Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Between the Form and the Formless

Hazrat Inayat Khan has inspired me to unlearn to repose. Proper repose is an unlearning of posture, habit, mood–and the art of repose must surely be an unlearning of repose as well. Anyway, here's a mysticism drop:


What is wonderful about music is that it helps man to concentrate or meditate independently of thought. Therefore music seems to be the bridge over the gulf between the form and the formless. If there is anything intelligent, effective, and at the same time formless, it is music. Poetry suggests form, line and colour suggest form, but music suggests no form.


(The Mysticism of Sound and Music, pp. 113-114)


Inayat Khan surely knew his talas and ragas, and he was well aware of a variety of musical practices, including those that might be called highly formal. So what does he mean by saying that music suggests no form? Maybe Inayat Khan is being inconsistent, because he also says that music is a bridge between form and formlessness. Perhaps he is expressing a truth of improvisation, a truth that is premised on unlearning. Or, perhaps he is expressing a truth of mysticism, also a truth of unlearning. No doubt his mysticism colors the way he thinks about music, about what it essentially is. If we say that music is formless, it seems we're talking about our experience of music rather than how it's put together or analyzed outside of performance. I wonder, if thought necessarily takes form, how can there be an intelligent encounter with the formless? I find this puzzling. Is philosophy up to the task of unlearning? Am I?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:36 PM.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Yusef said...

".. wonder, if thought necessarily takes form, how can there be an intelligent encounter with the formless?

My opinion is that whether the encounter was intelligent,interesting,valuable, or not would only be known retrospective to the encounter. This is the adventure of thinking.

If we demand that the encounter be intelligent before the encounter, my opinion is we will thereby forfeit the encounter. This is common - always an option.

Thinking requires glorious and stupendous catastrophes and the risk of mess. It doesn't matter to the project of thinking if there is displeasure of shareholders when these messes reflect in the results on an annual report.

We used to make allowances in our institutions for this requirement of thinking...We used to keep the academy distant from the demand for "results," for example. In our hardbitten and streetsmart "realism" we've eliminated a great deal of this, and I think we all know we're forfeiting the future this way.

October 17, 2007 3:58 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Maybe form is only evident retrospectively. When I improvise on a twelve bar blues I unlearn the form in order to make way for new music. I don't plan out a new form to impose and then play it. I play. Every moment there is a possibility of departing from the form. From the outside it seems like forms emerge and slip away but from the inside every moment is an adventure. There's also a skill of listening as if the form weren't there. Learning the forms is necessary to becoming an educated listener, but unlearning them is a path to creative growth.

"If we demand that the encounter be intelligent before the encounter, my opinion is we will thereby forfeit the encounter. This is common - always an option."

It's common because it's easier to place demands than to be open to the encounter.

October 17, 2007 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"Maybe form is only evident retrospectively."

And if so Platonism is shown to be something entirely other than what it seemed.

October 17, 2007 6:38 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

It's a safe thought for me, but I want adventure, to explore all the varieties of Platonism with an open mind. Inayat Khan's idea of unlearning suggests a new entrance into the garden of forms, which is a new exit as well. The metaphor reminds me I want to read Attali's book on the labyrinth this fall.

October 18, 2007 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Mikhail Emelianov said...

"What is wonderful about music is that it helps man to concentrate or meditate independently of thought." This is an absolutely astonishing way of putting things - I suppose I feel as if I was somehow trying to say the same same thing to myself in order to understand what is so special about music in its relation to thought - I have not read this book but I just found out we have it at the library so I am running out of my place to go get it - but it seems to me from the quote that the author means something rather different by the "form" here and then by "formless" than what is normally assumed those terms mean. Do you think that this experience of the formless is a kind of irrationalism of music, even of the most thought-through formalist kind?

October 18, 2007 8:00 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

"Do you think that this experience of the formless is a kind of irrationalism of music, even of the most thought-through formalist kind?"

If irrationalism simply means not a rationalism, that sounds fair. I'm absolutely sure Inayat Khan was fully aware of the most thought-through formalist kinds of music. Sometimes he speaks of music in two senses: music of the cosmos, and "music in miniature," i.e., music as we commonly understand it. Of course he believed the former was expressed in the latter, even if the latter occurred in a practice that was not "highly evolved."

In what sense he meant "form" is a key question. He says several times that thought takes form, and music does not, that music is formless and it touches the Formless. He also speaks of the limited (conscious thought) and the Unlimited.

I learned of Mysticism because supposedly it was an influence on John Coltrane, and a lot of cats got into it because of that.

Nice to meet you, Mikhail.

October 19, 2007 6:28 AM  
Anonymous Mikhail Emelianov said...

your post prompted some thoughts that might not be related to your response but i posted them on my blog - pervegalit.wordpress.com - i got the book as well and i'm hoping to read the section you cite in its context.

great blog, btw, nice to meet you as well.

October 20, 2007 2:17 PM  

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