Kierkegaard's Don Giovanni and the seductions of the inner ear.
IT IS A BAD CASE OF THE DOUBLES. There was once a Spanish monk, who wrote for the theater under a pseudonym. His most famous work may or may not have been written by him at all, and it survives in two different versions. It is about a servant and his famous master, who nettled two kings, betrayed two friends, and seduced two noble and two peasant women (the last of which in a city called Dos Hermanas). He then dined twice with a statue--a copy in stone of a man he had murdered--who finally dragged him down to hell. The play was later rewritten into an opera by two men, an Austrian composer and a Venetian librettist (who was a poet and defrocked priest). Those two quarreled over the matter of genre and finally produced a work that is by turns tragic and farcical, by turns in the keys of D minor and D major. There are two extant versions of it. It is routinely called the finest opera ever written or "a notoriously scrappy piece of dramatic construction." (1) The most famous proponent of the former of these two views is a Danish philosopher, in a book titled Either/Or. Or rather, it is not the Danish philosopher, but one of his pseudonyms, Victor Eremita. Or rather, it is not even this man, but A, one of the authors of the papers that Victor Eremita claims to have discovered inside an old escritoire.
At every turn, we have a maddening Chinese box of pseudonymous identities, impersonated half-truths, and ventriloquent ambivalence. Underneath this welter of roles, however, shine out three undeniably great creations: Tirso de Molina's archetypal Don Juan, Mozart and Da Ponte's Don Giovanni, and Kierkegaard's essay--perhaps the most ingeniously enthusiastic encomium a work of music has ever received. My foremost purpose here is to say something about the third of these: about how to read Kierkegaard's praise, and about why Don Giovanni's treatment of erotic seduction is important to the rest of his work. Four years before the publication of Either/Or in 1843, Kierkegaard had written in his journal:
In certain respects, I can say of Don Juan what Elvira says to him: "You murderer of my happiness"--for to tell the truth it is this piece which affected me so diabolically that I can never forget it; it was this piece which drove me, like Elvira, out of the cloister's quiet night. (2)
The exact context is not clear, but mention of the diabolical and of the cloister is specifically telling here, because the paean to Don Giovanni in Either/Or turns precisely on the work's dependence on Christianity. It is the character of that dependence that I think has not been correctly understood by Kierkegaard scholars, and which will mainly occupy me here. I want to say above all that the sense of hearing has not been adequately acknowledged as the governing focus of the Don Juan myth, as its point of contact with Christianity, and as the primary sense in relation to which Kierkegaard understands the task of philosophy itself, in opposition to the predominant emphasis on visible intelligibility still present in German Idealism. It is this theme of hearing that makes sense of the theatrical duplicity that marks the story of Don Juan, of its finding its classic expression in Mozart's opera, and of Kierkegaard's preoccupation with it.
Before starting in on these more general issues, however, I will describe the argument for Don Giovanni's superior status in silhouette, as a point of departure. It appears as a section in the first half of Either/Or, which is presented as a series of disconnected sketches on aesthetic subjects written by an anonymous flaneur, a dandy, whom Victor Eremita, as I have noted, labels A, for want of information about him. A may or may not be the author of the most famous portion of the book, the "Seducer's Diary" (though Eremita suspects he is), who in turn may or may not be called--though he is identified as--Johannes (the Latin for Juan or Giovanni). The second half of Either/Or is then a reverent and earnest defense of marriage by a Judge William, while the fragmented, desultory, capriciously inconsistent form of the first half of the book is meant to exemplify the aesthetic amoral posture that William's interlocutor, A, stands for. We are thus rhetorically warned from the outset against expecting A's argument on behalf of Don Giovanni to be issued with full candor and rigor. To muddy the waters even further, I think we are meant to take the argument on one level as a bit of mischief, a sort of parody of the trend in nineteenth-century Idealist aesthetics of proving the absolute superiority of one art or artwork over every other, argued from the very alpha of first principles. (3) A's treatment of Don Giovanni accordingly alternates between brandishing the ponderous categories of Hegelian and Schellingian aesthetics in a show of dialectical irrefutability, and avowing--within a section deprecatingly labeled "Insignificant Introduction"--that such devices are inadequate to what he calls his lyrical thought, (4) flimsy justifications of the fact that he is so fully besotted with the opera that he owes his entire life's meaning to it. (5) Even within these layered dramatic ironies, however, A claims that his "aim was not to demonstrate but occasionally to illuminate [belyse]." (6) And so he does--De Rougemont goes so far as to say that A's interpretation of Don Juan rivals Mozart's in its magnificence. (7)
The argument runs to just under a hundred pages and has many moving parts--not all of them equally essential, (8) but still more than I can do justice to in this context. Still, the pith of A's position may be summarized as follows. First: it was Christianity that, by positing the spiritual as a distinct category--a domain of infinite significance distinguishable from temporal life--likewise created, in opposition to the spiritual, the category of the sensuous or the sensual. (It should be noted that the Danish sandselig covers both those English terms.) Sensuality of course existed for the pagans, but it was qualified psychically rather than spiritually: that is, it was considered an element more or less consonant with the other parts of the psychic ensemble, rather than as the voice of original sin, the natural man whom St. Paul contrasts to the spiritual. This need not mean that sensuality is unequivocally evil for Christianity--as it is patently not--but that we are forced to conjugate body and soul differently within Christianity than we are within paganism. The point is that the spiritual makes the sensual happen by setting it in motion in distinctive ways--whether as demonic excess, or as ascetic exercise, or as chivalric love, or as the sacrament of marriage--because the spiritual responds to a different logic, a different understanding of the final ends of life, and, of course, an altogether different kind of God.
Furthermore, A continues, music is the best possible expression of this newly posited sensuous-erotic domain (as he calls it), because it is the least discursive aesthetic medium, and the one by which the sensual is most immediately present. If we now conceive of the sensual by contrast to the spiritual, as a power and domain unto itself, then its truest translation into experience must take on a form that is purely spontaneous, as close as possible to direct experience in the flesh. "Music is the demonic," he asserts) (9) The visual arts are discarded as being representational, and so as still bound to the imagination of spiritual or doctrinal ideals; whereas the poetic arts are written off on the grounds that their formal intelligibility overwhelms what is purely material in them. A makes the (typically Hegelian) claim that in speech "the sensuous is reduced to a mere instrument and is thus annulled [ophoevet]"; (10) in other words, that we are not mindful of the stuff of speech as concatenations of sound per se, but as arrangements of meaning. And to the extent that we are mindful of the sounds of speech in poetry--of meter, rhyme, rhythm, and cadence--then music readily suggests itself as the right way to speak of them: "when language leaves off, music begins," (11) poetry is speech become musical. Music is therefore the truest expression of the sensual, because it is the art of immediate experience, the medium in which the ineffable becomes aesthetic. "Language cannot express the immediate," (12) whereas music is the pure immediacy of hearing--it exists only in the moment in which it comes to be, it is nonrepresentational, and so is a kind of temporal passion, a self-constituting experience rather than an object of perception.
