"On Music and Words "

A fragment from 1871.
Brief Notes on Nietzsche's Lecture on Rhetoric: 1871

Nietzsche's treatment of language in this lecture depends heavily of his close reading of Gustav Gerber's Die Sprache als Kunst (1871).  This dependence takes the form of extensive paraphrases and even word-for-word use of Gerber's work.  Although Nietzsche refers his students to Gerber, he does so only to point out Gerber's collection of pleonasms.  No where does Nietzsche acknowledge that the position he is advancing is that of Gerber.  More of this in class.

Nietzsche's presentation of rhetoric 3 Relationship of the Rhetorical to Language [II,4 416]

Aristotle was the first to distinguish rhetoric from dialectic in terms of their respective goals.  Whereas dialectic seeks to demonstrate a truth about the essence of a subject or thing, rhetoric seeks to provoke a definite subjective reaction in its audience.

The rhetorician does not reproduce sense data, but rather the copies of sense-data.  Our sensation of an external object is excited by a nerve stimulus.  This nerve stimulus does not fully and completely assimilate the "thing" that caused its excitement.  The key German term is "Uebertragung" - literally 'to carry over.'  What the 'thing' is that causes the nerve's excitement does not 'carry over' to our sensation: the transition from 'thing' => nerve excitement => sensation necessarily transforms the 'thing-in-itself' to a 'thing-for-us.' A 'thing-for-us' that we then attempt to re-present through a 'Tonbild' of the word.

Nietzsche drives this point home with typical brilliance: how could we ever assume that our 'Tonbild' can accurately and completely re-present the 'thing' that initiated the above process of sensing?  A Tonblid is of a completely different nature than the 'thing' that initiated our chain of sensation-representation.  Sick guessing game in which, while blindfolded, my hand is held over a 'flame': heat => nerve excites => sensation => verbalization in Tonbild: 'a flame.'  Result?  A 'flame-in-itself' becomes a 'flame-for-me,' that is, the hot energy of fire is transformed into the frequencies of air being forced through and shaped by my vocal apparatus. Indeed, as the game gets sicker, and my hand is held for even longer over the flame, the Tonbild I vocalize is a scream.  Here Nietzsche interjects - bracketing for the moment the problems of transforming external reality into sound waves - and asks how it is possible for "an act of the soul to be presentable in a Tonbild?" [426].  For there to be a perfect reproduction of the 'Seelenact' i.e., the pain I experience, wouldn't the element in which the soul and voice work have to be the same?  Nietzsche writes:

"The things do not enter into consciousness, but rather the way that we stand towards the pithanon (sense data).  The full essence of the thing is never grasped. ... Instead of the thing sensation perceives only a characteristic" [Ibid.].

This unavoidable superficial myopia of language distinguishes rhetoric from dialectic: "the language is rhetoric since it seeks only to carry over a doxa, not episteme" [Ibid].

Following Gerber, Nietzsche argues that as long as we communicate in words -- and not numbers - everything we do is thus a doxa, and that all language thus carries the figurative malleability of the trope.  There is no positivistic 'protocol language' that can accurately reproduce reality in the sonority of language.  All language is tropological:

"But all words in themselves and from the start are, in terms of their meaning, tropes. Instead of the true process they represent a Tonbild that resonates in time: language never expresses something completely, but rather emphasises but one characteristic that seems to it to stand out..... A one-sided perception steps in for the entire and full perception [Ibid].

Following Gerber, there are three key linguistic terms Nietzsche uses to discuss the tropological essence of language: metonymy, metaphor and synedoche.

1: Metonymy: "the substitution [Vertauschung] of cause and effect" i.e., "We say 'the drink is bitter' instead of 'it excites a particular sensation of that kind in us'; 'the stone is hard,' as if hard were something other than a judgment on our part" [II, 4 427]

What is a word?  The expression of a nerve-stimulus in sounds.  But to infer a cause outside us from the nerve-stimulus is already the result of a wrong and unjustifiable application of the proposition of causality [TL,4]    

2) Metaphor: Nietzsche prefers to use the German 'Uebertragung' to literally render Aristotle's Greek 'metaphorein.'  This captures the idea that all words in a language can have their 'meanings' transferred and exchanged.  The assignment of gender is for Nietzsche proof of how language is constructed by "arbitrary transferences" and thus "pure metaphor."

