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In this article, I will show that the first order Empfindung associated to music is the dissolution of individuality which from a posthumanist perspective brings about the realisation of the embeddedness of human beings in this world. Hence, music can bring about more than pain and pleasure in the recipients. In this context, I will also explain that the Empfindungen of a recipient of an artistic piece are the result of the interplay between the first order Empfindungen which are dependent upon the type of art one is confronted with and the second order Empfindungen which are the result of individual qualities of an artistic piece.
It has already been put forward by philosophers like Plotinus (Sorgner 2010a), Schopenhauer (Sorgner 2011) and Nietzsche (Sorgner 2006) that music is best in bringing about the dissolution of the individual. They are correct concerning this analysis and the phenomenological description of the issue in question, but not concerning their explanation. Firstly, I will describe in detail why Schopenhauer holds that music is the best type of art to bring about the dissolution of individuality in recipients. However, Schopenhauer refers to some realms outside of time and space to explain the Empfindung of ecstasy which I regard as implausible from a posthumanist perspective. The posthumanist movement is a strong contemporary movement and one whose premises I share. Secondly, I will explain some fundamental premises of posthumanism, whereby I will also state how Welsch describes the relationship between posthumanism and the arts and in what respect Nietzsche has already put forward a similar concept in his "Birth of Tragedy". Thirdly, I will explain how the dissolution of the individual can be described from a posthumanist perspective.
According to Schopenhauer, the conditio humana is such that we as individuals are in the process of striving permanently, and striving is connected with pain. Hence, human beings as striving individual are suffering. There are at least two further sources for suffering, namely ones level in the social hierarchy. If someone does not have a solid financial foundation, then the additional suffering is a result of this lack and of the need to strive in order to be able to survive. If someone has got a solid financial foundation, then he has to strive to take care that he remains in this situation. In addition, this person might be suffering out of boredom, because he has got everything he needs and there is no need to struggle for his survival. In any case, the human condition is wretched, and the lives of human beings have to be full of pain, suffering, and dissatisfaction.
What can be done in order to deal with this situation and to live a good life? Schopenhauer's suggestion is that one ought to live ascetically, because in this way one can achieve a long term liberation of the will, quieten ones individual will and reach salvation. If one is not able to or willing to act thus, one can at least quieten ones will for a short period of time by being in a state of aesthetic contemplation or free and will less knowing. (Deu, 1, 246, W1, § 41). This state can be reached by means of various types of art, which can bring about one of two aesthetic states, e.g. experiencing beauty or the sublime. However, not all types of art have the same potential for enabling the recipient of a work of art to reach the state of aesthetic contemplation. Schopenhauer presents a hierarchy of the arts based upon the criterion of the potential to realise the aesthetic state in the art recipients. According to him, music which was composed by a genius affects recipients strongly, fast, necessarily, and infallibly, and thereby it can bring about the quietening of the will for a short time. (Deu, 1, 302-303, W1, § 52) The process of the quietening of the will can also be referred to as a type of ecstasy, salvation, or dissolution of the ego or of ones individuality. These are several ways of talking about the same experience, and there are many more ways of trying to find words for the same type of experience. Music in general is supposed to be the best type of art for taking recipients into such a state - a state which I refer to as first order Empfindung. However, this is not the only Empfindung one can have by listening to music.
Depending on the individual piece of music -I try to avoid the concept musical work, as it has many connotations as terminus technicus (Goehr 1992)-, recipients can also experience second order Empfindungen which are based upon emotions, according to Schopenhauer. Consequently, he holds a theory of affects concerning music like many philosophers of music or musicologists before him in the history of musical aesthetics, e.g. Zarlino or Kircher (Sorgner/Fuerbeth 2003). In contrast to the other thinkers, Schopenhauer does not claim that a musical piece can bring about a specific emotion, but rather that it can bring about an abstract emotion which I would refer to as second order Empfindung. Actually, I think that Schopenhauer was a great observer concerning the possible effects music can have upon recipients, even though his explanations for the phenomena are implausible.
What are these abstract emotions which music is supposed to be able to bring about in the recipients? According to Schopenhauer, the central element of music is the melody, as it is supposed to already contain harmony and rhythm. In contrast to Schopenhauer, Plato held that rhythm, melody and harmony are three separate, but all equally fundamental elements of music. (Sier 2010) Besides, Plato's notion of harmony is a completely different from Schopenhauer's. Even if this was not the case, I wish to stress that Schopenhauer holds a very peculiar view concerning music by claiming that the melody is the central element of music. Yet, it is not a prejudice which I will discuss further in this context. The melody is supposed to start from the basic note to which it is also supposed to return at the end of a piece. In between, rhythm and harmony fell out with one another, and they only come back together at the end of a piece. Depending on the division or separation of harmony and rhythm, various types of abstract emotions can come about. If the piece is composed in a mayor key, it will transmit a joyful emotion, and if it written in a minor key, it is supposed to transmit a rather sad emotion, according to Schopenhauer.
