Des Herzraums Abschied: Mark Johnson's Theory of Embodied Knowledge and Music Theory

  • Lawrence M. Zbikowski, Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Published 2008


form by image schemata. In that image schemata constrain but do not determine absolutely our understanding, imagination comes to play a crucial role in our experience of the world, for it is through the flexible play of imagination that we apply image-schematic knowledge to various situations.I0 Johnson summarizes this perspective as follows: Creativity occurs at all levels of our experiential organization and not just in those rare moments when we discover novel ideas. We are imaginatively creative every time we recognize a schema in a new situation we have never experienced before and every time we make metaphorical connections among various preconceptual and conceptual structures." Imagination is thus not ancillary to our understanding, but is instead basic to it.12 In sum, then, the theory of image schemata enabled Johnson to develop a fundamentally different view of knowledge and understanding. leading to a fundamentally different way of doing philosophy. In that the issues engaged by his philosophical investigations connected with inquiry into the structure and organization of the human mind, Johnson regarded them as part of cognitive science. This perspective then informed his subsequent work in ethics. In his Moral Imagination of 1993, Johnson made a persuasive argument that questions of ethics and moral reasoning were best explored from the perspective provided by recent work in cognitive science, which included his own work with image schemata and metaphor.13 Further work on connec'tions between cognitive science and philosophy appears in Lakoff and Johnson's recent and highly detailed Philosophy in the Flesh.I4 Image schemata theory and research in cognitive science. It is within the field of cognitive science that the theory of image schemata has had its broadest impact. Lakoff adopted the theory early on, most notably in his Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, an influential book on processes of categorization that marked Lakoff's full-scale entry into the field of cognitive science. Lakoff has continued to build on the theory, and it has informed his perspecgve on how cognitive linguistics should be shaped.I5 Other researchers in cognitive linguistics, such as Zoltan Kovecses and Eve Sweetser, have provided additional evidence for the importance of the theory.16 Mark Turner's work on cognitive rhetoric shows a similar influence, and, together with Francis-Noel Thomas, he has shown how image schemata can shape writing style." While there is a strong empirical component to the work of these scholars, its methodology is not one of hypothesis and experiment. And if there is a weakness to Johnson's theory, it is that it has remained in large part a theory, useful for explaining a wide variety of phenomena but without substantial experimental verification. However, the work of the psycholinguist Raymond Gibbs has started to rectify this situation, and together with Herbert Colston he has begun to provide the proof that has been heretofore l a ~ k i n g . ' ~ Perhaps more important is recent work by the cognitive psychologist Lawrence Barsalou and his associates on perceptual symbols, which are analogous to image schemata.Iy Barsalou's research not only makes a strong argument for the cognitive importance of structures such as image schemata, but has also provided the fust experimental evidence of the existence of such structures within human cognition. Similar arguments for the importance of image schemata or analogous structures have been made by researchers both in neuroscience and in human gesture as a communicative means.20 MUSIC THEORY AM) EMBODIED KNOWLEDGE Music theory and The Bodv in the Mind. Research in cognitive science suggests that the appeal of making a place for the body in our theories of music may well extend beyond what is intuitively satisfying: it may also be necessary if we are to reconcile our theoretical accounts of music with the range and power of musical expression. That music theorists of the recent past attempted to do just this capture the range and power of musical expression in their theoretical accounts of music is ably demonstrated by Janna Saslaw's essay. Saslaw traces the use of a specific category of image schemata the force schemata in contemporaneous writings by Heinrich Schenker and Arnold Schoenberg. Undertaking a close reading of numerous passages from both theorists, Saslaw shows the presence and variety of force schemata in their writings about music. By this means she demonstrates that a notion of force, especially as an embodied experience, is central to both Schenker's and Schoenberg's conceptualizations of music. Saslaw then examines how these same schemata are demonstrated in musical analyses by the two authors, even affecting their choice of graphic representation. It becomes clear that Schenker and Schoenberg are not simply engaged in absolute or abstract theorizing, but theorizing vibrantly informed by the experience of the body. Saslaw's work also demonstrates an aspect of image schemata not emphasized above: although schemata represent wholes that are analogous to gestalts, they oftentimes can be broken down into their components, or what Saslaw calls "features." Feature-analysis is particularly useful for exploring the aspects of a given image schema that are preserved by or are