Hölderlin’s song. Provisional annotations. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is a moment in Hölderlin’s late hymn “Friedensfeier” (1801) where communication is strictly defined as becoming a song. The verses in question are about midway into the poem, and we read read the following: 

“Viel hat von Morgen an, 

Seit ein Gespräch wir sind und hören voneinander, 

Erfahren der Mensch; bald sind wir aber Gesang.”

“Mucho ha, desde la mañana, 

desde que diálogo somos y oímos unos de otros, 

aprendido el ser humano; pronto empero seremos canto”.

This is the Spanish rendition by the Venezuelan poet and translator Verónica Jaffé [1]. These lines stand for Hölderlin’s unique effort during the years 1800-1804 to substantially qualify what he had confessed to his mother as his true task: to live a serene or quiet life. I think this Spanish translation is much closer to the original German. Jaffé hangs on the present perfect with conviction: “Mucho ha…”, as if knowledge remained at a distance in the metric while becoming a temporal duration, a form of experience. This is the poetic “strict mediacy” for Hölderlin that can only be cultivated [2]. And it is only through the duration of experience that one will become a song (“seremos canto”). We are not yet there, hence the apostrophe. In the late period, duration meant dealing directly with Pindar. Thus, the song is something other than language – even if announced through language. But it is a paratactic dispersion that seeks to free the pure voice. In one of the “Pindar fragments”, this is what Hölderlin claims: “then only the difference between species makes a division in nature, so that everything is therefore more song and pure voice than accent of need or on the other hand language”. [3]

I am caught up in the moment of “division in nature”. The subtraction from representational language allows for the true appearance of a more originary separation, where the song can finally emerge in its proper attunement with the world. The becoming song is another form of separation, which institutes the passage from the Empedocles (tragic sacrifice) to the Pindaric relation to the divine. This is the “highest” poetic challenge for Hölderlin – an impossible task after the fleeing of the gods. It is definitely maddening. Nevertheless, the song remains. It puts us in nearness in a postmythical world without recoiling back to the image of the tragic. Indeed, as Hölderlin says in passing in “The Ground of Empedocles”, his time already “did not demand a song” [4]. The passion for natural unity was an Olympic illusion whose retribution could only become romantic debris as the exclusive possession of the dichter. On the contrary, the clearing for the song has emancipated itself from the exclusivity of the modern autonomy of dichtung as mimetically separated from the experience of life. This is what the song wants to pursue before the closure of a significant (and signifying) world. Fundamentally, this means a subtraction from the continuum of language, and thus a form of prophecy as elaborated by Gianni Carchia in a difficult passage from “Dialettica dell’immagine”: 

“Where music and prophecy, in the inexhaustibility of their tension – an endless effort to overcome the Babel dissipation of language by freeing the residual state of the unexpressed – testify to a disposition to meet precisely in what passes, in pure transience, the need for salvation and the idea of fulfillment, beauty as a totalitarian and exclusive appearance is, on the other hand, nothing but the product of an arrest in the dynamics of the spirit which withdraws from the horror of worldly laceration to seek refuge on the scene circular and static of the eternal”. [5]

If the song addresses the prophetic it is because language has fallen to the fictitious needs that arrest the experience of the human being into the exclusivity of rhetorical force and poetic genius. Is not the song a refusal of both? A refusal now aimed at the “highest” task – that is, the serene life? Against the exclusivity of appearance that Carchia points to, what appears discloses a different sense of law. A few verses in the same poem, in fact, we are confronted with the “law of destiny”: when there is serenity (or peace) there are also words. And a few lines after: “the law of love” is equilibrium from “here” to the “sky”. What appears there is the landscape that comes through in a pictorial depiction: “[Sein bild….Und der Himmel word wie eines Mahlers Haus Wenn seine Gemälde sind aufgestellt] / “[su cuadro e imagen….y el cielo se vuelve como de un pintor una casa cuando sus cuadros de exponen]”.

Does not this also speak to the insufficiency of language, which justifies the step into a folded painting? There is a painting and a vanishing image, but also the painter marveled at gleaming finished masterpieces. Is painting the original placeholder for the song as originary attunement of life? Perhaps. But in its enactment it also means that the song is impossible to disclose except through pictorial invocation. It is a painting of a life in the world, and nothing less. The transfiguration of the law places men no longer into undisputed submission, whether in its positive or natural determinations, but rather of a “strict mediacy” that is ethical in nature. A third way of the law that does not renounce the problem of separation.

Monica Ferrando has insisted upon the enormous importance of this conception: the fact that Pindar’s nomoi, in fact, relates to the nomos mousikos, which is fundamentally dependent on gathering substance of the song [6]. The strict mediacy finds itself between the mortal and the immortal. It is definitely not a “return to the state of nature”, and I do not see how it could be reduced to “genius”, except as an ethics whereby appearing is no longer at the service of objectivity [7]. Adorno was of course right: it is a ruthless effort to deal with disentanglement of nature – and the nature of reason – but only insofar as it is a return to the song. Or, at least, to have a path toward the song: a lyricism of the indestructible against the closure of a finite time dispensed and enclosed.




