Writing about music in the previous post reminded me of something I’d read recently, somewhat related to the topic of depression. Some relevant passages:
Yet the ancient Greek conception of mousikê is much more complex than our conception of “music.”
…First, unlike our conception of music, mousikê includes tones, rhythm, dance and words. The idea of “absolute music” (i.e., music without words) is simply foreign to the ancient Greeks, who normally thought of poetry being sung with accompanying movement as mousikê.
…But of course, “musical” here would be used in the richest possible sense of mousikê, which includes thinking, writing, composing music, dancing and singing — or living life in a way in which one is utterly “in tune” or in harmony with life. One would be a mousikos in the complete sense: musician and scholar, writer and dancer, one fully developed.
…First, Nietzsche thinks that music allows us to face the tragedy of human existence, not so much in the sense of a diversion but as a means of “speaking” about life. There are things that can be “said” musically — or perhaps sung — that cannot be said philosophically.
…Since language is always metaphorical – and so never delivers to us the “thing itself” – music is all the more significant. For Nietzsche (like the German Romantics) thinks it has a directness that is unlike language…Of course, whatever it is that music conveys cannot be conveyed by words. So, at a certain point, we are — by definition — unable to “describe” exactly what it is that music says. If it could be put into words, we wouldn’t need music.
…For Nietzsche, music proves capable of sharpening his mind, which in turn gives him critical distance, new insights, and new ideas — to the bursting point. Moreover, life becomes more natural, which is precisely what Nietzsche seeks.
…Music also proves ecstatic for Nietzsche. It has the power to take us out of ourselves, allowing us both to see the world in a different way, and also to transform us.
…Although Nietzsche never explicitly speaks of decadence in terms of “de-cadence” (falling out of rhythm), that way of thinking about decadence actually fits quite well with what Nietzsche says about it.
…But one can also interpret decadence musically, as a “de-cadence”, in the sense of a loss of rhythm. On that read, decadence is the loss of life’s rhythm in which we are out of step both with our true selves and with the earth.
…But that “change of heart” requires finding a new rhythm to life. More accurately, it requires getting back into life’s true rhythm…
…In contrast to Socrates, the early Greeks viewed life as inherently tragic. Not only is existence full of suffering, but there is no explanation for it. In an important sense, the early Greeks were not philosophical: that is, they did not live with an acute sense of the contingency of their existence, wondering why suffering takes place and asking deep philosophical questions about it. Rather, they simply accepted its existence — and its inexplicability — as a matter of fact.
I included that last paragraph because I think that a certain fatalism about suffering (or depression) is not only a more accurate way to view life, but a more beneficial one as well. I know that’s at odds with our teleological progressivism that insists that every day should be an improvement over the one before, and life should be a neverending series of goals set and challenges met, but I find an acceptance of a more cyclical worldview makes suffering seem like less of a wrong or a failure. It will always be there in one degree or another; as a Russian expression has it, if you wake up feeling no pain, you know you’re dead. Accept that fact, and fall back on tried-and-true methods for overcoming your “de-cadence” and regaining your rhythm.