music and freud

I was going to go to Crewe this morning for more money, but I experienced the same problem as yesterday – the battery hit red before I got to the bus stop. I returned to campus, emailed my father, and began thinking about Freud.

Freud fascinates me increasingly these days, especially the relationship between language, art and the unconscious. Recently I’ve been thinking about the idea of contingent, where symbolic structures like language go beyond themselves and reveal or trigger something in the unconscious. The classic example is the Freudian slip; another is the punctum of Barthes. We can never fully articulate why we are effected by the contingent because it goes beyond language – what Lacan calls the symbolic. This is why I think the real of Lacan and the id of Freud are, if not the same thing then very similar. Mind you, when I put this to Alan, he said ‘don’t go there, just don’t.’

This morning I was thinking about music and how it fits into all this. music is a structural art; many would say it is a language. Yet, lyrics aside, it seems to go beyond the symbolic and taps straight into the unconscious. Often it can move us deeply, but we can never express why. Thus there is something of both the symbolic and the real to it. It’s sort of like pure emotion; we are moved by it, but can never say why. Is it therefore all contingent? After all, music is often composed by trial and error unless you’re Mozart, you try several things out before deciding on the ‘right’ notes. But, then again, what about music’s language-like qualities? In music, the relationship between sign and signified are arbitrary, as in language, yet this relationship is fixed and universal. If you play the same piece of music to several ethnic groups from across the world, do they not feel the same thing? It seems that music fits both categories – symbolic and real, contingent and linguistic, id and ego. It is (a) language, yet goes beyond language.

This, of course, has a bearing on my work on cinephilia. Film too taps directly into the emotions: we experience cinephiliac moments (Keathley) and are ‘wounded’ by the accident in the image. Yet film too is linguistic and structural, and there for us to decode. In a way, film is sort of like music inasmuch as editing follows rhythmic patterns and so on. Both have a direct route into the unconscious, and I think that is why they are the two most ubiquitous art forms of our time.

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