Talking to a friend a while ago, he expressed surprise when I said that I found, in sad music, not tears and catharsis, but an odd sort of strength, or even cheer. “But listen to Miles Davis playing Concierto de Aranjuez,” he said; “how can you not feel the bleakness, the absolute despair in that record?” But what stops it short of being absolute despair is precisely the fact that it is a record. It’s not simply the bleak fact of despair, but a representation of despair; hence proof that something can be done with sadness. This kind of sublimation is not a theodicy, at least not in the traditional sense. The brute fact of suffering is not justified by the brute fact of redemption, rather, redemption, or the closest we can get to it, comes through the fact that suffering can be interpreted, that the fact that we suffer never determines what we then do with that suffering.
I was reminded of this by two things this week. One was Robyn’s extraordinarily beautiful record, “With Every Heartbeat,” which I’ve been listening to incessantly. Jessica described it as “uplifting,” which I thought was an odd description for such a tragic record, but of course in the Hegelian sense she’s perfectly correct.
The other was watching the first couple of episodes of Pulling, quite correctly recommended by Ian Penman. The show does a really great job of illustrating what I suppose is a universal experience, that feeling that everyone else but you knows exactly who they are and how they should behave. And the translation of the series’s premise into the language of TV listings on the BBC3 website adds to the pathos:
In the first episode, we meet Donna (played by Sharon Horgan), a young woman about to settle down and marry her dependable – if rather boring – fiancé Karl (Cavan Clerkin).
Then, on her hen night, the true horror of settling down and settling for second best hits Donna. Although she doesn’t want to hurt Karl, she tells him that the wedding is off and moves into a shared house in Penge, South London, with her best friends, sex-mad Karen (Tanya Franks) and lovable dreamer Louise (Rebekah Staton).