Schopenhauer's remarks in the final context clearly seem to me to be implausible. It think that it is not necessary that one has to regard Mozart's famous g minor symphony (KV 183) as one which brings about sadness. A philosopher who tries to establish that there is a necessary connection between a phrase, a work of art or a key and the emotional state within the recipients seems to me a holding an implausible position. There might be tendencies concerning how a certain piece of art is received at a certain time, but no general and universally valid connection. We are all embedded within out own personal lives with our own intellectual and emotional background and hence have different way of approaching individual works of art. However, as there is a certain spirit of our time, a certain Zeitgeist, a philosopher can describe tendencies of how a work of art can be perceived by many people today. This is also what I am aiming for within this talk, when I describe the reception of musical pieces from a posthumanist standpoint.
What does have some plausibility in Schopenhauer's aesthetics is that he claims that abstract emotions can be experienced by recipients of instrumental music. Even though he does not specify that he is just referring to instrumental music, this can be inferred from what he holds concerning the role of language within his philosophy. In addition, it is not very probably that the same type of emotions are being experienced by all recipients, but given the vast amount of thinkers and scientists who claim that there is a specific connection between music and the emotions which gets further support from my own personal experiences, it seems to me as plausible to hold that music can bring about emotions. Because it is instrumental music without a literary background which we are talking about here, there does not seem to be a basis for specifying the emotions. This has been realised by Plato already. He employs this insight for rejecting music, which merely stirs up and plays around with ones emotions, as legitimate within his ideal state. However, he was more agreeable towards music with a specific content which corresponds to his ideal of the good and which can be specified by means of words, whereby the music is connected to words and the words are the dominant aspect. Prima la parola, dopo la musica. Plato takes a clear stand - so does Schopenhauer but he would turn the phrase around and add that it would be best, if there were no words connected to musical pieces. Only by means of words one can specify the individual emotions which can get stirred up through instrumental music. Consequently, in Schopenhauer's case the emotions have to remain abstract. They have to remain abstract for another reason, too, which is that music is most effective in bringing about the aesthetic state in the recipient whereby they can enter the will itself.
The state of aesthetic contemplation according to Schopenhauer has to get specified in much more detail. So far, we can see that music is the best type of art for helping the recipient to enter the aesthetic state, and that this state is also connected to the short time quietening of the will. The quietening of the will implies that the individual leaves the sensual world and enters the will in itself which lies outside of time and space.
However, how does Schopenhauer specify the state of aesthetic contemplation? What does he mean when he talks about the quietening of the will? I will put forward three interpretations of this state and argue for the final one.
According to Schopenhauer, the quietening of the will is related to the state in which the free will overcomes itself. (Deu, 1, 336, W1, § 54) Volker Gerhardt and Margritta Dobrileit Helmich put forward an interpretation which categorises Schopenhauer as a philosopher who is putting forward an aesthetics of autonomy. Günter Zöller und Barbara Neymeyr defend an ontological interpretation of the state of aesthetic contemplation. I will show that a metaphysical-ethical reading of the state is the most plausible one.
It is central for this interpretation that Schopenhauer claims that the quietening of the will brings about an overcoming of the world and together with that an overcoming of the complete nature of the world (Deu, 1, 275, W1, § 48). Gerhardt reads this type of quietening as a Kantian type of disinterestedness. According to Kant aesthetic contemplation of art implies disinterested pleasure and free play of the faculties. Gerhardt assumes that the notion of the will is always connected to an interest. (Gerhard 1976, column 492) And Schopenhauer's quietening of the will leads to disinterestedness which is his reason for writing that Schopenhauer's concept of the notion interest in the context of the arts has to be understood as Kant understood the term. A similar reading was proposed by Dorileit-Helmich who stresses: (My own translation) "that Kant's notion of disinterestedness can get compared to Schopenhauer's ex negativo description of the disinterestedness of willessness". (Dobrileit-Helmich 1983, 127)
I think that it is dubitable that disinterested pleasure and the free self overcoming of the will can get identified, as Kant refers to an intellectual emotion, a free play of the faculties, which in his case is independent of metaphysical and moral knowledge. Schopenhauer's position clearly has both metaphysical as well as ethical implications. It is implausible that Schopenhauer presents an aesthetics of autonomy, as the successful contemplation of art goes along with knowledge about the world in his case. Hence, it is clear that this interpretation has to be rejected. It cannot be the effect of a work of art understood from the perspective of an aesthetics of autonomy that it transfers knowledge or that it has an ethical effect (e.g. salvation), as both aspects contradict the concept of autonomy. Both aspects, however, can be found in Schopenhauer's philosophy of art. In addition, the contemplating something in Schopenhauer's writings is being described as pure, willless, painless, timeless subject of knowledge (Deu, 1, 210-211, W1, § 34). Pothast realised correctly that Kant's disinterested pleasure "is very different from the extinction of the personal will" in Schopenhauer's philosophy. (Pothast 1982, 95) Kant's disinterested pleasure does not imply that the contemplating person vanishes as individual, but merely that the sensual interest in the object is no longer given.
