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.
The central problem of this interesting book is to ascertain precisely the functions served by myth, ritual, and especially the arts, and to develop an adequate theory of artistic significance...What is novel in this book is...Mrs. Langer's development of her theme within the framework of a general theory of symbolism, in accordance with her conviction that the coming period of creative philosophy will use the distinctions of symbolic analysis as its key concepts. To her task she brings an unusual equipment: a solid grounding in modern logical and philosophical analysis, a wide familiarity with relevant anthropological literature, and an expert knowledge of the materials of the arts, especially music...Her analyses are singularly earnest and vigorous, and her conception of the problem is fresh and generally broad.
The leading contention of Mrs. Langer's striking book resides in the thesis that there is a bifurcation of the world of human meaning into the two domains of semantic and symbolic interpretation, and that the elucidation of the semantic side, which proliferates into the fields of viable behaviour and the logic of the sciences, has, in philosophy, been yielding place for some time past to the insistent claims of the symbolic impulse...One can have little but admiration for the sanity and clarity of the principles of interpretation to which Mrs. Langer subscribes.
One of those synoptic works which, by bringing together separate areas of knowledge, suddenly reveals the pattern of reality, and gives new meaning to all one's piecemeal explorations...I know of no book in the field of aesthetics which in our time has had such a profound effect.
- 334 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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