S. D. Chrostowska

Little Pieces

In the repetitive rhythms of primitive music the menacing aspect originates in the principle of order itself.

schoenberg’s “musical aphorisms” are too brief, too lean and nervy, too dematerialized, for rhythm and order to take root in them. The aphorism, the romantic fragment, the sketch, the kleines Stück, and a host of other diminutive artistic forms share a resistance to the spirit of system, whether the latter unfolds primarily in time, as it does for instance in music or literature (Bach, the Encyclopédie, regular utopia, Hegel), or in space, as in visual representation (perspective, classicism, Beaux-Arts). The freedom of art is best exercised, best “captured,” in small pieces; they let us come and go at will, without a key or address. They require no submission to creative force, no suspension of judgment or of disbelief. Rarely do they define the artist who produced them. In a society that rewards consistency and individualism, they assume the character of common property, if not its form, without (for this very reason) becoming common.

What disturbs us in them is born neither of the principle of order nor of order’s opposite. Indeed, it can only come from their suspension over a void of feeling and meaninga void visible only if one gives their anti-systematic character its due, and invisible if one reads them negatively (as inchoate, undeveloped, unfinished, supplemental) in relation to some “principal” work. The extant lines of Heraclitus and Parmenides cannot but be read in this way: not merely against a relative void of our historical understanding, but in the absence of a more orderly, more complete textual background or accompaniment, and with the probability that what has come down are not just the remnant highlights of a lost whole, the spoors of a disappearance.

In this respect, their small number has perennially taught amateurs of remote intellectual history the value of the shortest forms. But true love of these minimal pieces is never free of dread or disquiet. The more profound their appeal, the louder their expressive summons, the more archaic the surrounding silence of thought out of which they must forever keep emerging.

*Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 52