Third and finally, A claims that Mozart's Don Giovanni "deserves the highest place among all the classic works" (13) because the theme of the opera is precisely the theme of the sensuous-erotic in its most refined form. This is not to say that music can have no other subject, but that Don Giovanni is its paradigmatic theme, the theme of what is most excluded from the spiritual as the most purely sensuous, and so the theme of the demonic, of the man who, even in full consciousness of the eternal consequences of his deeds, lives by seducing women with reckless zest and no second thoughts. Language alone cannot measure up to the story, because as soon as such a character is forced to enter into a reflective account of his doings--into the justifications, not to mention logistics, involved in breaking faith with thousands of women--he becomes silly. A compares Moliere's Don Juan unfavorably to Mozart's Don Giovanni, on the grounds that, by being placed on stage, the former can only resort to seducing girls by promising to marry them, which, as a romantic expedient, is less than heroic: "To deceive a girl with a promise of marriage is a very inferior art, and because someone is small enough to do that, it certainly does not follow that he is great enough to be called Don Juan." (14) Mozart's version, on the other hand, allows us direct access to such a character because his music does not ask us to enter into reasons, but gives us an immediate experience of what is irresistible about him--not simply when he himself sings, but in the way in which he motivates the response of every other character in the drama. The musical form of the opera is so perfectly suited to the story of the seducer, that Don Giovanni may be regarded as the very incarnation of the sensuous in its elemental purity, as the "absolutely musical." (15)
This is A's position, then, in broad strokes. Christianity brings the sensual into being by opposing it to the spiritual, the musical is the best setting of the purely sensual, Don Juan is the epitome of demonic sensuality, and Mozart's Don Giovanni is the ultimate conjunction of the musical and the sensual unto themselves. It is not clear what he takes to be the exact form of his conclusion--he does not stick to one formulation--but A at times seems to maintain that this proves that Don Giovanni is the finest work of art, full stop. (16)
Now, that much of this is questionable is readily apparent. What exactly does A mean by "immediacy"? Why should we concede the paradigmatically musical to the demonic? Does the spiritual not have as good a claim to the musical, as its most proper domain? A says in passing that, just as the proper theme of music is the seducer, the proper theme of painting is "celestially transfigured beauty" (17)--why not look to that transfiguration as the highest form of aesthetic expression? Or, were we looking for the aesthetic medium truest to pure sensuality, why should we not turn to, say, wine-making (another art closely tied to Christianity), rather than to music? Likewise, while it is a commonplace to speak of poetry as a kind of music--an analogy one might corroborate by pointing to any number of examples, from the Homeric bards to James Joyce's Chamber Music--it is by no means clear that the relation entails the vanishing of poetry into music. (The harmony of sounds might be an approximation of the harmony of meanings, rather than the other way around.) And why, after arguing for the superiority of the purely musical, should A have license to champion as its paradigm an opera--a hybrid form, after all--instead of a piece of instrumental music? And so forth.
Not all of these difficulties can be conclusively resolved, I think, but perhaps they need not be. If we consider A's promise to illuminate, rather than demonstrate, the argument has the virtue of calling into view two remarkable connections. First, that Christianity was a historical condition for the development of the art of music to its full and specific perfection--certainly in the West, perhaps at all. Such comparisons are more difficult, since aural judgments are disciplined by cultural habituation. But the discovery and rationalization of counterpoint and harmony, of our notation system, of the science of chords and temperament, of most of our instruments and canonical musical forms, have their roots in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, centuries for which art music and liturgical music were one and the same. And whereas ancient poetry, architecture, and sculpture still seem to us to make credible claims to have produced the finest ever exemplars of their kind, there can hardly be any question that the aesthetic resources under the command of a conductor's baton are an order of magnitude richer, deeper, more variously modulated in color, rhythm, tone, register, and timbre, more formally supple and articulate, and more subtly affecting than the corresponding resources available to ancient music, even by their most generous extant descriptions. Modern musicological reconstructions of the twanging of the lyre and the bleating of the aulos attest to this somewhat more limited range.
Second, A also calls attention to the parallel fact that the idea of Don Juan, as of seduction itself, is dependent on Christianity. This requires a longer reckoning. A remarks that the Greeks and their gods were promiscuous enough, but that even a figure like Heracles, who in one story has his way with fifty maidens, is not a seducer in the modern sense. There are two distinct views of the soul at issue: A says that psychic (that is, pagan) eros is incongmous with the notion of seduction, because, again, psychic eros makes no clear distinction between spiritual and sensual, such that Heracles enjoys many only accidentally, whereas Don Juan must desire all by desiring the sensuous as such.
The way in which A makes this particular point is perhaps unhelpfully abstract, but the point is sound, if one appends the observation that the notion of seduction presupposes an understanding of chastity as a virtue, as well as a certain view of the feminine (18) and of the seduced as in possession of full integrity of will--an integrity that comes into being only with the infinite significance that Christianity accords to each human soul. Because, with a few qualified exceptions like the Tale of Genji, the literary or mythic figure of the seducer is not found outside the Christian West. (19) It is inappropriate to speak of seduction when it comes to Helen in the Iliad, or to Coronis in Pindar's third Pythian Ode, or to the women in the opening pages of Herodotus's Histories, because their consent is not treated as especially interesting to the brute fact of their harpage, their having been snatched away as property. The modern sense of the word seduction, with its overtones of erotic persuasion, temptation, enticement, beguilement, and, one might even say, conversion, is not attested until the mid-sixteenth century. The original Latin sense of seduco is simply "to draw aside" or "separate"; it marks an external act, whereas the modern sense requires no external change to take place. The figure of the sexual libertine then became widespread in the art and literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in novels like d'Urfe's L'Astree, Crebillon's Egarements, Richardson's Clarissa, Laclos's Liaisons Dangereuses, Diderot's La Religieuse, in the paintings of Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard, in the plays of Marivaux, and in the memoires of the likes of Rousseau and Casanova. The terms that we have developed to describe these characters--words like "rake," "Romeo," "philanderer," "flirt," and "Lothario"--acquired their senses from the literature of this period. There are certainly immense and important differences between, say, the novels of the Marquis de Sade and Fielding's Tom Jones, or, later, the ideal of Byronic romanticism, but there is no question that we are in the presence of a new human type, with a distinctive relation to sensuality that understands itself to be in rebellion against Christian restraint even as in doing so it continues to draw on an originally Christian view of autonomy and inwardness of will. (20) The word libertine originally referred to an emancipated slave, then (in the sixteenth century) to a religious nonconformist, before coming to designate a moral dissolute. Not every libertine is a seducer, of course, but there is likewise no question that the prototype at the origin of all of these variations--the seducer and sensualist par excellence--was first fleshed out in the figure of Don Juan himself.
We have but few modern myths--stories that are wedded to no single telling, but that live on as a kind of riddle that a culture repeatedly poses to itself about itself. (21) Yet there is arguably no other figure that has gripped the modern imagination as powerfully as Don Juan, (22) to the point where the story may almost be said to have entered Catholic ritual: in one version or another, it has been performed on the Feast of All Saints in various comers of Europe and Latin America for hundreds of years. (23) Tirso de Molina's character first strutted onto stage sometime around 1613 as a particular creature of the Spanish Counter-Reformation. What is at issue in his version is the breakdown of feudal mores, the problematic cosmopolitanism of modern European cities, and the question of predestination. (24) But the story also gives voice to a more fundamental Christian issue. Namely: if--on one rigoristic, discarnate understanding--Christianity would offer us suffering and punitive self-mortification in this life in exchange for eternal happiness in the other, Don Juan represents the reversal of that proposition. He has chosen a life of full pleasure here and now, whatever the consequences. Molina's Don Juan knows full well that punishment is around the bend, but he lives in jubilant freedom from the misgivings of conscience. (Viva la liberta! sings Mozart's Don Giovanni.) When punishment comes to him, it comes from without, in the form of an avenging statue, rather than from the torment of inner qualm. Kierkegaard's A does not mention Molina's version specifically, but he is right to notice that the character's freedom depends on his being unreflective: when confronted by other characters with the likely eternal consequences of his disgraceful escapades, he does not enter into nice theological distinctions but laughs them off with his shameless refrain, que largo me lo fiais (you give me credit for so long)! He refuses to subordinate temporal ends within a larger teleological order, and so lives in a sort of innocent levity that suggests a partial (and therefore perverse) experience of eternity. He is utterly immanent, purely present to self. (25) It is only in the twentieth century that he has been depicted as growing old, and hardly ever as fathering any children.
