How the Vision “Saves” the Music

Metaphysics of the Music, part 42

Tolkien’s characterization in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” of the literary device of the Dream as a piece of “machinery” is also of some note. In Tolkien’s bestiary, of course, the Machine is typically a symbol of the tyrannical domination of nature. Yet the technological or instrumental mastery and manipulation of nature is not the only way in which one can exercise a kind of tyranny over things, for as Tolkien explains elsewhere in his essay, it is also possible to “appropriate” and “possess” things “mentally” or even artistically and aesthetically (Tolkien Reader 77). It is in this sense, I think, that the Dream “cheats” the primal desire for otherness: by deliberately suspending the question of the story’s reality or truthfulness, the Dream becomes a kind of instrument of intellectual domination, suppressing the objectifying otherness of the things and the world its story serves to relate. In this way, and as John Betz for example has argued in the case of Kant, “disinterest” in the aesthetic object’s mind-independent existence is really an indirect form of self-interest, and the refusal to recognize and enjoy the existence of an “other” becomes the occasion for a form of self-enjoyment.[1] One of the questions implicitly raised by the Ainur’s Music, consequently, is whether the temptation or at least possibility towards the “interested” and self-idolatrous quest of Melkor for the power to give being to his thoughts might already be latent within the kind of pure conceptual or mental mastery the Ainur enjoy and exercise in their Music. For as Betz again points out, in a passage evocative of  Melkor’s retreat to the Void to seek the Imperishable Flame, or his refusal later in the legendarium to leave the endless halls of his subterranean kingdom, Angband, “once beauty no longer inspires a sense of transcendence, a love for an other, it can only conduct one more deeply and despairingly into the chambers of the modern subject and its ‘horizons’, i.e., into the bad infinite of its ‘mirror halls’.”[2] At the risk of overstatement, there would seem to be a very limited yet important respect in which the Ainur’s Vision of the physical world in all its desirable otherness not only fulfills and surpasses the disinterested conceptuality of their Music, but in doing so possibly even saves them from it.


[1] Betz, “Beyond the Sublime,” 379.

[2] Ibid.

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