Re: Narrative II...

Subject: Re: Narrative II...
From: Eliot Handelman (
Date: Mon Oct 10 2005 - 20:35:26 EDT

Music has distinct evolutairy advanatages. Music is a kind of social
extrusion of affective personality
around which people can bond. The music shows how everyone is feeling,
more or less. If the music is enraged everyone
is enraged. If the music mystical or soothing people go off into that
shared space. The dangerous factor
in animals is concealed intent. THis is why Shakespeare made the comment
about not trusting people who didn't like music: they
were unwilling to reveal their affective state in the way that music

doesn't really respond to the narrative iussue -- just a thought.

-- eliot

Richard Wentk wrote:

> At 20:17 05/10/2005, you wrote:
>> 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
>> involve
>> language, because our "storytelling" brains are mostly interested in
>> morality.
> Nice try, but possibly just a touch oversimplified. :)
> Firstly, these aren't morals in a metaphysical sense. What we're
> really talking about is a quick and dirty rule of thumb way to learn a
> lot about the world, and about relationships with other primates
> through indirect experience and learning.
> What our brains are really interested in is making models and maps of
> the world. Maps don't have to be absolutely accurate, they just have
> to be accurate enough to offer a survival advantage. Narrative logic
> is a way of creating and sharing these maps.
> Some of these maps and learnings may be wrong - in fact they often
> are, because as a mechanism this process doesn't actually work very
> well. But evolution has left humans with all kinds of non-optimal
> behaviours and characteristics, so this can't be taken as an argument
> against the idea.
> Secondly, if someone says 'Don't do X because Jupiter will strike you
> down with a lightning bolt' the 'because' part of the sentence is
> obviously not true. But it follows the rules of narrative logic by
> taking a possible situation and extrapolating to - in other words
> modelling - an outcome that comes with a value attached.
> This makes no sense until you realise that 'because making' happens
> for a good reason - which is to *make the message more memorable.*
> 'Don't do Y because I told you not to' is a lot less memorable than
> 'Don't do X because a wrathful deity with an electricity fetish will
> smite you into ashes.' The emotional impact of the second is far more
> pointed. So humans who live by narrative rules - which is most humans
> - will be much less likely to do X than Y. Even though objectively
> there is no lightning bolt and (unless someone is unusually unlucky)
> there never will be.
> So memorability is very much the point of narrative logic. Accuracy in
> any absolute or scientific sense is a side issue. For narrative
> morality to do its job, a story just needs to be good enough to alter
> behaviour in a way that's favourable to survival, and it needs to be
> told in a way that links into enough emotion to make it memorable.
> The final destination here is to wonder if because music has no
> explicit semantic content, what it's really made of is the bag of
> timbral, tonal and rhythmic tricks that aid memorability in speech
> commnication *if you remove the semantic content of what's being said*
> - in other words tricks like repetition, assonance, alliteration,
> onomatopeia, and self-similarity (rhyme).
> So music is narrative in the sense that it's a way of playing with
> these speech-like elements. But not in the sense that it has a
> concrete and unambiguous story to tell. Sound can flirt with concrete
> narrative by occasional association. It can be propped up socially by
> being taught with verbal narratives that approve of one musical
> technique and disaprove of another, technically and culturally. A
> further fuzzier stage is when musical techniques become mnemonics that
> encode various social relationships.
> But sound on its own can never *be* that kind of narrative, because it
> doesn't offer the full range of semantic features that speech and text
> do. What it seems to be based on instead is some of the sonic window
> dressing that accompanies speech to make it more memorable.
> Over time this has taken on a life of its own. Which is where we are
> today.
>> Ok. Now the evidence that storytelling is about moral premises is
>> based on how
>> writing is taught in fiction courses.
> Er, no. I've already mentioned Mithen, who last time I looked didn't
> teach fiction. There's also Steven Pinker, and - oh - quite a few others.
>> 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.
> Kafka seems hugely moralistic to me. Isn't virtually everything he
> wrote an attack on totalitarianism and bureaucracy? He's certainly not
> promoting and supporting them uncritically - a simple enough as a
> moral position, I'd have thought.
>> 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.
> Well, okay, but so is the rather vague idea that 'music is narrative',
> surely?
> I don't think it makes sense to use a word like 'narrative' without
> defining what it means. And if you're going to do that, going back to
> original usage it was borrowed from seems like a good place to start.
> Richard

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