But while Don Juan is frequently compared to the devil, it is important to underline why he cannot be simply equated with that gentleman. Unlike the devil, Don Juan is not bent on long-term accumulation: (26) his story gained purchase only to the extent that Christianity was understood as fully excluding the pleasures of temporal embodiment. (27) He is interesting to us, that is, only insofar as he can escape our total censure. One might reverse the proposition underlying the myth by saying that Don Juan's sensuality in fact makes him one half of the perfect Christian: he loves half of his neighbors as if they were himself. He loves each one of them for a brief time as if they were the only one in the world, as God loves them. His desire for pure sensuousness cannot be purely generic. If it were, there would be no essential reason for him to move on to his next conquest. This is what A means by saying that sensuality is spiritually qualified for Don Juan as a Christian figure: Don Juan desires the body, as God desires the soul, each and every one in its full and incarnate uniqueness.
This theme admittedly receives a somewhat more variable treatment across the different retellings of the story. Molina's Don Juan is a burlador, a trickster, who seems to care only for the fun of disgracing the fairest women, (28) but in Moliere's 1660 version we already get the sense that he has grown more catholic in his taste--his servant jokes that, given the chance, he would marry the whole human race (29)--and the list aria in Don Giovanni invokes for our consideration a catalogue of seduction that is as hilariously indiscriminate as it is theologically resonant. Leoporello insists there that his master does not care whether she is beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, young or old--Don Giovanni finds something laudable and lovable in each one of them. (30) He is all things to all women--"it's all love; whoever is faithful only to one is cruel to the others," (31) he insists--and they in turn respond to that position with a devotion very like fanaticism. Donna Elvira, in particular, seems to experience her love for Don Giovanni as a direct alternative to her love for God--in Moliere's version she has been seduced out of a convent, while in Da Ponte's she joins one at the end. Don Juan's command over the partial good of sensuality is deeply compelling to the women he pursues. As A had pointed out, one does not seduce 1,003 women in Spain alone just by faking an engagement to each one of them. Word gets around.
If we set aside the German Idealist penchant for demonstrating that there is a strict hierarchical order of the arts, the real excellence of A's argument is therefore to suggest an indissoluble nexus among Christianity, music, and seduction. The point being that the latter two presuppose a view of inner life that is distinctively Christian: Christian ritual provided conditions propitious for the full perfection of music, while Christian asceticism summoned the figure of the seducer into being as its demonic reaction, whether as a perversion of it, or as its due correction (depending on one's view of things).
This alone is not yet so illuminating, however. Without a deeper basis for the connection between music and seduction, their confluence in Mozart's Don Giovanni is bound to seem accidental, which A insists it is not. The trouble is that, as I have already noted, it is not easy to make out what A means by "immediacy" (a Hegelian term (32)), or why it entails that the domain of the musical should perfectly coincide with the domain of the sensual. I want to corroborate this connection by suggesting a different approach, an approach that somewhat changes the physiognomy of A's argument, but that holds the key to the relation not just between the musical and the seductive, but between both of them and Christianity, and then again between this trio and Kierkegaard's preoccupation with the Don Juan myth. The connection, as I have indicated above, lies in our relation to the sense of hearing, in Christianity's development of that sense, and in the bond between hearing and the medium of theater. It is a striking fact that the Don Juan myth should have appeared in Spain at a time when musical theater as we now know it was being invented in Italy. Monteverdi's Orfeo, the oldest opera still in repertoire, was written in 1607--less than a decade before Don Juan--and it was precisely the seventeenth century that emancipated orchestral music from its liturgical context. It is a coincidence, of course, that opera and the seducer should have appeared in such close succession. But just as the theatrical became characteristic of seventeenth-century music--both in opera and in the forms of instrumented virtuosity that secular ensemble music makes possible (33)--so it is that Don Juan relies on theatrical distance in order to seduce, and I want to show how that distance raises the ear to paramount importance. It is not that the theme of hearing is absent from A's account--he claims at one point that the "ear is the most spiritually qualified sense" (34) and says that Don Giovanni is a character who must be heard rather than discursively understood (35)--but he does not thematize it, and the way in which it draws his argument into coherence by explaining the notion of immediacy goes unmentioned. I will first explain, therefore, how this connection is borne out in Don Giovanni itself--in effect trying to make A's argument by different means--before returning to show how it bears on Kierkegaard's interest in these subjects.
The Don Juan story has been spun out into dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different versions over the past four centuries, pressed into the service of many different orbits of concern--there is Don Juan the romantic, Don Juan the antiromantic, Don Juan the existentialist, Don Juan the social-Darwinist, Don Juan the feminist even, and so forth. (36) There are elements common to most of these versions, though perhaps none more surprising than the fact that we rarely hear anything about his looks--a point that gets scant attention in the field of Don Juan studies. He was seldom depicted as a blindingly handsome gallant until twentieth-century film. (37) There are scattered mentions of his good looks in the earlier versions--he is no Cyrano--but in the opera, Don Giovanni's looks are never mentioned, not once. (38) And even Don Ottavio--Donna Anna's sweet, gullible suitor--is called handsome at one point. (39) The significance of Don Giovanni's unremarkable appearance comes further into relief when one considers that, in almost every telling, Don Juan is a character who seduces not simply by outright charm and mendacity, but by theatrical versatility, by suiting his voice to the desires of others. Molina's Don Juan has his way with two of the four ladies we see him seduce by passing himself off in the dark as their true lovers; while Moliere's Don Juan, like his Tartuffe, is a juggler of specious reasons, a character who can feign every register of histrionic pretense--from shameless blandishment to religious contrition--in his efforts to get what he wants. So far from relying on his appearance to seduce, Don Juan seems to depend on his inconspicuousness, or rather on his mimetic talent for counterfeiting the man that each woman wants him to be by sounding to her as she most wants him to sound. I do not say that appearances are irrelevant to his success: we see his position as a nobleman making a great impression on the peasant girls he encounters (like Zerlina in Don Giovanni). But even in those cases it is only because his words are parasitic on the reputation of his class, because he is taken to mean what he says, that he finally succeeds. Molina's Don Juan identifies himself enigmatically as un hombre sin nombre--"a man without a name": that is, he does not show the least interest in being recognized or acknowledged as Don Juan by his victims. It is this understanding of the seducer, then--as an anonymous, placeless chameleon, a word-shifting proteus who can talk himself into any identity because he has none in his own right--that raises the voice to prominence as his chief weapon. And it is the great achievement of Mozart and Da Ponte's opera precisely to show that the voice is itself what is at issue at the heart of the myth, because within the medium of opera, we no longer have to take Don Giovanni's appeal on theatrical faith. We can hear it for ourselves. (40)
More than any of its predecessors, the opera concentrates on impersonation, misrecognition, and pretense as its explicit themes throughout. The curtain rises to Leoporello skulking in the shadows and grumbling that he would like to be in his master's place, voglio far il gentiluomo--not "I want to be a nobleman," as it is usually translated, but "I want to play the part of nobleman." (41) We immediately watch Don Giovanni chased out of Donna Anna's apartment. She will claim later that she let him enter because she mistook him for her fiancee, though (paradoxically) she will also say she recognizes his voice; at any rate she never sees his face. Don Giovanni then tries to seduce Donna Elvira; when it turns out he has already seduced her, their roles are reversed as she chases after him. Don Giovanni next tries his luck with Zerlina; Leoporello shoos away Masetto, her bridegroom, by telling him that Don Giovanni will know how to play his (Masetto's) part well enough. (42) Masetto later hides in the bushes to try to satisfy his suspicions about Zerlina's infidelity. The first act concludes with a lavish ball at Don Giovanni's palazzo--Donna Anna, Don Ottavio, and Donna Elvira arrive wearing masks to try to catch the seducer out. The greater part of the second act in turn derives its dramatic tension from Don Giovanni and Leoporello's exchange of identities, with Leoporello pretending to be Don Giovanni to Elvira (Don Giovanni specifically asks him to imitate his voice at this juncture), and Don Giovanni pretending to be Leoporello to seduce Elvira's maid and another unnamed lady. ("But what if she had been my wife?" demands a miffed Leoporello. "Better yet!" replies his master. (43)) The significance of the statue's appearance at the end is precisely that it forces Don Giovanni to commit himself to make a single promise by irrevocably clasping the hand of the eternal. About three quarters of the opera take place at night, under the cover of darkness, whereas Don Giovanni is damned to hell just as day is breaking.
