you admit the mimetic function of art?
condition of sharply distinguishing mimesis from copy.
Here there is, indeed, a coniderable historical weight.
Kant himself says it a propos of genius when he
distinguishes between Nachahmung
(imitation) and Folge
(following), servile imitation and exemplary legacy...
It is not necessary, he says, to repeat the Ancients, but
to follow them. We
don’t have another word for following in French, unless
following (suivance) is opposed to
notion of copy has obstructed the reception of the Greek concept
When Aristotle says that the plot is a mimesis
of action, it is a creative mimesis.
Historical characters become protagonists of the plot,
they are elevated above their empirical role and become figures
constitutive of a plot; they are metaphorized, configured at the
same time as the story is told: there is configuration of
characters to the extent of the configuration of the story to
which they contribute. Could
one extend this trait to the totality of the arts?
There is certainly an art which is not mimetic, this is
music. Although, at
the limit, could not one say that to each piece of art there
corresponds a mood.?
The work of art in effect is referred to an emotion which
has disappeared as emotion, but which has been preserved as a
work. One could
then say that each piece of music creates a mood,
which is its own humour.
Affective tonalities, Stimmungen,
were as if dormant; they are now not only actualized,
but created, each piece of music engenders its chain of
tonalities, its movement of moods,
of humours. In
this sense, there would be a mimetic relation where the accent
would be put on the production of a humour which did not exist
in the experience of nature.
I am thinking at this moment of Oliver Messiaen, of his St
Francis of Assisi and of its recreation of the bird
songs. There we
have the perfect example of creative and recreative mimesis,
which has the effect that we
are rather inclined to hear the bird songs as
transfigured by their being put into music, by the passage
through a register of sounds which transfigures noise.
The song of birds is perhaps already in itself a kind of
intermediate range between noise and sounds, but it is precisely
snatched from the world of noise and elevated to the level of pure
sound. In Stimmung,
there is Stimme,
voice . . .
In English there is an expression, attunement.
In French we could say, placing in the same tone, coordinating
tuning. There is in
Messaien a kind of harmonizing
of the song of birds with musical creation.
One can also notice in the naming of certain pieces of
music an allusive and non-descriptive connection with beings, by
means of the very creation of meaning; one might speak of
transfiguration rather than refiguration of sense: La
Mer of Debussy, Concerto
a la memoire d’un ange of Alban Berg, Pelleas
et Melisande of Schoenberg; there is in each case an
allusion to cosmic nature, to an emotional situation, to a being.
This would be here the extreme form of the generalized
encounter the same problem with painters like Constable, Turner,
or Ruisdael, with the evocation of landscapes, storms, seas.
to speak of figuration.
it is a figuration of moods,
of humours -- but which are so labile, for lack of
being said and lacking the adequation of language.
It is music which takes charge of the sonorous
effecutation of the mood that
each piece possesses: a certain humour, and it is as such that
each installs in us the humour or the corresponding tonality.
Music opens up in us a region where
unspoken sentiments can be represented and our
being-affected can be expressed.
As I emphasized in Critique
and Conviction, music creates in us feelings which
have no name; it expands our emotional space, it opens up in us
a region where there can occur feelings that are absolutely
unspoken. When we
listen to such music,
we enter into a region of the soul which cannot be explored
otherwise than by the hearing of this
piece. Each work is authentically a modality of the
soul, a modulation of the soul
return to Messaien, who is a major composer, it is striking to
realize that the majority of his scores bear a title that is
transcendental, religious, mystical, even cosmic.
Now, when one has these pieces listened to by profane
types who are not necessarily believers, who might even be
agnostics, there is not necessarily the evocation wished for
by Messaien. In
other words, what is really the expressive, descriptive,
allusive power of music which seems to transpire by means of
the mediation of poetic language?
Is it not this evocative power of language that gives a
meaning afterwards to the music or even an expression? We know
that Stravinsky, for example, has maintained that music is
essentially powerless to express whatever it might be: a
feeling, an attitude, a psychological state, a phenomenon of
nature, etc. but is done for the sole purpose of instituting
an order in things, including and above all between the human
and time. Music
therefore would be neither a painting of human emotions nor a
phenomenological description of the world, but the
organization of temporal relations between the pitch of notes,
tonalities, rhythms, and melodic phrases.
It is precisely, added Stravinsky, this construction,
this attained order which produces an emotion in us of a
character quite special, which has nothing in common with our
current sensations and reactions due to impressions of daily
might better clarify the
sensation produced by music by identifying it with that which
is provoked in us by the game of architectural forms. Goethe
understood this well when he said that architecture is
petrified music. If one
accepts this thesis that music is a pure sonorous universe, a
construction ordained between the human and time, must we not
admit that this has nothing to do with meaning?
In any case the sense mentioned.
Let us take the case of Messiaen with respect to
mystical meaning. This
mysticism is, according to his writing, the path proper to
Messiaen, but the one who understands it follows him to a
certain point, although Messiaen never dreamed of converting
anyone. His music
introduces us into a sonorous region capable of a mysticism,
and that’s enough: this is the place to recall that
aesthetics is not in the order of predication.
Music is maintained at the threshold of the mystical;
and if one bridges this threshhold, everyone senses the
enormous distance that is hollowed out with respect to
worldliness, and even more so with respect to utilitarian
commercial values. Thus
there are thresholds, first of all the minimal threshold of
the break with the utilitarian.
A chair placed on a stage, from the moment one is not
sitting on it, is a work of art -- similarly a bottle placed
on a shelf. The
very fact of the untouchable, of the unutilisable, effects a
rupture in the utilitarian itself.
Here resides the minimal threshold; at the other
extreme, one would have the threshold of openness into other
regions like the sacred.
One can very well admit the idea of a broad spectrum
running from the utilitarian, at one end, up to other regions
like the religious, the sacred, or the mystical, at the other