Remembering that Susanne Langer called the symbolic information conveyed by art “import” in the effort to differentiate it from linguistic “meaning,” I read with great curiosity a chapter in Origins of Music, which I am close to finishing. In his chapter, “The Question of Innate Competencies in Musical Communication,” Michel Imberty uses language and conceptualizations strikingly similar to Langer’s in Feeling and Form, though he appears not to be familiar with her work. Consider his statements that he defines the macrostructure of music as a “schema of time,” or that music and dance “are ways of feeling—of being with—before being emotions” or identifying the artistic impulse as “something that weaves itself and makes meaning in time.”
Now compare these to Langer’s conceptualizations that I have written about here over the past several weeks in my Re-Reading 4.0 series.
-the primary illusion of music is the sonorous image of passage
-musical duration is the image of what may be termed “lived” or “experienced” time
-the semblance of this vital experiential time is the primary illusion of music
-the most important and novel revelation of music—the fact that time is not a pure succession, but has more than one dimension [my favorite]
-the commanding form is not essentially restrictive, but fecund
-the great moment of creation is the recognition of the matrix [commanding form].
I could go on and on with these but better for you to read Feeling and Form, especially chapter 7.
Imberty based some of his analysis on work by Michael Stern, a well known researcher of infant/child development, especially two concepts. One is the “vitality affect” which are feelings before they coalesce around recognizable and conventional emotions, feelings more concerned with dynamic properties such as tension, resolution, building, diminishing, etc. These are the very feelings upon which Langer built her philosophy of art. That Stern discerned these in infants is important—more later. The other one is the “proto-narrative envelope” that “constructs the narrative of time, clarifies the reality of human becoming.” It is the matrix that “makes something weave itself and assume meaning in time.” And this too is important for Stern to have discerned in infant development.
So we have here a view of musical composition that begins with an intuitive gestalt (commanding form or protonarrative envelope) formed or abstracted from one life’s experiential passage and then completed with elements (vitality affects or symbolically rendered elements of sound representing those affects) also therefrom. Listening and appreciation of this artistry would involve recovering some of the form and elements, though not through some inverse process because lives are disparate and complex. Both the composition and recovery is the beauty of symbolic processing whereby minds share information about their experiences.
And the importance of infant development here? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode, “Theta moments, the completion of compositions, and cortical fasciculi” coming soon to this blog. You can’t get there if you don’t travel on.