Saturday, September 02, 2006

When I was in my late twenties I performed the unusual feat of getting pneumonia in my left ear, and my hearing altered. I used to hear the notes of a scale as going up or coming down. A note was high or not so high or lower or low, with the same meaning as when those terms refer to material objects--to the steps of a staircase, or to points on a slope. Since I had this affiction of the ear it has all been different. I cannot quite define what I hear. A piece of music is now for me something like a film representation of an island over which a sea is washing, leaving parts of it exposed, but submerging others. All is under strong light, and the exposed parts glimmer. The island is of shifting dark rich colours, the sea of shifting richer and lighter colours. But that some notes are high and that some are low never now occurs to me. I know that when the island glitters the notes are high, because of what I can see as the Queen of Night's solo from The Magic Flute. I now see: that isn't accurate. For what I am describing is not really sight. It is analogous to sight, but not the same. I live with mystery.

--Rebecca West, "My Relations With Music," in Family Memories

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