Within an opera where all the main characters (except the statue) at some point pretend or dissemble, Mozart's seducer is an imitator ruling over all of them, an actor who is nothing but his roles, and whose genius exists only in relation to others. Significantly, the role is written for a baritone, where operatic conventions would usually dictate a male gallant to be written as a tenor: Don Giovanni is in between registers, he has not been type-cast. (44) It is if he lacked a voice of his own. Just as Don Juan rarely soliloquizes in his earlier versions, we never hear Don Giovanni sing an extended solo aria--surely a surprise, given that the opera is named after him. In a rare peaceful interlude, when he sits down to eat alone just before the finale, his personal orchestra performs for his benefit a series of greatest hits from other contemporary operas, including a tune from Mozart's own Marriage of Figaro--as if to indicate that musical originality dries up around him when no one is chasing him and there are no ladies present. (45) There is one exception to the observation that he lacks an aria, but it proves the rule: metd di voi qua vadano, in act two, is an aria about being hidden, about feigning to be Leoporello while going through the motions of helping a search party look for himself. Don Giovanni mimics Leoporello's comic staccato style, respecting even the key of F major--a key associated with Leoporello from the opening. Don Giovanni's only other distinct contributions arefinch'han dal vino, an eighty second burst of frenzied, anarchic elation--it is the shortest number in the opera (46)--and two songs of seduction: the first a brief serenade to Elvira's unseen maid, and the second, la ci darem la mano, perhaps the loveliest duet ever written.
The importance of this duet is not dwelt on by Kierkegaard's A, but I think it the crowning glory of Mozart's treatment of the Don Juan myth and of the theme of mimetic duplicity that marks it throughout. For once, the seducer stands exposed before us at a point of maximum disadvantage. We, who already know him to be a double-dealing scoundrel, must also come to believe that he is irresistible, must be won over to the thought that we too could plausibly fall in love with him on our wedding day no less, as Zerlina does. Unlike the medium of film, in which seeing is believing, opera is the miracle by which 200 pounds of corseted Wagnerian ham are routinely transfigured into the most beautiful human being conceivable. And nowhere is such a transfiguration more dramatically important than at this point in Don Giovanni--the opera depends on our saying vorrei e non vorrei, "I would and I would not," along with Zerlina. Mozart's music, A claims in three different separate instances throughout his essay, fills him with the longing a woman or a young girl might feel. (47)
The duet is remarkable, first, because on the face of it, it seems to upend Don Giovanni's usual strategy: for once he is not imitating anyone else. Nor is he simply singing a beautiful song at Zerlina, but rather he is trying to get her to sing along with him. In other words, he is trying to awaken love in her by seducing her into a kind of imitation--the duet is patterned by a series of shortening periods that throb into urgency, repeated invitations to join in that crescendo with insistence. His singing here is a kind of sympathetic magic, a ritual incantation of the response he is seeking. Yet his intention is not to mesmerize Zerlina into echoing him directly, but to provide her instead with an occasion to improvise. We hear him succeed in awakening in her a voice that is all her own: her antiphonal replies, at first somewhat tentative and guarded, grow more distinct from his until we hear her begin to dovetail with him in independence, to develop musical ornamentation in her own right that becomes more elaborate than his own, even. When Zerlina finally yields her heart--and, after a series of sighing chromatic appoggiaturas, we hear the exact moment when she does--the two pause and begin a new, shared song that they harmonize simultaneously. Or rather, it is not a song anymore, but a dance, a stylized bourree with syncopation measures in which they trade the word andiam, "let us go," in a pretty chiasmus. There can hardly be a more beautiful metaphor for courtship and young love: Don Giovanni offers Zerlina a certain possibility, but its fruition depends on their jointly building the melodic world that they are supposed to inhabit together. His seduction consists (very literally) of shared enchantment. What is exquisite about Mozart's treatment, therefore, is that we witness Don Giovanni as a genius capable of transfiguring mimesis into a higher Socratic art that is at once erotic and pedagogic. We are shown the most compelling reason why Don Giovanni's power rests on his lack of a distinctive voice: he teaches Zerlina to love by seducing her into an imitation that can succeed only by differing from his original.
I want to note, moreover, that Zerlina's transformation is presented as a kind of conversion, and that that conversion is likewise implicated with the voice and the medium of music. The language of conversion is itself telling, though its erotic tropes are perhaps so familiar as not to strike a distinctively religious note--in other words, they partake of the ambiguity intrinsic to all love poetry that addresses itself to a divine beloved, mortal or immortal. Don Giovanni promises io cangero tua sorte, "I will change your lot," (or "future" or "destiny"), a promise that is at once quasi-biblical and (unfortunately) accurate. The image of taking and holding hands likewise has scriptural parallels. (48) Don Giovanni addresses Zerlina, and then she him, as mio bene, that is, "my darling," or, more literally, "my good." And when the two of them have learned to dance, they do so while saying that they are off to ristorar le pene d'un innocente amor--"to relieve the pains of innocent love"--a phrase that hints at both lost innocence and the promise of a new one.
More striking is the way in which Don Giovanni makes his case by asking Zerlina to listen to the moment of her own future acquiescence--la ci darem la mano, la mi dirai di si, "there we will join hands, there you will say yes to me." (49) Don Giovanni repeats the phrases as if Zerlina's imagination alone will summon its own conviction: it is not a logical argument, the music bespeaks his case by spiriting the words into sense. Our experience of harmonic music here, like our experience of love, is both intrinsically pleasant, and pleasant in its unfolding promise of resolution. It is the delight of time stretching present beauty into future hope: Don Giovanni's rhetoric is perfectly suited to its musical form in that it exactly captures this double pleasure in presence and absence. His image of their future life is fittingly issued in imperatives and future indicatives, whereas we hear Zerlina slowly relinquish her hold of the present indicative. And while Don Giovanni is evidently addressing his words to her out loud, Zerlina wavers at the edge of a fantasy that is neither within nor without her. She is responding to him musically, but it is not at all obvious that she is speaking out loud to him: there is no necessary connection between his words and her interjections. She is addressing at once Don Giovanni and herself, at once us in the audience and her own desires. It is as if we have been granted access to the mood of her deliberation, to the melody of her motives. We do not hear her reason, we hear the rhythm and response in which her soul is striving to voice itself, and then is changed by the realization that it can do so after all. Music is the audible image of Zerlina's conversion to new passion, with the ambiguity that the word "passion" entails: it is an experience passively coaxed into her by Don Giovanni, and an active quickening into a new kind of self-understanding. Her encounter with Don Giovanni reverberates in her throughout the rest of the opera in ways that I will not now touch on. (50) I wish only to underline that our own experience of Don Giovanni here demonstrates how he is able to evoke love from Zerlina by striking the right sensuous note in her, and how this seduction relies on a view of the will that is so well suited to its musical presentation as to be inseparable from it.
