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Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language

Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language

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    Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language
    Book Description:

    In the romantic tradition, music is consistently associated with madness, either as cause or cure. Writers as diverse as Kleist, Hoffmann, and Nietzsche articulated this theme, which in fact reaches back to classical antiquity and continues to resonate in the modern imagination. What John Hamilton investigates in this study is the way literary, philosophical, and psychological treatments of music and madness challenge the limits of representation and thereby create a crisis of language. Special focus is given to the decidedly autobiographical impulse of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, where musical experience and mental disturbance disrupt the expression of referential thought, illuminating the irreducible aspects of the self before language can work them back into a discursive system.

    The study begins in the 1750s with Diderot's Neveu de Rameau, and situates that text in relation to Rousseau's reflections on the voice and the burgeoning discipline of musical aesthetics. Upon tracing the linkage of music and madness that courses through the work of Herder, Hegel, Wackenroder, and Kleist, Hamilton turns his attention to E. T. A. Hoffmann, whose writings of the first decades of the nineteenth century accumulate and qualify the preceding tradition. Throughout, Hamilton considers the particular representations that link music and madness, investigating the underlying motives, preconceptions, and ideological premises that facilitate the association of these two experiences. The gap between sensation and its verbal representation proved especially problematic for romantic writers concerned with the ineffability of selfhood. The author who chose to represent himself necessarily faced problems of language, which invariably compromised the uniqueness that the author wished to express. Music and madness, therefore, unworked the generalizing functions of language and marked a critical limit to linguistic capabilities. While the various conflicts among music, madness, and language questioned the viability of signification, they also raised the possibility of producing meaning beyond significance.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51254-1
    Subjects: Music, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. A Note on Translations and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Hors d’œuvre I
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    In 1989 the Stadtmuseum of Nürtingen published a handsome catalog to mark the opening of a new standing exhibit honoring one of the city’s most famous sons, Friedrich Hölderlin. The volume features twelve letters selected from the museum’s archive, written between 1828 and 1832 by Hölderlin’s warden, the master carpenter Ernst Zimmer. Reproduced on color plates, Zimmer’s reports promised a privileged glimpse of the poet who since 1807, upon being judged insane by family, friends, and local authorities, was consigned to the tower room above the carpenter’s house in Tübingen. The correspondence, however, graciously transcribed by the editors, Thomas Scheuffelen...

    (pp. 1-19)

    Music’s proximity to madness is a theme dear to German romanticism. Hoffmann’s Kreisler—the eccentric if not altogether deranged composer—is but one of many examples that populate not only this writer’s fiction but also the literature around 1800. Alongside Hoffmann’s retinue of characters who actively wield or passively submit to the irresistible force of music stand analogous figures in the works of the period’s most prolific authors. Kreisler, the “mad musician par excellence” (HW 2.1.370), together with Ritter Gluck and Donna Anna, Theodor of “Die Fermate” and the baroness of “Das Majorat,” Rat Krespel and his daughter, Antonie, are...

  6. 1 Hearing Voices
    (pp. 20-48)

    Diderot wrote no autobiography. Unlike Rousseau, he left no confessions, no reveries. There was never any promise to offer the world a complete “work [ouvrage] unique and unparalleled in its truthfulness [“par une veracité sans exemple”], so that for once at least the world might behold a man as he was within” (Confessions, ROC 1.516/478). To attempt a straightforward account of one’s life, to present one’s self in a form proffered as all-inclusive, presumes a faith in writing that Diderot ostensibly lacked. Rousseau, too, discovered the problems associated with writing, yet madly tried to remedy them by writing more, which...

  7. 2 Unequal Song
    (pp. 49-76)

    For moral philosophers of the eighteenth century, self-identity is tightly bound up with the issue of self-representation. There is concern for the capacity to give one’s subjective position a form that may be communicated to others and therefore to oneself. The rational use of language, understood as intentional and referential, works precisely to this end. Thus the first-person narrator of Diderot’s Neveu de Rameau is all too eager at the head of the dialogue to present himself as someone in control of his verbal utterances. The need to be in command of his statements, including his self-representations, is aimed toward...

  8. 3 Resounding Sense
    (pp. 77-100)

    Something happened. Whether or not one allows for discontinuities in the history of ideas, one could agree that something took place, something that would have to wait for posterity before its significance could begin to be sorted out, discussed, and assessed, and then only after it had been granted a form. The marvelous publication story of Diderot’s Neveu is pertinent: the author’s stubborn suppression, Goethe’s translation from a subsequently lost manuscript, the retrotranslation of the German for the first French edition in 1821, and so forth, until finally in 1890, more than a century after the author’s death, the discovery...

  9. 4 The Most Violent of the Arts
    (pp. 101-133)

    By the late eighteenth century, the idea that music could have violent effects on the listener had become a commonplace. As a language of the passions, music was said to enjoy immediate access to the volatile life of the emotions and was therefore considered inordinately powerful, dangerously sensuous, and morally problematic. The pleasure that musical experience unquestionably afforded could readily—unforeseeably—turn into the greatest displeasure. Joy could at any point yield to pain. Whatever enabled music to lighten the spirits, wipe away despair, or embolden the faint-hearted also made it capable of befuddling the clear thinker, driving the resolute...

  10. 5 With Arts Unknown Before: KLEIST AND THE POWER OF MUSIC
    (pp. 134-158)

    Heinrich von Kleist’s haunting tale of music and madness Die heilige Cäcilie oder die Gewalt der Musik (St. Cecilia or the Power of Music, 1810–11) deftly rehearses the major motifs of the sublime. Four brothers arrive at a church, intending an iconoclastic riot at the height of the Reformation, and fall to their knees during the liturgical performance by an orchestra of nuns. Whereas the brothers originally came to the cloister armed with the Kantian Gewalt of reason, they leave dumbfounded, annihilated before the divine Gewalt of music. They spend the rest of their days confined to a mental...

  11. 6 Before and After Language: HOFFMANN
    (pp. 159-200)

    The tension between reflection and immediacy that motivates Kleist’s writing on music and its potentially maddening effects becomes further complicated when one considers conflicting views on the nature and function of verbal language. Posing questions on music and madness in literature invariably turns on one’s apprehension of how language works. Although it would be impossible even to outline a topic so expansive and involved, it is nonetheless useful to reduce the various historical strands of language theory to two fundamental categories. Broadly speaking, in the Western philosophical tradition, two general approaches have emerged. On the one hand, one could regard...

  12. Hors d’œuvre II
    (pp. 201-210)

    How long is it possible to resist the work of language? The madman may call in sick, the musicians may be on strike, but in the end—in the end—they will all be back on shift. To speak with Deleuze and Guattari, language may initially be a deterritorialization of the mouth, tongue, and teeth (which are meant to eat rather than speak), but invariably—as humans defined rationally (as those animals who possess logos)—our mouths water for the main course, if not for the postprandial conversation. The digestive system is but a metaphor for a working- through, for...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 211-232)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-244)
  15. Index
    (pp. 245-252)