The natural world can refresh our hearts and minds through an ecstatic (ek-static) experience, drawing us out of ourselves. The uplift which we experience in nature borders on gratitude because implicit in the experience is an intuition of unity, proportion, and clarity. In this respect, nature calls us into an awareness of a super-personal order of reality–an awareness something more than ourselves, more even than all the stuff we encounter, something more than stuff. In nature, we can often leave behind the private and subjective, so as to experience the real on its own terms.
The very experience of beauty not only evokes an interior imaginative reception, an inner imitation and delight, but the intuitive judgment that there is some cause of order. In this manner, the natural world evokes gratitude, joy, even terror, as it calls us into the consciousness of something greater and beyond the limits of any subjectivity.
All beauty, in this respect, as Simone Weil says seems “to be a promise and not a good,” or not only a good as I might add.1 The rest which beauty provides is a rest founded upon hope. In this case, predominantly a hope consequent upon the intuition of the super-personal, a goodness which does not depend on me but does not necessarily exclude me either.
Music too is a source of refreshment in beauty, but perhaps, at least in part, in a distinctive manner. First, music is more intimately measured, accompanied by interior passion, not apart from reason but not without emotion. Second, music unfolds in time. Therefore a peculiar effect or operation of music upon us is chiefly related to affection and time.
I only know emotion as my emotion and so the musical experience is closely bound up with my own responses, with being moved. Music is in this respect, in the modern (and yes also in the older sense) more directly personal then nature. Music is grasped as something that is ‘mine’, that enters into my privacy in a way that nature often will not. From this standpoint, it is perhaps no accident that music is something made by us.
Second, music moves in time and so the experience is one which unfolds itself as something which moves from unknown (or known in part) to known as a whole. It is an experience of anticipation, expectation, even surprise. This surprise can be itself a kind of emotional revelation.
The order, the beauty of melody, harmony, time, rhythm, repetition, and variation (without which have only the most debased or derivative likeness of music) effect a kind of emotional, revelation.
Let us take the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Bach’s Prelude in C Major, or Mozart’s Piano Sonata No 11 A major K 331. These canons rely on the repetition of rather simple patterns, but the experience of the listener is by no means simple.
Our lives are lives of repetition and while repetition has its own glory, it also has its limits. Repetition suggests something of the infinite, but can also suggest a kind of empty endurance, a sense of being stuck, even absurdity. Repetition which is mere recurrence has a certain flavor of the mechanical, the impersonal, and the hopeless. At the very least, repetition can suggest something which is known and comprehended—something exhausted in all its possibilities.
But as these canon’s develop, changes are not merely alterations or surprises. To the affective experience, they are something like unforeseen horizons.
The pattern which seemed to shut in, the pattern once comprehended is becomes something suddenly capable of bearing or expressing more. New intervals, new harmonies, alteration of rhythm creates unanticipated unity, not by destroying but transforming. Thus the affective experience of the unfolding of aural order reveals the way in which an order is unsuspectingly greater, more complex, even capable of containing more than once comprehended.
This is simultaneously a revelation therefore both of musical complexity, as well as the possibilities of our affective capacities, our hopes, and our expectations. Put simply, we have not fathomed all that we might expect or hope for in this world, much less in the next.
The pattern, the canon remains the same and yet with each development, something new presents itself which transforms the whole. This development can only be grasped or truly exist in the heart and mind of a spiritual, rational being–a person. Thus music is a revelation not merely of external order, but of the depths and hidden hopes of the soul. Music reveals that the pattern of life goes deeper and touches on greater things.
One responds: I did not except this…I had not imagined these possibilities. There is indeed more in this world than we have dreamt of.
In this manner, the imagination, memory, and our emotional expectations become a medium through which we grasp the hope of the infinite, a yet to be revealed or comprehended order. The heart is revealed to itself in such moments as a world which need not hope without hope.
No true beauty is wholly foreseen by man or exhausted in his experience. He is always capable of hoping for greater things. Beauty somehow expresses this, that the possibilities have not been exhausted either in reason or in nature. Perhaps this is why Simone Weil says “the beautiful is that which we cannot wish to change.”2
- Waiting for God, p.104
2. Gravity and Grace, p.114-115