The sound of sorrow is the sorrow of sound. Now what is sorrow but the feeling that one is? As it says in The Cloud of Unknowing:
All men have grounds for sorrow [mater of sorow], but most specially he feels grounds for sorrow who knows and feels that he is. In comparison to this sorrow, all other kinds of sorrow are like play. For he can truly and really sorrow who knows and feels not only what he is, but that he is. And whoever has not felt this sorrow, he may make sorrow, because he has never yet felt perfect sorrow.[i]
Or as Heidegger affirms—in the more self-mollifying register of modernity, in the mood which characteristically wants both to soften and to own the BLOW from which no one ever recovers—“the being of Da-sein is care [Sorge].”[ii] And what is sound but the being of this sorrow, the reverberation of the fact of being in all things, the Da-sein of matter that—existently inexistent and existently inexistent—is the ground of its own sorrow?
One need not look very far or listen very long to unveil sound as the sorrow of being and the being of sorrow. If that were necessary it would not be true. If more than pointing were required it would not be there. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow” (Lamentations 1:12). And if you do not see, if one cannot hear the sorrow of all that is seen, that indeed is a sorrow, as the Cloud-author makes clear. In all directions one is met with the Silent Universal Moan or SUM, an ‘undead’ continuity of sorrow and sound that moves like a chord strung by death’s portal across the vast abysses of birth. SUM resounds with the superessential negativity of the will, with the original negation that, negating itself, causes anything at all to be. As Eugene Thacker hears it, via Schopenhauer, it is “a kind of sound that is absolutely subsonic. It is a negation of sound that negates itself, while it never is totally absent. It is a negative sound that is omni-present and yet un-manifest.”[iii] SUM is the unsound that becomes mournfully audible around Orpheus’s disjoined body, in the uncountable moments when individualized dying life merges into the stream from whence it came:
lay scattered, strewn about; but in your flow,
you, Hebrus, gathered in his head and lyre;
and (look! a thing of wonder) once your stream
had caught and carried them, the lyre began
to sound some mournful notes; the lifeless tongue,
too, murmured mournfully; and the response
that echoed from the shores was mournful, too.[iv]
And SUM is the universal unrest and mass commotion of matter-life-thought, the overflowing echo of their Beyond in and around immateriality of the material: “The condition of the world, the strife and uncertainty that is everywhere, the general dissatisfaction with and rebellion against any and every situation shows that the ideal of material perfection is an empty dream and proves the existence of an eternal Reality beyond materiality.”[v] SUM is the humming and murmuring of the uncircumscribed, a trembling of the lips of being’s eventless event that testifies—by saying nothing—to the non-difference between the negative infinity of the will and the sonic abyss of the universe. Continuous with the primal words of all traditions, the sorrow of SUM is also not not twisted into a smile, the spontaneous shape of the origin and end of the worlds of mind, energy, and matter in Reality’s infinite whim or unanswerable question of itself. The sound of sorrow is the sorrow of sound.
[i] The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Patrick J. Gallacher (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), ch. 44, my translation).
[ii] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 262.
[iii] Eugene Thacker, “Sound of the Abyss,” in Melancology: Black Metal Theory and Ecology, ed. Scott Wilson (Winchester, UK: Zero, 2014), 190.
[iv] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Allen Mandelbaum (New York: Harcourt, 1993), 361 (XI.50-3).
[v] Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing (Beacon Hill, Australia: Meher House Publication, 1963), 55.