I hope this puts us in a better position to appreciate the full implications of A's argument, which I want to reformulate now in terms of the importance of the sense of hearing. Christianity reinterpreted and so sharpened the scission between the inner domain of our purposes and desires and the outer one of practice and endeavor. Aristotelian virtue and vice may be inferred or at least triangulated from visibility, in a way that salvation and sin cannot, because they are incommensurable with it. This sharpened distinction of seen from unseen at once enriches inner life by raising conscience and intention to infinite importance, and, by reason of the invisibility of this new domain, thereby unintentionally expands the intrinsic human power to dissemble. Christianity allows there to be both personhood and hypocrisy--both are terms originally borrowed from the theater, terms that assume a radical break between an inner soul and its masked outward manifestations. I do not mean that this distinction is congruent with the distinction that Kierkegaard's A makes between spirituality and sensuality, but rather that it helps to explain why Christian and libertine sensuality result in certain distinctive forms. The connection between these forms is better made by observing that one consequence of this separation between inside and outside is to magnify the importance of the voice and our sense of hearing, as their place of encounter.
Hearing is a sense that is neither purely external (like sight) nor purely immediate (like taste or touch), but that is ambiguously within and without us. (51) Sounds come to us from without, but we do not encounter them at the skeptical distance that sight affords us--sounds claim our attention, we tune into them, and we are responsible for their construal in a particular way. Cavell states the matter well:
It is the nature of hearing that what is heard comes from someplace, whereas what you can see you can look at. It is why sounds are warnings, or calls; it is why our access to another world is normally through voices from it; and why a man can be spoken to by God and survive, but not if he sees God, in which case he is no longer in this world. (52)
Sight keeps the world at arm's length, whereas hearing places us in a position of inner dependence with respect to it. The contrast between "overseeing" and "overhearing" suggests the point especially well. In the former case, circumstances are at our mercy; in the latter, we are exposed to them, we are in silent readiness, all ears. (53)
It is for similar reasons that the distinction between sight and hearing is frequently resorted to as a point of contrast between pagan philosophy and Christian revelation. (54) Formal or eidetic visibility in the former culminates in contemplation, the theoria of the philosopher beholding the spectacle of the cosmos; whereas St. Paul tells us that "faith cometh by hearing," just as confession, prayer, and obedience are fundamentally acts of speaking and hearing, rather than seeing. (55) The Word was made flesh, as an altogether different Giovanni put it, while an early Christian tradition--repeated by Augustine and Bernard--held that Mary conceived Jesus through the ear, by virtue of listening to Gabriel's speech. (56) This is a generalization, of course: it is undeniable that all the senses--including hearing and touch--have an important place in ancient philosophy, just as vision undeniably matters a great deal to Christianity. But it may be argued that any given understanding of the world orients us toward one of the senses as predominant or paradigmatic, and it is in this regard that I want to say that the Christian affinity for hearing--along with the inwardizing that it supposes--provided the conditions for the perfection both of the art of music and of the seducer's whispers. To the extent that the musical and the seductive are possibilities that are both essential to and separable from Christianity--to the extent, that is, that they are kindred consequences of a single phenomenon--then the connection between music and seduction becomes more plausible, as does the thought that Don Giovanni is one form of the perfect confluence of these two themes.
Before tacking on Q.E.D., however, I would like to make one further pass at understanding this threefold connection, this time by including Kierkegaard himself in the circle, and saying why it is that the sense of hearing is central to his work. Now, Kierkegaard is not a systematic thinker--Victor Eremita, A, and Johannes in Either/Or are just three of over a dozen pseudonymous characters that he employs to explore different philosophical postures, and to entice his readers into the task of understanding their relation. His pseudonymous works may thus be compared to the Platonic dialogues (about which Kierkegaard had written his doctoral dissertation), with the difference that there is no Socrates, with whom one might be tempted to identify the voice of the author. Kierkegaard's intention in undertaking such a project is internal to his pedagogical method and to his understanding of philosophy, which he sees as requiring not simply the articulation of certain points of view, but the exploration of what it would mean to be committed to them from the inside out, as embodied characters. (57) The extended treatment of Don Giovanni is meant as one of several such positions with which we are presented in Either/Or and which, on another level, we undergo as readers of the book. Reacting with vehemence against what he understood to be the complacency of Danish Protestantism and the way in which Hegelian philosophy had hardened into academic dogma, Kierkegaard explicitly understands his writing as a task of philosophical seduction, an effort not to impart a particular doctrine, but to bring his readers into a directly personal confrontation with the most important questions. He takes this theater of voices, therefore, as a reorientation of philosophy and theology, away from a set of precepts that may be taught as true and parroted as orthodox and toward the awakening of what he often calls inwardness, the utterly particular way in which the truth is given living voice within each person. It is plain enough, then, why this reorientation away from doctrinal content and toward communicative form should entail a shift away from visual metaphors and toward acoustic and vocal ones.
The standing philosophical preference for vision is still clear in Kant's epistemology--in which the matter of perception is intuition (or insight, Anschauung), experience consists of phenomena, or appearances (Erscheinungen), informed by the power of the imagination (Einbildungskraft), the understanding's schemata, and so forth. While Hegel's word for the partial stages of dialectical argument is shape (Gestalt), one of his favorite words for a conception is representation (Vorstellung), his tenn of art for philosophy is speculation, and the whole in its full actuality the Idea--all expressions etymologically keyed to sight. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, stands at the beginning of an arc within modern philosophy--in which I would name Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson, and Heidegger (58)--that favors hearing over sight, because (among other reasons) it tends to identify visual intelligibility with an overformalized, reified version of Platonism that it studies to reject. The denial of sight as the sense of direct communication is for Kierkegaard the assertion of a different kind of relation to the truth, a relation of interiority. The reason for this difference lies in the particularity of the sense of hearing, vis-a-vis the sense of sight, a difference that Kierkegaard ties back to Christianity.
In the most general terms, what is visible is held in common evidence: its emblem is the light of universal reason. Kierkegaard associates it with the merely rote, dogmatic objectivity of which he is most critical. (59) What is heard and spoken is, in turn, closer to us, literally and figuratively. As Helen Keller put it, blindness cuts people off from things, but deafness cuts them off from other people. Being persuaded and being touched by words are parochial motions: the obstacles to spoken communication are greater, but also, when overcome, the contact is more personal. The communion of speech requires that we overcome not only barriers of language, but hidebound differences of association, background, and temperament. We say that something speaks to us, or tell someone they speak our language, to mean that we feel understood by them. The Pentecostal miracle of communication--in which everyone present heard the universal message speaking to them in particular--points to the problem in the usual state of affairs, a problem that Kierkegaard sees as intrinsic to communication and so as motivating his pseudonymous authorship: How to speak in such a way as to convey the spirit through the letter? How to make use of the stereotyped, common denominators of ordinary speech in such a way as to address every reader as if he or she were the only one? Kierkegaard will claim elsewhere that, whereas the highest moment of Hegelian philosophy entails the disappearance of one's individual self into universal thought thinking itself, and whereas paganism entails a direct, natural relationship with the gods, the merit of Christianity is precisely that, by denying us a direct relationship with God, it both makes the question of communication paramount and so ensures that our own contact with the divine must be fully personal, fully responsive to the fact that we are both eternal beings and uniquely incarnate. (60)
In addition to this general preoccupation with communication, however, Kierkegaard's focus on the sense of hearing is more particularly tied to a separate but related issue in Either/Or, namely, what he calls the relation of the inner and the outer. I mention it only in passing, lest I bite off more than philosophical mastication would permit here. Kierkegaard states in a journal entry that the first paragraph of Either/Or poses the problem of the entire work. (61) The passage--the first we hear from A--reads:
What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music. It is with him as with the poor wretches in Phalaris' bronze bull, who were slowly tortured over a slow fire; their screams could not reach the tyrant's ears to terrify him; to him they sounded like sweet music. And people crowd around the poet and say to him, "Sing again soon"--in other words, may new sufferings torture [martre] your soul, and may your lips continue to be formed as before, because your screams would only alarm us, but the music is charming. And the reviewers step up and say, "that is right; so it must be according to the rules of esthetics." Now of course a reviewer resembles a poet to a hair, except that he does not have the anguish in his heart, or the music on his lips. Therefore, I would rather be a swineherd out on Amager and be understood by swine than be a poet and be misunderstood by people. (62)
The story is chosen as the opening statement of one of A's central (anti-Hegelian) contentions: that there is absolute incommensurability between inner and outer, a total disjunction between our inner life and its observable, external expressions. The passage in Lucian to which A is referring tells of a metal bull that, while conceived as an instrument of torture, was "a very beautiful thing to look at and a very close copy of nature; motion and voice were all it needed to make it seem actually alive [empsychon]." (63) exterior is perfectly inscrutable, so the voice provides our only access to its interior. The voice is also misleading, of course, but the problem is different. It is a problem of interpretation and diagnosis, rather than of impassivity, and one complicated by the fact that the audience of the bull--so far from being ignorant of the distress of the voice imprisoned inside it--derives some of their enjoyment precisely from the contrast.
