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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E
                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1995 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 1, Number 1     January, 1995     ISSN:  1067-3040   |
  All queries to: mto-editor@husc.harvard.edu
AUTHOR: Covach, John R.
TITLE: Musical Worlds and the Metaphysics of Analysis
KEYWORDS: Heidegger, fundamental ontology, hermeneutics, Cochrane, Smoliar
REFERENCE: mto.94.0.11.covach.art
John R. Covach
College of Music
University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203-6887
[1] I would like to begin these brief remarks by thanking Stephen 
Smoliar and Richard Cochrane for their thought-provoking and carefully
considered responses to my essay; it is certainly one of the great 
benefits of the online journal format that works-in-progress can 
receive such immediate and stimulating critique and commentary.  I 
have found both responses extremely helpful as I continue to consider 
the issues discussed in that essay.  At the same time, however, I find 
that each response raises new questions that were either not addressed 
in my essay or, if they were, need to be considered at greater length.  
Thus I would like to focus these remarks on what I take to be two issues 
that arise in the responses.  The first concerns what philosophers in 
the hermeneutic tradition often call the "critique of metaphysics"; the 
second has to do with the ontology of "worlding."  
[2] One of the central concerns of Heidegger's *Being and Time* is the
destructuring of the Western philosophical tradition.(1)  Heidegger 
returns again and again to the argument that there exist certain biases 
within that tradition that are so deeply inscribed, so much a part of 
the way in which things are thought, that they are effectively transparent.  
It is precisely because these biases so saturate our ways of thinking--and 
in so doing overdetermine (and limit) the types of solutions at which we 
can arrive--that uncovering them is such a difficult philosophical task.  
But because Heidegger is convinced that the crucial question of being has 
been forgotten due to these biases, his strategy for retrieving even the 
ability to consider the question properly is to "sound out" what he 
considers to be the metaphysical "idols" of the Western philosophical 
tradition, to use Nietzschean terms.(2)
1. In a recent study, Jeffrey Andrew Barash explores Heidegger's
destructuring of Western philosophy within the broader context of 
German philosophy in the first three decades of this century; see his 
"Heidegger's Ontological 'Destruction' of Western Intellectual Traditions," 
in Theodore Kisiel and John van Buren, eds., *Reading Heidegger from the 
Start: Essays in his Earliest Thought* (Albany: State University of New 
York Press, 1994), 111-21.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche, *Twilight of the Idols*, trans. Walter Kaufmann, 
in *The Portable Nietzsche* (New York: Viking Press, 1954), 465.  Though
Heidegger interprets Nietzsche's philosophy as the end of Western
metaphysics, many writers have pointed out the ways in which Nietzsche's
thought anticipates key issues in Heidegger's writing; see, for instance,
Alan D. Schrift, *Nietzsche and the Question of Interpretation: Between
Hermeneutics and Deconstruction* (New York: Routledge, 1990).
[3] One notion on which Heidegger especially focusses in his destructuring
of the Western philosophical tradition--in his "critique of
metaphysics"--is the Cartesian subject/object split.  And my essay was
concerned with exploring the consequences of sounding out Cartesian
dualism as it plays a role in musical analysis.  Heidegger's argument is 
that the Cartesian split is derivative of a more fundamental experience, 
and I make a similar claim for the musical experience: we experience music 
within the context of some musical world which is made up of some large 
body of works, though these works are not objects in the metaphysical 
sense.  The assumption of Western metaphysics, however, is that the 
Cartesian split is the primary state, and that interpretation is derived 
from it.  This metaphysical argument is the one I take Stephen Smoliar to 
be making in his response.  Referring to vision, Stephen states: 
"Confronted with the stimulation of the retinal field, eventually the 
cerebral cortex has to draw some conclusions about *what* objects are 
there" (paragraph 2).  In considering the aural experience, he proposes 
that we "distinguish *signals*, *sensations*, and *perceptions*" 
(paragraph 5).  He considers signals to be "unabashedly Cartesian objects," 
but argues that through our sensory apparatus we come to perceptions that 
are clearly the result of interpretation: ". . . a musical experience 
induces a mental state which, in turn, governs the interpretive act of 
perception" (paragraph 6).