"Metaphor shows itself in the designation of gender: genus in the grammatical sense is a luxury of language and pure metaphor" [II, 4 428].

3) Synedoche: the replacement of an entire and complete intuition by a partial perception : "A one-sided perception steps in for the entire and full perception [II, 4, 426].  Following Gerber, Nietzsche's example is how different - and thus arbitrary - are the various ways languages name the snake.


"On Music and Words" - A fragment from 1871.

My Subtitle: "Or why great music - Dionysian music - makes us forget to listen to the words"



WHAT we here have asserted of the relationship between language and music must be valid too, for equal reasons, concerning the relationship of Mime to Music.  The Mime too, as the intensified symbolism of man's gestures, is, measured by the eternal significance of music, only a simile, which brings into expression the innermost secret of music but very superficially, namely on the substratum of the passionately moved human body.  But if we include language also in the category of bodily symbolism, and compare the drama, according to the canon advanced, with music, then I venture to think, a proposition of Schopenhauer will come into the clearest light, to which reference must be made again later on.  " It might be admissible, although a purely musical mind does not demand it, to join and adapt words or even a clearly represented action to the pure language of tones, although the latter, being self-sufficient, needs no help; so that our perceiving and reflecting intellect, which does not like to be quite idle, may meanwhile have light and analogous occupation also.  By this concession to the intellect man's attention adheres even more closely to music, by this at the same time, too, is placed underneath that which the tones indicate in their general metaphorless language of the heart, a visible picture, as it were a schema, as an example illustrating a general idea . . . indeed such things will even heighten the effect of music." (Schopenhauer, Parerga, 11., "On the Metaphysics of the Beautiful and Aesthetics," 224.)  If we disregard the naturalistic external motivation according to which our perceiving and reflecting intellect does not like to be quite idle when listening to music, and attention led by the hand of an obvious action follows better-then the drama in relation to music has been characterized by Schopenhauer for the best reasons as a schema, as an example illustrating a general idea: and when he adds "indeed such things will even heighten the effect of music " then the enormous universality and originality of vocal music, of the connection of tone with metaphor and idea guarantee the correctness of this utterance.  The music of every people begins in closest connection with lyricism and long before absolute music can be thought of, the music of a people in that connection passes through the most important stages of development.  If we understand this primal lyricism of a people, as indeed we must, to be an imitation of the artistic typifying Nature, then as the original prototype of that union of music and lyricism must be regarded : the duality in the essence of language, already typified by Nature.  Now, after discussing the relation of music to metaphor we will fathom more deeply this essence of language.

 In the multiplicity of languages the fact at once manifests itself, that word and thing do not necessarily coincide with one another completely, but that the word is a symbol.  But what does the word symbolize ? Most certainly only conceptions, be these now conscious ones or as in the greater number of cases, unconscious; for how should a word-symbol correspond to that innermost nature of which we and the world are images?  Only as conceptions we know that kernel, only in its metaphorical expressions are we familiar with it; beyond that point there is nowhere a direct bridge which could lead us to it.  The whole life of impulses, too, the play of feelings, sensations, emotions, volitions, is known to us-as I am forced to insert here in opposition to Schopenhauer-after a most rigid self-examination, not according to its essence but merely as conception; and we may well be permitted to say, that even Schopenhauer's " Will " is nothing else but the most general phenomenal form of a Something otherwise absolutely