After the essay on Don Giovanni, A parades before us a series of figures whose internal conditions cannot be externalized, because they cling to secret sorrows or desires that render them incomprehensible to those around them--we see, among others, a modern version of Antigone who cannot share the story of her origins with her lover; a psychological dramatization of Don Giovanni's Elvira, who refuses to relinquish her love for him, even as it cuts her off from the rest of the world; an analysis of a play by Eugene Scribe, in which a young girl falls in love with a suitor who is only pretending to be her true love; and finally we read the private diary of Johannes, who (with his servant, Johann) approaches seduction as an intricately psychological art form very different from Don Giovanni's. All of these characters are variations of Phalaris's bull: their appeal to the reader depends at once on the incommunicability of their inner life, and on the aesthetic allure of our being able to overhear the inner in conflict with the outer. The pleasure in the contrast is intrinsically theatrical, for reasons I have noted, and insofar as it calls attention to the difference between inner intention and outer manifestation, it also calls attention to the difference between the outer form of words and their inner meaning-the figure of the critic in the Phalaris vignette is a reminder that misunderstanding and sophistry are possibilities essential to all communication. But just as playing up these possibilities is part of A's strategy of rhetorical inveiglement, so it is the voice that is Johannes's primary instrument of seduction, and which recurs again and again in the first half of Either/Or as the bridge by means of which the inner is intimated, albeit not straightforwardly, into outer presence.
A's papers are meant to present us with a certain amoral posture that Kierkegaard identifies as endemic to modernity: a voyeuristic approach that prizes aesthetic enjoyment above all, a self-alienated attempt to live in a subjunctive mood that ironizes itself out of every ethical commitment. It is meant as an exploration of a possibility that we should reject. But that rejection is troubled by the inseparability of the aesthetic from the religious in Kierkegaard: the aesthetic is for him a vicious manifestation of the religious, but one that nonetheless contains and is contained by the religious as the permanent possibility of its refusal. The sense of hearing is one particular way in which this relation is in evidence, but the relation is much broader, as broad and problematic as the relation of the beautiful to the good in modern aesthetics, or as the relation between erotic and Christian love at issue in the Don Juan myth. One might say that the religious intrinsically doubles us: it marks a distance between ourselves and our best role that we are then charged with reappropriating. At one extreme is Don Juan, who has canceled that distance toward merely aesthetic immanence. At the other is Christ, who canceled that distance by being the embodied Word itself. (64) For the rest of us, as Kierkegaard sees it, the faithful work of overcoming that distance remains in some sense imitative, the paradoxical task of living up to ourselves by letting ourselves be seduced to higher promise. (65) Judge William, in the second half of Either/Or, sums up the theatrical culmination of the aesthetic as follows:
He who has humility and courage enough to let himself be aesthetically transformed, he who feels himself present as a character [Person] in a drama the deity is writing [digter], in which the poet [Digteren] and the prompter are not different persons, in which the individual, as the experienced actor who has lived into his character [Charakteer] and his lines is not disturbed by the prompter but feels that he himself wants to say what is being whispered to him, so that it almost becomes a question whether he is putting the words in the prompter's mouth or the prompter in his, he who in the most profound sense feels himself creating and created [digtende og digtet], who in the moment he feels himself creating has the original pathos of the lines, and in the moment he feels himself created has the erotic ear that picks up every sound--he and he alone has brought into actual existence the highest in aesthetics. (66)
Let us close our eyes to listen, and so see.
The Catholic University of America
Correspondence to: Anton Barba-Kay, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064.
(1) Joseph Kerman, "Reading Don Giovanni," in Don Giovanni: Myths of Seduction and Betrayal, ed. Jonathan Miller (New York: Shocken Books, 1990), 116.
(2) Soren Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers (hereafter, JP), ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, assisted by Gregor Malantschuk, 7 vols. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970), vol. 2, [section] 2789. I use the following other abbreviations for Kierkegaard's writings: SV = Soren Kierkegaard, Samlede Vcerker, ed. A. B. Drachmann, J. L. Heiberg, and H. O. Lange, 20 vols. (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1962-1964); EE1 = Enten-Eller, Forste Halvbind (= SV 2); EE2 = Enten-Eller, Andet Halvbind (= SV 3); KW = Kierkegaard's Writings, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, 26 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978-2000); EO1 = Either/Or, Part I (= AIT 3); E02 = Either/Or, Part II (= KW 4).
(3) Adorno correctly diagnoses this dependence but, seeing no irony in it, draws the conclusion that Kierkegaard's analysis is in vicious thrall to the Idealist categories he takes himself to be criticizing; see Theodor W. Adorno, Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic, trans. and ed. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: Univeristy of Minnesota Press, 1989), 20-23. But Kierkegaard--even Kierkegaard's A--is explicitly skeptical of the overformalized application of Hegelian categories to art (see, for example, EE1, 53/EO1, 53), so that the earnestness of their application is at least in question. In this respect, Roger Poole's observation about the Concept of Irony is apt here too, that Kierkegaard's self-conscious, stylized use of Hegelian terminology has a sometimes parodie intention (see his Kierkegaard: The Indirect Communication [Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993], 3). Whether or not the parody is directed at Hegel or at the Danish Hegelians with whom Kierkegaard studied in the 1830s, as Stewart has forcefully argued, is a larger question that I cannot fully address in this context. See Jon Stewart, Kierkegaard's Relations to Hegel Reconsidered (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
(4) EE1, 58/EO1, 59.
(5) EE1, 48049/EO1, 48-49.
(6) EE1, 57/EO1, 58.
(7) Denis De Rougement, Love Declared: Essays on the Myths of Love, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Pantheon Books, 1963), 114.
(8) One might even speak, I think, of at least two (and perhaps more) separable arguments: at EE1, 53-57/EO1, 54-57, for instance, there is a brief, distinct argument for Don Giovanni's superiority based on the musical as more abstract and ahistorical than poetry and sculpture (and so less likely to be surpassed). The later discussion of the three erotic stages in Mozart (EE1, 72-83/EO1, 75-87) seems to have illustrative (rather than strictly demonstrative) purposes.
(9) EE1, 63/EO1, 65; compare Ronald Grimsley, "The Don Juan Theme in Moliere and Kierkegaard," Comparative Literature 6 (1954): 316-34 (which elaborates further on the connection of the demonic to the aesthetic in Kierkegaard's treatment).
(10) EE1, 65/EO1, 67--ophoeve is meant to translate the Hegelian term of art aufheben ("to sublate").
(11) EE1, 67/EO1, 69: though Kierkegaard is careful to add the qualification that music is not thereby a richer medium than language--its perfection, he seems to claim, is manifest only in sensuous relation to language, rather than independently (just as the sensual requires the spiritual as its foil, and vice versa).
