The temporal whole

An interesting idea about how music and time interact.  Unfortunately, I’ve had to cut a number of the elaborating bits that flesh out the argument.  If you are very interested, check out the book Sound and Symbol, Chapter 12: The Musical Concept of Time.

[…] melody is a temporal Gestalt; temporal Gestalt presupposes that a temporal whole–a whole whose parts, with the exception of the one part present at the moment, either are no longer there or are not yet there–is given to us in an immediate experience. […] thus past and future are given with and in the present and are experienced with and in the present […] But the past is not a part of the future because it is remembered, nor is the future a part of the present because it is foreknown or forefelt. […] The temporal whole with which we are here confronted is, then, certainly not the work of memory and foreknowledge or forefeeling. […] Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown–that the past is not stored in memory but in time, and that it is not our consciousness which anticipates time but that time anticipates itself.  The possibility of music and of every temporal Gestalt rests entirely upon the premise of a time […] that stores itself and anticipates itself.

[…] What a melody is on a small scale, the total course of a musical work is on a large scale–a whole that unfolds in time and is so constituted that, though its individual members appear one after another, the whole, in order to be present, does not have to wait for member to be added to member, but is, so to speak, always already there, not factually, as with the spatial Gestalt, but as direction, as oriented tension.

~ Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol, 236-237

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3 thoughts on “The temporal whole

  1. More of this perspective:
    “Hearing music, we experience a time whose being is no longer a swift flare-up in the passage from one non-existence to another non-existence, which reveals itself rather as a self-storing and self-renewal than as a transience, a time whose flux does not exclude building. Even more: the miracle of non-spatial building, of a construction that no eye sees, no hand grasps, but that we nevertheless behold, descry, envision through hearing—where could it be manifested if not in the pure temporal Gestalten of music? Order, liberated from all relation to things, pure order, bodiless, detached, and free, not as a mere concept, not as a dream, but as a vision beheld–it is to music that we owe our awareness that such a thing can exist.” ~ 242

  2. Interesting to think about, Emma. In thinking about the relationship between time and memory, it seems that our memory is a way that our mind grasps or ‘deals with’ this temporal whole. It is in some ways truly amazing that we, who are always in the present, can comprehend the idea of time.

    I’m not sure I agree with the statement that “it is to music that we owe our awareness that such a thing can exist”. Certainly music enhances our understanding, but are there not other parts of our life which make us aware of time as a whole?

    • I think what Zuckerkandl means is that in music, perhaps uniquely (although I’m not so sure I agree), we are aware of time as something that brings present, past, and future together: these three aspects of time are not separate. In other words, in music time is “revealed,” so to speak, as less like a line of discrete points and more as a continuous interpenetration of the three strands. The contiguity of music is not due to memory (although memory is involved) – the coherent meaning or effect of a melody is apprehended not because each preceding note is remembered, but because we can “behold” the entire melody “all at once,” except not! Now, whether music alone does this is definitely up for debate, but it is perhaps a purer manifestation of time in this sense than more representational and spatial arts. Of course, arts are not the only kinds of experiences…

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