This past Monday, Antonin Scalia delivered an address on the Princeton University campus. While the official title of the Supreme Court Associate Justice’s talk was “Reading Law,” it has since been revealed that Scalia’s text was a coded elaboration of the voice-leading principles used in common-practice tonal harmony. While Scalia spoke of “statutes” and interpretations, perspicacious spectators detected veiled references to cadences and voicings. Below is an adulterated text—an interpolated glossary—that shows the hidden meaning behind Scalia’s comments:
“The fairest reading of the text [chorale] is what the law [common-practice tonal harmony] means. When we read Shakespeare [Bach] we use a glossary [music-theory treatise] because we want to know what it meant when it was written. We don’t give those words [chords] their current meaning. So also with a statute [chord progression] — our statutes [chord progressions] don’t morph, they don’t change meaning from age to age to comport with the whatever the zeitgeist [iTunes] thinks appropriate.”
Considering whether the Voice-leading Constitution is best construed as “a set of suggestions subject to the morph of the zeitgeist” or a “cemetery of decaying prohibitions ensuring that a dead language remain deceased,” Scalia became playfully severe:
“I have classes of little kids who come to the court, and they recite very proudly what they’ve been taught, ‘The Constitution [Voice-Leading Constitution] is a living document.’ It isn’t a living document! It’s dead. Dead, dead, dead!” Scalia said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “No, I don’t say that. . . . I call it the enduring Constitution [the foundation of harmonic practice]. That’s what I tell them.”
In the on-campus discussion that continued this week, certain exegetes proposed that Scalia’s controversial comparisons of homosexuality to “murder, polygamy, cruelty to animals and bestiality” were intended to indicate the regulations that attend upon the traffic flow not of human bodies but of the individual voices in a Bach chorale, wherein parallels, touching and crossing are prohibited. Evidence for this interpretation was cited in the use of the terms “morph” and “zeitgeist” (quoted above): in pretending to argue for the importance of the unchanging meanings of the language of the Voice-Leading Constitution, Scalia chose fluid, cross-linguistic, and up-to-date language that wittily subverted his own ostensible ideology.
Justice Scalia was not available for comment.