Zoeller clearly summarises the ontological interpretation of the state of contemplation: According to Schopenhauer the quietening of the will implies a "complete quietening of the individual as well as the cosmic will". (Zoeller 2008, 362) His interpretations gets support from a phrase by Schopenhauer quoted some lines earlier which says that the quietening of the will includes the overcoming of the will and the complete nature of the world (Deu, 1, 275, W1, § 48).
Even though Neymeyr initially seems to defend that it is just the individual will which can get overcome during the contemplation of a work of art, she finally stresses the need to go beyond this interpretation as the best art is supposed to reveal human nature which includes the process of self overcoming by means of the big quietening event. (Neymeyr 1996, 413)
Given the statements of these two distinguished Schopenhauer scholars, we can conclude that both took seriously Schopenhauer's remark that both the individual will as well as the nature of the world can get overcome in an ontological sense. According to Schopenhauer the nature of the world is the will itself which is outside of time and space but represents the driving force behind all decisions of individual wills, and thus brings it about that there is change in the world. If the nature of the world overcomes itself from the perspective of an objective observer, then it would follow that that the will itself would no longer bring it about that the individual wills act and realise change in the world. Hence the process of self-overcoming of the will itself would have to lead to a standstill in the apparent world. As this is not the case, Schopenhauer cannot have understood the total overcoming of the nature of the world in an ontological sense.
The possibility of misinterpreting him in this respect is given due to the unclear use the notion "will" in Schopenhauer's writings. He often employs the term without any further qualification. In addition his attempt to infer the will itself from the individual will is one of the most problematic steps within his philosophy which Nietzsche was right to criticise and he was also right to correct this aspect within his own philosophy. Given the deficiencies of the interpretations so far, I suggest the following reading of the concept.
In contrast to the previous interpretation I hold that the quietening of the will implies the dissolution of the individual will, but the will itself overcomes itself only from the perspective of the individual as pure subject but not from the perspective of an objective point of view. What does this mean? According to Schopenhauer each human being possesses an intelligible unchangeable character as a foundation of the individual will. During the state of aesthetic contemplation the contemplator overcomes the individual will from which follows that the contemplating subject slowly liberates itself from the individual content of his character and thus starts contemplating the world as a pure subject of knowing. This process implies that the pure subject of knowing gets closer to the object of knowing, e.g. the nature of the world. The individual will and the will itself are no longer two separate points within a monistic will ontology but the individual will, i.e. the intelligible character, steadily depersonalises itself, gets nearer the nature of the world and becomes one with the will itself. As the pure subject of knowing contemplates the Platonic forms or in the case of music becomes one with the will itself, Schopenhauer is able to talk about the overcoming of the complete nature of the world, because from the perspective of the pure subject of knowing the will itself overcomes itself. In this case the unity between the pure subject and the will itself is given. This is the state Schopenhauer refers to as the quietening of the will or of the overcoming of the individual will and the will itself.
According to this interpretation, the quietening of the will implies the dissolution of the individual will, whereby the will itself only gets overcome from the perspective of the individual pure subject.
After having shown that it is in particular music which can bring about the dissolution of individuality according to Schopenhauer, I will discuss how this state can be interpreted from a posthumanist perspective. Posthumanism is an important contemporary cultural movement. Before, I can do this, I will have to list some basic elements of posthumanism, and state reasons why I regard it as important.
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...Focus on the impact of Nietzsche's knowledge of music on his philosophy and the development of his thought.
...A battle has been waged around Nietzsche's philosophy since at least the time of his unfortunate collapse concerning the manner in which his ideas are framed and interpreted, organized and understood in relation to the conditions of modern thought, which he helped foster...
...Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy should be read as a phenomenological undertaking including his 'reduction' of traditional scholarly assumptions and theories regarding the history of the tragic work of art as well as the history and function of the tragic chorus as a musically poetic performance that can only be understood, so Nietzsche was at some pains to argue, in the full context - political and social and religious - of the life-world of Greek antiquity..
This new translation of Nietzsche’s magnum opus is by far the best available in the English language. It should find its way to the desk of all students who do not have access to the original German.
Every student of Nietzsche in the Anglophone world should read this book. It is a most able treatment of a much-ignored and much-misunderstood topic close to the very heart of the writings of this seminal thinker.
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