Communication par excellence

Music does possess the power of expressivity, and the human being does innately possess the capacity to respond to it. Everyone agrees on that, in one way or another -- even William James, who regarded our reaction to music as nothing but a nervous tic. Where they disagree is in making the distinction between what music expresses and how it expresses it. The "what" is very hard to pin down, as we've seen, but the "how" we do know about: and that is Metaphor. In any sense in which music can be considered a language (and there are some senses in which it cannot be so considered) it is a totally metaphoricalm language. Consider the etymology of the word "metaphor": meta-,m beyond: pherein,m to carry -- carrying meaning beyond the literal, the tangible, beyond the grossly semantic, to the self-contained Ding-ansichm of musical meaning. Metaphor is the generator, the power-plant of music, just as it is of poetry. Aristotle puts metaphor "midway between the unintelligible and the commonplace . . ." (a marvelous remark). "It is metaphor," he says, "which most produces knowledge." The artist cannot help but agree, nor can the lover of art. Quintilian says, even more strikingly, that metaphor accomplishes "the supremely difficult task of providing a name for everything." By "everything" he obviously meant our interior lives, our psychic landscapes and actions, where names elude us. It is thus that poetry and music -- but especially music, because of its specific and far-reaching metaphorical powers -- can name the unnamable, and communicate the unknowable.

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