A Philosophical Postscript for ‘Musical Philosophy’


I bit of an explanation of this magical transformation of the scholar into the scholar-musician (specifically, in this case, a philosopher-musician) and the morphing of the academe lecture-hall into the pop-culture concert-hall is required.


First, I should warn against taking what is essentially the secret fantasy behind the Gypsy Scholar’s “Essay-with-Soundtrack”—the GS’s grand radio conceit (an elaborate metaphor or organizing theme) concerning, via Socrates, Emerson, and Nietzsche, the Orphic Scholar and the Musician—too literally (just because it’s spelled out in such concrete terms, or because the GS has displayed this scholastic fantasy in a rather playful way, as it’s expressed in some somewhat silly-looking images—after all, the GS is an amateur scholar doing radio, not doing academic work).


So, to be completely honest about this renegade scholar-outsider fantasy, the GS must admit that he’s never—in all his university experience—witnessed any scholar engage in such bizarre rhetorical style at the podium. (But this doesn’t necessarily mean some toned-down version of this fantastic metamorphosis couldn’t happen. Indeed, an old grad-school friend reported to me—well after 2004-5, when I was composing the “Musical Philosophy” page—that she attended a lecture at a private academic institution in New Orleans wherein the scholar, in the middle of his exposition, did something that reminded her of the way the GS presents his “Essay-with-Soundtrack”: “… during which the presenter channeled the legendary Gypsy Scholar. In the midst of his talk, to illustrate his points, he played Van Morrison’s ‘Tore Down a la Rimbaud’ and ‘A Sense of Wonder’ in their entirety to a silent, stunned crowd and described Van as living ‘a commitment to the Mystery.’ I thought of you... you would have loved it.”)


In other words, the GS’s fantastic conceit concerning the vision of the scholar-musician (i.e., the Orphic scholar) doesn’t have to be taken at face value, since it’s a kind of organizing metaphor, one that represents (a) an alternative way of communicating a text by scholarly hermeneutics and (b) what form this synthesis of “scholar-musician” might take. I could also use the term “scholar-artist.” And here is where a “playful” expression and the “playfulness” that characterizes the re-visioned kind of scholar can be defended. As I have written above on this “Musical Philosophy” page about scholarship as performance art: “And because Philosophy is (as admitted by Plato) a form of “play” (an artistic endeavor), it makes the scholar of philosophy a “scholar-musician/artist,” who is distinguished by his or her ability to synthesize and play with knowledge—‘to create a collage of ideas or intellectual mind-jazz.’”


Secondly, I should explain (in order to facilitate a more appreciative response to my grand “musical philosophy” conceit here) that, in case it’s assumed the GS got the notion of such a metaphorical conceit directly by first reading philosophers such as Socrates/Plato, Emerson, and Nietzsche and then fantasized off their ideas. This, I think, would be the logical way of accounting for it by reading the closing section here. Yet, the truth is that was just the other way around—the GS first had the fantasy of the ideal “scholar-musician/artist” and then went to back to his academic studies in philosophy to find something, some philosopher, that would give it justification by embodying an approximate example of the ideal fantasy. (Of course, the GS doesn’t exclude unconscious influences from such philosophers who may have put the seed-idea in his head when he was first studying them in his college days; it’s just that he wasn’t thinking along these lines back then. It’s hard to tell exactly where it first originated. Chalk this crazy fantasy up to the fact that the GS went to a lot of lectures and concerts back in his youth?)


However, since formulating this fantastic (Romantic) conceit and expressing it this way or that way on radio with the “Essay-with-Soundtrack,” the GS now reads certain philosophers (especially Socrates/Plato, Emerson, and Nietzsche) with (a) new eyes and (b) “philosophy” itself in a new way—more as an art than a science; that is, a symbolic language which is a metaphorical transposition of what Nietzsche called “the music of the world.” In the parlance of the GS’s re-visioning of the scholar as the “Orphic Scholar,” philosophy means “musical philosophy.” (For Nietzsche, philosophy and poetry are not contradictory. He declares: “Both in its purposes and in its results it is an art. But it uses the same means as science—conceptual representation. Philosophy is a form of artistic it invention. There is no appropriate category for philosophy; consequently, we must make up and characterize a species for it.” The Birth of Tragedy)


It should be pointed out that this alternative vision of the scholar also came from college readings of the “Wandering Scholars” (the vagantes of goliardic poetry) of the medieval period—the freelance scholars of that time—and the nineteenth-century Romantic notion of the “Scholar Gypsy. 


As a note of clarification, I had a specific reason for selecting Van Morrison’s “Little Village” for the final song on this “Musical Philosophy” page. The GS could of course have chosen any one of a number of songs by VM to fit nicely with the point the GS wanted to magnificently elucidate by everything that was written from the beginning of the section here (and any number of songs from Leonard Cohen would have worked). However, this particular song has the virtue of having as its title and subject of “Little Village.” Why? Primarily because Nietzsche, in exile from his university position, became a vagabond scholar, traveling all around Europe, from the little villages of the sunny Italian Mediterranean (Turin) to the snow-capped Alps of Switzerland (Sils-Maria). Here, help in forming this webpage section and the choice of song came from two books: the first, Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy (significantly subtitled, “From the Spirit of Music”) and the second being about Nietzsche’ s road-scholar wanderings, The Good European: Nietzsche’s Work Sites in Word and Image (especially chapter 3, “The Solitude of High Mountains’) Ah, yes, “little village, baby”!


Therefore, in the wondering just what goes on “under the [Orphic] scholar’s hood” (“a strange voice, the disciple of a still ‘unknown God,’ one who concealed himself for the time being under the scholar’s hood) and in summing up this philosophical postscript, the Gypsy Scholar wants to bring to attention what Nietzsche—that most musical of all philosophers—had to say in lament for having written the most unusual book of “philosophy” that anyone had ever seen. He reflected back on how what spoke in that book “was something like a mystical, almost maenadic soul that stammered with difficulty … and in a strange tongue,” so much so that it was “undecided whether it should communicate or conceal itself.” Thus Nietzsche laments: “It should have sung, this ‘new soul’—and not spoken! What I had to say then—too bad that I did not dare say it as a poet.”


But, fortunately, this is no longer a problem for the post-Nietzschean “Orphic Scholar”! No longer will he/she need to lament the limitation of just the spoken word in communicating their personal, philosophical vision!


Gypsy Scholar

September 22, 2012