Raymond MONELLE: "Musical uniqueness as a function of the text" (9/17)


Verisimilitude, then, is a response to certain textual signs, rather than an evocation of some external known reality. In fact, the cultural items which form the signification of descriptive syntagmata are not necessarily present in the sociolect before the text evokes them, but are understood as realistic because the text instructs its reader so to understand them. This brings to mind the trope of apodeixis, in which a descriptive detail is implied to be a general truth by the mode of its utterance.
By comparison with other literary writers like Todorov and Beer, Riffaterre apparently portrays a nominalistic world. This view is highly illuminating when applied to music; however enrapturing is Dvorak's superlative tune in the Cello Concerto, we undeniably grasp its mode of expression by attending to certain conventional signs. Riffaterre would find our conviction of the emotional truth of this beautiful evocation -- its relation to our already-existing emotional life, and thus its warmth and intimacy -- to be entirely illusory. Description "must conform to a consensus about reality", but in truth this consensus is merely "encoded in language". Diegetic truth does not come from the reader's experience; it enters that experience. It is "a performative event in which participation on the reader's part can only serve to hammer the text's plausibility into his experience" (Riffaterre: 1990, p. xiv).
Passages of lyric temporality in music are dependent on the same kind of performative event by the reader. In literature there are stylistic and syntagmatic signs, like Dickens's "at such a time", which assure the reader that the passage is to be accepted as true to life. Music, too, has lyric passages that seem to reach out of the music into a world of real emotion, of sincerity, of intimate and confidential emotional truth; these passages are distinguished by signs. There is no space in this short article to give a full account of the signs which declare to the listener a musical evocation of emotional verisimilitude. Invariably, lyric evocations are symmetrical and quartal in structure; they are usually melodic, simple in texture, articulated with simple formulaic cadences; they lead to closure.
However, one observation of Riffaterre may guide us to a particularly significant sign of musical verisimilitude. Most notably, the verisimilitude of literary genre is indicated by a radical interruption of the serial time of narrative, a sudden arrest which is signalled by certain conventional formulae. Evocative truth "gives the narrative the authority of the real by eliminating or suspending the most basic feature of narrativity, its time dimension". The novelist needs to pass over from narrative time into descriptive time, from the time that embraces a sequence of events to the time that is all of a piece, continuous, "timeless" .

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AS/SA Nº4, Article 4 : Page 9 / 17

© 1997 by AS/SA

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