music? It is the half-articulate art, the dubious, the irresponsible, the insensible. Perhaps you will object that she can be clear when she likes. But so can nature, so can a brook – what good is that to us? That is not true clarity, it is a dreamy, inexpressive, irresponsible clarity, without consequences and therefore dangerous, because it betrays one into soft complacence. – Let music play her loftiest role, she will thereby but kindle the emotions, whereas what concerns us is to awaken the reason. Music is to all appearance movement itself – yet, for all that, I suspect her of quietism. Let me state my point by the method of exaggeration: my aversion from music rests on political grounds."

To exaggerate my point, my aversion to Settembrini's argument rests, too, on political grounds. We have discussed and argued reason and rationalism on this blog several times, and I tend to be an ardent follower of rationalism, but Settembrini's exaggerated argument here is dangerous. It is an Apollonian approach and yet, perversely, it doesn't give space for beauty. It has the rigidity and serious-mindedness of a Calvinist. Dreaminess, for them is something to be abjured: it is irresponsible, dangerous. Nonsense. I struggle with the Jungian or Voegelinian concept that rational man has lost touch with some inner consciousness, but I do agree that rationalism must still find a place for beauty, and that not everything must conform to standards of absolute clarity.

4 comments:

Donigan said...

You are causing me to want to read Magic Mountain again, for the 3rd time.

Tom Conoboy said...

It's seductive. I did think, 'gosh, this is slow,' to begin with, but I quickly fell into the rhythm of it. I'm about half way through now and finding it fascinating.

Mark said...

These posts keep recurring: I'm a big fan of rationalism, but. Which is a good thing, of course. It reveals--or I think it does anyway--a non-ideological mind, which is probably a big reason why I'm still reading a blog I discovered through Google Alerts.

Tom Conoboy said...

Mark, I suspect that although we're coming from different viewpoints, we will probably end up thinking quite similarly. I have no answers, just lots and lots of questions. That's probably the best way to be.