The Arts and The Republic

Author and linguist Allan David Bloom wrote a critical essay about understanding what Plato and Socrates mean in The Republic.  He talks in great length about the arts, and music in particular.  I thought the essay was very interesting, especially because of our discussion about the form of music and imitative art.

Bloom states, “There is a cosmic harmony, music and love, in the universe.  Earthly music is the audible imitation of the inaudible music of the spheres.  These heard harmonies have a mathematical structure which is akin to the mathematical principles at the base of the whole.  Of all the arts, music is the one that most directly represents to the senses the intelligible order of things” (Bloom 358).  I think that Bloom is saying that the music of the spheres could represent the actual form of music.  I think that he is saying that music is a more pure and universal form of art than imitative art, or physical art.  The music that we hear and play is just an imitation of the form of music, whereas a painting, for example, is an imitation of an imitation.

He goes on to compare the art forms of music and poetry as Socrates uses and manipulates them.  He says, “Harmony and rhythm move the passions in the most primitive way, speechlessly appealing to irrational fears and pleasures – which are themselves speechless.  Socrates ruthlessly subjects harmony and rhythm to the tales he wants told.  Only those rhythms and harmonies which evoke the feelings appropriate to the new heroes are acceptable.  Instead of letting words follow music, a temptation apparently involved in the nature of music’s appeal, speech, logos, guides the music completely.  Thus Socrates has made himself the master of poetry; he controls what it represents, how it represents, and the accompaniments which intensify its appeal” (Bloom 360).  I think it is interesting how Bloom says that Socrates puts music, or harmony, behind poetry, or rhythm.  I think he means that basic rhythm is the base of music, not the harmonies.  This claim reminds me of the piece Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) by Richard Strauss where the opening is dictated by the timpani playing the “heartbeat” of the person who is going through the ascension into heaven.


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