What is it to be in love? This is a difficult question. On my other blog, I’ve previously written posts about the difficulty of this. The truth is: it’s a very nebulous and multifarious concept. Because it’s a problematic concept in its abstract vagueness, perhaps this is a theme where the lack of words in expressing an experience can truly let the theme shine. Music can express an experience of love without falling into the confusion of words, where the most complicated concepts get lost in the valences of meaning that we could call différance.*
There are songs for this theme that I hope to explore, and hopefully, I’ll find even more as I continue to listen to post-rock, but I would like to start today with the song “Hexed All” by Russian Circles. Honestly, I can’t say that it’s definitively about love in the sense of whether that’s what Russian Circles intended, but that’s the experience I get when listening to it, and I feel that the title points me in that direction as well.
In fact, the combo of the title and the song made me really ponder: why do we call it being bewitched? If you want a different phrase that gets me to the same point (and yes, I know that I just pointed out the problem with words for this): “being smitten”. That’s from the verb “smite”, as in hit or strike violently. We see strong emotions, such as love as being a powerful force that takes us from without and moves us, controls us, compels us in a way, beyond the reason we tell ourselves is our true control. When we are “bewitched” it is as though someone else is controlling us through a spell. It’s surprising, exciting, and even just a bit scary and vulnerable. On a deeper, spiritual level, if we pause, it pulls our very ideas of self-control and agency into question, as the strongest emotions do. There are problems with this understanding (as is discussed well in the chapter on the law in How Emotions are Made: the Secret Life of the Brain), and I’d point out the direction we don’t go in our understanding is the existentially scary one: our understanding of agency is wrong, or at least, it’s overly simplistic. In other words, there is no uniform “I” that picks and chooses actions. We are an elaborate, dynamic unfolding experience, taking in our environment and constructing an understanding, a reaction, and a narrative that integrates it all at once (the younger Sartrean-loving existentialist who battled for free will over everything shakes his fist at this older version of myself, by the way). I’m not so sure I’d go so far as to say free will is a lie. I think it’s a poorly formatted concept and problematic, in general. We are an interdependent complex nonlinear system. Most conceptualizations of determinism as opposed to free will are woefully linear or reductive. They don’t really allow for emergence and complexity as much as is needed to really investigate this issue. Anyway, I digress. The point is: we have an understanding and experience of strong emotions pulling us beyond our normal understanding of who we are and how we would act. That’s what is implied with “to be bewitched”. In this song, it’s a tad more dire sounding: “hexed”, which comes from older terminology for witches, so it’s still to be controlled through a spell… However, the title is “Hexed all”.
This is what is most profound. A truly spiritual experience or even a profound emotional experience is more powerful and all-encompassing than just something hitting or pulling at you as an individual. As Wittgenstein says in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:
If good or bad willing changes the world, it can only change the limits of the world, not the facts; not that which can be expressed through language.
In short, the world must then through good or bad willing become an entirely different one. It must, so to speak, increase or decrease as a whole.
The world of the happy person is a different one than that of the unhappy person.**Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (my humble translation – German as footnote)
When you suffer depression or experience a spiritual reverie, your experience of the entire world changes. Your world is different. In that sense, it’s not right to say: “I’m in love.” In a way, it’s more accurate to say: “For me, the entire world shines with love.” Thus: “Hexed All”. This is a true experience of love: something all encompassing that makes everything glow, makes everything brighter, sweeter, more beautiful. I’ve made the spiritual dimensions clear: this is transcendent. It pulls us beyond ourselves in a way that changes everything, brightens everything, transmutes our perception of everything. This is the Love that the philosophy of Plato also points us toward: a wonder that makes us sense the beauty of wisdom, therein inspiring a passion to seek it.
This transcendent understanding of love is precisely what I experience in hearing this song by Russian Circles. It’s profound, beautiful, poignant, and multi-layered. Even in just hearing it, I feel that I see the world with more depth. It feels mature: expressing an experience that a younger me couldn’t have grasped, although the beauty of it feels just as strong as any inclination of young romanticism. In fact, it feels as though it resonates with that sentiment to its greatest extent. It reminds me of the experience of a walk through a dark wood with someone you love: it’s both romance and yet also a spiritual experience of the stars, the earth, the night, and the vulnerable openness of being human. This song is short and deceptively simple, lacking the grandiose builds and crescendoes of another post-rock love song like “Your Hand in Mine”, and yet it expresses a profound experience of love that is one of the best this genre has to offer. I hope you’ll take a moment and sit with it, letting it fill you and seeing the world a bit differently.
*Although I can’t claim be some sort of expert on Derrida, and I realize that I’m stretching the term a bit beyond it’s original usage, I think it’s clear that the problems of interpretation and meaning aren’t just in texts, but in the transfer of meaning from one person to another with the aspect that a certain amount of that intention and understanding are two interpreters with two degrees of private language.
**§6.43 Wenn das gute oder böse Wollen die Welt ändert, so kann es nur die Grenzen der Welt ändern, nicht die Tatsachen; nicht das, was durch die Sprache ausgedrückt werden kann.
Kurz, die Welt muß dann dadurch überhaupt eine andere werden. Sie muß sozusagen als Ganzes abnehmen oder zunehmen.
Die Welt des Glücklichen ist eine andere als die des Unglücklichen.
3 thoughts on “Love | Bewitched Transcendence”