Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 4

Although the inference to two musical composers of the song “Day in the Life” was in fact accurate, the character of the inference as such was by no means indubitable. It is not impossible for the same composer to have two different stamps of creativity. Consider only the early and late John Lennon. The transition at the album Rubber Soul, but even more pointedly at the song “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is palpable. What comes before is quite different.

So, let’s take another song with two quite distinct moments. “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who. Its soft melodic musing in the first 2/3 is quite contrasted by its thrashing in the last 1/3, which closes with a bookend reprise of the first 2/3. The melodies are quite different. The beats. The vocal tone. The lyrical themes. We find in fact a schema similar to that which we found with “A Day in the Life.” Part 1 has characteristics R, S, T, U. And Part 2 has characteristics V, W, X, Y. However, in this case, an inference to two composers would in fact be false. Another example of a similar case of single authorship of a song with two distinct parts is Stairway to Heaven.

My apologies for the lamentable character of the lyrics of the songs of the examples. Had I a better musical history in my teen years, I could reference Bluegrass. Alas. But one could also think of the Second Movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. So utterly distinct from the Third Movement.

The point of today’s reflection is to take sober stock of the limitations of the character of this kind of inference.

2 thoughts on “Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 4

  1. Precisely. Such a basic application of common sense, and yet ignored. How much false knowledge and wasted time caused by unexamined first principles!

    1. Ah yes! I noticed in my undergraduate days the well coordinated non-direction of much higher education. When a rigorous introduction into the perennial philosophy is lacking, anyone is willing to be convinced by David Hume, for his skill in writing and in identifying puzzles and of course his keen mind, or by Kant, et alia. But having that introduction gives one pause before imbibing the theories of such great names.

      And as substitute for such an introduction there is … the erudition of the prof. Hence, all must bow before him. And those who get PhDs then think all must bow before them.

      And of course, the game of puzzling thinking is attractive. You define your method and go to it, taking your hat off in proper humility when you can’t fit all things into boxes. (Irony.)

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