“The unfolding sound realises form as ‘the unmoving moved'”

I saw Raymond Tallis speak at an event last year, and noted down a phrase which I suddenly came upon today (yay for Notes on the iPhone).

He is so well-read it’s genuinely humbling; not only is he a doctor and clinical scientist, he is a poet, philosopher, cultural critic and humanist – in fact he was flagged as one of the leading polymaths of our time by More Intelligent Life.

I managed to dig up a really interesting essay he wrote 5 years ago on art and music that is well worth your time. These passages particularly stood out – he mentioned the Aristotle quote that day, which was how I managed to find it online.

We may translate the mismatch between experience and the idea of it – as a result of which we somehow do not experience our experiences – as a disconnection between content and form. The content is the actual experience, with all the sense data served up by the accidents of the moment; and the form is the idea of experience. In a truly realised work of art, in contrast with our lives, form and content are in harmony, like the recto and verso of a single sheet of paper.

This is most easily illustrated by music, which, for the present discussion, we may think of as the paradigm art. (As Walter Pater famously said,  ‘all art aspires to the condition of music’ (9).) Think of the relationship between sound and idea – or form – in the experience of a melody. Each note is fully present as an actual physical event and yet is manifestly part of a larger whole, of an idea. There is no conflict between the form or idea of the music and its actual instants. Our moments of listening are imbued with a sense of what is to come and what has passed. The form to which the music conforms – that ties what has gone and what is to come with each other and with what is present – shines through its individual moments. There is both movement and stasis; in Aristotelian terms, the unfolding sound realises form as ‘the unmoving moved’.

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