PBS 4: Encouragement

François Nicolas is perhaps best described as thinker of encouragement. Or, as a colleague has put it more jokingly, he is obsessed with self-help. François is known to say that his entire theoretical work is ultimately aimed at encouraging himself to continue to compose. In fact, he goes so far as to say that he only composes in order to continue to compose.

This last point in particular seems stupidly circular: If your only reason to compose (or even just your ultimate reason) is to continue to compose, why aim to continue to compose in the first place? There is not even a principle of self-justification here, seemingly just a smug and mystifying assumption of self-justification.

But it is only an apparent circularity. Since unstated in all this is the understanding that both musically (at least in western art music) and politically, we live in reactionary times, and importantly that these times are not eternal. Big political struggles are on the horizon (in fact they are really here…), and strong new musical ideas are sure to emerge.

So, the encouragement is a purely formal one, knowing that the content is lacking. But it is a formal encouragement with the purpose of preparing for the re-emergence of content. Hence, not only theoretical work, but also even practical work is primarily geared towards encouraging continuation. (This shouldn’t be taken as a treading water and waiting – the formal work is always a testing the possibility of there being content).

So the quote should be completed as follows: “I only compose to encourage myself to continue to compose, until the real composing begins again… whereupon I will really compose.”

I largely agree with all this, but the whole question rests on how one understands the process of the re-emergence of the content, and its relationship with the formal labour.


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