Grammatology of Music


Can we think music as a form of writing? If we follow grammatology as taught by Derrida, we will be able to think of music as writing. Music is a form of writing that uses signs which are sounds that suggest and trigger affects in us. Like language, this play of sounds and tones refer to something. It is musical aesthetics that orients us and we close the play of sounds to meanings and references on its basis. This means music can refer in the manner words refer. Reference in language shows how words correspond to things that they name. Music can also pic out on some kind of things: persons, events, places etc.

Here we can ask: what does music refer to? To answer this question, we have to ask what is music about? It can tell us that music is one of its kind that triggers human feelings and moods. It is this excitings that music stir in us that make music meaningful to us. In several ways, music transcends human experience at several levels. So far humans sciences seem to have not yet fully drawn their attention to the manner in which music performs this task.

Plato in his Republic teaches that music trains character. St. Augustine sees music as an opportunity to experience the ineffable though he does not always think that music in liturgical practices is beneficial. German Cartesian ¸Johann Mattheson thinks that music produces proper affects in the audience. Rousseau thinks that music is the uncorrupted voice of nature. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche think that music harkens the true self. Freud and his followers think that music is a social acceptance of an impulse that is otherwise socially unacceptable. Other psychoanalysts think that music is escapism that enables us to manage anxiety. This means music is doing something. It is producing meaning, moods, affects and feelings in us.

We read musical texts as we listen to it or even play or sing. Those that compose write music. Therefore, deconstruction is already operational in our relations to music. Deconstruction is a recognition of the process that is always already present in the text/music in this case. It identifies and exposes the operation of counter-logic to what we deem as the most natural and logical interpretation. It usually relies on manifesting the fault lines of binary either/or thinking and shows that the binary opposites are unstable and undecidable. Deconstruction opens the field closed by the binary opposites. This enables us to de-hierarchize the hierarchies constructed by the binary logic.

We have to arrive at Derrida’s notion of supplementary to understand the change that deconstruction brings about in music. Derrida presents supplementarity as a semiological strategy whereby concepts, or objects which have their sense through relations to other concepts or objects, are taken to be closed. Supplement means supplying of the lack as well as mere addition. It can also mean replacement or substitution. Thus for instance, the background music in a film is viewed as supplemental to the film. It often sets the mood of the scene that is taken forward by the dialogue of the screenplay. Here we can clearly see music as a supplement fills the lack. This means we privilege speech and think of it as having more completeness and closure in comparison to the empty ( wordless) state of music. This means speech/ dialogue is more complete and music is simply an addition or supplement. But a deeper reflection tells us that speech is the one that is incomplete and requires completion by way of music. Even in this case where we have put the shoe on the other foot, we seem to be still held captive by an aesthetic sense that thinks that music is inferior to speech as we seem to assume that music is a hyperspeech that completes speech.

We have to contest this tendency that thinks that music is incidental to speech as in several cases, it is falsely thought to merely fill a lack. We can see similar binary opposition in noise/ tone. It means we think that one of the terms has full closure/meaning in itself/ has being in itself, and consider that its correlates is merely supplemental. Thus, the supplementary term is effaced or emptied of all significance. Deconstruction contests this reduction of music to the mere status of a supplement and challenges us to abandon the binary logic of supplementarity.

How are we to get outside the traps of the logic of supplementarity? Maybe we have to get beyond the discourse that makes the verbal discourse the measuring rod of music. This means music is not merely a verbal language but is non-verbal writing that writes feelings, affects, enjoyment, and moods of joy or sorrow in us. We have to give up reading music like a speech. We have to overcome this phonocentric/ verbal ideocentric reduction of music. Music speaks a language that stays beyond words. It may be called the language of the heart. We have to think that music is not doing the function of reference but is doing the function of proference. It means that the music manifests itself and presses forward and not functions as a sign that stands for something other than itself. Music thus does not work like words that name what is. It points its finger forward to what can be. This means music opens possibilities of being rather than logocentric ontologies that are imprisoned in the present. Music thus, opens us to a future. It short music opens us and not closes us. Music, therefore, if you will, “profers,” “sets forward,” a destiny which, when most successful, is unalterable. Deconstruction leads music to take us into a future of promise and opens us the ways of letting the future come to us.

