Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Prokofjev's First Violin Sonata (Op. 80)

It is thus not simply that substantial reality disappears in the interplay of appearances; what rather happens in this shift is that the very irreducibility of the appearance to its substantial support, its "autonomy" with regard to it, engenders a Thing of its own, the true "real Thing". And, perhaps, this "Thing", the struggle to render it, is the proper "object" of art. In his memoirs, Dmitri Shostakovich dismissed Sergei Prokofjev, his great competitor, as refusing to take historical horrors seriously, always playing "wise guy". However, to name just one supreme example, Prokofjev's first violin sonata (op. 80) clearly demonstrates the obverse of Prokofjev's (in)famous "irony":

Throughout its four movements (...) one senses a powerful undertow of struggle. Yet it is not the struggle of a work against something outside itself, but rather the struggle of something within the work, unmanifested, trying desperately to break out, and constantly finding its emergence "blocked" by the existing, outward form and language of the piece. This blocking of"something within" (...) has to do with the frustration of a desire for cathartic release into some supremely positive state of being, where meaning-musical and supra-musical-is transparent, un-ironizable: in short, a domain of spiritual "purity".(2)

It is here that Prokofjev pays the price for his ironic stance, and it is such passages that bear witness to his artistic integrity: far from signaling any kind of vain intellectual superiority, this ironic stance is just the falsely-bright obverse of the failure of Prokofjev's constant struggle to bring the "Thing from Inner Space" (the "something within") out. The superficial »playfulness« of some of Prokofjev's works (like his popular first symphony) merely signals, in a negative way, the fact that Prokofjev is the ultimate anti-Mozart, a kind of Beethoven whose "titanic struggle" ended in disaster: if Mozart was THE supreme musical genius, perhaps the last composer with whom the musical Thing transposed itself into musical notes in a spontaneous flow, and if in Beethoven, a piece only achieved its definitive Form after a long heroic struggle with the musical material, Prokofjev's greatest pieces are monuments to the defeat of this struggle. What, then, IS this "thing from inner space", insofar as it stands for Truth as agency? The famous "stolen boat" episode from Wordsworth's Prelude provides the precise coordinates of its emergence:
- Slavoj Zizek "Burned by The Thing"

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