Narrativity in music (was: Re: Quick guide to postmodernism (was: Re: Gibson)

Subject: Narrativity in music (was: Re: Quick guide to postmodernism (was: Re: Gibson)
From: Eliot Handelman (
Date: Wed Oct 05 2005 - 15:17:07 EDT

To summarize thus far:

I think that music is narrative while R. doesn't. (Of course I'm willing
to bend my views towards
the truth of the matter.)

The gist of R's argument is, I think, rather complex. Narration MUST
language, because our "storytelling" brains are mostly interested in
morality. Without
being able to put it into words, we wouldn't be able to impute a moral
purpose to
a story. Most people can't put music into words, so we can't extract a moral
premise from music. Music therefore couldn't be narrative.

Ok. Now the evidence that storytelling is about moral premises is based
on how
writing is taught in fiction courses.

I'm pretty skeptical of this kind of evidence, because I'm not certain that
this isn't anglo-american salesmanship about "the secrets of successful
but neverthless.

I'm also highly uncertain that Kafka (eg, The Castle) about "an
underlying moral premise,"
in the sense that it's about what's right or wrong, but maybe at some
very base level it is: I'll listen to the arguments. It's not how I
would talk about Kafka,
who, for years, I regarded as my immediate master.

I did a wee bit of research on this topic last night, and came up with a
by U chicago philosopher Martha Nussbaum "Poetic Justice," which I
could only read about in a review that makes the following point:

In Plato's Republic, as we all know, Socrates kicks out all of the poets
because they
might have a bad influence on the kids. The poets tell stories about the
gods in which they
always behave badly. For example, Zeus is always cheating on his wife Hera.

But then at the end of the Republic, Socrates lets the poets back into
the Republic
on condition that they make philosophical arguments -- in other words,
poets are OK
if they teach us basic values of good. Martha Nussbaum believes (as far
as I can tell
without having read her) that literature can. in fact, be understood as
fulfilling this purpose.

Ok. Now if this a universally admitted fact of literature, then why must
Martha Nussbaum,
"a leading contemporary philosopher," write books to defend this idea?
The answer is that
this idea must still be polemical, not universally admitted.

So however writing is TAUGHT is one thing -- it may be taught as badly
as music is. What
the brain actually demands of narration is another thing.

Of course my next step would be to read Nussbaum, who looks very

I was going to comment on R's other things, but I'll leave that for later.

-- eliot

Richard Wentk wrote:

> At 23:21 04/10/2005, you wrote:
>> Ok, well that's Jaynes' other criteria: consciousness is an
>> analogical simulation of actual behavior. The
>> behavioral analogy of c-d is "I went from here to there." (The
>> Jayne's stuff I'm quoting from is
>> "consciousness and the voices of the mind," 1986, available online.)
> Okay, but I'd see that as analogy, not narrative. Analogy can be a
> *part* of narrative, but isn't sufficient in itself.
>> I would like to know whether amusics -- people who can't understand
>> music -- fail to make those
>> connections. and I once asked Isabelle Peretz whether she'd examined
>> this but she hadn't. It wouldn't
>> surprise me if the connectivity narratization were lacking.
> I'd wonder how to tell the difference between analogy and narrative in
> this case.
> For example - if I play a C today and a D tomorrow, the analogy will
> still be there. But I'd guess the direct experience won't be. So
> what's changed? Apparently it's not just a conceptual simulation, but
> a somatic one. And if it's somatic one, it's no longer just about
> story telling and semantics, but something else.
>> There could be some different explanations. One is that the moral
>> premise is simply wrong, as is proved
>> by the existence of music.
> Um - no. That looks like a circular argument to me. You're assuming
> musical narrative exists and then arguing backwards, rather than by
> defining its properties first.
>> And I think it may be wrong. The moral premise idea seems like the
>> evolutionary psychology idea that our minds evolved as they did to
>> confer upon us certain
>> social advantages. For instance, we know how to reason because it's
>> advantageous to be able to detect
>> cheaters. The moral premise theory is giving a certain social purpose
>> to storytelling -- it's reining us in
>> and teaching us right from wrong.
> Only in a functional, not a metaphysical sense.
> And I don't think any evolutionary psychologist would see the ability
> to reason as having roots that are that simple. My take on it is that
> reason is an abstraction of narrative. Narrative logic, which tends to
> be emotive, eventually leads to questions about the internal
> consistency of propositions and their accuracy wrt consensus experience.
> So logic is a kind of distillation of narrative with an added element
> of reality checking. (Which, incidentally, is why many people will
> swallow a good story whole, even when it's nonsense. If narrative
> comes naturally - and I think it does - it has an emotive authority
> all of its own. But critical thinking and rational modelling are
> learned skills, and only innate to a limited extent. Which is why it's
> so easy to fool so many of the people so much of the time - they
> mistake the authoritative pull of narrative logic for rational
> modelling and prediction.)
>> And as evolutionary psychology has no explanation for music, I find
>> the whole theory
>> implausible! Music is our main defense against these too-simple
>> theories of the mind.
> I recommend:
>> I've recently become interested in children's games as something
>> related to the biolofgical origins
>> of music. A simple example of such a game is "rhyming" -- so you see
>> this can go pretty far. The narratization of
>> a rhyme is nothing more than the expectency that the pattern will be
>> pursued -- the rhyme in itself
>> gives us pleasure as children or adults in some way that seems to me
>> related to the problem of
>> object constancy. Psychoanalytically this is easy to explain as being
>> an analogy from the disappearance and
>> reappearance of mom, so it could value-driven in that way, and bring
>> in the universe of morality. Of course
>> that's a rather coarse theoretical narratization. Even so I don't see
>> how to make the evolutionary psych leap
>> (if paid, maybe I could come up with something.)
> Don't many rhymes have a moral element? It may not be explicit in a
> 'Thou shalt not...' sense, but rhymes tend to have an emotional point
> to them, even if it's just vestigial and they sound like nonsense now.
> E.g. Ring o roses is supposedly about disease. It's true it doesn't
> say anything profound or useful about disease. But I think it *tries*
> to, which is more to the point.
> Meanwhile elements like rhyme, assonance and alliteration are one of
> the few places where the timbre of speech really matters. :-) But it's
> still speech operating on two information channels - medium, and
> semantic content. Rhyming is about playing tricks with the medium, in
> the same way that graphic design plays tricks with typography. Both
> can make a message more memorable, but I think their ability to alter
> semantic content is very limited.
> The point again here is that there's a difference between semantic
> narrative and what seems to be a purely somatic response to repetition
> and relaxation. They're possibly related, but I think it's a stretch
> to suggest they're identical.
>> So let me put the question to you: what's the moral premise
>> underlying our enjoyment of rhymes? Or of
>> my favorite nursery rhyme -- "ring a round a rosy?" Does the
>> narratization go anywhere? (I think
>> I could take both sides on this.) It seems to me that it's the
>> process of getting to the end that's critical.
> There's also the ritualistic element of doing something together in a
> group. Which seems to be an important element in narrative - it's
> participatory, even when it appears didactic.
> Richard

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