becoming, birth, composition, expression, mathematics, music, Nietzsche, resonance, rhythm, sensitivity, space, transformation

Rhythm, Expression, Transformation: Music and Nietzsche

(Image by Hectik, http://www.hectik.com/)

In music the passions enjoy themselves.
Friedrich Nietzsche

In early 1872, the same year The Birth of Tragedy was published, Nietzsche delivered a series of lectures entitled “An Investigation into Rhythm and Meter.” (The lecture which interests me, “Toward a Theory of Quantified Rhythm,” appears to still be untranslated!)

Music is at the heart of Nietzsche’s effort. In a very important sense, without a musical ear, his work cannot be understood. Music is his framework. Not only that he writes in arpeggios, but that his thought is arpeggiated; to make sense or value from his work, we must hear it performed; that is, we must realize through ourselves all the properly musical moments of discord and accord in his thought, all the contradictions and harmonies which resonate not only through his critique but also through his concepts.

The moment of accord between morality and genealogy (or discord between truth and science) must be felt; they cannot be simply understood. His account of the origin of morality, for example, only seems not to be completely rational for the reason that it is perfectly and even sublimely rational; it is in fact a mathematical argument! Just as the infinite overflows reason, Nietzsche’s style, his thoughts and ideas, must be heard and felt, not only read but performed. His voice must become as a pulsation or rhythm seizing us; or else it remains, merely a contradiction, merely a static critique.

So what does it mean to say that the movement of Nietzsche’s writing is essentially or spontaneously rhythmic? I mean that he strategically opposes meter at every turn, by a free and resonant new rhythm, which affords new modes of expression. By rhythm (as opposed here to meter) I mean a pulsation which decomposes structured space, even as it generates the possibilities for whole new kinds of organizations (meters). [On this point, free rhythm is almost liberation; it lacks only an active form, a metric space to liberate. All the universe needs is to be activated; all the potentials are there, tomorrow can be grasped today through a thousand signals.]

The question of discursive movement is about the sign-signal matrix we move through, the medium of distribution between co-present signals, in short: how to allow the proper signals through, how to achieve the perfect balance of speed and slowness. Prejudice thinks in metre, and even rhyme; but sense and value speak in rhythm, in sparks and bursts of intensity, in swirling vortexes of affectivity, taking the meter apart in order to open up new (human and non-human) expressivities.

Nietzsche tactically transforms metric spaces into rhythmic spaces. Critics often tends to linger a little too long at precisely this point: whether (in whatever particular case) we are dealing with a metric space (where pulses are regularized, achieving identity through sub-division, i.e., by external modulation) or a rhythmic space (where differences are distributed through spontaneous self-organization)? But this dichotomy is confused: all spaces are metric, are spaces are rhythmic. There is only interplay between: rhythms create new meters, meters provoke new rhythmic expressivities.

The coalescence of all forms of being into a single pulse, a single urge: this is an idea of the creative, form-generating power of pure energy — the captivating power of vibration. Resonance is a signal caught in a feedforward loop, engaged in various transductions through differently-structured spaces; power is realizing this energy (these spaces) can be organized in a new way so as to allow the feedforward loops to fold back in upon themselves. Then the resonant signal can become amplified, and new feedforward mechanisms are need to contain the flow of intensities.

An inter-related system of transducers of this kind is a composition, or an aggregate; it forms the common basis of music and mathematics, a sort of blank template. The actual composition is always a modulation of the virtual one; the virtual being the mold; the thing has virtue because it has been molded. The shaping or modulation of subjectivity is already a question of a much different order, but we recognize that the spaces are homologous: we are confronted with a mixture of metric and rhythmic spaces of potential expression and transformation.

Nietzsche’s text is engaged in a long and difficult creative process of becoming music. It would be the end of philosophy as we know it; and we know he struggled to bring the day closer, to capture the future and bring us towards it. To overcome music is to become music, it is precisely not to be overcome by it, enraptured in its pleasurable aspects; it is to so throughly deconstruct the experience that not one shred of prejudice remains, so that the profoundest resonances and deepest sensitivities of which we are capable are exposed to light, re-activated.

