As noted in Monday’s post, in The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche related “the spirit of music” to the frenzied Dionysian revel, immediate and intense and beyond the verbalizing/conceptualizing intellect… and said it it is  a necessary complement and counter-balance to the classical, restrained, objectifying “Apollonian” impulse.

On this view music, more than any other form of art, taps a deep and unconscious well of human instinct. While we’re enthralled by the music we’re reconciled to nature and our fellow humans, in a selfless dream state that sometimes may slip into pseudo-intoxication. Music is a drug, a trance, possibly a natural route to transcendence.

Study the faces in the crowd at a concert where the audience is really into it . (You can’t quite do that if you’re into it yourself, but there’s plenty of concert footage on YouTube you can study from the detached vantage of your computer.) Those faces reflect the wild abandon, the ecstasis,  that Nietzsche celebrates as “Dionysian.” For a time there is no self-conscious individuation, all are happily submerged in the music. Those of mystical inclination might even agree with Nietzsche’s claim that in this state, it feels as though the veil of illusion has lifted and reality is fully present, in the raw. It may not be “orgiastic” in the Dionysian sense, but I’ve heard interesting reports from Bonnaroo— and more interesting stories from Bonnaroo’s ancestors. (But only stories, I was just a kid in the “summer of love”).

Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, thinks music is a key that unlocks many mysteries, too, and an engine of human evolution.  It’s definitely not just “auditory cheesecake.” But he would agree: it’s ok not to load your personal experience of music down with too much heavy import and analysis. Just listen, and enjoy. Here he is in a brief but snappy Canadian interview:

And here he is in a long, less snappy talk at the Google-plex:


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2 Responses to “music”

  1. Bob Teesdale Says:

    Hey, thanks for the article! Lots of great insights from Daniel Levitin. I have experienced a lot of the things he is talking about first-hand, and can attest to the truth of what he says. Songwriter Billy Rose wrote, “When things go wrong, a man ain’t got a friend, without a song.” I always knew that one day those piano lessons would pay off. I think Jesus said something about the keyboard players inheriting the Earth or something like it.;-)

  2. osopher Says:

    Right. And I want to ask Steve Pinker: what have you got against cheesecake?!

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