[4] On a very broad level, Stephen and I are argreeing: we both take 
all of our cognitions to be the result of some kind of interpretation.  
But Stephen's model, it seems to me, falls victim to the very Cartesian
metaphysics that my essay is trying to uncover.  It is important to note,
however, that my critique of Stephen's model as metaphysical *does not*
take anything away from the pragmatic power such models can have in our
scientific dealings with the world (or, indeed, in our analytical dealings
with music).  Still though, Heidegger's position is founded in the notion 
that man's ability to know is finite: we cannot escape the interpretive 
basis of all our knowing; there is no way to get outside and enjoy a 
"God's eye" view of our own conceptual goings-on.  Thus any model we 
construct that places us in such a position must necessarily derive from 
some more primordial mode of being.(3)
3. The rejection of a possible God's-eye view is an important aspect of
Richard Rorty's argument in his *Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature*
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), as is the critique of
metaphysics generally.  John Caputo argues, however, that Rorty does not
take the next step--as Heidegger did--and undertake a retrieval of the
primordial; see Caputo's "The Thought of Being and the Conversation of
Mankind: The Case of Heidegger and Rorty," in Robert Hollinger, ed.,
*Hermeneutics and Praxis* (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1986), 248-71.
[5] Richard Cochrane, however, stays very much within Heideggerian thought
when he draws our attention to the notion that a musical world may be "a
space created by *experiences* of music, engagements with music as
'equipment,' as environment" (paragraph 8).  Richard posits this as a
friendly refinement of my definition of musical worlds by stating: "the
musical world cannot be precisely as it is described here since, if it 
were, the condition of possibility for works would simply be other works, 
which leads to an ontological infinite regress and a hermeneutic circular-
ity" (paragraph 7).  I would argue that Richard and I are addressing 
different concerns, and that a consideration of our differences leads 
into very interesting issues.  To begin with, I argue for "musical worlds" 
in the plural; that is, I am not attempting to uncover a single musical 
world that underlies all our musical experiences, but rather to uncover 
whatever musical world is operative *in any particular experience*.  I am 
also not attempting to outline an alternative way of hearing music (one 
that is perhaps closer to a "phenomenological hearing" in the sense of 
the work of Judy Lochhead or Thomas Clifton), but rather I am trying to 
destructure the way in which we typically understand and derive meaning 
from music within the cultural environment in which we are situated.  
This is one reason why I take *Being and Time* as my central text; in 
this work Heidegger offers a critique of Western philosophy from *inside* 
that tradition.  Correspondingly, I offer my critique of Cartesian 
dualism from within the discipline of music theory and analysis.
[6] But Richard's commentary really takes us into some of the main 
concerns of Heidegger's later thought, so I think it might be appropriate 
to focus our differences around a famous example from Heidegger's 
important essay, "The Origin of the Work of Art."  This essay is notorious-
ly complicated, and I will thus only address one minor detail that arises 
with regard to our concerns with musical worlding.(4)  In a lengthy 
discussion of a painting of peasant shoes by Van Gogh ("Les Souliers"), 
Heidegger writes: "On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the 
soil.  Under the soles slides the loneliniess of the field path as 
evening calls.  In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its 
quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the 
fallow desolation of the wintry field. . . . This equipment belongs to 
the *earth*, and it is protected in the *world* of the peasant woman."(5)
4. For a careful interpretation of this essay in the context of 
Heidegger's later thought, see Gerald L. Bruns, *Heidegger's 
Estrangements: Language, Truth, and Poetry in the Later Writings* (New 
Haven: Yale Univerisity Press, 1989), 27-51.
5. Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art," in *Poetry, 
Language, Thought*, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 
1971), 34.  This essay originated in 1935 as a lecture and was expanded 
in 1936 to three lectures; Heidegger later revised the essay for its 
first publication in 1950 and later added an Addendum in 1956.
[7] I will side-step the topic that is really at stake for Heidegger 
in this passage--the topic of "earth" and "world"--and merely point out 
that in his entire discussion of this painting Heidegger never once 
mentions another painting to which this one might be related in some way.  
It is clear Heidegger is not at all concerned with situating this 
painting within a world made up of other paintings; for Heidegger, this 
work does not so much relate to other paintings by Van Gogh or his 
fellow artists as much as it relates to the world of the peasant woman.  
