Saturday, July 12, 2008
My Ontological Friday
I could have gotten up early -- lawyer-early, not doctor-early, but certainly hours earlier than musician-early -- hopped into our mighty '93 Opel Astra and reached Darmstadt in time to hear Brian Ferneyhough hold forth on all things Ferneyesque, but then I also could have gotten up and trimmed the garden hedge. Some things are not to be. But I did manage to get out of the house some minutes before two in the afternoon, intending a trip to the library, only to discover that my '89 Emik bicycle had broken two rearwheel spokes while crammed against the tynes of a rake in said garden's shed. So, the bike was walked through the settlement and across the meadow to the local Radwerk, where I was please to learn that, while the wheel was terminal and would have to be replaced, the bicycle would live on. I treated the bike to a new, gel-cushioned, seat, left the bike with the Meister and caught a combination of bus and underground ( the U-Bahn actually happens to be aboveground in our borough before going undergound in more central districts) to the library. I treated myself to reading a section of the latest Die Zeit ("Time", a weekly newspaper with a liberal-intellectual profile, sort of a German The New Yorker on steroids and stripped of cartoons) , which featured an article on the ontological status of mathematics, reminding myself once again that, however convenient it might be, I just can't be a Platonist. (I guess I'm more interested in shadows on walls that whatever it is that is supposed to be casting the shadow.) The Open Magazine of the Frankfurt City and University Library is in a basement level, sandwiched between an underground station and the library proper. It houses books reserved for courses and a collection of more recent aquisitions of more general interest which the library trusts patrons to locate for themselves. For some reason or another the collection is very strong on Hollywood biographies, linguistics, lit crit, Judaica, and cultural anthropology. Some music, philosophy, politics, and media studies titles also appear with useful frequency. The cataloging is strictly numerical, by date of aquisition, so, aside from the statistically significant collection strengths noted above, there is no ordering by subject at all. It is meant for easy retrieval of titles researched in the catalog but not for browsing. But naturally, browsing there, among books all but randomly placed on the shelves, is one of the most interesting things you can do in Frankfurt. In fact, it's such a good thing, that I sometimes feel like I've been granted a second chance at an undergraduate education. Generalism gone wild, a veritable garden of a library from a wild generalist. Going into an aisle at random, I grabbed the first title with "Music" on its spine and, in full, the spine read: DODD Works of Music OXFORD. I immediately slid the book from its shelf, checked it out to take home, and I made an evening appointment with it, discovering an eloquent and difficult (difficult, that is, for non-philosophers, like me) defense of a type/token platonic ontology of music. Naturally, I found much to disagree with, but was delighted to have had the combination of opportunity and time just to wrestle with the subject. But now, it's late, musician-late, and as far as I'm concerned, there is no music here or even in some Platonic world of ideal music, and certainly no ponderings of the ontological state of any music that could possibly keep me from an appointment with my bed. But should I happen to dream tonight, will I dream some music or shall my dreams be haunted with questions about the existence of the music I might be dreaming?