A previous post explored the assertion by Lacanian psychoanalysis that a subject undergoes a kind of death when exhaustively encased within language, or more precisely, linguistic symbols. This is due to the limitations of symbols in expressing the fullness and the complexity within each subject. True subjectivity, according to Lacanian psychoanalysis, comes when one breaks through the realm of symbols into what Lacan calls the “Real”. That post also hinted at how, in a media-saturated culture, true reality is quashed and broken into a form that fits text-based narratives peddled by media outlets everywhere.
Another way to view this gap between text and the “Real” is explored in Cynthia Nielsen’s latest book Interstitial Soundings: Philosophical Reflections on Improvisation, Practice, and Self-Making, published by Cascade. The book uses the practice of jazz music as a launch point into a philosophical exploration of subjectivity, weaving jazz theory with diverse philosophical insights from Gadamer, Foucault and MacIntyre.
Of note is a point in her first chapter concerning the role of the score-sheet in the process of composition. Nielsen highlights a modern tendency towards treating the score as the exhaustive deposit of music making, and embodied performance by the players as mere transmission of the score. Though Nielsen admits that players are in a sense “tied to the score”, she nonetheless highlights a gap in composition between the text on the score on the one hand, and the inflections brought out by the individual performances on the other. This embodied performance, Nielsen argues, is as much part of the compositional process as the product encased in the score, meaning that the score is not as complete a musical product as we tend to think it is.
Moreover, Nielsen argues in that chapter that the performance of music – and the book focuses on the performance of bebop – was also an important part of forming of the subject. In Nielsen’s words, the “performer herself is changed [one can say “formed”] through ‘dwelling with’ the piece and allowing it to become…another aspect of her musical voice” (13).
What can be drawn from this important chapter is that the reality of music, and indeed all reality, cannot be so easily encased in text or symbol. We must thus be cautious of any attempts by media outlets, elite or otherwise, to convince us that the world can be encased in a headline, hashtag or video clip. Attention to the embodied subject has to be given in order to truly say one knows reality at all.
At the same time, it must be noted that this is not some injunction of a moral relativist, but is also gleaned from the pattern of the life of the Word that took on a body, who heralded the Kingdom of Heaven by encountering bodies, touching bodies, who brought eternal life by having His followers eat his body, and defeated death by undergoing the death of His body. Finally, as Augustine once said in a homily, it is through the encounter with the Body of the Incarnate Word, that we can finally know and receive who we really are.