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Music, Tales and Time

Thus music and narration are alike, in that they can only present themselves as a flowing, as a succession in time, as one thing after another; and both differ from the plastic arts, which are complete in the present, and unrelated to time...

Thomas Mann (1924)

There is nothing in the id [largely unconscious inherited system of needs] that corresponds to the idea of time; there is no recognition of the passage of time, and - a thing that is most remarkable and awaits consideration in philosophical thought - no alteration in its mental processes is produced by the passage of time.

Sigmund Freud (1933)


Music offers an accessible example of how we can see two vital aspects A view of the River weed in southern Scotland. Here there seems to be an objective or reflective, versus a subjective viewpoint.. of time. Mann is talking about our conscious reflections on music, in which music appears dependent on sequence - stories are similarly dependent. Freud’s thoughts are not about conscious reflection but about processes out of reach of our reasons. Music involves both. We become ‘lost’ in music: lost in the moment, at the music’s heart, without any regard for the whole. Man carving Buddha. A similar pattern is seen when we are lost in some task and language becomes irrelevant. Proust’s memory of the Madeleine and his grandmother’s presence is not set into a time line, it was with him then, as much as the pen with which he wrote; not as a memory but an experience. Man sitting meditating on bench. Eliot speculates that this distinction itself may be modern.

Kant offers to bridge this divide between reflection on, and experience of, events, in his famous: “Time is nothing but the form of inner sense”. This (much contested) claim is that it is inner sense, or reflection, itself that creates the time Mann finds in the ‘flow’ of music.

The quote from Mann is second-hand coming via page 4 of Time and Timelessness by Peter Hartocollis who gives it as being from page 541 of Mann’s The Magic Mountain. The Freud quote is from page 74 of the New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis. Kant gives this summary of his view in the discussion of time on page 49 of the B edition of the Critique of Pure Reason.

The photograph was taken at the summer WOMAD event in 1992.

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Saturday 19th February 2022

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