Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art
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Modern theories of meaning usually culminate in a critique of science. This book presents a study of human intelligence beginning with a semantic theory and leading into a critique of music.
By implication it sets up a theory of all the arts; the transference of its basic concepts to other arts than music is not developed, but it is sketched, mainly in the chapter on artistic import. Thoughtful readers of the original edition discovered these far-reaching ideas quickly enough as the career of the book shows: it is as applicable to literature, art and music as to the field of philosophy itself.
The topics it deals with are many: language, sacrament, myth, music, abstraction, fact, knowledge--to name only the main ones. But through them all goes the principal theme, symbolic transformation as the essential activity of human minds. This central idea, emphasizing as it does the notion of symbolism, brings Mrs. Langer's book into line with the prevailing interest in semantics. All profound issues of our age seem to center around the basic concepts of symbolism and meaning. The formative, creative, articulating power of symbols is the tonic chord which thinkers of all schools and many diverse fields are unmistakably striking; the surprising, far-reaching implications of this new fundamental conception constitute what Mrs. Langer has called "philosophy in a new key."
Mrs. Langer's book brings the discussion of symbolism into a wider general use than criticism of word meaning. Her volume is vigorous, effective, and well written and will appeal to everyone interested in the contemporary problems of philosophy.
whole chapter of evolution. In language we have the free, accomplished use of symbolism, the record of articulate conceptual thinking; without language there seems to be nothing like explicit thought whatever. All races of men—even the scattered, primitive denizens of the deep jungle, and brutish cannibals who have lived for centuries on world-removed islands—have their complete and articulate language. There seem to be no simple, amorphous, or imperfect languages, such as one would naturally
supply them, and yield at least a plausible theory in place of the very unsatisfactory current conviction that language simply cannot have begun in any thinkable way. But another mystery remains. Given the word, and the thought of a thing through the word, how did language rise from a sheer atomic conglomeration of symbols to the state of a complex relational structure, a logical edifice, such as it is among all tribes and nations on earth? For language is much more than a set of symbols. It is
natural the perception of common form is, and how easily one and the same concept is conveyed through words that represent a wide variety of conceptions. The use of metaphor can hardly be called a conscious device. It is the power whereby language, even with a small vocabulary, manages to embrace a multimillion things; whereby new words are born and merely analogical meanings become stereotyped into literal definitions. (Slang is almost entirely far-fetched metaphor. Although much of it is
systematic account. But Zeus and all his family had their genealogist in Homer, to mention only the greatest mythmaker we know. Herodotus was probably not far from the truth when he said that Homer gave the Greek gods their names and stations and even their shapes.25 Divinities are born of ritual, but theologies spring from myth. Miss Harrison, in describing the origin of a Kore or primitive earth-goddess, says: "The May-pole or harvest-sheaf is half-way to a harvest Maiden; it is thus . . . that
Form' is the one quality common to all works of visual art." * Professor L. A. Reid, a philosopher well versed in 1 Art (London, 1914), p. 8. 166 PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY the problems of aesthetics, extends the scope of this characteristic to all art whatsoever. For him, "Beauty is just expressiveness." and "the true aesthetic form . . . is expressive form." 2 Another art critic, Mr. Roger Fry, accepts the term "Significant Form," though he frankly cannot define its meaning. From the