1.  Friedrich Hölderlin. “Fiesta de Paz”, in Cantos hespéricos (La Laguna de Campona, 2016), Traducción y Versiones Libres de Veronica Jaffé, 93. I thank Philippe Theophanidis the exchange initial exchanges on these verses.

2. Friedrich Hölderlin. “Pindar fragments”, in Essays and Letters (Penguin Classics, 2009), 566. Kindle Version. 

3.Ibid., 565.

4. Friedrich Hölderlin. “The Ground of the Empedocles”, in Essays and Letters (Penguin Classics, 2009), 465. Kindle Version. 

5. Gianni Carchia. “Dialettica dell’immagine: note sull’estetica biblica e cristiana”, in Legittimazione dell’arte (Guida Editori, 1982), 21.

6. Lucia Dell’Aia. “Il Regno d’Arcadia: intervista a Monica Ferrando”, in Il mito dell’Arcadia (Ledizioni, 2023), 121. 

7. T.W. Adorno. “Parataxis: On Hölderlin’s Late Poetry”, in Notes to Literature (Columbia University Press, 1992), 148-149.

Sobre el Nomos Mousikos. por Gerardo Muñoz

En lo que sigue quiero organizar algunos apuntes de lectura sobre la noción griega de nomos mousikos, y para hacerlo quiero glosar algunos movimientos del último capítulo de The Birth of the Nomos (2019) del estudioso Thanos Zartaloudis, quien ha elaborado la contribución filológica y conceptual más importante del concepto hasta el momento. La noción de nomos mousikos pudiera orientar de manera decisiva la prehistoria de una institucionalidad no necesariamente jurídica, previa a la captura del derecho, y en tanto tal capaz de iluminar la relación entre derecho y forma de vida (ethos). En efecto, Thanos Zartaloudis comienza por recordarnos que en el Fedro Sócrates refería a la filosofía como la “más alta mousikē”, y que, en este sentido, la mousikē era una forma de vida, un ethos cuya exploración experiencial se daba mediante la mousikē [1]. Pero la mousikē tiene una prehistoria o una protohistoria antes del momento platónico, que en realidad es su último momento.

En sus inicios la mousikē constaba de una dimensión experiencial mayor que la technē, pues prepara las condiciones para la realización más educada del carácter (ethos) (341). Y, por lo tanto, se entendía que antes que la polis estaba mousikē, y que no habría vida en la polis sin la necesaria condición de la mousikē. Zartaloudis no llega a relacionar la mousikē con el ideal de la ciudad bella (kalapolis), pero sí nos dice que esa “experiencia” de la mousikē garantizaba un orden; una noción de orden acústico, más ligada a la voz y a la memoria que a una sustancia medible de la vida en la polis.

La mousikē, por lo tanto, apelaba directamente a las Musas, y, por extensión, a una función de la transmisión social de la memoria. Según Zartaloudis se trataba de: “una iniciación con la divinidad, que era saber común, y también poder de la música para instituir un saber común o una comunidad mediante la mimesis” (348). La mousikē constituía una forma institucional mínima, invisible, que tampoco era reducible a la especificidad de la música, sino a la asociación con las Musas. Y con las Musas se hacía posible guardar el silencio de la palabra, que entonces se entendía como un ejercicio fundamental de la paideia del ethos.

Aquí la mousikē asume su condición protofilosófica y especulativa más importante: la mousikē es el nombre que se le da al evento originario de la experiencia lingüística de lo no-lingüístico. Zartaloudis nos dice que la memoria que transfiere la mousikē es siempre de antemano trágica; y es trágica porque en ella se registra, o se intenta registrar, la pérdida de la voz como apertura del logos en la phonē. De manera que la “Musa es, el nombre de un acontecimiento que intenta ser recordado como advenimiento de la palabra, como cosmopoesis musical” (355). La Musa es, entonces, no solo ritimicidad de la mousikē, sino la memoria de la pérdida de toda divinidad que, en última instancia, dispensa la inmortalidad mediante el recogimiento de lo mortal, como sugiere Zartaloudis glosando a Jean-Pierre Vernant.

Las Musas ejemplifican una relación entre la voz y el orden social mediante la dimensión del ritual que Zartaloudis refiere de manera directa al problema de la armonía. Y es mediante este problema que la mousikē se convierte en un tema abiertamente político, o de interés político puesto que: “Armonía no era una cuestión de darle forma al caos, en el sentido de lo medible y lo cuantificable, sino de escuchar el chaosmos y ser capaz de anunciarlo” (362). Por eso ahora se puede entender porqué mousikē eventualmente pasó a ser una forma educativa política del ethos, así como un episteme técnico de las matemáticas y de la filosofía. De manera que mousikē era la forma mediante la cual se podía activar una regeneración del kosmos desde la experiencia de la phonē en el decir. La organización de la mousikē para los griegos poseía un poder cosmopoetico. Y Zartaloudis indica que el fenómeno del kosmos no era otro que el de aletheia en la canción. Se trataría, entonces, de un ritual de la mimesis del orden de lo melódico.

