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Strange Emotions: Kant’s Aesthetic Theory Applied to the Problem Presented by Musical Emotions

Co author: Peter Leech

 

 Introduction

What prompts discussion of this topic is the curious fact that people find it difficult to articulate the emotional effect that music has upon them. That it has an emotional effect-and a potent one-is what everyone admits. Furthermore, each of our emotional reactions to different musical lines seem to be unique and significant: our feelings exactly fit the music which prompts them and thus these feelings seems like wonderfully accurate judgments. But beyond a few lame characterizations of these emotional judgments (the music is 'happy' or 'sad') we seem to be stuck. In this paper we present an argument that explains why musical emotions have this special character. The Argument We begin by locating the problem in the literature and then outlining the aspects of Kant's Aesthetic theory which will provide the concepts which allow the special character of musical emotions to be understood. In a nutshell, our argument turns on the fact that the patterns which characterize musical lines are detected by the imagination as significant. They are significant in that they obviously follow a rule of some sort and thus could be brought under a concept. However, we lack an appropriate concept. So that our sense of the significance of the musical line must be conveyed directly by our feeling its significance. Since we cannot articulate this feeling of significance using concepts we feel a cognitive frustration which we experience when we try to articulate how the music affects us. The Problem in the literature We will argue that Kant can provide a conceptual framework in terms of which the question put by Justine Kingsbury in her recent Australasian Journal of Philosophy article "Why the arousal theory of Musical Expressiveness is still wrong", March l999, vol. 77, pp.83-88 can be answered. Seeking to make some sort of sense of the arousal theory as put forward by Peter Mew, Kingsbury provides us with Mew's definition of how music generates emotion in the listener: "An emotion can properly be ascribed to a piece of music by a given listener iff, when that listener is fully attending to it, the music causes him to feel that emotion by or in directly expressing it." (Kingsbury, p.84) She then comments (a paragraph further on): It is direct, by which Mew means that the emotions do not, at least initially, have objects. Thus we might rephrase Mew's definition as follows: an emotion can properly be ascribed to a piece of music by a given listener iff, when that listener is fully attending to the music, the music causes him to feel that emotion objectlessly. On some occasions, Mew thinks, the emotion remains objectless, on others we find some appropriate object for it after it has been aroused by the music. She then quotes Mews again: The important point here is that the music arouses and gives expression to an objectless emotion before it induces me to think of any object(s). Music makes, so to speak, straight for the inner life to awaken and perform an emotion thereby reversing the normal extra-musical emotional process in which a person's emotion is aroused, in the first instance, by the presence, real or imaginary, of an object. (p. 84) She then registers her fundamental complaint against Mews (in particular) and arousal theorists in general: . . .[Mew's] explanation of how Music can arouse emotions objectlessly is vague and unsatisfactory. How does music 'make straight for the inner life', and how does it 'arouse and directly shape' emotions? The arousal theorist owes us an explanation of how or why sad music tends to arouse sadness, an explanation, moreover, which does not appeal to the sadness of sad music. The fact that no arousal theorists have produced one, when it is obvious that the completion of the theory requires it, suggests that it is not easy to do. How can Kant's aesthetic theory answer Kingsbury's questions? Kant's Theory In Kant's Critique of Judgement, he introduces the idea of a 'common sense' (section 21). This sense informs us of the epistemic status of a given judgement. This 'common sense' is quite familiar to us. It manifests itself in speech by the tone of voice that I use to convey a variety of modalities (doubt, wonder, certainty, etc.) related to what I am saying. (I can detect this tone of voice-an expression of this epistemic feeling-in others and may respond by saying things like: "You don't sound very sure of yourself" or "You sound like you are absolutely certain", etc.). The fact that we are capable of registering such feelings (and communicating them to others) constitutes, according to Kant, "the subjective condition of the act of knowing [without which] knowledge as an effect, would not arise." (section 21, lines 21-3) Thus, unless our judgments were accompanied by these 'common sense' feelings (e.g., doubt, wonder, certainty, etc), we would not be aware of the epistemic status of the judgements we make. We literally would not know anything. Kant suggests that the particular modality of the feeling is a function of the interaction between our cognitive faculties-the sensibility, the imagination and the understanding. These three faculties cooperate in various proportions to produce the judgments that we make and this proportional cooperation is reflected in the feelings of doubt or certainty that we experience in relation to these judgments. We all possess this fundamental cognitive machinery and everyone's experience of the feelings which mark their disposition (in relationship to each other) is the same. It is because of this that Kant calls this sense a 'sensus communis' a sense that we share and he argues that the existence of such a sense is a condition of the possibility of communicating the epistemic status of our judgments. This is because the epistemic status of our judgements is a reflection of the epistemic attitude we have towards them, an attitude which our 'common sense' provides. Kant's view is that such feelings-he calls them 'attendant convictions'-vary according to the relative contribution which each of the faculties makes to a given judgment. ("But this disposition of the cognitive powers [faculties] has a relative proportion differing with the diversity of the Objects that are given"-section 21). For example, suppose I see someone wearing a hat that is similar to one that my daughter owns but that I am unable to see anything of this person wearing the hat apart from the hat (This is the contribution made by sensibility). The recognition of the familiar hat is enough to stimulate my imagination. It puts forward the hypothesis that the wearer is my daughter. At this point my understanding says: "I will need more than this one bit of evidence to confidently apply the 'daughter' concept to the hatted person." Thus the judgment that emerges has the epistemic status expressed by my saying (as a kind of summary expression of the result of the cognitive interactions between the three faculties): "I wonder if that is Lizz over there?" Our attitude towards this proposition is-according to Kant-evident to us though the modality of the 'attendant conviction': viz., the feeling of wondering which we experience in such a situation. Suppose I now alter the input of sensibility: a little more pertinent information-say a quarter profile of the person under the familiar hat-is now added. Now the imagination has more information upon which to firm up the hypothesis that the hatted person is my daughter. With this new information, the understanding can recognize a number of important indicators (provided by the quarter profile) related to the concept "my daughter" and-as a consequence- we pronounce accordingly: "I feel pretty sure that is Lizz over there." Finally, Lizz is seen full face: no hypothesizing activity is required from the imagination and the understanding pronounces with the feeling of certainty: "That's Lizz". On the basis of this account of Kant's discussion of this capacity ('common sense') we conclude that all our judgments are coloured by some degree of conviction. This attendant conviction reflects the degree to which the instance presented by sensibility (or more broadly, our past experience) accords with the relevant concept. Determining the degree of this accord is the task of the imagination. The imagination serves as the 'blind but indispensable' intermediary, whose task is to suggest possibilities (based on the contribution made by sensibility) which are relevant to the store of concepts contained in the understanding. In effect, the more that the imagination is called upon, the more uncertain is the feeling attached to the subsequent judgment. (I did not need to employ my imagination at all when I saw my daughter full face and thus felt certain that it was Lizz.) How Kant came to develop his notion of a 'common sense' Since the passage (section 21)1 which provides Kant's account of how our epistemic attitude towards our judgments is generated is rather obscure, it is worth setting it in its context to make it clear that my interpretation of it is plausible. Kant had his attention drawn to this idea of a 'common sense' (as the means of indicating-through feeling-the epistemic status of the various judgments which are yielded by the interplay of the cognitive faculties) in the course of his attempt to understand the special epistemic status of aesthetic judgments. Aesthetic judgments are special because the predicate involved-'beautiful'-is not a proper concept in the following sense. Kant holds that a concept is essentially a rule, and that the application of a concept involves seeing that an instance falls under a rule. But there is no rule for judging that a thing is beautiful. Nevertheless, we make aesthetic judgments and feel justified in doing so even though we cannot provide a justification in the form of an argument which would demonstrate that the beautiful item is beautiful because it exemplifies the rule for beautiful things. Why then, do we feel justified when we make such judgements? The clue for Kant lay in the fact that we feel justified in applying this concept. In effect, he recognized that the feeling of delight which is the intuitive basis of our attribution of the concept 'beautiful' to an object, was a feeling of a special order, an epistemic feeling and not, for example, a feeling akin to the feeling of gratification which characterizes our response to a pleasing taste sensation. Such a feeling of gratification simply delivers information about how the sensation stands with regard to our capacity to feel pain or pleasure. By contrast, the feeling upon which we base our aesthetic judgements is an indicator of the state of interaction of our cognitive faculties and, as such, it must be regarded as a cognitive feeling. In the case of the feeling of beauty, this state of interaction of our cognitive faculties was a rather special one in which the sensibility, the imagination and the understanding are related to each other in a unique way. (As Kant puts it: "However, there must be one [state of interaction between the three faculties] in which this internal ratio suitable for quickening (one faculty by the other) is best adapted for both mental powers [i.e., the understanding and the imagination] in respect of cognition (of given objects) generally."