indecipherable.  If therefore we must acquiesce in the rigid necessity of getting nowhere beyond the conceptions we can nevertheless again distinguish two main species within their realm.  The one species manifest themselves to us as pleasure-and-displeasure-sensations and accompany all other conceptions as a never-lacking fundamental basis.  This most general manifestation, out of which and by which alone we understand all Becoming and all Willing and for which we will retain the name " Will," has now too in language its own symbolic sphere: and in truth this sphere is equally fundamental to the language, as that manifestation is fundamental to all other conceptions.  All degrees of pleasure and displeasure -- expressions of one primal cause unfathomable to us -- symbolize themselves in the tone of the speaker: whereas all the other conceptions are indicated by the gesture-symbolism of the speaker.  In so far as that primal cause is the same in all men, the tonal subsoil is also the common one, comprehensible beyond the difference of language.  Out of it now develops the more arbitrary gesture-symbolism which is not wholly adequate for its basis : and with which begins the diversity of languages, whose multiplicity we are permitted to consider-to use a simile-as a strophic text to that primal melody of the pleasure-and displeasure-language.  The whole realm of the consonantal and vocal we believe we may reckon only under gesture-symbolism: consonants and vowels without that fundamental tone which is necessary above all else, are nothing but positions of the organs of speech, in short, gestures-; as soon as we imagine the word proceeding out of the mouth of man, then first of all the root of the word, and the basis of that gesture-symbolism, the tonal subsoil, the echo of the pleasure-and-displeasure-sensations originate.  As our whole corporeality stands in relation to that original phenomenon, the " Will," so the word built out of its consonants and vowels stands in relation to its tonal basis.

 This original phenomenon, the " Will," with its scale of pleasure-and-displeasure sensations attains in the development of music an ever more adequate symbolic expression: and to this historical process the continuous effort of lyric poetry runs parallel, the effort to transcribe music into metaphors: exactly as this double-phenomenon, according to the just completed disquisition, lies typified in language.

 He who has followed us into these difficult contemplations readily, attentively, and with some imagination -- and with kind indulgence where the expression has been too scanty or too unconditional -- will now have the advantage with us, of laying before himself more seriously and answering more deeply than is usually the case some stirring points of controversy of present-day Esthetics and still more of contemporary artists.  Let us think now, after all our assumptions, what an undertaking it must be, to set music to a poem; ie., to illustrate a poem by music, in order to help music thereby to obtain a language of ideas.  What a perverted world!  A task that appears to my mind like that of a son wanting to create his father!  Music can create metaphors out of itself, which will always however be but schemata, instances as it were of her intrinsic general contents.  But how should the metaphor, the conception, create music out of itself!  Much less could the idea, or, as one has said, the " poetical idea " do this.  As certainly as a bridge leads out of the mysterious castle of the musician into the free land of the metaphors - -and the lyric poet steps across it -- as certainly is it impossible to go the contrary  way, although some are said to exist who fancy they have done so.  One might people the air with the phantasy of a Raphael, one might see St. Cecilia, as he does, listening enraptured to the harmonies of the choirs of angels -- no tone issues from this world apparently lost in music: even if we imagined


that that harmony in reality, as by a miracle, began to sound for us, whither would Cecilia, Paul and Magdalena disappear from us, whither even the singing choir of angels! We should at once cease to be Raphael: and as in that picture the earthly instruments lie shattered on the ground, so our painter's vision, defeated by the higher, would fade and die away.-How nevertheless could the miracle happen?  How should the Apollonian world of the eye quite engrossed in contemplation be able to create out of itself the tone, which on the contrary symbolizes a sphere which is excluded and conquered just by that very Apollonian absorption in Appearance?  The delight at Appearance cannot raise out of itself the pleasure at Non-appearance; the delight of perceiving is delight only by the fact that nothing reminds us of a sphere in which individuation is broken and abolished.  If we have characterized at all correctly the Apollonian in opposition to the Dionysian, then the thought which attributes to the metaphor, the idea, the appearance, in some way the power of producing out of itself the tone, must appear to us strangely wrong.  We will not be referred, in order to be refuted, to the musician who writes music to existing lyric poems; for after all that has been said we shall be compelled to assert that the relationship between the lyric poem and its setting must in any case be a different one from that between a father and his child.  Then what exactly?

