Let’s fall in love with music
The driving force of our livings
The only international language
Divine glory, the expression
The knees bow, the tongue confesses
The lord of lords, the king of kings
– Mother Love Bone
In keeping with this, we find that the interest inspired by philosophical and also religious systems has its strongest and essential point absolutely in the dogma of some future existence after death. Although the latter systems seem to make the existence of their gods the main point, and to defend this most strenuously, at bottom this is only because they have tied up their teaching on immortality therewith, and regard the one as inseparable from the other; this alone is really of importance to them. For if we could guarantee their dogma of immortality to them in some other way, the lively ardour for their gods would at once cool; and it would make way for almost complete indifference if, conversely, the absolute impossibility of any immortality were demonstrated to them. For interest in the existence of the gods would vanish with the hope of a closer acquaintance with them, down to what residue might be bound up with their possible influence on the events of the present life. But if continued existence after death could also be proved to be incompatible with the existence of gods, because, let us, say, it presupposed originality of mode of existence, they would soon sacrifice these gods to their own immortality and be eager for atheism. The fact that the really materialistic as well as the absolutely sceptical systems have never been able to obtain a general or lasting influence is attributable to the same reason.
The early Christians were, ironically enough, called atheists by the Romans because they refused to recognize the state gods. In somewhat the same way, I call myself an atheist because, as far as the common conception of God in my culture is concerned, I am. I don’t believe in any sort of personal god, which, as I keep asserting, is the only kind anyone is really interested in, and I myself am not interested in a god that has to be defined out of existence to be kept away from the prying eyes and grasping hands of science. But it’s always worth repeating, I think, that I don’t even consider the existence of God or the lack thereof to be all that important. It’s fun to argue about, in a mental exercise, intellectual sparring sort of way, but as the man just said, the only reason anyone even cares is because their ideas about personal immortality are all caught up in it. I’m not aware of any cultures that worship anything like the omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Christian God without a corresponding belief in personal immortality (though perhaps I should check with Pascal Boyer
again and see if I forgot some), but some schools of Buddhism have managed to hold a belief in personal identity surviving physical death without any deity being involved. The thought of death, the knowledge of its inevitability, gives us all pause at the least, if it doesn’t inspire outright fear. We want to believe that it’s not really the end for us. Everything else flows from that. In keeping with that, I feel that disbelief in the “self” is far more radical than mere atheism, and more relevant to the heart of religious belief. If you’re not going to experience any reality except life in this world, and the most God is ever going to bother revealing about himself is vague images to thrill superstitious old ladies in the form of a stain on the wall, a burnt section of their waffles, or writing on a cat
, then all that existential angst disappears in a puff, and all the tons of paper wasted on tortured attempts at theodicy can be used to start fires in cold weather.
But continuing with our themes of personal identity, life, death and nineteenth-century German philosophy, here’s an interview
with Nietzsche scholar Julian Young that touches on a type of immortality I can fully endorse:
How did Nietzsche’s ideas about music affect his philosophy?
“Without music life would be an error” is a great T-shirt slogan, but its meaning is far from obvious. Here is how Nietzsche glosses his aphorism in a letter from 1888, the last year of his sanity:
“Music … frees me from myself, it sobers me up from myself, as though I survey the scene from a great distance … It is very strange. It is as though I had bathed in some natural element. Life without music is simply an error, exhausting, an exile.”
Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, dedicated to Richard Wagner, is constructed around the duality between the “Apollonian” and the “Dionysian.” Apollo stands for intellect, reason, control, form, boundary-drawing and thus individuality. Dionysus stands for the opposites of these; for intuition, sensuality, feeling, abandon, formlessness, for the overcoming of individuality, absorption into the collective. Crucially, Apollo stands for language and Dionysus for music. What, therefore, music does is to–as we indeed say–”take one out of oneself.” Music transports us from the Apollonian realm of individuals to which our everyday self belongs and into the Dionysian unity. Music is mystical.
Since the human essence is the will to live–or for Nietzsche, the “will to power”–the worst thing that can happen to us is death. Death is our greatest fear, so that without some way of stilling it we cannot flourish. This is why musical mysticism is important. In transcending the everyday ego we are delivered from “the anxiety brought by time and death.” Through absorption into what Tristan und Isolde calls the “waves of the All,” we receive the promise and experience of immortality.
Later on, Nietzsche realized that not all music is Dionysian. Much classical music, based as it is on the geometrical forms of dance and march, is firmly rooted in the Apollonian. Yet as the 1888 letter indicates, he never abandoned the musical “antidote” to death. Without music, life would be anxiety and then extinction. Without music, life would be an “exile” from the realm of immortality.