- section 21, lines 29-32). What is this unique internal ratio which yields the feeling upon which we base our judgment that an object is beautiful? When we make a judgment of beauty, the sensibility provides an object that has some internal organization (displays some pattern). The imagination senses this pattern-in its blind but indispensable fashion- but, as it happens, the understanding contains no appropriate concept, no rule under which to recognize this 'blindly sensed' internal organization or pattern. This impasse in the normal interplay of the cognitive faculties (no judgment is forthcoming since no appropriate concept is available to the understanding) prompts the setting up of a particular sort of interplay between the imagination and the understanding, an interplay which-thanks to our 'common sense' we experience as a feeling of delight in the beauty of the object. ("This disposition [this interplay] can only be determined through feeling", section 21, line 33). As a dialogue, the interplay might be characterized as follows: the imagination says to the understanding: "I sense something significant (something capable of being brought under a concept) in this object." The understanding replies (and here Hamlet and Polonius give us the flavour): Ham. Do you see yonder cloud, that's almost in the shape of a camel? Pol. By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed. Ham. Methinks, it is like a weasel. Pol. It is backed like a weasel Ham. Or like a whale? Pol. Very like a whale. Hamlet is toying with Polonius here but the dialogue is an apt one for our purposes. If Hamlet had been struck by the beauty of the cloud, his contemplation of that beauty-the way in which he found himself dwelling upon its beauty-would have involved some such continuous interplay between his imagination and his understanding for it is only through such a general engagement of the cognitive faculties that our delight in the beautiful can be experienced. Our attendant conviction that the object is beautiful is sustained and justified by the feeling of delight we experience which tells us intuitively (i.e., directly via the 'common sense' feeling) that such a play of the faculties is going on. There is no need to imagine that this interplay would have the banal character of the camel/weasel/whale dialogue. Instead, when we say that something beautiful induces contemplation we mean by this that "the imagination stirs the understanding and the understanding apart from concepts puts the imagination into regular play" (Ibid., section 40, p.154) This is what the experience of dwelling upon beauty amounts to and the delight it furnishes is based on this particular manifestation of our capacity for cognition. The application of this conceptual resource to musical emotions Using this conceptual framework I want to look at the relationship between music and the emotions. Musical patterns are unique in that while the imagination can easily sense these patterns, they are not accessible to the understanding in the sense that the rules that these patterns exhibit are not rules which we can articulate in terms of the concepts which we possess. Nevertheless the patterned sounds, qua patterns, affect the imagination: it senses (in its blind but indispensable way) that such patterns-as embodiments of unknown rules-are worthy of concepts and hence significant. It feels this potential significance in terms of what I will call 'strange emotions'-emotional responses to musical patterns-responses which the imagination invents-in order to articulate its blind sense of the significance of these patterns. In effect, the strange emotions which music arouses are the imagination's 'concepts', brought into being because the understanding cannot play its usual role in the aesthetic dialogue. This is due to the fact that the patterns of music are meaningless so far as the understanding is concerned. Of course it can say "That's Bach" but it cannot say of a given musical phrase, or sentence what its meaning is. Thus, since the understanding's hands are tied, the imagination makes up for this silence by inventing-as a pure jeu d'esprit-an emotion that blindly expresses the significance of the pattern sensed. This is how the patterns in music are related to the strange emotions which they arouse. Music stimulates or rather induces emotional states in us and the odd thing about these emotions is that-due to their origins as inventions of the imagination-they are sui generis. This is why 'sad' music is not sad. Musical emotions are not as Davies and Levinson suppose "expressive of the garden variety emotions". (Peter Kivy's characterization of their view in his 'Feeling the Musical Emotions', British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 39 no 1, 1999, p.7) They are not duplicates of our common emotional states (anger, sadness, happiness, etc.) though we are inclined to categorize them in this way by default, as it were. They are, as Kivy rightly says, "nameless emotions". (Ibid. p.5) This does not mean that they are ineffable or occult: we can identify them by the objects which arouse them (the musical patterns) but what must be appreciated is that each emotion induced by such patterns is a completely fresh creation, a marvelous jeu d'esprit of the imagination whose unique character delights and at the same time puzzles us since we cannot identify it apart from saying that this is the feeling (different for us all or exactly the same?) which we experience when we hear e.g., the Largo movement of Dvorjak's 'Symphony from the New World'. Relating Kingsbury's Demands to Kant's theory According to Kant the basic purpose of our capacity to feel epistemically is to inform us in terms of feelings, about the various interactions which our three faculties, the sensibility, the imagination and the understanding are undergoing. The basic purpose of these faculties is to allow us to know the epistemic standing our various judgments. When we apply this apparatus to musical 'judgments' (the 'statements' or 'phrases' in music which exhibit significant musical patterns) it is obvious that such analog judgments cannot be assessed as being doubtful, probable, or certain. Instead something magical has to happen to convert the epistemic feeling (that this musical pattern is following some rule and that it is therefore significant) into a feeling that can somehow render the significance-the meaning-of a particular musical 'judgment'. This is how Kant's theory answers Kingsbury's first question: "How does music 'make', so to speak, straight for the inner life?" It does so via the capacity of the imagination to spontaneously shape2 a unique emotional response to each particular musical pattern. Such imagined emotions ('strange emotions') stand in for the concepts the understanding cannot supply and give us the feeling of significance without the substance. The music is not a meaningless jumble of sound: we can sense its patterns: but their 'meanings' can only be rendered 'metaphorically' via the strange emotions which the imagination creates as surrogate emblems of significance. This is how Kant would answer Kingsbury's second question viz.: "How does Music 'arouse and directly shape' our emotions?" Strange emotions are strange because their 'significance' is puzzling to the intellect. This is why Davies et al. have found it puzzling that 'sad' musical motions are not sad. Thus Levinson says: "the weakening of the cognitive component in emotional response to music generally results in an inhibition of the most characteristic behaviours and in the significant lessening of behavioural tendencies". (quoted in Kivy, Ibid. p.9) What is wrong here is the assumption that there is any cognitive component at all in an emotional response to music. When we recognize that there is none (the understanding the faculty of concepts is not engaged) we see that there can be no characteristic behaviour associated with 'sad' music or 'happy' music. Where there is no cognitive component: the notion of 'characteristic' is empty: the only 'appropriate' behaviour in response to the emotions aroused by music is to dance and the dance which is the direct expression of musical emotions is as empty-cognitively-as the 'strange' emotions which it expresses. But surely Davies and Levinson are right: we do feel sad (and happy etc.)- the garden varieties-when we respond to music. No. At least not once you have understood the origins of these essentially strange emotions. Since all emotions are either positive or negative, i.e., expressive of joy or sadness, even these strange emotional responses to music will fall into one of these two categories but beyond that you cannot tell what these emotions signify. (This is why Davies calls sad music 'sad' and Levinson describes these emotions as 'quasi-emotions'). If you do go beyond 'happy' and 'sad'-where these words simply mean emotionally 'positive' or 'negative'- any additional characterizations of the emotion sound fanciful, e.g., 'English countryside music'. What has to be appreciated to understand (and check) these tendencies to seek to articulate these emotions is that the significance of these emotions is purely imaginary. Thus it is the imagination-insofar as it senses the patterns in music-which has responded emotionally to these patterns, and so created, ex nihilo, their 'meaningful' character. The strangeness of these emotional indicators of significance is a function of the fact that they are 'blind' realizations of the potential for significance which the particular musical patterns exhibit to the imagination. This is what makes them so strange when we come to try to understand them. Some further applications of Kant's theory to our aesthetic experience of music A key feature of musical emotions is that while they can be directly enjoyed as such (we delight in their 'strangeness'-their sui generis emotional significance), we are naturally prompted to express these emotions-to act on them-by dancing. (Imogen Holst once remarked to a student of composition that her test of the merit of a given piece was whether it 'danced'.) These bodily movements are again purely imaginative expressions of the felt significance of the musical patterns (one jeu d'esprit prompting another). Thus one of the irritating things about watching free artistic dancing-dancing which attempts to directly express the significance of the strange emotions aroused by the music is that while the movements of the dancer which reflect the rhythm of the music can always be 'in time' (and indeed can play against the rhythm of the music through another related rhythm-syncopation), the non-rhythmical aspect of the dancers movements will inevitably be interpreted by the viewer as attempts to give expression to the 'meaning' of the strange emotions which the music is prompting in them (i.e., in the members of the audience). These movements (as expressions of the choreographer's or the dancer's own) strange emotions) are bound to seem 'fanciful' to the viewer though for the choreographer (or the free dancer) herself they are (as imaginative jeu d'esprit) quite 'unintentional' expressions, which are not and could not be meant to be interpreted cognitively. Thus the patterns displayed by these movements are just as opaque to the understanding as the emotions which they express. Thus while these free movements are not random-they are direct expressions of the felt significance of the pattern of the music-because this expression is free, there is no rule guiding it (no concept is involved)-the movement cannot match the emotion in any cognitive way. Free dancing is thus a lot more fun to do than to watch because when you do it you have no cognitive pretensions (your imagination is in sole charge, freely translating the emotion into movement) whereas when you watch it is impossible not to try to 'make sense' of the movements. But this involuntary grasping after significance is doomed insofar as the only sense which could be made of them-some sort of match with the strange emotions they are meant to express-is prevented by the fact that both halves of the match-the patterns of sound and movement-are only significant insofar as the imagination blindly senses their patterns: they can have no significance for the understanding.3 Is our experience of music an experience of beauty? Since, according to Kant, the experience of beauty is the experience of the delight which marks the interplay between the imagination and the understanding, it follows that our experience of the strange emotions which music prompts in us is not an experience of beauty. This is because the interplay of the faculties that the experience of beauty requires must involve the possibility of a conceptual characterization of the patterns which the imagination detects in the music. We have, however, no appropriate musical concepts and thus the understanding cannot even begin to play with the imagination in an effort to give some meaning to the patterns which the imagination senses. Thus our emotional response to music is not an experience of beauty which Kant defines as the result of a free play between the two faculties. Instead delight in another kind of interplay arises as a response to the imagination's detection of significance in the sounds we hear. This delight lies in the recognition of how music's strange emotions are generated since once we understand their origin we can properly appreciate these creatures of one's own imagination (and their spontaneous expressions in dance). Because these marvelous creations of the imagination are always 'adequate' to the patterns which composers weave (there is no logical room for assessing whether the 'meaning' of the emotions we feel is appropriate to the patterns which arouse them), our part in the aesthetic transaction (our emotional reaction to the music) strikes us as equal to the music which arouses it. Music, as an art form, is thus unique in this respect since a response to its patterns is not tied down to attempts to articulate the significance of the patterns encountered in terms of a particular collection of concepts which a given individual happens to possess. It is this collection of concepts which the individual's understanding must draw upon to respond to the potential significance which his imagination sees in the patterns which other art forms display. Since individuals' vary in the repertoire of concepts available to them there can be disagreements in our aesthetic responses to other art forms. (The interplay between the imagination and the understanding may halt in one individual if that person happens to possess a concept which nicely captures the pattern which the imagination detects in the work of art. (The 'That's old hat' response.) However, in the case of music, its universal appeal is reflected in our complete agreement vis a vis its power to move us. The universality of its appeal is straightforwardly a function of the imagination's capacity to respond to patterns-without in anyway calling upon the understanding, the faculty of concepts. Thus it is that all art aspires to the condition of music, i.e., all art would like to be rid of the tyranny of concepts, but only music-whose patterns cannot be understood-can enjoy this universality. This is why critical talk about music, as opposed to critical talk about say painting or sculpture, is not possible, or rather when it is attempted, the metaphors which result are not illuminating but simply fanciful. Using Kant's theory, the reason for this discrepancy is straightforward: aspects of the patterns displayed by painting and sculpture can be identified under concepts which relate to familiar patterns and so helpful metaphors can be generated by the critic-helpful because an unfamiliar pattern can be compared in some respect to a familiar one and thus in some degree understood-due to some resemblance between aspects of the two items being compared, (This, as Kant says, is where "critics [may] exercise their subtlety" Critique of Judgment , p. 141). But since the finality (our intuitive sense that the musical phrase or statement displays a pattern) of each musical 'statement' is made known to us in terms of strange emotions, we can never use a metaphor to illuminate the finality we sense in a musical pattern: there can be no points of comparison with patterns found elsewhere. (As we have seen, the comparison with the garden variety emotions is uninteresting). Thus our enjoyment of music cannot be due to a play between the faculties (the understanding, after all, cannot be involved in making metaphors and thus cannot play its part) Therefore we do not delight (take aesthetic delight) in music when we enjoy music, i.e., respond to it emotionally. Nevertheless, the experience of beauty-as the feeling which manifests the dialogue between the imagination and the understanding-can occur when in place of a concept supplied by the understanding, we supply a 'concept' which is constituted by an emotional template generated by repeated exposure to a particular performance of a piece of music. When this template is firmly lodged and we are then exposed to a fresh interpretation of a particular piece, we will be struck by the classic metaphorical insight, namely that the piece we are hearing is the same but different from the template against which it is being subconsciously compared. This sense of a particular interpretation being simultaneously the same but different (from the template) gives us a particularly effortless experience of beauty. This is due to the fact that the dialogue between the understanding and the imagination which is the usual source of the feeling which constitutes our experience of beauty is 'performed' by the instantaneous recognition that the interpretation is different. And each variation-each difference from the template-is a source of delight (or irritation) depending on some deep intimation of the relative suitability of the two interpretations of the musical pattern (a suitability conveyed by the character of the strange emotions generated). The subtlety of this comparison of novel performance and template creates our delight in the beauty of the interpretation. Musicians are aware of the possibilities for variation that can be brought out in any interpretation but, as a simple example, the mere change in the tempo, can produce an amazing experience of beauty where the template is firmly in our minds. Thus we experience our musical metaphors (and thus delight in the beauty of an interpretation) in a very direct fashion. By comparison, in poetry, the aesthetic effect of a metaphor lies in our interpretation of its statement that x (the unfamiliar object) is like y (the familiar object). This involves some work: our sorting out of the ways in which x is the same but also different from y, and this 'work' involves the free interplay of the imagination and the understanding in the usual way. However, we need do no work when we are presented with a new interpretation of a piece with which we are familiar: in this case the metaphor in music (the 'same but different' comparison of the interpretation with the template) is handed to us on a plate. The only work we have to do is to instill a template in our minds so that we will be in a position to appreciate the interpretation, i.e., appreciate the subtle differences in the interpretation which allow us to take an aesthetic delight in the comparison. Music hath Charms It is worth noting just how Kant's notion of charm relates to music. Charm for Kant is a state of mind produced by a variation of stimuli within limits. The quintessential experiences of charm are flickering firelight and the babbling brook. Both invite the imagination to seek a pattern (because their variations (flickers and 'babbles') stay within limits - unlike the random street noises of a large city which are anything but charming. However the imagination never actually finds a pattern (the random variation within limits always promises a pattern but never finally delivers) so no dialogue is set up with the understanding. Thus the imagination is simply charmed. To be charmed is a curious experience in that we are engaged in the first stage of a cognition but we never advance from that first stage. We enjoy being charmed because we have been induced into a state of consciousness which might be characterized as an empty daydream (a cognitively empty 'brown study'). In music charm is provided by the variations which can characterize a sound, its pitch, its dynamic, its harmonies, and its timbre. All of these variations fall within limits and where they do not fall into any sort of pattern they charm, e.g., the charm of Britten's Variations on a theme by Thomas Talis. Where such variations are rhythmical and do fall into patterns these are only recognizable as such when they are repetitive, and here something unique happens: the repetitions-since they embody an easily recognized rule, (e.g. waltz tempo)-generate expectations which can be realized or not, thus creating surprises/tension where expectations are not fulfilled and satisfactions when they are. In Jazz, these variations are the principal focus: jazz variations are played against a template of a some standard and create both charm (when the variations do not apparently coalesce into any pattern since they go so far away from the norm) and beauty when (to the ear of an aficionado) they can be seen in relation to the base melody with respect to which they are variations. And of course the same applies to any set of variations which charm because of their variation within a limit, e.g., a set of modulations (key changes) which vary unpredictably but eventually resolve themselves by coming back to the initial key. Finally the payoff in all of this is a new way of attending to music: instead of focussing on the melody line-the pattern-we shift our attention to the feeling which the imagination is generating in response to this pattern. These marvelous creations which now occupy centre stage are wonderful in themselves, but it gets better: normal emotions are responses which prompt us to act. But the only thing that we can do in response to the prompting of strange emotions is to dance, to move our bodies in a way which somehow 'matches' these promptings. (Watch orchestral players swaying to the music as they play, and of course the conductor who 'dances' in public). Try this out-privately at first-and see how your enjoyment of music is transformed. The Sublime For Kant the experience of "the sublime is to be found in an object . . . so far as it immediately involves, or else by its presence provokes representation of limitlessness, yet with the superadded thought of its totality" Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, section 23. Music can be sublime on the interpretation offered here whenever the pattern that the musical line exhibits keeps unfolding so that the imagination cannot grasp it as a whole even though the sense that there is a whole to be grasped is there due to the deliberate nature of the unfolding (e.g. Mahler). The effect of such a deliberate yet essentially endless unfolding is the creation by the imagination of a kind of almost unbearable emotional intuition of 'significance' which remains forever beyond our intellectual grasp but is nevertheless evident to our spirit (our imagination). The look on the faces of orchestral players and the conductor as they follow one of Mahler's endless unfoldings is the look of people who are experiencing the sublime. As anecdotal evidence for this view, one commentator-a composer-said that he could not listen to a particular Mahler piece any more because the emotional experience it induced (I would say the experience of the sublime) was too intense. The application of Kant's theory to the question of musical emotions provides me with a sense of illumination. I think I know now why music affects us in the way it does. The moral of this tale is a simple one: Don't engage in aesthetic theorizing-whatever the topic-without a proper genius at your elbow. First see if Kant's aesthetic theory can deal with the question at issue: then strike out on your own. 1 I reproduce Section 21 here for the convenience of the reader: Have we reason for presupposing a common sense? "Cognitions and judgements, together with their attendant conviction, admit of being universally communicated; for otherwise a correspondence with the Object would not be due to them. They would be a conglomerate constituting a mere subjective play of the powers of representation, just as skepticism would have it. But if cognitions are to admit of communication, then our mental state, i.e., the way the cognitive powers are attuned for cognition generally, and in fact, the relative proportion suitable for a representation (by which an object is given to us) from which cognition is to result, must also admit of being universally communicated, as without this, which is the subjective condition of the act of knowing, knowledge, as an effect, would not arise. And this is always what actually happens, where a given object, through the intervention of sense, sets the imagination at work in arranging the manifold and the imagination, in turn, the understanding in giving to this arrangement the unity of concepts. But this disposition of the cognitive powers has a relative proportion differing with the diversity of the Objects that are given. However, there must be one in which this internal ratio suitable for quickening (one faculty by the other) is best adapted for both mental powers in respect of cognition (of given objects) generally; and this disposition can only be determined through feeling (and not by concepts). Since now this disposition in itself must admit of being universally communicated, and hence also the feeling of it (in the case of a given representation), while again, the universal communicability of a feeling presupposes a common sense: it follows that our assumption of it is well founded. And here, too, we do not have to take our stand on psychological observations, but we assume a common sense as the necessary condition of the universal communicability of our knowledge, which is supposed in every logic and every principle of knowledge that is not one of skepticism." The Critique of Judgement, translation by J. C. Meredith, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1928, p.83-4. 2 It seems that the imagination cannot rest: its 'job' -as a cognitive faculty-is to sense the potential for being known which the offerings of sensibility provides. When the significance of these sensed potentials-these patterns-is not recognized b the understanding, the imagination is driven back upon its own resources to express the felt significance of its discovery. Since the understanding cannot help, the imagination must respond to the 'significance' of music's patterns freely, hence the jeu d'esprit character of each of these free creations, these 'strange' emotions which express the finality (the potential for significance) the imagination finds in musical 'judgments'. 3 A nice example of misdirected criticism based on this point occurred in the local free newspaper. A ballet critic is deeply troubled because the evening's dancing (a selection of several modern pieces) does not appear to mean anything. He writes: " . . . it is time that at least one small naive voice said what he saw-nothing. At least don't think I did . . . Eric Languet's Drifting Angels took the Nude Emperor Award for me. Evocatively portrayed maybe but what did it portray? Nothing, and that according to Languet himself. "I am merely creating and proposing a series of images and it's up to the audience to find their own meaning and links" he said. . . . If they haven't anything to say then they shouldn't waste the space not saying it. And you and I should not be so stupid as to clap when they parade their gorgeously coloured, finely hemmed, but non-existent ideas in front of us." 1 1