Lulla, Lulla

By Edmund Hardy

Before the lullaby, a dream that we were never born; after the lullaby, sleep, and the dream of wakefulness. Adorno, in 128 of Minima Moralia, writes "As long as I have been able to think, I have derived happiness from the song: 'Between the mountain and the deep, deep vale': about the two rabbits who, regaling themselves on the grass, were shot down by the hunter, and, on realizing they were still alive, made off in haste." Adorno cannily pinpoints the falling-down of lullaby, the drop, down will fall baby, inside, outside, and "all".

The falling-down is a measurement, for "What would happiness be that was not measured by the immeasurable grief at what is?" If we are to reject this measuring, we need to attend more closely to lullabies. In the lullaby lies the myth of goodness, the means of its attainment, "Doggy bit the beggar-man, / tore his coat, away he ran, / to the gate the beggar flees, / sleep in gentle ease." The intruder has been warded off. The dog's violence has been unleashed, and now good can sleep, for the beggar has been vanquished, which is the state necessary for the end of myth, Benjamin writes in a note. We drowse. Mindful of an illustration in Schott's song-book in which the beggar is clearly a Jew, Adorno wonders: "Would not the beggar, driven out of the gates of civilization, find refuge in his homeland, freed from exile on earth?"

Lyric poetry sends us to sleep, and this is its power. Every effect brings an atmosphere of threat. The lullaby scene in opera, from Monteverdi's "Oblivion soare" (in L'incoronazione di Poppea) onwards, is imbued with deep unease, as it colours a fading world, too beautifully, too gently. How are we to be protected, even in sleep? As soon as Titania is sung to sleep, "Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen," Oberon appears. The hedgehog is Derrida’s idea of a poem, rolled up into a ball. What defence? By spells are we to be made safe? The lullaby prints itself, as Adorno says, "My earliest memory of Brahms, and certainly not only mine, is 'Cradle Song'". Or, You shall have a fish, and you shall have a fin / You shall have a herring, when the boats come in, the song, the one which sent us to sleep, is undiminished, and what could replace it, asks Adorno, except the "unconscious dark".

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