Max Detweiler
Sabbatical First Week

Music & Work: On Consolation Part 5

Gustav Mahler: Kindertotenlieder-Ruckert-Lieder; Christa Ludwig, Berlin  Philharmonic, Herbert Von Karajan, cond. - Music

"Music's importance as consolation has only grown in an age that medicates grief and treats sorrow as an illness.  In moments of grief and despair, there is something unsayable about the experience that only music seems to express." 

Chapter twelve of Michael Ignatieff's On Consolation grapples with consolation as modernity began to move beyond god and religion.  He discusses Nietzsche, Freud, and Wagner, but the focus of the chapter is Gustav Mahler and in particular his Kindertotenlieder (which I found interesting given that last year I read Martha Nussbaum's Upheavals of Thought which also spends a chapter on this music).

In essence, the music admits that there can be no consolation on the death of a child.  Instead the music attempts to "provide meaning for men and women living after the death of the gods."  It does so through providing "an experience of the transcendental and sublime."  Such music can be an emotional release.  Any consolation we find will be the work of a lifetime.

In the next chapter he discusses Max Weber, who experienced "catastrophic depression."  Ignatieff argues that Weber was the first to critique the "disenchanted spiritual emptiness of capitalist modernity."  I'd not thought of Weber this way, so that was interesting.  Weber was critical of how work had come to be the thing that people focused on to give them meaning, after other forms of meaning-making had failed.  This idea was rooted in Luther's theological concepts of vocation and calling, but had become a secular, disenchanted notion.  He argued that work had largely become "remorseleness duty without purpose."  Instead, what humans needed was to live in truth and "To live in truth was to live without any consolation at all."

Weber was also deeply critical of many of the political developments early in the twentieth century, as people sought for meaning in politics and latched onto dangerous ideologies.  He thought we should put aside our "longing for salvation" and instead "assume responsibility" for creating our own future.  We were responsible for our own call.  Ignatieff concludes "the times themselves called him to inspire the next generation to embrace responsibility instead of taking flight in hatred or refuge in illusion."

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