It should be noted that the silence/noise relationship, the relationship between a blockage in the signal channel and its saturation (or breach), is not merely reciprocal, but intimately (ontologically) co-dependent. Pastorale, as one of the mechanisms enacted in the early modern courts of
What is problematic in the recuperative account of the pastorale is precisely this silence about the undergrowth of violence that sustains the pastoral domain –
We can see how, in the Philoctetean logic of the pastorale, violence marks the opening out of the merely utilitarian collective (of warriors) into a community of adherents: the king’s abandonment to Lemnos, as the founding violence of the community of ‘free’ men (like Freud’s account of the horde’s patricide as a founding moment of civilization), occasions the enclosure of the pastorale, what Giuseppe Gerbino has characterised as an ‘instinct of self-representation’. Gerbino’s persuasive thesis is that the Renaissance fascination with the pastoral constituted nothing less than the desire to construct a universe (‘developed through decades of Petrarchist and Neoplatonic exercises’) ‘… in which the Renaissance discourse on human desire could be represented in a dramatic form’. The move from the Petrarchist interiority of the self/lover to the performance in court settings of the pastoral community of singers and poets enacts for Gerbino a moment of a new kind of socialisation in Renaissance court etiquette. Indeed, within the terms we have set up here, that ‘socialisation’ is both transformative (in moving towards a court logic based on exchange and the representation of difference) and compensatory, in that the violent ground on which the structures of court etiquette were founded (the ‘warrior lover’, for example) had to be covered over, disavowed.
The musical forms that attend this new disavowal in the Italian Renaissance are fascinating for their consistent adherence to a logic of sonic self-sufficiency: when pastoral tropes enter the Italian madrigal in the late 1570s, they do so remarkably quickly and with a striking consistency, and they draw on a set of new musical resources to enact this new enclosure: sighing closures, wistful mannerist lines and clear melodic shapes that speak of the power of music to open up a world as proxy, balm, salve. As Gerbino would have it, ‘That it may be possible to fall silent, if even for a moment, and enjoy the pure pleasure of poetry and music as the only redeeming value of language was the lesson of ancient shepherds.’ The introspection of this falling silent in the face of music, the ‘withdrawal’, ‘retreat’, or enclosure that such an act requires, points to something interesting in the history of what scholars of the so-called ‘affective turn’ in the humanities are calling the ‘attention economy’
So what was it about the pastoral, in particular, that turned early modern heads? How does this falling silent mark modernity? What is the shape and curve of this attention? What this moment, admittedly short-lived, makes it possible to think is the management of attention through both public and private ritual, and it is the reflection in silent listening (in public) on the inner world (the private space) that allows reflection precisely on the content of the private world and its difference from the public space of the court. The pastorale is precisely that space in which the history of rituals that open out this thinking, and which enable both withdrawal and return, are enacted. The demand for silence in the introspective moment of the late Italian madrigal and its European copies is a new kind of demand made on citizens to split their world in two: modernity sets off with this violent bifurcation, in the gentle calm of introspection and one’s loss to the anguishes of the late now distended mannerism of the madrigal. Our nymphs and shepherds starting coming away, one might say, just as the roar of modernity becomes perceptible, as the noise-to-signal ratio began to degrade. Esposito has intimated that modernity itself is about precisely this kind of withdrawal:
It’s true that modernity is self-legitimating, cutting itself off from every social bond, from every natural link, from every common law. Yet there also emerges from within modernity itself the tragic knowledge of the nihilistic character of this decision. The Hobbesian uprooting is lived therefore with a sense of “guilt” with respect to a community, both whose absence and necessity one recognises.
What modernity mourns is precisely what it craves, and precisely what it has barred to itself, a self-evident social sphere that will represent itself spontaneously. In the withdrawal that the demand for silence enacts, early modern subjects of court experience their own doubledness. Silence and noise, calm and fray, thus come to mark the terms on which their interior and exterior worlds are to be held apart.