Beyond representation: Music, language, and mental life

Thesis type
(Project) M.A.L.S.
Date created
Author: Nixon, Luke
Beyond Representation: Music, Language, and Mental Life investigates how music, as a non-discursive expressive form, generates and expresses meaning. Music's use in cultural ritual is explored through social anthropologist and ethnomusicologist John Blacking's studies of the South African Venda people, as well as music theorist Teresa L. Reed's work on religious practises found within the African American Pentecostal tradition. The Project shows that music necessarily and invaluably contributes to the efficacy of cultural rituals wherein the ritual participants express significant aspects of individual felt-experience. Additionally, these rituals strengthen cultural ties through social cohesion and solidarity. Myth and music are seen to possess similar shared expressive characteristics through poet and cultural historian Robert Bringhurst's study of Indigenous Haida myth. This comparison is further examined through anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss on how both myth and music have historically expressed non-linear felt-senses of time. Susanne Langer's Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art shows how discursive language is fundamentally limited in its ability to express the contradictions, nuances, and ambiguities inherent to human feeling and experience. The project extends Langer's argument that discursive language generates meaning incompatible with the rhythms and patterns of our feelings themselves, whereas music—non-discursively and non-representationally—is capable of articulating the qualities of our felt-experiences. In support of Langer, musical works by Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Stars of the Lid, William Basinski, and Leyland Kirby are discussed.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Zaslove, Jerry
Member of collection
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