Monday, July 8, 2013

Eine Kleine Nacht Musik - Transitioning through Transcendence

What occurs between Monteverdi and Gluck is thus the "failure of sublimation": the subject is no longer ready to accept the metaphoric substitution, to exchange "being for meaning," i.e., the flesh-and-blood presence of the beloved for the fact that he will be able to see her everywhere, in stars and the moon, etc. - rather than do this, he prefers to take his life, to lose it all, and it is at this point, to fill in the refusal of sublimation, of its metaphoric exchange, that mercy has to intervene to prevent a total catastrophy. This "failure of sublimation" is discernible also at another level. At the beginning of Monteverdi's Orfeo, the Goddess of Music introduces herself with the words "Io sono la musica..." - is this not something which soon afterwards, when "psychological" subjects invaded the stage, became unthinkable, or, rather, irrepresentable? One had to wait until the 1930s for such strange creatures to reappear on the stage. In Bertolt Brecht's "learning plays," an actor enters the stage and addresses the public: "I am a capitalist. I'll now approach a worker and try to deceive him with my talk of the equity of capitalism..." The charm of this procedure resides in the psychologically "impossible" combination, in one and the same actor, of two distinct roles, as if a person from the play's diegetic reality can also, from time to time, step outside himself and utter "objective" comments about his acts and attitudes. This second role is the descendant of Prologue, a unique figure which often appears in Shakespeare, but which later disappears with the advent of psychological-realist theatre: an actor who, at the beginning, between the scenes or at the end, addresses the public directly with explanatory comments, didactic or ironic points about the play, etc. Prologue thus effectively functions as the Freudian Vorstellungs-Repraesentanz: an element which, on stage, within its diegetic reality of representations, holds the place of the mechanism of representing as such, thereby introducing the moment of distance, interpretation, ironic comment - and, for that reason, it had to disappear with the victory of psychological realism. Things are here even more complex than in a naive version of Brecht: the uncanny effect of Prologue does not hinge on the fact that he "disturbs the stage illusion" but, on the contrary, on the fact that he does NOT disturb it. Notwithstanding his comments and their effect of "extraneation," we, the spectators, are still able to participate in the stage illusion. And, this is how one should also locate Jacques Lacan's c'est moi, la vérité, qui parle from his La Chose freudienne: as the same shocking emergence of a word where one would not expect it - it is the Thing itself which starts to speak.

And it is not only that, with Gluck, the object can no longer sing - this shift does not concern only content, but, even more radically, the musical texture itself. With Romanticism, music changes its role: it is no longer a mere accompaniment of the message delivered in speech, it contains/renders a message of its own, deeper than the one delivered in words. It was Rousseau who first clearly articulated this expressive potential of music as such, when he claimed that, instead of merely imitating the affective features of verbal speech, music should be given the right to speak for itself - in contrast to the deceiving verbal speech, in music, it is, to paraphrase Lacan, the truth itself which speaks. As Schopenhauer put it, music directly enacts/renders the noumenal Will, while speech remains limited to the level of phenomenal representations. Music is the substance which renders the true heart of the subject, which is what Hegel called the "Night of the World," the abyss of radical negativity: with the shift from the Enlightenment subject of rational logos to the Romantic subject of the "night of the world," i.e., with the shift of the metaphor for the kernel of the subject from Day to Night, music becomes the bearer of the true message beyond words. Here we encounter das Unheimliche: no longer the external transcendence, but, following Kant's transcendental turn, the excess of the Night in the very heart of the subject (the dimension of the Undead), what Tomlison called the "internal otherworldliness that marks the Kantian subject." What music renders is no longer the semantics of the soul, but the underlying noumenal flux of jouissance beyond the linguistic meaningfulness. This noumenal dimension is radically different from the pre-Kantian transcendent divine Truth: it is the inaccessible excess which forms the very core of the subject.
-Slavoj Zizek, "On Opera, The Sex of Orpheus"

No comments: