Heidegger's being-in-the-world and Music
Keith Jarrett's Improv, Vaughan Williams' Fantasia, and Martin Heidegger
The compound expression ‘Being-in-the-world’ indicates in the very way we have coined it, that it stands for a unitary phenomenon. This primary datum must be seen as a whole.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time (pp. 83-84). Kindle Edition.
The other day I posted on my social media a dilemma I was facing.
“I found my faith many years ago. Over the past decade, I found my philosophy. Through the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I found my art. Music still eludes me. I have it for sure. I just don't know what to call it or what it means…. So, my next adventure in developing the arts is to figure out what in the world is the substrate of meaningful music for me.”
I received two responses from friends that appear to be providential. The first was a suggestion that I listen to Keith Jarrett’s Vienna Concert part 1, and the second was a link to Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme. Each spoke directly to one of my two philosophical concerns - phenomenology and medieval metaphysics. In my model, metaphysics is layered over the phenomenology of the world - each complementing the other. These recommended musical pieces match the model perfectly.
Keith Jarrett’s improvisation before a live audience nearly brought me to tears. I could not imagine how any human could create such an artistic masterpiece as if it were all one integrated whole - himself, creativity, and performance. Improvisation is not merely performing. It is a creative act of performing. As his fingers glide across the keys, Jarrett is not mentally calculating scientifically out into a world of objects through the plate glass window of his Cartesian mind, anticipating what each movement should be. That would make him, as we might smile and exclaim, “more than human!” However, Martin Heidegger, I think, would say that it is precisely because he performs this act of “wholeness” with his world *he is already in* that he is authentically human. Heidegger saw Dasein (us, in simplistic terms) as already being-in-the-world and not as isolated subjects observing objects “out there” in the manner of Descartes. Heidegger dismissed the “Cartesian theater” of the mind in favor of being as “a unitary phenomenon” with the world. His position was that our being does not depend on awareness or consciousness. We play sports without thinking of our every move. We open a door to enter a room without any conscious calculating. Jarrett plays music effortlessly without even an awareness of his fingers’ movement.
A proof of Heidegger’s understanding of Being versus Descartes’ is in this performance. I ask you to listen sometime when you have an hour, or at least to go to the 24:30 mark now to listen for ten minutes. Can anyone improvise such as this in a Cartesian fashion? This would be impossible. Only a truly authentic human living as a unitary phenomenon of being-in-the-world can perform so masterfully without conscious Cartesian awareness.
The second piece recommended to me, Fantasia on a theme, points to my Platonic metaphysics, particularly Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Fantasia is not an improvisation. Clearly it was “thought-through,” created beforehand, and rehearsed. Yet in a similar manner to Jarrett’s “phenomenal” performance, it draws the soul to the sublime heights of that which IS. These heights are constituted by that which is unchanging - metaphysics - such as the Platonic forms of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Though “thought-through” in its composition in what resembles more of a Cartesian subject and object, it remains an example of a “unitary phenomenon” between the composer and his world of concern over time, and the performing artists nonetheless are “being-in-the-world in a unitary phenomenon” as they perform.
Can we deny the metaphysics of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness when confronted with this?
Were we to ask Keith Jarret or the orchestra how they did what did, what would they say? They would have no idea how to explain the manner in which Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are manifested through them. Even if they did and documented it, we would not be able to duplicate it. It was their being-in-the-world as a unitary phenomenon that touched the metaphysics of the Beautiful. It cannot be calculated as a Cartesian subject musing methodically, doubtfully, on an object.
My model of phenomenology and metaphysics integrates the meanings of these two performances. Behind the creative manifestation of the phenomenology of being-in-the-world is an unchanging metaphysics of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness inspiring our creativity and elevating our Being.
Heidegger, for all his metaphysical obscurity and whether or not he would appreciate my marriage of his phenomenology with Platonic metaphysics, did mend the tear in our Being created by Descartes. At last I can enjoy music - and art, culture, medieval architecture, and nature for that matter. For no other reason than that - I am grateful.