The interesting twist is that we have already done this before — we have all experienced profound deaths and rebirths. We have experienced it, if nowhere else, in love. We can yet reawaken to life and light, to sound and color; daybreak is never far off. Yes, it is easier to forget, and over time it becomes harder to reactivate lost sensitivity, lost expressivity. But despair is ugly, and weakening; the eternal return is not to console us, it is to terrify us. That nothing is lost or ever can be is not necessarily a spiritually comforting idea. This is why hope and pity are really weaknesses; they are not full or powerful expressions, they still react. They are not enough, and they deceive us into thinking they are enough. Illusions begone, let’s transform the world. Let our thought find new rhythms; life is waiting, a brief time of postponement between new and old songs. In this tiny intermission, let us not take pause, but unflinchingly experiment upon the future, and strategically compose our becomings without hesitation. Let us allow space and time for our ideas and words and bodies to become intense, to become molecular… to become music.

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6 thoughts on “Rhythm, Expression, Transformation: Music and Nietzsche

  1. Justin McDaniel says:

    Good post man, you raise some interesting points. I’m not trying to be a dick and only hoping to state the facts as I see them, please don’t think I’m just being unconstructively critical. However, it seems to be the case that you selectively utilized some of Nietzsche’s ideas and then used them to argue concepts that take Nietzsche a step further, and in this sense I maintain that they misrepresent and possibly limit his thought. The French school had this problem and I think we should be careful, as 21st century Nietzsche students, to avoid this pitfall ourselves.

    That said,
    You write: “we must realize through ourselves all the properly musical moments of discord and accord in his thought, all the contradictions and harmonies which resonate not only through his critique but also through his concepts. ”
    I agree absolutely that Nietzsche should be thought of with regards to the contradictions found throughout his various works, though our awareness of those contradictions do not necessarily mean that Nietzsche was intentionally employing discordant states in order to flesh out a more complete philosophic system; a system that recognized the seemingly contradictory nature of reality. Maybe this was the case, the intentionality would be hard to prove, and I think it is better to air on the side of caution and view his work as imperfect.
    To say that these contradictions are “musical” in nature muddies the nature of the contradictions themselves and also demands a discussion of the nature of music itself. To use music as a qualifier presupposes a our perception of music as being a ‘real’ form of reality and then it further it presupposes a) we have a sense mechanism that accurately recognizes non-sensual existences (i.e. the mathematical, rhythmical qualities of music) and also b) that rhythm itself can be discordant and contradictory. Neither of these claims have gravitas, the latter is particularly contradictory in itself. So in this sense your using contradictions to elucidate contradictions… the flaw here is seems clear😉

    You also consider Nietzsche’s genealogical method to be mathematical. In terms of statistics, of creating mathematical models to further understand empirical data, this seems true. However, it would not be accurate to claim that Nietzsche interpretation of the evolution of morals as being reliant, that is, determined by mathematical theorems. That would imply external structures that dictate the process and growth of reality. On the surface this seems fine, however I take Nietzsche to be speaking more towards a self-creating notion of reality. For a quick example, the affect of the laws of gravity is not something external to me that regulate my being seated at the moment as opposed to floating in space, I am myself the property of gravity in so far as it is present in my being, it is not present to my being. This follows with Nietzsche’s understanding that there are no absolute opposites in the universe, only varying degrees of difference that form as the result of divergent unilateral growth and energy output.

