Music and the Numinous (Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, Volume 8)

Music and the Numinous (Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, Volume 8)

Richard Elfyn Jones

Language: English

Pages: 125

ISBN: B01K0QCRWC

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The continuum of music-what is it, what does it do, how does it do it-has taxed countless philosophers over recorded time, and even the verb for what it does (express? arouse? evoke? symbolize? embody?) meets with no universal agreement. Not always is music admired: in the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet likens the skilled musician to an ineffectual preacher. Richard Elfyn Jones brings new ideas to the conundrum by taking up certain philosophers not usually cited in connection with music, in particular Alfred North Whitehead and the classical Greek notion of process (as opposed to event), and thus of process theology. The book opens up an original approach to the transcendent and, to many, the sacred quality heard in music, drawing both upon authorities concerned with the numinous (that feeling of awe and attraction behind religious experience) and upon his own lifelong engagement with music as scholar, teacher and composer.

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the simulation of the self-contained aimlessness of the universe. Good art reveals what we are usually too selfish and too timid to recognize, the minute and absolutely random detail of the world, and reveals it together with a sense of unity and form.15 Dante’s words consolidate the essential mystery of the “pointless” affirmation in a tangible, earthly form of the higher Good. It is a metaphysical paradigm which was widely held in the Greek world. Following on from this we learn from Plotinus

feasible. For instance, doesn’t the integrity of many works of literature and music, especially in the Romantic period, eschew formal beauty, as is often suggested? Perhaps, or perhaps not. If chaos and shapelessness are absent, and in art that is almost always the case, then surely some formal coherence (beauty) is present. We are only too aware of the overriding importance of meaning and feeling in a Mahler symphony, and Aquinas’ trio of conditions may seem weak and limited in this, as in many

a reddish feeling is intensified and transmuted and interpreted by complex occasions of the brain into definite colours and other instances of qualitative “eternal object.” The original physical feeling of causal efficacy is submerged but not eliminated by an inrush of conceptual feelings. Furthermore, conceptual prehensions allow the objective scale of values given by the primordial nature of God to enter the decision, and it is then that we have a display of qualities presented to us. Whitehead

importance, yet since they form no part of a useful commercial function we may not be able to argue for their relevance. But, as Whitehead notes, nothing, within any limited type of experience, can give intelligence to shape our ideas of any entity at the base of all actual things, unless the general character of things requires that there be such an entity.12 (My italics). This means that the general character of things requires that there be a God. But God does not interfere, he is not a deus

writes: Music more than any other art is perceived mainly in the mode of causal efficacy. Abstract painting more than any other art is perceived mainly in the mode of presentational immediacy. Thus music appears in part elsewhere, whereas abstractions appear to be all here. In listening to music, we experience presentational immediacy because we hear the presently sounding tones. But there can be no “holding” and we are swept up in the flow of process. In seeing an abstract painting we experience

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