Emotion and the Arts

By Mette Hjort; Sue Laver | Go to book overview

6
Contra the Hypothetical Persona in Music

STEPHEN DAVIES

The listener's phenomenal experience of music's expressiveness is more like a face-to-face encounter with someone who publicly and vividly displays his feeling than it is like hearing a dispassionate description of an emotional state. The expressiveness is immediate and direct, not filtered through an arbitrary symbol system. It is immanent in the music, rather than something beyond the music's boundaries to which its sound refers. But if the experience of the expressiveness is as of an occurrent emotion, whose emotion could that be? Given that the music is nonsentient, it appears that an owner of the emotions expressed in it must be found.

Traditional accounts have identified the emoter as the composer or performer on the one side, or the listener on the other, but such theories encounter well-rehearsed difficulties. Serious objections apply to the expression theory, according to which the composer (or performer) discharges his feeling by composing in a fashion such that the resulting musical product discernibly bears the marks of his experience. Some composers sometimes convey their feelings to the music they write, but they do so by matching the inherent expressive potential of their materials to their moods, not by infecting the music with their emotions. No less problematic is arousalism or emotivism, according to which the music's expressiveness consists in a dispositional property or power by which it awakens an emotional response in the listener. Listeners do sometimes respond to music by feeling sad, for example, but the music is sad not

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