76. End and Goal

Categories Art, Beauty
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In his book The Wanderer and His Shadow (aphorism #204), Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

“End and Goal: Not every end is a goal.  The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either.  A parable.”

John Dewey, in book Experience and Nature (see the Dover edition, p. 99) wrote something similar:

“A musical phrase has a certain close, but the earlier portion does not therefore exist for the sake of the close as if it were something which is done away with when the close is reached.”

I think Dewey’s insight can help us address Nietzsche’s perplexing parable. For Dewey, the notes that come before the final note of a melody are not a mere means to an end; they are not like a ladder we can dispense with once we have reached a certain height. The final note of the melody gets the aesthetic meaning it has with reference to the previous notes and the previous notes get the meaning they have based on the ending. Therefore the end point is a consummation of what went before, not a mere terminal point. If this is the case, then perhaps we can see what Nietzsche is getting at when he says: “The end of a melody is not its goal”. Perhaps he simply means that the end of melody is not the kind of goal that has no integral, meaningful relationship to what went before it. When he goes on to say that “if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either” then presumably here he does think of a goal in Dewey’s sense as a consummation. So Nietzsche’s parable is perplexing because it includes an equivocation of the word ‘goal’: on the one hand, goal as mere terminal point and, on the other hand, goal as an aesthetic consummation. Once the equivocation is sorted out, the parable is no longer perplexing and is in fact revealed to be an interesting exercise in aesthetics.

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