Which philosophical theory gives you the most consolation
Music and need for consolation
Why art? - This question has lost its offense to the extent that the notion of radical artistic autonomy has been problematized, fought against, defended, adopted or has simply faded. The abrupt rejection of any functional expectation is no longer relevant. Nevertheless, the matter remains precarious. Hardly any artist will want to face the question head on, what is supposed to be good for what she has done, and it is even more difficult to give a uniform answer for the arts in all their disciplines and varieties. But if there is a common denominator that most artists, critics, and theorists can agree on, it is probably the one criticism.
Convincing, good art is critical art, be it purely formally, in that it takes an explicit position or intervenes directly in society. To put it even more generally: Art does not simply duplicate what already exists, nor does it confirm it unseen, but questions it to the point of radical rejection and opens up room for maneuver up to the utopian, completely different. That doesn't mean that art can't entertain too. But if it wants to live up to its concept, it has to challenge at the same time - it has to critically examine entertainment at the moment in which it is entertaining itself, or at least open up the possibility of doing so.
In determinations of this kind of generality, conceptions of art are obviously lumped together, which have (want) nothing to do with each other, which under certain circumstances fight each other to the bone or ignore them as unsatisfactory. What they all exclude, however, is the unbroken affirmation, which finds the existing quite in order, and the pure escapism, which turns its back on the unbearable world and thus leaves everything as it was.
Even if most theorists represent all of this not only in relation to the visual arts, but also for art in general, i.e. also for music, theater, dance, film, literature, etc., the actual practice of most people here seems to be something different accept. Sure, everyone has theirs guilty pleasures, and even the most reflective critic will occasionally indulge in the consumption of industrial bulk goods to relax, or simply to go dancing - music and film, including the omnipresent series, seem to play a special role here. But with music in particular, there is a moment that cannot be so easily dismissed as a momentary falling out of reflexive maturity and which plays a major role in these times of uncertainty and forced isolation: consolation. (The dancing is not to be underestimated here, but that's a topic in itself.)
The fact that we are all in need of consolation does not only apply now, but it is part of our existence marked by farewell and loss. If there is a piece of music that has explicitly made this need for consolation its topic, it is Johannes Brahms ’ German Requiem from 1869. The focus is less on the eternal rest of the dead than on the comfort of the living - the promise of comfort appears here as the core of Christianity. The musical realization of the apparently rhetorical questions “Death, where is your sting? Hell, where is your victory? ”Reveals no serene or triumphant security, but a defiant rebellion, an almost violent wrenching against this sting. The dead may expect bliss, but the living must be comforted, and in a very worldly and human way: “I want to comfort you as one's mother comforts one.” (Isaiah 66:13) The play does this much better in the restrained and melancholy passages than in the radiant ones that extol divine eternity.
Even if everyone knows this need and hardly anyone can escape this notion, the suspicion remains with regard to art and music that this could be about appeasement, a form of quietism that could absorb the energy of a possible rebellion against injustice for an empty promise. This suspicion is clearly articulated in Theodor W. Adorno's texts, also and especially in those on music. The series of adjectives with which consolation is provided in various places is impressive and fairly straightforward: cheaper, more bare, empty, impotent, dangerous, seedy, poor, affirmative, decreed consolation. The familiar image of the relentless and harsh judge, which also seems to suggest itself here, is never really true with Adorno. One can say that the prerequisite for this hardship is precisely the recognition of the need for consolation, and that it essentially feeds on the indignation at the betrayal of this need.
The motif of consolation appears particularly frequently and by no means always defensively in connection with two composers: Schubert and Mahler. Regarding the latter, it is said, very close to Brahms: "Like a mother, Mahler's music runs over the hair of those to whom it turns."1 This extremely concrete, almost physically perceptible image functions as the epitome of need and its satisfaction, as well as overall of the "utopia that once fed on the love of the mother"2 the speech is. The emphasized past tense shows how far this utopia is from simply being able to be set for the present. Conversely, the fact that for Adorno it does not consist in unrestricted self-development, but in unconditional acceptance, shows that it should not simply be brushed aside.
In dealing with Schubert, he speaks of a dialectic of mourning and consolation: mourning about what has been lost cannot be undone by consolation, just as little it can bring it back. In this sense, consolation does not have to be reconciliation, does not have to say that basically or now everything is all right again. But consolation may be the prerequisite for being able to go on living at all, and thus also the only way not to come to terms with the loss and to save the energy of rebellion. Even works of art and pieces of music that find consolation suspicious for good reasons and harden against it would have to let something of this dialectic shimmer through if they do not want to become completely inhuman. Sometimes it may seem that the music has the opposite problem, because even the darkest and most unforgiving pieces have a comforting effect despite everything or precisely because of their darkness - the Winter trip in her all-pervading sadness offers perhaps more consolation than if she took a forced turn into the light.
A good antidote to the quietistic traits of consolation can be found in Against seduction from 1925, one of Brecht's most famous poems. Its last stanza reads:
Do not be seduced
To work and exhaustion!
What else can fear move you?
You die with all animals
and nothing comes afterwards.
The consolation here is not that after this world there will be a better one, in which everything will be fine, but that this is the only one. Here is the place of mourning, consolation, struggle and joy. The dialectic and of grief and consolation is not fed by the fact that we have nothing to lose anyway, but rather by the fact that we have everything to lose and the common recognition of the irrevocability of this loss.
To finally take a leap into the present from Schubert, Mahler and Brecht: I know of no more convincing piece of contemporary music that brings grief, consolation and fighting spirit together without losing focus than Kendrick Lamars Alright. The drum break, the onset of the bass, the springy syncopation, the line “We gon’ be alright! ”Promise no cheap reconciliation, and if this refrain from Black Lives Matter-Activists is picked up, this is as much an expression of defiance as it is hope, precisely because nothing comes afterwards. Then even dancing may become a subversive act of emancipation.
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