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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: January ::
Re: Literature, Music, Meaning
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0007  Monday, 4 January 1999.

[1]     From:   Harry Hill <
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        Date:   Sunday, 03 Jan 1999 12:01:18 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0003 Re: Literature

[2]     From:   Michael E. Cohen <
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        Date:   Sunday, 3 Jan 1999 15:27:50 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0003 Re: Literature

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Monday, 4 Jan 1999 00:29:56 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0003 Re: Literature

[4]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Monday, 4 Jan 1999 08:53:20 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0003 Re: Literature

[5]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 04 Jan 1999 10:44:56 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0003  Re: Literature


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <
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Date:           Sunday, 03 Jan 1999 12:01:18 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 10.0003 Re: Literature
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0003 Re: Literature

Gabriel Egan would have us believe that the signs of music are largely
incomprehensible to him because there does not exist a semantics of
music without formal reference to previous work in the genre. I
acknowledge the difficulty of explaining such a phenomenon as the
intellectual expressivity of an art that contains no verbal sounds and
relies on another grammar entirely, founded on variations of pitch and
shape-which may be its main similarity with spoken and written
language-for the portrayal of emotional matter through what appears to
be 'abstract' form. Even a cursory reading of old R. P. Blackmur's
*Language As Gesture* might offer him the beginnings of such an
explanation.

        Harry Hill
        Montreal

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael E. Cohen <
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Date:           Sunday, 3 Jan 1999 15:27:50 -0800
Subject: 10.0003 Re: Literature
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0003 Re: Literature

Gabriel Egan <
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 > writes in SHK 10.0003:

>I'm puzzled because the raw material of literature is, presumably, words
>and I am happy with the idea that meaning is generated in exchanges of
>words.

>But the idea that meaning is generated in the exchange of musical notes
>and visual images bothers me. I need to see an agreed system of signs to
>accept that meaning is being generated. Just what is the 'langue' of
>music? Likewise, what's the 'langue' of visual art?
<snip>
>Or, contrary to my scepticism, can one paint/sculpt/play signs?

Flippant answer: yes, one can paint signs. Surely you've heard of sign
painters?

Serious answer: Depends on what you mean by "meaning". You seem to have
located it primarily in language, and want to see other sorts of
meanings (musical sorts, painterly sorts) conveyed in something that
corresponds (one hopes in a one-to-one mapping) to language.

It isn't that simple. Your example of a Mondrian

>I can make sense of certain works of musical and visual art by locating
>them in the context of their creation and can be convinced, for example,
>that a particular Mondrian work is significant in manifesting his
>increasing simplification.

is a useful illustration. A single painting from an artist's work may,
in fact, contain no more meaning than a single sentence heard out of
context (how many possible meanings could "So he used the cream cheese"
have other than the simple declaratory one that cream cheese was in some
way used by him [whoever "he" is]?). In the case of Mondrian in
particular a single painting is a single comment in an ongoing
conversation about the art of painting, one that is not very meaningful
without recourse to more knowledge about that conversation.

Medieval illuminations and paintings can be chock-full of meanings:
there is an enormous vocabulary of signs, an iconographic rhetoric and
glossary, that carries the meanings of such works. The visual beauty of
such pieces is akin to the musical beauty of, say, a sonnet...meanings
set to music.

Pure, formal music conveys meaning as well. A well-written sonata, in
the interplay and fulfillment of the sonata form's requirements,
provides a commentary and a solution of that form that has significant
intellectual meaning, if one not easily transposed into words...and, at
the same time, it can evoke from us memories or simulations of sorrow,
or joy, or nostalgia (is the creation of an emotional sequence in an
auditor meaningful?).

So, what do you mean by "mean"?

Michael

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Monday, 4 Jan 1999 00:29:56 -0000
Subject: 10.0003 Re: Literature
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0003 Re: Literature

>Just what the
>devil Mondrian or Rotten/Cook/Jones/Matlock/Vicious were going on about
>in the wider sense remains mysterious.
>
>Or, contrary to my scepticism, can one paint/sculpt/play signs?

