“Name the un-nameable, communicate the unknowable”

I know this is space usually reserved for the avant garde and the experimental, so I forgive my brief focus on such old geezers like Bernstein, Beethoven and Harvard University.

I wanted to share this excerpt of his1971 lecture titled “unanswered questions”, because even though his primary intention in them is to derive a chomskian linguistic interpretation to musical structures (a typical academic effort that would disgust my buddy Gilles), this passage of his “delights and dangers of ambiguity” talk can be very illustrative of certain tensions that I have had trouble dealing with in my own work.

This analysis of the potentiality of art to express meaning that goes “beyond the literal, the tangible, the grossly semantic” can be a perfect example of the power that I find in poetics. It shows how through semantic ambiguity we can reinterpret the values of homogenization of meaning in communication and reach a different kind of expressivity; one that challenges our habituated understanding of things, one that can rupture certainties, that can lead to explore the unknown, to view new worlds that our rational structure of thinking blinds us to, and in this sense, one that withholds a great revolutionary power.

The dilemma that strikes me comes when I compare these efforts of “minorizations of language” with the one found in Deleuze’s writings, I can’t help to question weather this potentiality is mutilated at its head when we frame it on the human, when we focus it on our interior lives. When we articulate the movement against a mayor language like this, does this distract us from the potentiality of art to make us experience a world that is “above the human” (übermensch)? Does it deprive us from reaching a connection to the world that has nothing to do with us, one that can exist for us with out having to “pass through us” first? Isn’t this what Deleuze is trying to hint to us in his philosophy all a long?

I am also interested in the importance given to metaphor in a lot of writings on poetics. Can music, as a totally metaphorical language, be a good analogy to the potentiality of a minor language? When Aristotle defines it as “midway between the unintelligible and the common place”, isn’t that analogous to the type of knowledge produced by immanence? Or is it completely contrary to it? A communication of the unintelligible does a similar rejection of preeminent forms and real structures, but shouldn’t we be concerned of finding a form of expression that goes beyond a structure of language, even a mutable and unstructured one? When Bernstein refers to the fact that metaphor accomplishes the “supremely difficult task of providing a name for everything”, isn’t it made obvious that even though he is refereeing to the “things that cannot be named otherwise”, we are still referring to another model of referential communication, that only separates itself from the traditional semantic one because it accepts other forms of signifiers. Aren’t we still concerned here with the “naming” of things… shouldn’t we try to utilize this potentiality to realize that there are other forms of perception that do not depend on understanding (even of a dynamic and unstructured understanding), but rather on another form of experience, one that might not even be human.

Sound vs. Music

When Bernstein talks about music here, he is interested in its potentiality when it can be considered a language, Deleuze on the other hand I think would be interested in the terrain where it cannot. When he talks about Kafka’s relation to music, he is not talking of “a composed and semiotically shaped music (…) but pure sonorous material (…) a cry that escapes all signification, composition, song, words – a sonority that ruptures in order to break away from a chain that is still all too signifying” (Towards a Minor Literature, Pag.6). In Kafka wee see the potentiality of a “minor language” that sets forth a movement independent of the referential nature of Metaphor:

“Kafka deliberately kills all metaphor, all symbolism, all signification, no less than all designation. Metamorphosis is the contrary of metaphor.” (Ibid. 22)

But, does this escape from signification imply also a rejection of the intent of expressing the un-namable? If so, what does this sonorous material tell us, what realities can it awake? Deleuze tells us that the movements that constitute the inner working of the Kafka-machine are states of pure desire, free of all interpretation; but cannot these desires help us experience our inner lives in a more immanent way, cannot they be used to experience a more spontaneous reality, both human and inhuman?

Of this we read that: “ A writer is not a writer-man; he is a machine-man, and an experimental man (who thereby cease to be a man in order to become an ape or a beetle, or a dog, or mouse, a becoming-animal, a becoming in-human, since it is actually through voice and through sound and through a style that one becomes an animal, and certainly through a the force of sobriety” (Ibid, 7)

But from this I am curiously reminded of that analysis in Zizek’s “A Pervert’s guide to cinema” in which he say that voice has always been used as metaphor for humanity in cinema (He uses the example of the speech at the end of Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”, where the human voice replaces the incoherent shouting of the previous despot). How sound is of the earth, but voice is of the human. It is the one thing of our so called “intimate personality” that we cannot designate, that we cannot control (and maybe that is why it is so painful to hear in a recording), it shows a reality of ourselves that is within ourselves but at the same time not in our control. Speech, literature and art, are human activities, they are human cultural practices. I can see the potential that they might have to reveal a reality of the world that we cannot define or that is not of our creation, but I think that it is important to understand that even that experience is a human experience, since it comes from human activity (but that it doesn’t necessarily have to fall into our traditional conception of human, it doesn’t have to reproduce our tradition of rational dominance over the world) . That the revelation of a reality that is “beyond human” through art, really just reveals a different type of human reality, a more dynamic, volatile, revolutionary and exiting reality (and one that is more consequent to the chaotic movement of the world), but a human reality nonetheless.


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