Questionable Motives

December 8, 2009

Music and meaning: Is music something we understand?

Filed under: Art,Culture,Education,Music — tildeb @ 1:06 pm

Just as facial expressions do not communicate something that can be understood so much as enjoin us to imagine what it feels like when we ourselves make such an expression, so too, according to Scruton (UNDERSTANDING MUSIC: Philosophy and interpretation), does some elemental aspect of musical experience enjoin us to engage our imagining in similar fashion. In this way, and because the experience of music is not, at least not typically, heard as a single expression, the imagination is forced to grapple with the musical shapes and forms as they unfold over time, following its movement as it echoes in, or is anticipated by, the movements of our body and rational imagination.

It is in this aspect of “enjoinment” – of the way we join with the music – that is the key to Scruton’s conception not only of musical understanding but also of its wider cultural and social value. Just as a grimace demands that we imagine the complex of unpleasant feelings and thoughts behind that particular belligerent facial expression, so too music may require us to identify with a world of sensibilities which happens to sit ill with us.

Read the review here.

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