The reference to Mondrian is interesting in this context, as I think the
emergence of literature as a learned semiotic * begins with the rise of
Modernism in the early Twentieth Century-before that, it +would+ have
been fair to distinguish writing from painting and music.  But give it
time-the writers will win (as always).  Who outside the academy reads
Derrida?

It's a bit off-thread, but the Sex Pistols (and Punk generally) were
parasitic on The Stranglers.  But those boys were too clever for their
own good, seriously disliked reporters, and beat up on them for its own
sake rather than as a publicity act.  On the other hand (unless rumour
exaggerates) Our Sid is thoroughly dead, whereas the latest Stranglers
album-Written in Red-was released in January of 1997.

But rather than running a Barthian cultural analysis, I think I'll go
listen to No More Heroes yet once more.

Robin Hamilton

* a learned semiotic-quantitative scansion (both Classical and English)
might also qualify-but that's probably a marginal issue.

vis a vis "paint/sculpt/play signs", how about Concrete Poetry
(visual/verbal) or Sound Poetry (musical/verbal)?  But boundary cases
are the last refuge of a pedant ...

Cheers
R.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 4 Jan 1999 08:53:20 GMT
Subject: 10.0003 Re: Literature
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0003 Re: Literature

Gabriel Egan raises an extremely important - and difficult- question in
asking how music 'means'. It's something I am thinking a good deal about
in the context of the understanding of the contribution music makes to
the performance history of Shakespeare plays - particularly The Tempest.

Music has its own 'languages', and a good deal can be said about the way
its internal systems work - I still find Leonard Meyer's 'Emotion and
Meaning in Music' very suggestive here.  But, clearly, like any other
languages, its meanings are in part created culturally - and here again,
musicologists are beginning to write more and more on the subject, both
in relation to 'pure' music, and in relation to the semiotics of, say,
film scores, popular music, gender etc. etc.

Of course, musical 'meaning' is extremely slippery, and attempting to
pin it down involves the difficult act of translation from one medium
into another; but even in the Early Modern period attempts were made to
speak of the 'rhetoric' of music, by analogy with the rhetoric of
language itself.  At the same time, recognising that music speaks to the
emotions - and potentially dangerously so, in inciting the passions - it
was very much part of standard theory before the mid-eighteenth century
to argue that the signification of musical meaning was only safely
determined when it was united with words, which acted as its definition
and anchor.  Put another way, one might ask whether the incidental music
in film defines and gives an emotional direction to the action on
screen, or whether, conversely, it is through the action that we bestow
a particular, local significance on the music we hear - clearly there is
something of a reciprocal action going on.

I'm not sure that this in any way reflects the context in which this
issue was raised - but I'd welcome any suggestion of useful reading in
this area as I try to work out what the differences are in signification
between, say, Arne's setting of 'Where the bee sucks', Tippett's setting
for the Old Vic in 1962, and the computer-generated 'scores' of Brook's
production in the early sixties, or the Shared Experience production of
1996.

David Lindley
School of English
University of Leeds


[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 04 Jan 1999 10:44:56 -0800
Subject: 10.0003  Re: Literature
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0003  Re: Literature

Gabriel Egan writes:

> But the idea that meaning is generated in the exchange of musical notes
> and visual images bothers me. I need to see an agreed system of signs to
> accept that meaning is being generated. Just what is the 'langue' of
> music? Likewise, what's the 'langue' of visual art?

The wider issue is whether the significance of literature is exhausted
by signification. Is there nothing at all in literature except meaning,
that which is conveyable by signs? If so, then a paraphrasal can replace
a poem. If not, then the surplus-that which is not exhausted, contained
and made appropriable by the sign-can be reasonably compared to music or
other arts.

By proposing, albeit rhetorically, that there might be no "'langue' of
music" you implicitly accept that there is an outside of the sign (hors
texte, as Jean-Luc Marion would say). Why should this not also be true
of the literary arts? Is there not a saying before the economy of the
said?

Cheers,
Sean.
 

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