Saturday, June 9, 2018

Schopenhauer on Music as a Copy of the Will

Arthur Schopenhauer views music as the highest form of art and of all beauty—he holds that music is the embodiment of the will, or “a copy of the will itself.” Here’s an excerpt from The World as Will and Representation (Volume 1, Section 52):
“As our world is nothing but the phenomenon or appearance of the Ideas in plurality through entrance into the principium individuationis (the form of knowledge possible to the individual as such), music, since it passes over the Ideas, is also quite independent of the phenomenal world, positively ignores it, and, to a certain extent, could still exist even if there were no world at all, which cannot be said of the other arts. Thus music is as immediate an objectification and copy of the whole will as the world itself is, indeed as the Ideas are, the multiplied phenomenon of which constitutes the world of individual things. Therefore music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. For this reason the effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.” 
Schopenhauer emphasizes that music represents the states of the will as universals and not as singular occurrences in particular human beings. “Therefore music does not express this or that particular and definite pleasure, this or that affliction, pain, sorrow, horror, gaiety, merriment, or peace of mind, but joy, pain, sorrow, horror, gaiety, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without any accessories, and so also without the motives for them.” This means that an individual listener does not have to invoke his own will to respond to a piece of music—and that a piece of music can serve the purpose of distracting a listener from the pains that are inflicting his own will. Thus Schopenhauer notes in The World as Will and Representation (Volume 1, Section 52):
“The inexpressible depth of all music, by virtue of which it floats past us as a paradise quite familiar and yet eternally remote, and is so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain. In the same way, the seriousness essential to it and wholly excluding the ludicrous from its direct and peculiar province is to be explained from the fact that its object is not the representation, in regard to which deception and ridiculousness alone are possible, but that this object is directly the will; and this is essentially the most serious of all things, as being that on which all depends.”  
Nietzsche, who is often seen as a successor to Schopenhauer, also recognizes the power of music. In Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer, Nietzsche says: “What trifles constitute happiness! The sound of a bagpipe. Without music life would be a mistake. The German imagines even God as a songster.”

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