Kafka's Views on the Power of Music and the Creation of Art Forms
"The only strong and deep passions are those that withstand the test of logic"
"Without music, life would be a mistake", said Nietzsche, one of the most important and popular philosophers to ponder the incomparable power of music.
Two generations later, Franz Kafka - another writer of gloomy intelligence and talent who enlightened the spirit with his powerful and dark statements - dealt with the same subject in amusing dialogues with his teenage companion and ideological interlocutor, Gustav Jan. in Chatting with Kafka, given to us by the wandering author on Taoism, it seems to contrast with being, love and the power of patience.
During a walk in the summer of 1922, the conversation turned to music - a subject that seventeen-year-old Gustav was eager to pursue, but his father denied it and forbade him to pursue the field. Kafka tells his young partner:
"Music is the sound of the soul, the very voice of the underlying world."
Later, in a subsequent discussion, when Gustav shared with his mentor a short story he had written entitled The Music of Silence, Kafka pondered the way music captivates and enchants the soul:
"Everything that is alive flows. Everything that is alive emits sound. However we perceive only a part of the sound. We do not hear the blood circulation, the maturation and the deterioration of the tissues of our body, the sound of the chemical process that takes place inside us. However, our noble organic cells, brain tissues, nerves and skin are imbued with these silent sounds. They vibrate as a reaction to their environment. This is the foundation of the power of music. We can release these deep emotional vibrations. To achieve this, we use musical instruments, where the decisive predator is the very inner dynamics of sound that they hide within them. Namely: what is decisive is not the power of sound, or the tonal shade, but its hidden character, the intensity with which the power of music affects the nerves. [Music]… must raise in human consciousness vibrations, which in any other case remain silent and imperceptible… [give] silence to life… reveal the hidden sounds of silence."
In another conversation, he discusses the similarities and differences between music and poetry - an element that Patti Smith would reflect on almost a century later. Kafka tells Gustav:
"Music creates new, imperceptible, more complex, and therefore more dangerous pleasures… However, poetry aims at clarifying the savagery of pleasures, spiritualization, purity, therefore humanizing them. Music, on the one hand, is a multiplication of the sensual life; poetry, on the other hand, disciplines and elevates life."
And yet, Kafka seems to be changing direction regarding the power of music:
"Music for me is like the sea I am submissive, enchanted, excited, and yet I am afraid, I tremble at its vastness. I'm, indeed, a bad sailor."
Also, for Kafka, the magnitude of his crash was perhaps the most immediate way to measure the intensity of his love. "I do not want to know what you are wearing,' he once wrote in one of his beautiful and heartbreaking love letters, 'it bothers me so much that I can not face my life."
When Gustav mourns his father's refusal to let him play music, he wonders if doing it in his head would give him the right to oppose his father's wish and pursue his dream. Kafka expands on this issue and makes it a larger reflection on the cause of artistic creation:
"Sometimes it's very easy to lose your head when you shake your head… Of course, I do not oppose your desire to study music. Instead! . The only strong and deep passions are those that withstand the test of logical processing… There is passion behind every art form. That is why you suffer and fight for your music… But in art this is always the way. 'Everyone has to lose their life to win it in the end."
In another conversation, he renegotiates the issue and combines the sacrifices required by art with the sacrifice of religious devotion. On an emotion that recalls Simone Weil's timeless axiom that 'attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity [and, when it reaches its highest degree, it is no different from prayer itself' - and what else can is art, apart from generosity of the highest degree? - Kafka says to Gustav:
"Prayer and art are passionate acts of will. The creator wants to go beyond and enhance the normal capabilities of the will. Art, like prayer, is a hand that reaches out into the darkness, seeking a trace of grace; this grace will transform the hand, give it the ability to offer goods and gifts. 'Prayer means that one sinks into a wonderful rainbow that extends between life and death, to hide completely within oneself, to become one with oneself, to be able to transfuse one's endless radiance into the weak cradle of human existence itself."