Monday, May 11, 2009

Sublimity vs. Delight

One of the characters in the previously mentioned A Mixture of Frailties is the self-proclaimed chameleon of belief, Sir Benedict Domdaniel. The knighted conductor, originally of Jewish descent, apparently adopts whatever passion is required by his art, but his earliest soliloquies in the book suggest that he in fact an unabashed Nietzschean, who scorns the union daughter’s distrust of wealth and sees all the world divided between Eros and Thanatos (those who are for life and those who are against it). And so he provides me with a more succinct summary of Nietzsche’s take on music than I have yet to find in the latter’s writings:
That’s what music used to be for, you know—to capture the beauty and delight that people found in life. But then the Romantics came along and turned it all upside down; they made music a way of churning up emotions in people that they hadn’t felt before. Music ceased to be a distilment of life and became, for a lot of people, a substitute for life—a substitute for a sea-voyage, or the ecstasies of sainthood, or being raped by a cannibal king, or even for an hour with a psychoanalyst or a good movement of the bowels. And a whole class of people arose who thought themselves music-lovers, but who were really sensation-lovers.

The difficulty of discerning between distilling the beauty of life (Nietzsche speaks of idealization, but it seems to be the same idea as Domdaniel’s distillation) and creating effect or sensation is apparent in Davies’ work itself. He probably thinks he is telling quite the Nietzschean tale, but as I suggest below, it seems often like a romance.

What this all means for how I listen to music, I’m not sure yet, but I mean to find out. I have Nietzsche and Wagner’s entire correspondence sitting on my desk and A Tribe Called Quest and The Cocteau Twins on my iPod. I want to find what these things have to do with one another.

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