In the film ‘Brainstorm’ there are two profoundly spiritual moments – the ending, which portrays a return trajectory back to a transcendent root, presented in almost mystical terms (no surprise that the director Douglas Trumbull created the effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey) and a moment quite early on in the film when the Christopher Walken character returns home to find his wife and a quartet of string players playing Schubert’s “Trout Quintet”. Schubert? I hear you say? Spiritual?
The film’s ending is the familiar and well established classical image of the spiritual – one that points away from the world, one that returns the soul to God, restoring its original unity from an exile in the finite. One you find in most mythologies. My favourite example is Dante’s Commedia. My favourite philosopher expressing this is Plotinus.
But what about the scene with Schubert? Here we find something new and different. Here, the movement is not the narrative of “exiled from some heavenly abode until death restores and returns you to your true spiritual home”. Firstly, in the hands of a Hegel, it points to the world as the paradoxical (finite) location of the highest point of the Spirit’s self-realisation. The world is not far from the root but, in the order of things, actually the site of its fullest realisation and self-revelation. (These ideas are familiar to anyone who has digested Jacob Boehme, Emmanuel Swedenborg or even Spinoza). The world, at these moment, discloses the transcendent root and, to paraphrase Arthur Danto, transforms itself in the process (much like James Joyce’s notion of Epiphany – itself rooted in Aquinas). And, more importantly, this root is the very same one we see at the end of the film – flowing upwards and into the world, the light we return to.
Ironically, given Hegel seemed to dismiss music, it is hard to find a better image of the Hegelian metaphysic and aesthetic than the sonata form in classical music. But I digress. I wanted to talk about Dutilleux. And I’ve ended up talking about Schubert. Perhaps next time I will get there. In the meantime listen to this stunning piece, built out of forms that do not fit any simple school of thought, but somehow gather them, weave them together to allow The Spirit to see itself.