(12) EE1, 68/EO1, 70.
(13) EE1, 63/EO1, 65.
(14) EE1, 108/EO1, 114.
(15) EE1 92, 96/EO1 97, 101.
(16) See EE1, 48/EO1, 48; EE1, 50-51/EO1, 51; EE1, 63/EO1, 65; EE1, 126/EO1, 135.
(17) EE1, 63/EO1, 65.
(18) A says in passing that in Greek culture "everyone was just the beautiful individuality but there was no intimation of femininity [Qvindeligheden]" (EE /, 85/EO1, 88). Compare on this point Octavio Paz, La llama doble: amor y erotismo (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1993), 72-73 ("No hay amor sin libertad femenina").
(19) See Sylvia Walsh, Living Poetically: Kierkegaard's Existential Aesthetics (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 70. It is interesting to note that the figure of the temptress seems to be older than the figure of the seducer (Delilah, Jezebel, Cleopatra, Salome, say). But it is nonetheless telling that these fatales are all femmes, and that none of them has systematic or universal ambitions to seduce everyone who comes in their way, as Don Juan does. They make instrumental use of their allure for other purposes, whereas seduction is, for Don Juan, an end in itself.
(20) Which is also not to say that the notion of seduction is utterly without precedent. One might point to Odysseus's being tempted by the Sirens in bk. 12 of the Odyssey, or to Alcibiades' attempt on Socrates in Plato's Symposium--specifically to his comparison of Socrates to Marsyas at 215a-b (ugly on the outside, but bewitching anyone who will listen). The Hebrew verb pathah--present in such passages as Exodus 22:16, Judges 14:15, and Jeremiah 20:7--means "to deceive" or "to entice," though the root meaning is "to open up." These precedents serve only to underline, however, the case I will make below about the dependence of the notion of seduction on a sharp inner/outer scission, and of the accent that that scission places on the sense of hearing.
(21) Kierkegaard lists Don Juan alongside Faust and Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew. See Gregor Malantschuk, Kierkegaard's Thought, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 91.
(22) For a discussion of whether or not "myth" is an appropriate designation for the Don Juan story, see Jean Rousset, Le mythe de Don Juan (Paris: Armand Colin, 1978), 5-17.
(23) Jose Zorrilla's 1844 Don Juan Tenorio, usually, which was preceded in that role by Antonio de Zamora's 1713 No Hay Plazo Que No Se Cumpla. Both end, unlike Molina's El Burlador de Sevilla and Don Giovanni, with Don Juan's repentance and conversion at the moment of his death.
(24) For more detail on what is in play in Molina's version, see Tirso's Don Juan: The Metamorphosis of a Theme, ed. Josep M. Sola-Sole and George E. Gringras (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988); especially the essays by Mario Trubiano ("The Theological Disputes and the Guzman Affair in El burlador and El condenado," 95-105) and Anthony Cascardi ("Don Juan and the Discourse of Modernism," 151-63).
(25) For the best elaboration of this point--which makes Don Juan so different from Faust--see Bernard Williams, "Don Juan as an Idea," in The Don Giovanni Moment: Essays on the Legacy of an Opera, ed. Lydia Goehr and Daniel Herwitz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 107-17.
(26) It is admittedly true that his list could be understood as a deviant version of the Book of Life: it will be complete only when all women are in it. But I note that it is Leoporello, rather than Don Giovanni, who is responsible for carting and updating it. Don Giovanni adverts to the list at all only in finch'han dal vino. When Leoporello salaciously asks him for the details of a conquest "in order to put it on the list," Don Giovanni does not even deign to respond. (Mozart's "Don Giovanni", trans. Ellen H. Bleiler [New York: Dover, 1985], 13.)
(27) The story relies, that is, on the friction generated by the conflict between what attracts us and what we think ought not to attract us, and so on a view of evil as a principle giving perverse voice to natural inclinations (rather than as an alien principle that might overcome us wholly without our collaboration). The seducer is not exactly the Tempter, because his own ethical decisions as a mortal man are at issue in the story. (Though there are a number of thematic comparisons between the two in Molina's version: see Tirso de Molina, El burlador de Sevilla, ed. Alfredo Rodriguez Lopez-Vazquez [Madrid: Catedra, 1995], 230, 233, 252.) In order to seduce, however, he must be tempting indeed.
(28) el mayor /gusto que en mi puede haber / es burlar una mujer / y dejarla sin honor ("my greatest pleasure lies in cheating a woman and bereaving her of honor," my translation). Tirso de Molina, El burlador de Sevilla, 202.
(29) Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Moliere, Don Juan, trans. Richard Wilbur (San Diego: Harvest, 2001), 60.
(30) For a defense of this aspect of Don Juan, see Sylvia Walsh Utterbeck, "Don Juan and the Representation of Spiritual Sensuousness," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 47 (1979): 627-44. The article seems to me to draw the wrong conclusion, however. What is good about Don Juan cannot be simply rehabilitated or reconceptualized, precisely because he cannot even be conceptualized without Christianity as his foil.
(31) Mozart's "Don Giovanni", 67.
(22) See JP, vol. 2, [section] 1941: "In Hegelian philosophy the immediate is used partly arbitrarily and partly surreptitiously (as the sensuous)."
(33) See Richard Taruskin, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 798.
(34) EE1, 66/EO1, 68.
(35) EE1, 96-98/EO1, 102-03; EE1 110-13/EO1, 118-19; EE1, 118-20/EO1, 126-28.
(36) For two excellent surveys and analyses of the Don Juan myth and its different versions, see Leo Weinstein, The Metamorphoses of Don Juan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1959); and again Rousset's Le mythe de Don Juan.
(37) Auden goes as far as to say that "Everything possible ... should be done to make him [Don Giovanni] as inconspicuous and anonymous in appearance as an FBI agent. If he is made handsome, then his attraction for women is a bias in his choice, and if he is made ugly, then the repulsion he arouses in women is a challenge. He should look so neutral that the audience realizes that, so far as any finite motive is concerned, he might just as well have chosen to collect stamps." W. H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand (New York: Vintage, 1989), 119. However, Unamuno and Frisch--both thinking about the character within the medium of theater--claimed (respectively) that women fell for Don Juan because they felt sorry for him or on account of the attraction they felt toward his mind's theoretical bent. See Miguel de Unamuno, El otro y El hermano Juan, ed. Jose Paulino (Madrid: Austral, 1992), 117; and Max Frisch, Four Plays, trans. Michael Bullock (London: Methuen, 1969), 156. I only note how far away these interpretations of Don Juan (as a character belonging to the stage) must have been from the thinking that then cast John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks, Jarl Kulle, Errol Flynn, Brigitte Bardot, and Johnny Depp--all visual heartthrobs--as Don Juans in twentieth-century films.
(38) There are a few references to Don Juan's good looks in Molina and Moliere, which makes the omission all the more surprising in Don Giovanni. A speculates in passing: "Handsome he is, not exactly young; if I were to suggest his age, I would suggest thirty-three years, which is the age of a generation. The dubiousness of becoming involved in such investigations is that one easily loses the totality in dwelling on the particular, as if Don Giovanni seduced with his handsomeness ... then one sees him but no longer hears him, and thereby he is lost" (EE1, 97/EO1, 102). A's proposed age as well as the phrase "totality in dwelling on the particular" suggest a tacit comparison to Jesus.
(39) Bell'idol mio, "my handsome idol"; Mozart's "Don Giovanni", 104.