The obvious reason why such a painting can be interpreted in this manner 
is because the context it which it is situated is one that is knowable 
from our own lives (at least within Western culture).  While it is 
certainly possible to interpret this painting in terms of other works 
and not in terms of the world of the peasant woman, I would like to 
stress that Heidegger is able to offer a very compelling interpretation 
that makes no reference to any "body of works" whatsoever.  To return 
to Richard's remarks, I take it that he would like to accomplish a 
similar kind of interpretation for musical works.(6)
6. Whether or not I have properly understood Richard on this point,
Lawrence Ferrara definitely attempts to model one aspect of his 
analytical approach--his "referential analysis"--on Heidegger's essay; 
see his *Philosophy and the Analysis of Music: Bridges to Musical Sound, 
Form, and Reference* (n.p., Excelsior Music Publishing, 1991).
[8] The problem that such a project faces is not simply the question of
whether music is representational or not, though this is already a
substantial issue with which to deal; it is very difficult, for example, 
to come up with a musical example parallel to the peasant shoes painting 
that does not require an interpretation that invokes other pieces of 
music.(7)  It is, rather, more a question of whether or not one chooses 
to engage culturally prevalent interpretations of musical meaning.  To 
take the path that Richard suggests, one moves beyond destructuring our 
typical listening experience--which is the issue I address--and pushes 
further into an experience that challenges our notions of what actually
constitutes music at all.  Any project that would work toward uncovering
"a" musical world, however, risks falling into the kinds of metaphysical
traps that Heidegger took such great pains to expose.
7. Ferrara's attempt to discuss reference in a musical work is, in my
opinion, problematic on just this point; see his *Philosophy and the
Analysis of Music*, pp. 179-87 esp.
[9] Staying within the Western tradition of music, however, I find it 
hard to imagine how any experience with music could not be founded on 
an experience of pieces of music (even tapping on the piano or 
improvising a tune tends to be thought of in terms of an intended--even 
if unsuccessful--piece).  As one considers styles outside the art-music 
tradition (rock or jazz, for instance), it is clear that the notion of 
"the musical work" becomes increasingly problematical; I can think of 
the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" as a song, but not really as a work 
(though I do have a curious tendency to think of *Abbey Road* as a work).  
But my point is not that one could never be successful at hearing a piece 
in a way that is free (relatively, at least) from reference to other 
works; rather I want to argue that in Western culture we tend--tacitly 
but overwhelmingly--not to value such an interpretation very much.  My 
project is an attempt to uncover what is going on in those kinds of 
interpretations that we do value highly.  I want to open up a tension 
between the Cartesian mode that we typically use in our music-analytical 
thinking and the primordial, experiential musical mode from which such 
dualism is derived.  I do not want to reconcile these two modes with 
one another or reconcile my musical worlds with those of "other minds" 
(which would be driven in either case by a metaphysical compulsion), but 
rather I want to encourage and maintain the tension that plays out
between these two modes. 
[10] When the musical work is thought of within the context a musical 
world as I define it, its "sharply defined edges" as an object are 
increasingly dissolved by its situatedness within the musical world at 
hand.  The pieces that make up the world are likewise not objects with 
clearly defined boundaries either.  When focussing our attention on a 
musical work, we are always confident that there is a definite work 
"there," but where it ends and other works begin is a distinction that 
is impossible to draw.  In fact, thinking about a world of musical 
works in this way begins to break down the ocular metaphors that are 
so central to Western metaphysics.  To the extent that one finds it 
difficult to "en-vision" such musical worlds, one has begun to break 
free of the hold of metaphysics.  
[11] The responses to my essay from both authors suggest a number of 
other issues.  With regard to Stephen's remarks, one might consider to 
what extent technology and technological thinking has affected the ways 
in which we model musical experience.  With regard to Richard's 
commentary, one might enter into the debate concerning whether or not it 
is ever possible to "overcome" metaphysics; could we ever posit an 
approach to musical understanding that completely avoids the biases of 
metaphysics without in the process of doing so creating a second 
metaphysics?  I will leave those issues, however, for future discussion.
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