invariant under a particular cross-domain mapping. Feature-analysis also gives a glimpse into how image schemata guide reasoning: although a particular cross-domain mapping may emphasize only portions of schematic structure, we often develop our understanding by considering how the remaining aspects could be realized in the target domain. Candace Brower extends the basic argument presented by Saslaw's essay with a detailed analysis of the fust seventeen measures Edgard Varhe's Density 21.5, in which she explores the various image-schematic possibilities presented by the work. Brower is especially interested in the ways Varese's work supports goal-oriented image schemata. As a way of framing her approach, she draws on goaldirected interpretations of common-practice tonality, and then redeploys these interpretations (with modifications) in her analysis of the Varbse. Brower's analysis shows that our understanding and appreciation of music such as Density 21.5 does not rely, in,a simple way, on its 'absolute' characteristics but on the opportunities it presents for sonically realizing {he various schemata through which we structure our understanding of the world. Brower's essay points up two further roles that image schemata play in the way we think about music. First, the reasoning processes associated with image schemata can be quite elaborate, as demonstrated by the list of entailments of the image schema for goal-directed motion given in Brower's Figure 3. Image schemata will often provide the structure for an entire conceptual model, which we can then use to guide our reasoning about a particular domain. In the case of Varbse's Densizjl21.5, the image schema for goal-directed motion provides the basis for a conceptual model for pitch relations within the work.2' Second, Brower shows how our experience of music may inform, and perhaps even shape, our image schemata: that is, under certain circumstances, music may represent the primary source of experience, rather than a target domain which we structure in terms of a morefamiliar source domain.22 Steve Larson's essay provides an example of how an approach to musical organization based on embodied knowledge can be generalized through systematization, and how such a theory integrates with a theory of musical meaning. As a point of departure, Larson proposes that experienced listeners hear tonal music as purposeful action within a dynamic field of three forces: gravity; magnetism; and inertia. These forces provide a way of elaborating two more basic metaphors: MUSIC IS MOTION and MUSIC IS PURPOSEFUL. These basic metaphors and their elaborations through the three force metaphors combine into a coherent system, grounded in embodied experience, which Larson uses as the basis for generating a set of melodic patterns. As Larson shows, this well-defined set of patterns bears a strong resemblance to those found in published descriptions of hidden repetition in tonal music, those underlying fugue expositions, and those found in background and first-level middleground structures proposed by Schenker. Where Larson's contribution starts with the predicate of embodied knowledge and proceeds from there to generalized musical structures, Andrew Mead proceeds in (approximately) the opposite direction. Mead begins with a consideration of the intervallic properties of scale-based music as a way of exposing the system of metaphors through which we elaborate our understanding of scale-based music. Mead then goes on to argue that this system is ill-suited to the understanding of aggregate-based music because of the different function of intervals within such music, and suggests a new set of metaphors better suited to the musical properties of this music. Although much of Mead's essay is concerned with the abstract properties of scale-based and aggregate-based music, he explores these only as a way of characterizing how these musics sound and feel: at every turn he is concerned with finding an adequate account of his embodied experience of the range and power of musical expression. Music theory and embodied knowledge. The essays that follow clearly demonstrate the importance of embodied knowledge to our conceptualizations of music as well as the centrality of metaphor to our elaboration of those conceptualizations. They offer new ways to think about the history of music theory, musical analysis, theory building, and the relationships (or lack thereof) between music theories pertaining to different musical domains. They show that music theory, ever and marvelously an abstract discipline, is also grounded in our basic experience of the world. Perhaps more importantly, these essays give us a glimpse into how our theories of music connect with (rather than simply control) our passion for music,, For despite our familiarity with music, despite our daily involvement with its textures and moods, music remains a mysterious stranger, as it is in Rilke's poem. However, it is not simply a fascination with the Other that draws us to music, but a knowledge that this Other grows from something deep within us. Understanding how the body is in the mind offers a way to sketch the outlines of h s knowledge it offers us a way to trace the shapes left by the departure of that which is deepest within us.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Zbikowski2008DesHA, title={Des Herzraums Abschied: Mark Johnson's Theory of Embodied Knowledge and Music Theory}, author={Lawrence M. Zbikowski and Rainer Maria Rilke}, year={2008} }