Researching the Absolute

I’m working on expanding my first paper that I wrote about absolute music. I argued initially that absolute music is no more or less valid an idea than any religious cosmology of music. I am sticking with that argument, but have been delighted to discover the strange affinity between religious thought and atheistic Idealism like Schopenhauer’s. Both the theologians I’m researching (particularly Augustine) and the advocates of absolute music (Schopenhauer, E.T.A. Hoffman, Hanslick) were all extremely influenced by Pythagorean thought.

I’ve found some really interesting books further deepening my interest in aesthetics, particularly a book called Theology as Performance by a Professor Emeritus Philip Stoltzfus, right here at St. Olaf. I’ve also found that some musicologists have a very reductive approach to theology, like David Whitwell in his “Aesthetics of Music in the Middle Ages”. He basically asserts that Thomas Aquinas contributed nothing to Philosophy but a confusion of Aristotle and inane ramblings about angels. Certainly the usefulness of Aquinas is up for debate, but Whitwell’s treatment of him hearkens back to Bertrand Russel’s assertion that medieval philosophy isn’t worth considering. Whitwell’s philosophical understanding is rather dated, which is a common problem I am finding in musicology.

That said, I am very much enjoying my research. I feel very good about my argument. Christian theology provides an interesting point of comparison for absolute music, and its discussion can tease out aesthetic implications that are often forgotten or left unconsidered.


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