Lately, I’ve felt disarmed by an overwhelming, but apparently inadequate, sense for the deficiencies of language, logic, and thus human thought. In short, all of these are synthetic, and therefore they are flawed. So, I ask:
What exists which cannot be put to words, symbols, or ideas, but affects the human experience?1
Science is an example of a framework grounded in language (i.e., logic) which is (almost by design) insufficient for describing all of existence. In contrast, I believe music is an example of a framework grounded in something other than language which cannot be put to words, and nonetheless affects the human experience. Maybe by exploring precisely how music “cannot” be put to words, we might learn a bit more about the unknown from whence it came.
what i hear
It goes without saying, people put music to words whenever we talk about it. In my experience, we have the opportunity to talk about music during any one of the phases of its creation. To delineate these phases, I find it helpful and appropriate to think about a piece of music as a life form, wrought in the womb of the artist. Thus, we define six phases2 here:
- Postnatal Life
In each of these phases, we talk about music, but words fail us, but the words fail us in different ways, and those different ways in which words fail us tell us something (maybe) about what music is doing, or something.
To be continued …
Even this question must be deceivingly insufficient, and is in some way recursively self-contradicting. In using language to ask the question, we are working within the system for which we are critiquing. So, we could simply be “asking the wrong question,” or doing the wrong thing by asking a question at all, which then brings us further away from the thing we are trying to do, and so on. Indeed, we are assigning linguistic attributes to our hypothetical non-linguistic thing, i.e., it “exists”, it “affects” human experience, it is an “it” which can have a question asked about it, etc. In a way, we are as a 7 year old boy who has built a “fort” from pillows, sheets, and furniture, tested it on our classmate who lives down the street, and then upon its passing the test, we expect our fort to work in a real-world wartime scenario. In short, we have absolutely no idea how far off we could be. ↩︎
I can only hope it comes as no surprise that Phase 5 is a bit difficult to pin down. Indeed, I’m trying to reduce “the-time-between-birth-and-death” to one word. At first glance, “Life” seems appropriate, but there is a very familiar and compelling argument for this word’s encompassing time prior to birth, rendering it imprecise. “Development” is close, but it could surely encompass all of these phases. “Self” and “Independence” seem fitting words for this phase, but the Self (at least, the Jungian variety) is only abstract, and notably amorphous. On the other hand, “Independence” neglects the fact that one could be in this phase, but wholly dependent on another (e.g., someone in a coma). Put simply, “Postnatal Life” is the best I can do at the moment. ↩︎