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Abstract

Vladimir Jankélévitch heard Debussy's music as a sonic manifestation of certain nuclear mysteries of existence: mysteries of death, destiny, anguish, pleasure, love, space, and——in various forms——time. To describe these mysteries, he developed the paradoxical locution of the mystére limpide, the ““lucid mystery.”” Debussy's mysteries are lucid, Jankélévitch argued, in that they are not hidden behind arcane codes or hermetic formalisms, but are instead palpably present to experience, sensually manifest in the music's sounding surface. As such, they prove resistant to hermeneutic and analytical attention, which, per Jankélévitch, seek always to penetrate beyond sounding surfaces in search of hidden meanings. This article takes Jankélévitch's ideas as a point of departure in both a positive and negative sense, adopting his notion of the mystére limpide as a valuable heuristic in Debussy study, but challenging his highly limited views of analysis and hermeneutics. The article takes as its focus Debussy's Prélude Des pas sur la neige and explores the ways in which it can be heard to manifest mystéres of time, representation, and consciousness. It does this, however, with the aid of analysis and hermeneutics, drawing on transformational theory, familiar concepts from narratology, and Proustian notions of memory. In short, the article deploys discourses anathema to Jankélévitch for decidedly Jankélévitchian ends. The conclusion explores the degrees to which such a paradoxical effort succeeds, ultimately arguing that discursive intervention——technical or otherwise——need not be a means of seeking out hidden meanings, but can instead be a means of drawing us closer to music as a physical, material phenomenon.

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