Fourth Brandenburg Concerto
“Johann Sebastian Bach,” he heard her saying. “The music that’s closest to silence, closest, in spite of its being so highly organized, to pure, hundred percent proof Spirit.”
The whirring gave place to musical sounds. Another bubble of recognition came shooting up; he was listening to the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto.
It was the same, of course, as the Fourth Brandenburg he had listened to so often in the past—the same and yet completely different. This Allegro—he knew it by heart. Which meant that he was in the best possible position to realize that he had never really heard it before. To begin with, it was no longer he, William Asquith Farnaby, who was hearing it. The Allegro was revealing itself as an element in the great present Event, a manifestation at one remove of the luminous bliss. Or perhaps that was putting it too mildly. In another modality this Allegro was the luminous bliss; it was the knowledgeless understanding of everything apprehended through a particular piece of knowledge; it was undifferentiated awareness broken up into notes and phrases and yet still all-comprehendingly itself. And of course all this belonged to nobody. It was at once in here, out there, and nowhere. The music which, as William Asquith Farnaby, he had heard a hundred times before, he had been reborn as an unowned awareness. Which was why he was now hearing it for the first time. Unowned, the Fourth Brandenburg had an intensity of beauty, a depth of intrinsic meaning, incomparably greater than anything he had ever found in the same music when it was his private property.
“Poor idiot” came up in a bubble of ironic comment. The poor idiot hadn’t wanted to take yes for an answer in any field but the aesthetic. And all the time he had been denying, by the mere fact of being himself, all the beauty and meaning he so passionately longed to say yes to. William Asquith Farnaby was nothing but a muddy filter, on the hither side of which human beings, nature, and even his beloved art had emerged bedimmed and bemired, less, other and uglier than themselves. Tonight, for the first time, his awareness of a piece of music was completely unobstructed. Between mind and sound, mind and pattern, mind and significance, there was no longer any babel of biographical irrelevances to drown the music or make a senseless discord. Tonight’s Fourth Brandenburg was a pure datum – no, a blessed donum – uncorrupted by the personal history, the secondhand notions, the ingrained stupidities with which, like every self, the poor idiot, who wouldn’t (and in art plainly couldn’t) take yes for an answer, had overlaid the gifts of immediate experience.
And tonight’s Fourth Brandenburg was not merely an unowned Thing in Itself; it was also, in some impossible way, a Present Event with an infinite duration. Or rather (and still more impossibly, seeing that it had three movements and was being played at its usual speed) it was without duration. The metronome presided over each of its phrases; but the sum of its phrases was not a span of seconds and minutes. There was a tempo, but no time. So what was there?
“Eternity,” Will was forced to answer. It was one of those metaphysical dirty words which no decent-minded man would dream of pronouncing even to himself, much less in public. “Eternity, my brethren,” he said aloud. “Eternity, blah-blah.” The sarcasm, as he might have known it would, fell completely flat. Tonight those four syllables were no less concretely significant than the four letters of the other class of tabooed words. He began to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“Eternity,” he answered. “Believe it or not, it’s as real as shit.”
“Excellent!” she said approvingly.
He sat there motionlessly attentive, following with ear and inward eye the interwoven streams of sound, the interwoven streams of congruous and equivalent lights, that flowed on time-lessly from one sequence to another. And every phrase of this well-worn familiar music was an unprecedented revelation of beauty that went pouring upwards, like a multitudinous fountain, into another revelation as novel and amazing as itself. Stream within stream – the stream of the solo violin, the streams of the two recorders, the manifold streams of the harpsichord and the little orchestra of assorted strings. Separate, distinct, individual—and yet each of the streams was a function of all the rest, each was itself in virtue of its relationship to the whole of which it was a component.
”Dear God!” he heard himself whispering.
In the timeless sequence of change the recorders were holding a single long-drawn note. A note without upper partials, clear, pellucid, divinely empty. A note (the word came bubbling up) of pure contemplation. And here was another inspirational obscenity that had now acquired a concrete meaning and might be uttered without a sense of shame. Pure contemplation, unconcerned, beyond contingency, outside the context of moral judgments. Through the uprushing lights he caught a glimpse, in memory, of Radha’s shining face as she talked of love as contemplation, of Radha once again, sitting cross-legged, in a focused intensity of stillness, at the foot of the bed where Lakshmi lay dying. This long pure note was the meaning of her words, the audible expression of her silence. But, always, flowing through and along with the heavenly emptiness of that contemplative fluting was the rich sound, vibration within passionate vibration, of the violin. And surrounding them both—the notes of contemplative detachment and the notes of passionate involvement— was this network of sharp dry tones plucked from the wires of the harpsichord. Spirit and instinct, action and vision – and around them the web of intellect. They were comprehended by discursive thought, but comprehended, it was obvious, only from the outside, in terms of an order of experience radically different from that which discursive thinking professes to explain.
“It’s like a Logical Positivist,” he said. “What is?”
Like a Logical Positivist, he was thinking in the shallows of his mind, while in the depths the great Event of light and sound tunelessly unfolded. Like a Logical Positivist talking about Plotinus and Julie de Lespinasse.
The music changed again, and now it was the violin that sus tained (how passionately!) the long-drawn note of contempla tion, while the two recorders took up the theme of active involvement and repeated it – the identical form imposed upon another substance – in the mode of detachment. And here, dancing in and out between them, was the Logical Positivist, absurd but indispensable, trying to explain, in a language incommensurable with the facts, what is was all about.
In the Eternity that was as real as shit, he went on listening to these interwoven streams of sound, went on looking at these interwoven streams of light, went on actually being (out there, in here, and nowhere) all that he saw and heard. And now, abruptly, the character of the light underwent a change. These interwoven streams, which were the first fluid differentiations of an understanding on the further side of all particular knowledge, had ceased to be a continuum. Instead, there was, all of a sudden, this endless succession of separate forms – forms still manifestly charged with the luminous bliss of undifferentiated being, but limited now, isolated, individualized. Silver and rose, yellow and pale green and gentian blue, an endless succession of luminous spheres came swimming up from some hidden source of forms and, in time with the music, purposefully constellated themselves into arrays of unbelievable complexity and beauty. An inexhaustible fountain that sprayed out into conscious patternings, into lattices of living stars. And as he looked at them, as he lived their life and the life of this music that was their equivalent, they went on growing into other lattices that filled the three dimensions of an inner space and changed incessantly in another, timeless dimension of quality and significance.
“What are you hearing?” Susila asked.
“Hearing what I see,” he answered. “And seeing what I hear.”
“And how would you describe it?”
“What it looks like,” Will answered, after a long silence, “what it sounds like, is the creation. Only it’s not a one-shot affair. It’s nonstop, perpetual creation.”
“Perpetual creation out of no-what nowhere into something somewhere – is that it?”
“You’re making progress.”
If words had come more easily and, when spoken, had been a little less pointless, Will would have explained to her that knowledgeless understanding and luminous bliss were a damn sight better than even Johann Sebastian Bach.
Island – Aldous Huxley