Musical Eternity? (three)


Eternity as presence in time? In musical time? In fluid thinking?

Strangely enough, I can think of an inhuman musical eternity in time. I don’t like BIG ORGAN PIECES TRIPLE FORTE because they deny the vulnerability or fragility or tender breathiness or passing-ness of music. They deny the fluid co-presence of joy and suffering in favor of a heroic blast, the unendingness of rock or diamond or absolute POWER.

To my ear, a limit case in music is the nearly non-music of certain BIG ORGAN PIECES that make the last pew in the cathedral tremble, that through a sustained and unbreathing assault of SOUND proclaim its unrelenting BRUTE POWER. Such booming of endlessly sustained chords deny the human necessities of music and song — of the flute player’s having to take a new breath, of the singer needing a comma in which to breath, of the string player having to change the direction of the bow. The Massive Organ Pipes give heroic blasts that seem to last forever. That’s an inhuman image of eternity as unchanging arctic ice without spring thaws, an endless arctic night (or day) without sunrise or sunset.

Such an eternity is no more a good thing than is a God who never needed to pause, to reconsider, to catch a breath or who despised changing things. But this is not the only available image of eternity. There can be eternal delight in a child playing by the sea (Nietzsche’s image). Or we might imagine God not as a timeless unchanging power (like an organ blast) but as a child-god who might be sad at passing things and joyful, too, chasing bubbles or enjoying sunset marveling at the slow passing into night, or pausing to comfort those in pain. There’s something serenely eternal in that childlike dance or play or song in time.

Say you want to listen for the idea, the song, in Kierkegaard that eternity can be a presence, in co-presence with time, not an endless heroic organ blast of unchangableness. That would be to set aside the idea of eternity that enters after the play of shifting tones and fluidity of time are finished. But what would that timelessness be like? An organ blast? A coda endlessly repeated without any connection to the piece to which it is a coda? To be a tolerable eternity, wouldn’t it have to be what we already have, a musical unendingness of breathing in and breathing out, of tones arriving, departing, and re-arriving, endlessly, of a dance step fleetingly performed in a giving up and getting back of contact with the oak floor?

Musical thinking in thought about Kierkegaard’s idea of the fluid interplay of joy and suffering in experience lets that co-presence of joy and suffering be an norm we can embrace rather than an ugly paradox or a conceptual impossibility or a psychologically defective ambivalence or the illusion of two spiritual states that are always really separate and sequential.


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