16 October 2006

A Hermeneutic of Jazz

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 6:40 pm

Heiddeger reacts against the transcendence of Western philosophy, the idea that man can achieve a God’s-eye view of Truth or Beauty or Goodness:

“The Christian definition was de-theologized in the course of the modern period. But the idea of ‘transcendence’ – that human being is something that goes beyond itself – has its roots in Christian dogma.”

Heidegger cites, as an exemplar of the Christian dogma of transcendence, Calvin:

“For the fact that human being looks toward God and His word clearly shows that according to his nature he is born closer to God, is somehow drawn toward God, that without doubt everything flows from the fact that he is created in the image of God.”

Heidegger allows no transcendence. Human being is always human being-in, or Dasein. To live authentically is to live inside a world. The meaning of any given world isn’t imposed from outside or above, or grasped by stepping outside that world. Rather, meaning arises from within that world itself. And even meaning can never be given; it can only be interpreted by someone who lives inside that world.

What does jazz mean? Better question: what does this jazz performance mean? A jazz performance is a world. Who can grasp its meaning? Only someone who lives inside the performance. And the performance is interactive, involving composer, musicians, audience. It’s a dynamic world, always bounded by the music, always moving forward in time. To step outside of that world is to lose the ability to interpret it.

But the performance always goes beyond itself, says Bruce Ellis Benson:

“If we say (modifying Heidegger) that a piece of music opens up a world, it should be clear this “world” of the piece of music is one that is not self-contained. Rather, it is a world within a world, a musical space that is created within and out of a larger musical practice. Moreover, just as the world of Dasein is not a physical world but a world of activity, so the piece of music is likewise a world of activity. It is a ‘space’ that is both created by and allows for musical activity.”

To hear a performance of “’Round Midnight” is to hear echoes of everyone who has ever interpreted that tune. Every improvisation is a tribute, bringing the past forward into the present.


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