Eero Tarasti: "The Emancipation of the Sign: On the Corporeal and Gestural Meanings in Music" (9/11)

Yet, the process also goes on in other directions. Later this main motif is not only formally repeated in the recapitulation but it is reintroduced quite at the end of the piece, when Chausson plays with the cyclical form. First he seems to let the main theme for them first movement return, via its fragments in a long development. Then as a surprise in the psychological and tensional climax of the whole piece which I have called, in terms borrowed from the French existentialist philosopher Jean Wahl, a trans-descendence and trans-ascendence, it gives place to the main theme of the second movement. But this theme of redemption, as if the Proustian "lost Fatherland" were now rediscovered, does not remain the last word. The bold gesture of the beginning also recurs but is now united in a stretto in the bass with the cantabile theme in an overwhelming reconciliation and closure of all previous gestures in this piece. From here on the conversation can continue no longer. The music has stopped time. What has been Other has become the Same.
In fact this narrative technique is rather far removed from the German type of thematic construction which produces the "Greatness" in the music. Chausson very frequently lets the flow of gestures be stopped in the timeless feeling of verweile doch Du bist so schön series of dominant-seventh and ninth chords which do not serve any structural tension but which foreground the colour. This is what we easily consider to be something very "French".

However, the aim of my analysis, which I currently preparing, is to represent a kind of "semiotics without semiotics" as an answer to the question of what can remain of semiotics when all previously-articulated semiotic theories have been forgotten. Elsewhere, I have classified all the musical semiotic theories - in the epistemic sense - into two groups, the first of which starts with rules and grammars belonging to all music, emphasizing music's surface, which supposes that before the rules set by a theoretician there is just nothing - and consequently when the rules stop their functioning there remains nothing. This type of semiotics, as a philosophical 'style' rather than a systematic classification, I would call as "classical" semiotics. Here I am inspired by Taruskin's wonderful distinction, itself conceived after Boris de Schloezer (a music scholar Greimas once highly recommended I read) between civilisation and culture, beauty and profoundness, the sublime, etc. (Taruskin, p. 257). 1

1 Here I cite Taruskin; these dichotomies seem to fit amazingly even in the area of science, and I feel that my own theory of "existential semiotics," of which I consider all my present "fragments" and essays to be parts, could mutatis mutandis be defined in quite similar themes. So: "The other main idea...consists in the radical dichotomization of beauty on the one hand, and a whole discourse of profundity/strength, loftiness/seriousness/power - in a word- greatness, on the other. The distinction was perceived, at the time, in national terms, and so we had best translate our operative term into German: das Erhabene...
"These transgressions arose out of a stubborn adherence -from the German national perspective an outmoded and treasonable adherence - to the ideology of the Enlightenment which is to say the ideology of Zivilisation, which is really to say the ideology of the hated French..." (p. 261) "As the discourse of romanticism achieved its maximized expression in what we now look back on as the modernist period, the dichotomies we have so far encountered, all of them variations on the same theme, took on an even more radical aspect. What had formerly been expressible as a cleavage between national schools or between the cultivation of the beautiful and the cultivation of the sublime, or between the aesthetic of enjoyment and that of contemplation, or between the aesthetic of pleasure and that of disinterestedness, or between the discourse of enlightenment and that of transcendence, or of utility vs autonomy, or of convention vs originality, social accommodation vs social alienation, opera vs symphony, motley vs wholeness, melody vs motive - all this eventually came down to a gross discrimination between the serious and the popular, or even more grossly and peremptorily, into that between art and entertainment" (Taruskin, p. 265).
This also concerns semiotic theories, which in the twentieth century, have inherited much from the classicist/romantic dichotomy semiotics of the nineteenth century, a dichotomy which, particularly towards the end of our century, has become trivialized, rendered banal, and mediatized into such forms of semiotics as are only a kind of postmodern entertainment. Also the romantic tradition has had its moment of decline in semiotics, leading to the exaggeratedly introverted, solipsist approaches dangerously detached from the social context and ethical values in the basis of this approach. However, what is essential is that we be able follow the romantic "line" from Hegel via Kierkegaard to Peirce - who kindly said of Hegel that "there is music in his philosophy" (see Max Fisch) - and even to Soloviev, Bakhtin, Lotman, Lévi-Strauss and Greimas. But there is also the "classicist" line which follows instead the logical empiricism of Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophy. [POUR RETOURNER AU TEXTE]

Page - 1     Page + 1

AS/SA Nº4, Article 1 : Page 9 / 11

© 1997 by AS/SA

E-mail to the editors
Pour écrire à la rédaction