Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Music and the Ineffable
Music and the Ineffable 

by Vladimir Jankelevitch

"music is at once expressive and inexpressive, serious and frivolous, deep and superficial; music has meaning and does not have meaning." - Vladimir Jankelevitch

This is a short but thoughtful book in which the argument is stated on the first page — namely, that since music works through melodies, rhythms and harmonies and not through concepts, it contains no messages that can be translated into words. There follows 50,000 words devoted to the messages of music — often suggestive, poetic and atmospheric words, but words nevertheless, devoted to a subject that no words can capture. The author goes into detail about what music is not: hieroglyphics, language, sign system; and he argues that neither does it express emotions. Music is unique in a way that, well, only music can be. I personally can testify that music can elicit emotions and is important to my life, but I know perfectly healthy intelligent people for whom music is of minimal if any importance. Fortunately, music has been important and vital to many humans over the eons and this book tries to identify through words what that vitality means.

Music and the Ineffable by Vladimir Jankelevitch. Princeton University Press. 2003 (1983)

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