Philosophy of Music (14): The obligation to write about music.

 

The French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote once:

Does the pleasure of writing exist? I don’t know, one thing I feel certain is that there is a tremendous obligation to write. This obligation to write, I don’t really know where it comes from. As long as we haven’t started writing, it seems to be the most gratuitous, the most improbable thing, almost the most impossible, and one to which, in any case, we’ll never feel bound. Then, at some point – is it the first page, the thousandth, the middle of the first book, or later? I have no idea – we realize that we’re absolutely obligated to write. This obligation is revealed to you, indicated in various ways. For example, by the fact that we experience so much anxiety, so much tension if we haven’t finished that little page of writing, as we do each day. By writing that page, you give yourself, you give to your existence, a form of absolution. That absolution is essential for the day’s happiness. It’s not the writing that’s happy, it’s the joy of existing that’s attached to writing, which is slightly different. This is very paradoxical, very enigmatic, because how is it that the gesture –so vain, so fictive, so narcissistic, so self-involved – of sitting down at the table in the morning and covering a certain number of blank pages can have this effect of benediction for the remainder of the day? That’s very enigmatic. For me, in any case, it’s one of the ways the obligation to write is manifested.

This obligation is also indicated by something else. Ultimately, we always write not only to write the last book we will write, but, in some truly frenzied way – and this frenzy is present even in the most minimal gestures of writing – to write the last book in the world . In truth what we write at the moment of writing, the final sentence of the work we’re completing, is also the final sentence of the world, in that, afterward, there’s nothing more to say. There’s a paroxysmal intent to exhaust language in the most insignificant sentence.

No doubt this is associated with the disequilibrium between speech and language. Language is what we use to construct an absolutely infinite number of sentences and utterances. Speech, on the contrary, no matter how long or diffuse, how supple, how atmospheric, how protoplasmic, how tethered to its future, is always finite, always limited. We can never reach the end of language through speech, no matter how long we imagine it to be. This inexhaustibility of language, which always holds speech in suspense in terms of a future that will never be completed, is another way of experiencing the obligation to write. We write to reach the end of language, to reach the end of any possible language, to finally encompass the empty infinity of language through the plenitude of speech.

Another reason why writing is different from speaking is that we write to hide our face, to bury ourselves in our own writing. We write so that the life around us, alongside us, outside, far from the sheet of paper, this life that’s not very funny, but tiresome and filled with worry, exposed to others, is absorbed in that small rectangle of paper before our eyes and which we control. Writing is a way of trying to evacuate, through the mysterious channels of pen and ink, the substance, not just of existence, but of the body in those miniscule marks we make on the paper. To be nothing more, in terms of life, than this dead and jabbering scribbling that we’ve put on the white sheet is what we dream about when we write. But we never succeed in absorbing all that teeming life in the motionless swarm of letters. Life always goes on outside the sheet of paper, continues to proliferate, keeps going, and is never pinned down to that small rectangle; the heavy volume of the body never succeeds in spreading itself across the surface of the paper, we can never pass into that two dimensional universe, that pure line of speech; we never succeed in becoming thin enough or adroit enough to be nothing more than the linearity of a text, and yet that’s what we hope to achieve. So we keep trying, we continue to restrain ourselves, to take control of ourselves, to slip into the funnel of pen and ink, an infinite task, but the task to which we’ve dedicated ourselves. We would feel justified if we no longer existed except in that miniscule shudder, that infinitesimal scratching that grows still and becomes, between the tip of the pen and the white surface of the paper, the point, the fragile site, the immediately vanished moment when a stationary mark appears once and for all, definitively established, legible only for others and which has lost any possibility of being aware of itself. This type of suppression, of self-mortification in the transition of signs, is, I believe what also gives writing its character of obligation. It’s an obligation without pleasure, you see, but, after all, when escaping an obligation leads to anxiety, when breaking the law leaves you so apprehensive and in such great disarray, isn’t obeying the law the greatest form of pleasure? To obey an obligation whose origin is unknown, and the source of whose authority over us is equally unknown, to obey that – certainly narcissistic- law that weighs down on you, that hangs over you wherever you are, that, I think, is the pleasure of writing.”

When you listen to music or when you compose it yourself, you write your own life through music notes.I think I have the obligation to write about those music notes. A pleasure, such musical stories.

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