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Early music as a monad

In Time Regained I came across a quotation from Walter Benjamin's On the Concept of History, a critique of, among other things, objective historical knowledge, written in 1940 in the accompanying sense of impending disaster.


Björn Schmelzer and Margarida Garcia cite the seventeenth fragment:


'Historicism justifiably culminates in universal history. Nowhere does the materialist writing of history distance itself from it more clearly than in terms of method. The former has no theoretical armature. Its method is additive: it offers a mass of facts, in order to fill up a homogeneous and empty time. The materialist writing of history for its part is based on a constructive principle. Thinking involves not only the movement of thoughts but also their zero-hour [Stillstellung). Where thinking suddenly halts in a constellation overflowing with tensions, there it yields a shock to the same, through which it crystallizes as a monad. The historical materialist approaches a historical object solely and alone where he encounters it as a monad. In this structure he recognizes the sign of a messianic zero-hour [Stillstellung] of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for the suppressed/oppressed past. He perceives it, in order to explode a specific epoch out of the homogeneous course of history; thus exploding a specific life out of the epoch, or a specific work out of the life-work. The net gain of this procedure consists of this: that the life-work is preserved and sublated in the work, the epoch in the life-work, and the entire course of history in the epoch. The nour ishing fruit of what is historically conceptualized has time as its core, its precious but flavour- less seed'

And they go on to suggest that Early music (or rather diagrammatic notation) should be treated as such a monad. Not as a cultural artefact already realised in history, consequently devoid of touch, of life, but as part of the virtual space of history, not yet realised, but which can be brought to life through a dialectical approach.

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