Musical Meaning in Between: Ineffability, Atmosphere and Asubjectivity in Musical Experience

Journal of Aesthetics and Phenomenology 1 (2):209-230 (2014)
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ABSTRACTIneffability of musical meaning is a frequent theme in music philosophy. However, talk about musical meaning persists and seems to be not only inherently enjoyable and socially acceptable, but also functionally useful. Relying on a phenomenological account of musical meaning combined with a naturalist explanatory attitude, we argue for a novel explanation of how ineffability is a feature of musical meaning and experience and we show why it cannot be remedied by perfecting language or musico-philosophical study.Musical meaning is seen as an experiential phenomenon that consists of layers, some recent, others archaic. As such, musical meaning is strongly characterized by asubjectivity. It is in-between, in a state where the division of subject and object is not yet valid or valid anymore. A naturalistic interplay of experiential layers in music brings about a non-reified dynamics driving for expressions, interpretations, engenderings of subjects and objects or even for political action. Generally speaking, the in-betweenness of musical meaning can never be universally reified or symbolic nor can it ever be “subjective,” “mine” or present “at the origin.”In this view, ineffability has two primary reasons. First, the criteria offered for defining musical meaning are often too strict, resulting in untenable pretensions of universality. Second, the processual and relational nature of the in-between keeps meaning in flux; any snapshot creates a new situation and new meanings.


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