 Here now we may be met on the ground of a favorite aesthetic notion with the proposition, "It is not the poem which gives birth to the setting but the sentiment created by the poem." I do not agree with that; the more subtle or powerful stirring-up of that pleasure-and-displeasure-subsoil is in the realm of productive art the element which is inartistic in itself; indeed only its total exclusion makes the complete self-absorption and disinterested perception of the artist possible.  Here perhaps one might retaliate that I myself just now predicated about the "Will," that in music "Will" came to an ever more adequate symbolic expression.  My answer, condensed into an aesthetic axiom, is this: the Will is the object of music but not the origin of it , that is the Will in its very greatest universality, as the most original manifestation, under which is to be understood all Becoming.  That, which we call feeling, is with regard to this Will already permeated and saturated with conscious and unconscious conceptions and is therefore no longer directly the object of music; it is unthinkable then that these feelings should be able to create music out of themselves.  Take for instance the feelings of love, fear and hope: music can no longer do anything with them in a direct way, every one of them is already so filled with conceptions.  On the contrary these feelings can serve to symbolize music, as the lyric poet does who translates for himself into the simile world of feelings that conceptually and metaphorically unapproachable realm of the Will, the proper content and object of music.  The lyric poet resembles all those hearers of music who are conscious of an effect of music on their emotions; the distant and removed power of music appeals, with them, to an intermediate realm which gives to them as it were a foretaste, a symbolic preliminary conception of music proper, it appeals to the intermediate realm of the emotions.  One might be permitted to say about them, with respect to the Will, the only object of music, that they bear the same relation to this Will, as the analogous morning-dream according to Schopenhauer's theory, bears to the dream proper.  To all those, however, who are unable to get at music except with their emotions, is to be said, that they will ever remain in the entrance-hall and will never have access to the sanctuary of music: which, as I said, emotion cannot show but only symbolize.


 With regard however to the origin of music, I have already explained that that can never lie in the Will, but must rather rest in the lap of that force, which under the form of the " Will " creates out of itself a visionary world: the origin of music lies beyond all individuation, a proposition, which after our discussion on the Dionysian is self-evident.  At this point I take the liberty of setting forth again comprehensively side by side those decisive propositions which the antithesis of the Dionysian and Apollonian dealt with has compelled us to enunciate:

 The "Will " as the most original manifestation, is the object of music: in this sense music can be called imitation of Nature, but of Nature in its most general form.--

 The "Will" itself and the feelings-manifestations of the Will already permeated with conceptions-are wholly incapable of creating music out of themselves, just as on the other hand it is utterly denied to music to represent feelings, or to have feelings as its object, while Will is its only object.--

 He who carries away feelings as effects of music has within them as it were a symbolic intermediate realm, which can give him a foretaste of music, but excludes him at the same time from her innermost sanctuaries.--

  The lyric poet interprets music to himself through the symbolic world of emotions, whereas he himself, in the calm of the Apollonian contemplation, is exempted from those emotions.--

 When, therefore, the musician writes a setting to a lyric poem he is moved as musician neither through the images nor through the emotional language in the text; but a musical inspiration coming from quite a different sphere chooses for itself that songtext as allegorical expression.  There cannot therefore be any question as to a necessary relation between poem and music; for the two worlds brought here into connection are too strange to one another to enter into more than a superficial alliance; the song-text is just a symbol and stands to music in the same relation as the Egyptian hieroglyph of bravery did to the brave warrior himself.  During the highest revelations of music we even feel involuntarily the crudeness of every figurative effort and of every emotion dragged in for purposes of analogy; for example, the last quartets of Beethoven quite put to shame all illustration and the entire realm of empiric reality.  The symbol, in face of the god really revealing himself, has no longer any meaning; moreover it appears as an offensive superficiality.


