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Giaccardi, G. (2015). Unconscious Processes, Instrumental Music and the Experience of the Sublime: An Exploration through Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. Brit. J. Psychother., 31(4):448-462.

(2015). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 31(4):448-462

Unconscious Processes, Instrumental Music and the Experience of the Sublime: An Exploration through Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Giorgio Giaccardi

In spite of the importance of music to many people and its ubiquitous presence, its symbolic function has been explored by psychoanalysis and analytical psychology far less than that of language, visual images, symptoms and dreams. In the first part of this paper, the relation between psychoanalysis and music is considered with reference to Freudian, Jungian and Lacanian approaches. An argument is then developed for the aptness of instrumental music to represent archaic, pre-symbolic unconscious processes, thanks to its inherent properties of being rooted in the physiology of the body and affects and its happening in time. The development of instrumental music in the first half of the 20th century is then traced, following the meltdown of conventional harmonic, melodic and rhythmic structures, which led music to turn inward and further develop a capacity to represent aspects of the unrepressed unconscious such as coalescence of opposites, symmetry, repetition, lack of development, erasure of the subject. This expands the possibilities for music to convey the experience of the sublime as a breakthrough towards the ineffable, as exemplified through a detailed analysis of Messiaen's ‘techniques’ for the sublime with particular reference to his 1941 work Quartet for the End of Time.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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