Can we think music as a form of writing? If we follow grammatology as taught by Derrida, we will be able to think of music as writing. Music is a form of writing that uses signs which are sounds that suggest and trigger affects in us. Like language, this play of sounds and tones refer to something. It is musical aesthetics that orients us and we close the play of sounds to meanings and references on its basis. This means music can refer in the manner words refer. Reference in language shows how words correspond to things that they name. Music can also pic out on some kind of things: persons, events, places etc.

Here we can ask: what does music refer to? To answer this question, we have to ask what is music about? It can tell us that music is one of its kind that triggers human feelings and moods. It is this excitings that music stir in us that make music meaningful to us. In several ways, music transcends human experience at several levels. So far humans sciences seem to have not yet fully drawn their attention to the manner in which music performs this task.

Plato in his Republic teaches that music trains character. St. Augustine sees music as an opportunity to experience the ineffable though he does not always think that music in liturgical practices is beneficial. German Cartesian ¸Johann Mattheson thinks that music produces proper affects in the audience. Rousseau thinks that music is the uncorrupted voice of nature. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche think that music harkens the true self. Freud and his followers think that music is a social acceptance of an impulse that is otherwise socially unacceptable. Other psychoanalysts think that music is escapism that enables us to manage anxiety. This means music is doing something. It is producing meaning, moods, affects and feelings in us.

We read musical texts as we listen to it or even play or sing. Those that compose write music. Therefore, deconstruction is already operational in our relations to music. Deconstruction is a recognition of the process that is always already present in the text/music in this case. It identifies and exposes the operation of counter-logic to what we deem as the most natural and logical interpretation. It usually relies on manifesting the fault lines of binary either/or thinking and shows that the binary opposites are unstable and undecidable. Deconstruction opens the field closed by the binary opposites. This enables us to de-hierarchize the hierarchies constructed by the binary logic.

We have to arrive at Derrida’s notion of supplementary to understand the change that deconstruction brings about in music. Derrida presents supplementarity as a semiological strategy whereby concepts, or objects which have their sense through relations to other concepts or objects, are taken to be closed. Supplement means supplying of the lack as well as mere addition. It can also mean replacement or substitution. Thus for instance, the background music in a film is viewed as supplemental to the film. It often sets the mood of the scene that is taken forward by the dialogue of the screenplay. Here we can clearly see music as a supplement fills the lack. This means we privilege speech and think of it as having more completeness and closure in comparison to the empty ( wordless) state of music. This means speech/ dialogue is more complete and music is simply an addition or supplement. But a deeper reflection tells us that speech is the one that is incomplete and requires completion by way of music. Even in this case where we have put the shoe on the other foot, we seem to be still held captive by an aesthetic sense that thinks that music is inferior to speech as we seem to assume that music is a hyperspeech that completes speech.

We have to contest this tendency that thinks that music is incidental to speech as in several cases, it is falsely thought to merely fill a lack. We can see similar binary opposition in noise/ tone. It means we think that one of the terms has full closure/meaning in itself/ has being in itself, and consider that its correlates is merely supplemental. Thus, the supplementary term is effaced or emptied of all significance. Deconstruction contests this reduction of music to the mere status of a supplement and challenges us to abandon the binary logic of supplementarity.

How are we to get outside the traps of the logic of supplementarity? Maybe we have to get beyond the discourse that makes the verbal discourse the measuring rod of music. This means music is not merely a verbal language but is non-verbal writing that writes feelings, affects, enjoyment, and moods of joy or sorrow in us. We have to give up reading music like a speech. We have to overcome this phonocentric/ verbal ideocentric reduction of music. Music speaks a language that stays beyond words. It may be called the language of the heart. We have to think that music is not doing the function of reference but is doing the function of proference. It means that the music manifests itself and presses forward and not functions as a sign that stands for something other than itself. Music thus does not work like words that name what is. It points its finger forward to what can be. This means music opens possibilities of being rather than logocentric ontologies that are imprisoned in the present. Music thus, opens us to a future. It short music opens us and not closes us. Music, therefore, if you will, “profers,” “sets forward,” a destiny which, when most successful, is unalterable. Deconstruction leads music to take us into a future of promise and opens us the ways of letting the future come to us.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao