Monday, September 20, 2010

The Sublime

A friend brought to me the idea yesterday that people may like music so much because it is the easiest way for a visually-biased culture to attain the sublime. I'd never quite thought about it this way before, but I think I have to agree. It could be that the reason so many are easily mesmerized by music is that sonic phenomena works on a plane that very few of us are well accustomed to operating on in such depth, and yet are very receptive to. Rather, we are proficient at categorizing and sorting visual art into preconceived categories, but music takes us by surprise. We can't so easily associate the physics of acoustics with that which we normally encounter, and for many, it's difficult to conceptualize, to put music into a nice and compact little box.

Because our species is so dominated by visual stimuli, and our culture is so biased with its various uses of this means of interpreting the world, music can capitalize on our less-refined auditory senses. It's an encounter of something heavily weighted in that which is outside our operating comfort zone, and when our cochlei are stimulated by the vibrations transmitted in the air, we are more easily able to attain that state in which all is beyond possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation for the moment.

It reminds me of the same way humans so frequently encounter the sublime when we talk about our conceptualization of God. Our ideas of who God is are so vast and unfathomable, that they aren't easily grasped in the normal sense. We revert to analogies and metaphorical comparisons to those things that we do know, but that never adequately describe that which is so beyond our usual parameters of understanding. We are pressed to prove the existence of something so hard to explain and yet we know beyond doubt that is exists because we do experience it directly.

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