Raymond MONELLE: "Musical uniqueness as a function of the text" (8/17)


In spite of the structural analysts' attempts to prove that composerly greatness lies in the capacity to develop, listeners' intuitions suggest that the uniqueness of masterworks resides in sentimental evocation and in authorial personality; in great melodies, and great souls. A contact with the composerts divine uniqueness, and with a pledge of moral truth in her melodies, sounds like a kind of "spirituality" -- just the sort of thing you would expect of "great music". It is clearly something beyond mere convention, the sort of universal structural quality with which analytic semiotics has to deal.
Riffaterre denies these intuitions roundly. Style, he says, "has long been confused with the hypothetical individual termed the author; but, in point of fact, style is the text itself" (Riffaterre: 1983, 2). Similarly, the apparent "truth" of a literary or musical text, the kind of thing that brings the artwork close to the reality of our emotional lives, is a product of the reader's engagement with the text; there is no external truth to which it refers. "Literary communication has only two components physically present as things -- the message and the reader."
Reality and the author are either verbally present [...] or deduced from the utterance and reconstituted by the reader [...] Content is assured not by the kind of passive reception involved in norrnal communication, but by the active performance (in the musical sense of the term) of the score represented by the text (Riffaterre: 1983, 4).
This "performance" of the work is accomplished in real music by the listener, of course, and by the performers as long as they are also listeners. It is a product of the relation between writer and reader, which is to say between text and reader (or music and listener). However, the reader's or listener's consent to each pledge of moral truth is itself a response to signs contained in the text. Riffaterre is extremely explicit on the subject of the internality of truth-reference in passages of "description", that is, lyric temporality (like Todorov, he uses the terms "narrative" and "description" for the two aspects, in progressive and lyric time, of the literary utterance). The verisimilitude of description "seems to reflect a reality external to the text, but only because it conforms to a grammar". Our belief -- and the belief of generations of critics -- that literary description refers to an exterior world is "but an illusion, for signs or sign systems refer to other sign systems: verbal representations in the text refer to verbal givens borrowed from the sociolect" (Riffaterre: 1990, p. 3). The expansion of a literary syntagma into description is less like an evocation of the external world than the definition of a word; description is not mimetic but metalinguistic. The truth of a descriptive passage cannot be checked alongside reality. It purports, not to represent something external to itself, but to draw the reader into an elaborated descriptive system by means of certain indices of fictionality. While narrative seems to rest on a "sequentiality that is entirely within the text's boundaries", description is "seemingly based on the referentiality of its components, that is, on the assumption that words carry meaning by referring to things or to nonverbal entities" (1990, 3). This referentiality is, however, an internal textual feature; if the text refers to anything at all, it refers to other texts, literary and cultural. We are reminded of Derrida's famous dictum, "Il n'y a pas de hors-texte".

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AS/SA Nº4, Article 4 : Page 8 / 17

© 1997 by AS/SA

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