Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Why the Angels Sing

There's an article in the Sept. 24th New Yorker magazine by Oliver Sacks, the nuerologist/philosopher. I really love his stuff. It's always about somebody with a wierd brain injury or nuerological condition and how they put life together, or not. (If you're up for a challenging read, Richard Power's latest novel, The Echo Maker, has an Oliver Sacks character in it, and he has totally clay feet. Since I read that book, Sack's articles are even more interesting to me because now I read them with a layer of wondering about the author's life and relationships and ability to cope . . . It's not just the patients that are interesting!)

OK. That was an aside. Here's the point: This article is about a man who has complete amnesia. He doesn't remember being alive from minute to minute. Every time he blinks, he opens his eyes to a new world. That memory part that ties life together for us is gone. BUT !
He has performative memory. He has language. He can walk. He can feed himself. He knows how to do everyday tasks (if someone reminds him to do them - rather like yours truly). And - this is the important part - he was a musician before his brain injury. And he's still a musician! He knows pieces. He can learn pieces. He reads music and can conduct a choir, just as well as he could before. During the performance of music, he is completely alive and whole.

At the end of the article, Sacks speculates on why this is. And he quotes Victor Zuckerkandll, a philosopher of music . . . "The hearing of a melody is a hearing with the melody. It is even a condition of hearing melody that the tone present at the moment should fill consciousness entirely, that nothing should be remembered, nothing except it or beside it be present in consciousness. . . . .Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once. . . . Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown. (Sound and Symbol, 1956)

Here's the phrase I love: "Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown."
Doesn't that make "melody" the moment when faith (in a past that we can't remember)
and hope (for a future we cannot foreknow)
are joined in love (which fills the present)?

Doesn't that help explain why music and spirituality are so closely linked?

I'll by hummin' all day long . . .

No comments: