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Title: Music between Sound and Idea
Subtitle: Reconciling Merleau-Ponty's Late Phenomenology of Music
Author(s): ROBB, Catherine M.
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Filosofie
Volume: 85    Issue: 1   Date: 2023   
Pages: 61-83
DOI: 10.2143/TVF.85.1.3292009

Abstract :
In his later works, Merleau-Ponty seems to offer two contradictory claims about the phenomenology of music. In Eye and Mind, he is disparaging of music’s ability to capture ‘brute meaning,’ which he considers as vital to phenomenology. Instead, he condemns music as only being able to depict the ‘movement of Being’. By contrast, in his posthumous Two Unpublished Notes on Music and The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty describes music as an exemplary model of how meaning arises from the perception of sensible objects. He uses the specific notion of a musical idea to explore the complex relation between sensible experiences and the ideas that arise from them, a relation which he considers to pose the most difficult and important challenge to phenomenology. Rather than dismissing these claims as inconsistent, I propose that they can and should be reconciled. The very reason why Merleau-Ponty claims that music is only able to represent the ‘ebb and flow’ of experience, is also the justification for why music is an exemplary model of the structure of perceptual experience. I suggest that in Merleau-Ponty’s later texts, music should be understood as the chiastic moment of transition between the sensible perception of ‘sound’ and the generation of ‘idea’. As such, the disparaging characteristics bestowed on music in Eye and Mind, and the complimentary discussion of the musical idea in the posthumous texts are not just compatible, but mutually necessary for understanding Merleau-Ponty’s late phenomenological project.

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