Music [a poem]

I wish I could
inhabit music
swim in it
let it permeate
feel it flow through me
like a current
a great destructive wave
that tears my bones asunder
strips away my flesh
discarded: useless
what good is a body
to pure intensity
a swirling maelstrom
of abstraction
before language
that knows nothing
of the turgid play of signs
just the brutality of drums
that clatter and rush
or a lonely sentinel bleep bleep
a gliding foggy effervescence
that adresses itself to an empty night
and expresses everything without meaning.

Everything’s positive here
the migrane squeal of a vicious machine
or the lulling of a womb
the ghosts of bells
and fulsome rushes of fingered notes
their surface leaping, live
with molecular struggle
it all collides here
all the colours and moods dance
etching their baroque patterns
curious, without fidelity
just the promiscuity of unbounded codes
genes coming apart, unravelling
meeting strange isotopes, sinister viruses
drugged up floods from the future
and embracing, happily
no zeros in this world
silence too is penetrated
coloured, enriched
and can no longer feel empty.

But no
I am here
corporeal, exact, tactile
drab air in my lungs
bald light, too yellow for comfort
a world of things and whispered demands
of sharp corners and subtle knives
the music caresses me here and there
and breathes its world into me for a moment
but I cannot become it
only swing hostile limbs
perturb my throat
softly bludgeon brain against skull
but I’m too real for it
and it swims away
leaving me
here.

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3 comments
  1. peterkiernan said:

    This reminds me of a Rilke poem – ‘To Music’. In that poem however Rilke characterizes music as ‘the holy departure’ of the ‘innermost of us’. Stepping out metaphors which emphasize the alienating force of music, where music is “the breathing of statues” or “the stillness of pictures”. Music is an alien space latent in expression which when treated as an object captures all the variety of expression but leaves it as something alien (hence the contrasting sense of having left oneself behind and of being left behind with oneself). Making of what is us (or is ours) something ‘beyond habitation’. The contrast is interesting in terms of your own poem (which starts with “I wish I could / inhabit music” – Rilke’s ends with the assertion that music is beyond habitation). In your poem music does not alienate feeling but gives it (or seems to give it, in your eyes) its proper place, gives it positivity (in the philosophical sense) – as in “no zeroes” or more explicitly “Everything’s positive here”. Nothingness (or the great alien breath space of Rilke’s conception of music) is something latent in the expressive reality of life and the consistency of that expressive reality is then something only accessible in the fantasy or ideal space of music (you’ll have to forgive me this is by no means the most clear headed of analyses). I can’t help but notice as well that Rilke is speaking of what is called ‘classical music’ but you are talking (I think) about electronic music. There’s a marvelous contrast then as Rilke looks at classical music as an uncontainable space of feeling which ultimately alienates in the ‘perfection’ of its expression, while you look at a bounded space of feeling which alienates the alienation of actual life (what is funny about this is Rilke is describing a ‘high’ music which becomes a terrible force, an almost brutal force – whereas you take a putative ‘low’ music, describe it as violent and brutal, but give it human qualities of colour and enrichment). Of course the evolutionary stuff goes over my head (the unbounded codes, genes and strange isotopes) and that shapes my response as a reader – why are you corporeal, exact, tactile, when you actually contain codes and genes, whereas a piece of music does not? Am I being naive here about what a piece music does or does not contain (treating it as an abstract piece of expression)? There’s almost a Hegelian tangle of self-turning opposites here as an ‘unbounded code’ is something of a contradiction in terms (you start with brute physical terms but give them almost metaphysical qualifications, again codes are here, and unbounded codes are there, *in the music*, so that the music overcomes the very evolutionary language that is applied to it and does so in its form). Anyway I blushed reading this because of its perfect directness (really, great, great directness). German directness! Reminded me of Holderlin, Rilke, Celan (German language poets I can name!). I will think about it some more (in particular: next to music and these characterizations of music what is a poem?).

    • Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful response. 🙂 This was basically my attempt to make sense of some feelings that I think I’d never be able to capture adequately with prose. Specifically those moments when one feels oneself being consumed by or taken out of oneself by music, which are at once affirmative and tragic; tragic, because we are always at a distance from it, and that distance always reasserts itself, the buzz fades, the moment passes, and we’re thrown back into the corporeality of our bodies, with all the vulnerability and potential for pain that entails, all the ways that the materiality of our existence encloses and limits what we can be and do and feel. There’s a sense of being drawn close to an alien world that lies just beyond the limits of our experience, that we are forever excluded from, except perhaps in flashes.

      I was vacillating between black metal and electronic music as I was writing, and I wanted to say something about the way music can seem to express all kinds of feelings, including dark, violent, depressive, painful ones, and can somehow transmute our negativity into something we can experience affirmatively, and the way music seems capable of synthesizing everything, no matter how heterogenous the elements it brings together, in contrast to the somewhat more overdetermined structures of association that come with both language, and the biological codes of the body; so my idea was of a space where everything is affirmative and free to combine in any way, in contrast to the more restricted world we inhabit, hence the stuff about genes unravelling.

      • peterkiernan said:

        You’re very welcome. I enjoyed it particularly because I think writing about music is a particularly difficult thing (and there’s little extant that deals with it – Mann’s Dr. Faustus is very devoted to it, and there’s a great lecture on Beethoven from one of the mentor figures to Leverkuhn, but there’s not a lot of direct description of the music itself in fact the ingeniousness of Leverkuhn’s music in Dr. Faustus is purely textual, there is no sense of the experience of it, presumably because it does not actually exist!). I think your poem deals with this problem directly, the music is something basically textless, it doesn’t have any designate place in the history of expression (an ideal history of the particulars of communication between individuals in a very basic sense). The poem then, in expressing this, enters into a kind of conflict, because it is, nominally, expressing something which it characterizes as simply going beyond that history. So there is a real sense of your pain in just this conflict (for we might replace the poem with the poem-producing intellect, which is just as literate), understanding something which is powerful for you but the power of which consists in its alienation from you (and I like very much the way you make that alienation a picture of your own particularity – that alienation is not a transcendent move but a move toward actuality, to what things should concretely be like, so that the music has a sense of being normative, this is fine inversion of how the theme appears in Rilke for example and it does something very hard, that is takes the language of transcendence out of the picture by making there be a deficiency there in the subject of the music in the first place – the subject being the person who is hearing it – I really love that idea, I mean I think it is philosophically a little unclear but on a personal level it is very striking and it really is a wonderful thing to take a subject like music, which we cannot help but assign impressive, if not total expressive qualities (as you do in this case), and to leave in it a very definite vulnerability, a vulnerability in the listener as definite as that quality of the music which makes it desirable).

        “in contrast to the somewhat more overdetermined structures of association that come with both language, and the biological codes of the body” – this I hadn’t picked up on, and I find it quite interesting. Wholly indefensible but interesting. I suppose you may be coming to this issue from a different working background than I (my background is analytic philosophy, particularly analytic philosophy of language) where there is an explicit social character to language and biology which can give that sense of worn out structures of association. From my perspective however, certainly in regard language, meaning does not have a direct social character (it can be socialized in the sense that our language-use can become entangled with broadly social goals, but there is a fundamental sense in which the language itself, while it can be used in such contexts, can not be transformed by that use). The core evidence for this in regard this poem is that the poem is, inescapably, an expression which does arguably more than the music for it characterizes it. Similarly so for the body – I can’t get around the fact that you are an embodied person, a definite being in time and space into which, eventually, all the music erodes or will erode. I mean you are de facto a more varied and expressive kind of being being yourself the source or originating point of the meaning-quality of the music in question! Of course people are not always such good things, and maybe I’m influenced in this by my pan/homo-romantic asexuality but the simple materiality of a living person, as both a source of biological growth and change and linguistic growth and change, is a wonder to me (a wonder which escapes me, not one I understand, in precisely the same way as you describe the music escaping you). I don’t think I’m reading too much into things here either, because the vulnerability that comes across in the poem is yours, so I get a sense of you as an embodied person (as definite a sense as I do of the music in question, both being balanced or almost equidistant in the poem).

        Anyway forgive me for fanboying a via appia of text here – I don’t know what to say, I’m annoying!

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