(40) Not that Mozart and Da Ponte's is the only operatic setting of the Don Juan myth. It was preceded by a number of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century versions before Da Ponte freely poached from Bertati and Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni Tenorio o sia Il Convitato di Pietra, which was premiered in Venice in February of 1787 (that is, the very same year when Da Ponte and Mozart's would appear). These borrowings do not, of course, prevent Da Ponte and Mozart's version from itself being inimitable and unparalleled. For the relation between Da Ponte and Mozart's version and its predecessors, see Edward J. Dent, Mozart's Operas: A Critical Study (London: Oxford University Press, 1947), 129-33; and Julian Rushton, W. A Mozart: Don Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 27-44.
(41) Mozart's "Don Giovanni", 3.
(42) Sapra bene fare le vostri parti; Mozart's "Don Giovanni", 24.
(43) Mozart's "Don Giovanni", 99.
(44) Compare Brigid Brophy, Mozart the Dramatist (London: Faber and Faber, 1964), 59-60.
(45) The two other tunes are from Martin y Soler's Una cosa rara and Sarti's I litiganti. For an illuminating discussion of the teasing purposes of these musical quotations, see Wye Jamison Allanbrook, Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 288-90.
(46) The piece is a contredanse, which, as Allanbrook notes, "had no place in the hierarchical vocabulary of eighteenth-century social dance; it was a new dance, a 'danceless dance,' and hence the true dance of No-Man." Ibid., 220.
(47) EE1, 48/EO1, 48; EE1, 57/EO1, 58; EE1, 120/EO1, 128; compare EE1, 59/EO1, 60. Herwitz uses these comments to speculate about Kierkegaard's own psychological motives in writing the essay. Daniel Herwitz, "Kierkegaard Writes His Opera," in The Don Giovanni Moment, 119-36. The urge to psychologize Don Juan, Don Giovanni, and Kierkegaard may be a side effect of the theatrical dimension I have noted as proper to all three (our sense, that is, that they are never fully themselves). Compare in this regard, T. H. Croxall, "Kierkegaard and Mozart," Music and Letters 26 (1945): 151-58; Brigid Brophy, Mozart the Dramatist; James Mandrell, Don Juan and the Point of Honor (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992); Kresten Nordentoft, Kierkegaard's Psychology, trans. Bruce Kirmmse (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1978), 24; among others.
(48) For examples, see Isaiah 41:13, Psalms 73:23, 139:10.
(49) He had already pointed out his house and asked her to marry him on the spot in the prelude to the duet, so that, again, it is not as if this young peasant girl must be convinced to elope with someone whose life she has no means to envision. But it is nonetheless important that her final surrender come from being invited to imagine herself saying yes. Don Giovanni's invitation bears, in this sense, a striking resemblance to Christopher Marlowe's poem, "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" ("Come live with me and be my love, / and we will all the pleasures prove").
(50) For which, see again Allanbrook's superb Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart, 262-74.
(51) As Johannes the seducer formulates his power over his beloved later on in Either/Or. "She listens to another person's talking; she understands it as her own. She listens to another person's voice as it resonates within her; she understands this resonance as if it were her own voice that discloses to her and to another" (EE1, 359/EO1, 388). Compare Husserl's observation, "The ear is 'involved,' but the sensed tone is not localized in the ear," in Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Volume II, trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwer (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), 156.
(52) Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), 18.
(53) Compare Hans Jonas, "The Nobility of Sight," in The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 2001), 135-56, esp. 139.
(54) This is not to deny the importance of metaphors of touch, for an excellent discussion of which, see Stanley Rosen, "Thought and Touch: A Note on Aristotle's De Anima," in The Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry (New York: Routledge, 1993), 119-26. But for the purposes of my discussion, touch occupies a place closer to sight than to hearing (as the example of Thomas the Apostle suggests: see John 20:25-29).
(55) Compare Herbert Morris's suggestive comments on the difference between shame and guilt (often understood as a contrast between pagan and Christian morality): "In guilt the 'voice of conscience' speaks.... With shame, the disposition is to hide, to vanish.... With guilt, the urge is to communicate, to be listened to, to confess." On Guilt and Innocence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 62.
(56) See Rudolph Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu nach den Apokryphen (Leipzig: Friedrich Voigt, 1851), 77-78. Hofmann adduces several other medieval loci besides in which the Word of God is said to enter through Mary's ear. Augustine's formulation is especially interesting for its use of the imperfect tense--Deus per angelum loquebatur, et Virgo per aurem impregnabatur-as if to suggest that the conception occurs gradatim, through extended conversation and progressive understanding. The Word dawns on her.
(57) Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift, Andet Halvbind (= SV10), 285-89; Concluding Unscientific Postscript to "Philosophical Fragments" (= KW 12.1), 625-30. For an elaboration of this general thesis, see Louis Mackey's very fine Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971).
(58) That Schopenhauer accorded music pivotal metaphysical significance is well known ("we can regard the phenomenal world, or nature, and music as two different expressions of the same thing"; Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 2 vols., trans. E. F. J. Payne [Clinton, Mass.: The Falcon's Wing Press, 1958], 262); as did Nietzsche ("without music, life would be a mistake"; Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, ed. and trans. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005], 160), though Nietzsche's interest in rhetoric and philosophical pedagogy also bring hearing and speaking into prominence for him. Bergson's and Heidegger's thinking about the sense of hearing, on the other hand, seems to derive from their preoccupation with our perception of time (rather than space). Bergson frequently resorts to musical comparisons when discussing consciousness and time: "our inner duration, considered from the first to the last moment of our conscious life, is something like ... melody"; Henri Bergson, Duration and Simultaneity, trans. Leon Jacobson (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1965), 49. While Heidegger's interest in hearing may be connected to a number of other issues in Being and Time--attunement and moods (Gestimmtsein, Stimmung), "Being-There and Discourse" ([section] 34), conscience as a "call" ([section] 56), and so forth; Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962)--as well as with his central preoccupation with poetry and language in later work. For further discussion of some of these issues, see Jacques Derrida, "Heidegger's Ear: Philopolemology," in Reading Heidegger: Commemorations, ed. John Sallis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 163-218.
(59) Compare the remark that the task of the speculative (in other words, Hegelian) thinker "consists in going away from himself more and more and becoming objective and in that way disappearing from himself and becoming the gazing power of speculative thought [Speculationens skuende Kraft]"; Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift, Fdrste Halvbind (= SV 9), 51; Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments (= KW 12.1), 56.
(60) Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift, 203-10/Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 243-51.
(61) JP, vol. 5, [section]5629: "The first diapsalm is really the task of the entire work ... an enormous dissonance is assumed, and then it says: explain it."
(62) EE1, 23/EO1, 19.
(63) Lucian, 8 vols., trans. A. M. Harmon (New York: Loeb, Macmillan, 1913), 1:16-17.
(64) Compare JP, vol. 2, [section]1943: "As far as we can see, the reason Christ had to suffer was that to be in kinship with God means to suffer. Reconciliation there is, nevertheless, even though not quite the way human cruelty has invented it d la Phalaris' ox: that Christ should suffer and be martyred in order that I could enjoy life in luxury, in splendor, and in magnificence. No, no, 'imitation' ['Efterfglgelsen'] belongs here, too. And only through suffering can a sensuous being be in kinship with God."
(65) Compare JP, vol. 2, [section]1880: "Christianity is not doctrine. Christianity is a believing and a very particular kind corresponding to it--imitation. Note: Christianity is not to be defined as a faith [en Tro], which is somewhat like 'doctrine'--but is a believing [en Troen], Consequently Christianity is a believing and an imitating."
(66) EE1, 130/EO1, 137. A version of this essay was delivered as a lecture at The Catholic University of America in September 2014. I would like to thank my colleagues and friends for their many stimulating questions and comments on that occasion--too many to acknowledge piecemeal here. I hope each will recognize what this final version owes to him or her, particularly Michele Averchi, Matthias Vorwerk, and Matthew Thompson.
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|Title Annotation:||Soren Kierkegaard|
|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2016|
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