Es probable entonces que el nomos mousikos haya sido el sobrevenido técnico de transponer este problema de la voz como acontecimiento a formas genéricas de la melodía y de la tonalidad (382). Y posteriormente en Platón la mousikē obtiene un carácter jurídico y social, por el cual el acontecimiento queda plasmado en el orden de la legislación estatuaria. O sea, nos encontramos ante una forma temprana de la invención del “costum” como norma escrita. He aquí uno de los misterios que Zartaloudis registra, pero que tampoco logra desentrañar del todo de manera explicita: ¿cómo entender el tránsito del orden musical previo a su dimensión estamental del derecho, y luego su confección en la sutura del nomos mousikos? Zartaloudis cita al estudioso Mittica quien argumenta que dicha transformación es de orden de la analogía, y necesariamente de un desarrollo temporal, cuya ambigüedad permaneció por mucho tiempo en la antigua Grecia.

Pero será en Las Leyes de Platón donde la analogía encuentre su mayor grado de sofisticación y perfección, puesto que las reglas mousike serán transpuestas al ordenamiento (taxin) de la polis. Y ahora el poeta aparece ‘ordenado’ para la finalidad de un ‘bien común’ de la polis, ya que el poeta compondrá en la medida en que parmanezca dentro de la ley (nomina), apele a lo bello (kala), y contribuya al bien (agatha) de la ciudad. La dimensión del kosmos-mousikos, nos dice Zartaloudis, ahora aparecía albergarse en el artificio de la palabra. Y solo de lejos era posible escuchar “el pensamiento acústico” de Heráclito. Pero entre sonoridad (nómos) y ley (nomós) algo irremediablemente se perdía: el ritmo incongruente a la forma – el orden melódico, ahora devenía un molde para el orden social. Así se edificaba el nomos mousikos como actividad cívica. Y era el filósofo quien portaría la divisa de la “más alta mousike”, cuyo mysterium era residual a la apariencia de la idea. Por lo tanto, la mousikē era una instancia profética de toda filosofía, como en su momento pensó Gianni Carchia.



1. Thanos Zartaloudis. The Birth of the Nomos (Edinburgh University Press, 2019).

A gloss on the “element” of love. by Gerardo Muñoz

It might be the case that the self-evident nature of love as an affection proves itself lacking mediation in thought, insofar as it is a resource of mediation between thought and the world. In this sense, it is true that what one “loves” resists to be grasped as an object of representation or exposition; it is a question of limits, and those limits posit the question of the world. Now, love gives form, but it is not in itself a form or a mandate or an object. This means that love is outside of reality; indeed, it is the absolute indifference between object and world.

The question perhaps is one regarding proximity and distance. The problem of “nearness”, which is why in the text one reads the orphic inscription: “When we are in nearness to which we love we then go through the other side of the mirror.” Of course, what is interesting it not the “other side”, but rather to have become transformed by something without ever being entirely dissolved. Amor fati? Perhaps. In the transient path of the night one is opened to the condition of the “moon hunter”, in which one path reveals itself as the question of destiny (“one life”). The trick is that no path is ever ‘obligatory’, but rather validated by an access to an experience. Now, it is obvious that love cannot exhaust an experience, but there is no experience that is not affected by love, since it is this affection what inscribes the limit of a world without the fantasy of possession and abuse. 

Another moment: “In abusing something we no longer love; and even in the pleasure that were invested in we do not love”. Here the exotic (extemporaneous) nature of love becomes visible: no love is exhausted in materiality and form. Love is ex-scription: it demands exodus as homecoming. However, no fundamental fantasy of love can validate what is granted to us by the irreducibility of an experience. Perhaps this is after all what Gianni Carchia, reading Schelling called the “transfiguration with the divine”. Or, as I would like to call it, the intromission with the invisible [1]. In the invisible we carve out the limits of our deconstitution with our world in which our existence is possible through separation. 

There might a rebuttal, although it might not be one after all. It is a recent suggestion by a friend who claimed in a psychoanalytic speculation that: “Perhaps after all ‘love’ is a Christian invention, a compensatory and necessary one for the fact that we do not communicate”. There might be a few ways to respond to this claim; the first one being that the task of the transfiguration of love responds, precisely, to the subordinated status of love as mere compensation to the subject of sin and thus of the pleasure principle. The existence that can traverse the pleasure principle of the subject could be said to have gained reentry into a happy life capable of outsourcing the succession of infinite deaths while in life. 

Contrary to life or death, love might be another name for the orphic passage between the two states of potentiality; that is, of pure affection and the opening of the impotential in every life. To experience the death of what is possible as transient to the time of existence opens the path towards a “life to come…in underground streams” (Auden). If love is to be taken as compensatory to the impossibility of communication, then there is a love of thinking, but not necessarily a thinking of love. It is strange that philosophy – just as “liberty” for political thought – fails when measuring itself up to a thinking of love, a vertigo before the immemorial attunement to the state of mousikos. Such is the taking place among the things that we have surprised in the world, but only accessible to those who “seek” outside reality. 



1. Gianni Carchia. “Indifferenza, eros, amore: la critica dell’essere spirituale nella “filosofia della libertà” di Schelling”, in L’amore del pensiero (Quodlibet, 2000), 101-121.