    You wrote “So what does it mean to say that the movement of Nietzsche’s writing is essentially or spontaneously rhythmic? I mean that he strategically opposes meter at every turn, by a free and resonant new rhythm, which affords new modes of expression. By rhythm (as opposed here to meter) I mean a pulsation which decomposes structured space, even as it generates the possibilities for whole new kinds of organizations (meters). [On this point, free rhythm is almost liberation; it lacks only an active form, a metric space to liberate. All the universe needs is to be activated; all the potentials are there, tomorrow can be grasped today through a thousand signals.”
    Now here I see an obvious case of interweaving Nietzsche into your won arguments. Your understanding of Nietzsche’s oft said favoring of the creative forces within us, and that can flow through us, is solid. Though I’m not sure quite what “By rhythm (as opposed here to meter) I mean a pulsation which decomposes structured space” is getting at. Are you actually saying that rhythm posses some transcendental quality to “decompose’ material reality? I can see it in this sense: the drums of war present in the history of warfare can drive an army into a state of active agent participation with the world; it forces soldiers into a thoughtless march into the abyss of death, something that ordinarily we would not be marching towards. It is in this case that rhythms can in some sense posses a transcendental quality, but only that of the agent participating in his environment; it is transcendent in that it alleviates the deterministic instincts, such as that for preservation.
    The rhythm itself might actually be the motivation for the act and then the act is not truly free( the act is a reflexive action caused by the drum, the drum is not a representation of the act, so to speak). If that’s the case then perhaps rhythm does have a transcendental nature, but it is a grey area to go into and I am only making it less clear… I don’t think we need to go there in Nietzsche without strong textual reference.
    You seem to be saying that rhythm ‘frees’ itself from meter, however meter is only a representation, a modeling, of rhythm that we form by observing the rhythmic patterns in music. It would seem to be a slippery slope to say that anything can “liberate” itself from the very structure towards which it is being directed. Basically this can be summed up as: “‘Being’ cannot escape ‘Becoming'”.

    more to come

  2. Justin McDaniel says:

    I thought this was interesting and brought up an image of the big bang, which I guess we could label as the initial creative act. We have to keep in mind though that we are only products of that initial energy release, able to modify up somewhat, possibly (and it is through this that it is possible to interpret Nietzsche as allowing some degree of ‘free will’).
    It is also an interesting use of he term “captivated” you make; as it implies that the “vibrations”, the expression of energy following the initial creative act of the big bang, capture us in their very being, as though we are hypnotized. Similarly I can see this as I mentioned above in the case of the drums of war leading into death, the creative energies exerting themselves are very able to “take us captive” as they express themselves in the interplay that we conceptualize as phenomenal reality. The question would be to what extent are we aware of these patterns of energy expression and to what degree can we escape a biased intertations of these forces as objective reality. As far as I understand Nietzsche, the objective knowledge that one energy force can have of the competing forces is not only biased, it is only vaguely accessible, if at all.

    “An inter-related system of transducers of this kind is a composition, or an aggregate; it forms the common basis of music and mathematics, a sort of blank template. The actual composition is always a modulation of the virtual one; the virtual being the mold; the thing has virtue because it has been molded. The shaping or modulation of subjectivity is already a question of a much different order, but we recognize that the spaces are homologous: we are confronted with a mixture of metric and rhythmic spaces of potential expression and transformation. ”

    I would have to ask whether or not these various ‘spaces’ (I believe your using the term synonymously with the potentiality inherent in energy expressions?) can be actively manipulated buy the energy-expressing agent (and I’m thinking of this in relation more to theories of anti-matter as opposed to actual non-matter, i.e. blank space. How much potentiality exists for the agent shape the space into which it is heading (in other words: is it creating space to exert and expand into is the space simply there already?)

    And I think this goes back to the difference between rhythm and meter, does rhythm create meter, or is meter the precondition for the formation of beats and thus rhythm?
    As I understand Nietzsche, before we can make generalizations such as “Nietzsche’s text is engaged in a long and difficult creative process of becoming music” or “But despair is ugly, and weakening; the eternal return is not to console us, it is to terrify us” we need to bring to light far more text in order to grasp the eternal recurance (consider Hatab’s view of the ‘literal’ eternal recurrance). And to say Nietzsche was trying to be a musician begs for text where he essentialy declares the same.

  3. Justin McDaniel says:

    Opps, the first part of my post above refers to when you said “The coalescence of all forms of being into a single pulse, a single urge: this is an idea of the creative, form-generating power of pure energy — the captivating power of vibration.”

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