Friday, 7 November 2008

Bruno Forte: on music and apocalyptic aesthetics

In my posts on popular culture here at F&T (on films, music, or whatever), I’m often looking for ways to talk about aesthetics in terms of disruption and dissonance – “form” as a kind of apocalyptic grotesqueness; “beauty” hidden sub specie crucis. There are some helpful ideas along these lines in a new book by the Italian theologian and archbishop, Bruno Forte: The Portal of Beauty: Towards a Theology of Aesthetics (Eerdmans, 2008). I went along tonight to a public lecture by Forte, and it was quite stunning – the Catholic archbishop presented a kind of “aesthetics of the cross,” with numerous colourful digressions into Luther and Karl Barth. So now I’ve now been devouring his book – here’s what he has to say in the chapter on music:

“Transposing this understanding of the Spirit to the musical event … one can hypothesize a form of music in which interruption, transgression, and silence are no less eloquent than harmony and sound. It is a matter, that is, of arriving at a kind of music that – without excluding tonality a priori, but also without any rigid adherence to it – would be able to find excessive forms which could transmit the message of that openness, newness and freedom proper to the action of the Spirit in God and history…. Such music would certainly not transmit the classical idea of beauty – the presence of the Whole in the fragment – by way of harmony or ordered numerical relationships. Yet it could render the no less pregnant idea of beauty as the Whole irrupting into the fragment and the fragment opening itself to be embraced in the depths of the unsayable Whole; and this by way of interruption, negation, surprise, silence, no less than of harmony, measure, and relationship” (pp. 99-100).

Ah, just thinking about it gives me a hankering for a good dose of Tom Waits:

       “Well you play that tarantella, all the hounds will start to roar
       The boys all go to hell and then the Cubans hit the floor
       They drive along the pipeline, they tango till they’re sore
       They take apart their nightmares and they leave them by the door”

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