 Let us now approach, after these preparations, the discussion of the opera, so as to be able to proceed afterwards from the opera to its counterpart in the Greek tragedy.  What we had to observe in the last movement of the Ninth, ie., on the highest level of modern music-development, viz., that the word-content goes down unheard in the general sea of sound, is nothing isolated and peculiar, but the general and eternally valid norm in the vocal music of all times, the norm which alone is adequate to the origin of lyric song.  The man in a state of Dionysian excitement has a listener just as little as the orgiastic crowd, a listener to whom he might have something to communicate, a listener as the epic narrator and generally speaking the Apollonian artist, to be sure, presupposes.  It is rather in the nature of the Dionysian art, that it has no consideration for the listener: the inspired servant of Dionysos is, as I said in a former place, understood only by his cornpeers. , But if we now imagine a listener at those endemic outbursts of Dionysian excitement then we shall have to prophesy for him a fate similar to that



which Pentheus the discovered eavesdropper suffered, namely, to be torn to pieces by the Maenads.  The lyric musician sings "as the bird sings," alone, out of innermost compulsion ; when the listener comes to him with a demand he must become dumb.  Therefore it would be altogether unnatural to ask from the lyric musician that one should also understand the text-words of his song, unnatural because here a demand is made by the listener, who has no right at all during the lyric outburst to claim anything.  Now with the poetry of the great ancient lyric poets in your hand, put the question honestly to yourself whether they can have even thought of making themselves clear to the mass of the people standing around and listening, clear with their world of metaphors and thoughts; answer this serious question with a look at Pindar and the Aeschylian choir songs.  These most daring and obscure intricacie's of thought, this whirl of metaphors, ever impetuously reproducing itself, this oracular tone of the whole, which we, without the diversion of music and orchestration, so often cannot penetrate even with the closest attention -- was this whole world of miracles transparent as glass to the Greek crowd, yea, a metaphorical -- conceptual interpretation of music?  And with such mysteries of thought as are to be found in Pindar do you think the wonderful poet could have wished to elucidate the music already strikingly distinct?  Should we here not be forced to an insight into the very nature of the lyricist -- the artistic man, who to himself must interpret music through the symbolism of metaphors and emotions, but who has nothing to communicate to the listener; an artist who, in complete aloofness, even forgets those who stand eagerly listening near him.  And as the lyricist his hymns, so the people sing the folk-song, for themselves, out of inmost impulse, unconcerned whether the word is comprehensible to him who does not join in the song.  Let us think of our own experiences in the realm of higher art-music: what did we understand of the text of a Mass of Palestrina, of a Cantata of Bach, of an Oratorio of Handel, if we ourselves perhaps did not join in singing?  Only for him who joins in singing do lyric poetry and vocal music exist; the listener stands before it as before absolute music.

 But now the opera begins, according to the clearest testimonies, with the demand of the listener to understand the word.

 What?  The listener demands? The word is to be understood?

  But to bring music into the service of a series of metaphors and conceptions, to use it as a means to an end, to the strengthening and elucidation of such conceptions and metaphors -- such a peculiar presumption as is found in the concept of an "opera," reminds me of that ridiculous person who endeavors to lift himself up into the air with his own arms; that which this fool and which the opera according to that idea attempt are absolute impossibilities.  That idea of the opera does not demand perhaps an abuse from music but -- as I said -- an impossibility.  Music never can become a means; one may push, screw, torture it; as tone, as roll of the drum, in its crudest and simplest stages, it still defeats poetry and abases the latter to its reflection.  The opera as a species of art according to that concept is therefore not only an aberration of music, but an erroneous conception of aesthetics.  If I herewith, after all, justify the nature of the opera for Aesthetics, I am of course far from justifying at the same time bad opera music or bad opera-verses.  The worst music can still mean, as compared with the best poetry, the Dionysian world-subsoil, and the worst poetry can be mirror, image and reflection of this subsoil, if together with the best music: as certainly, namely, as the single tone against the metaphor is already Dionysian, and the single metaphor together with idea and word against music is already Apollonian.  Yea, even bad music together with bad poetry can still inform as to the nature of music and poesy.