THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES

MUSIC, SCIENCE, AND THE NATURAL ORDER OF THE UNIVERSE

Music in relation to science is a theme that James has explored in popular articles (Discover, etc.). Here, he contends that, until the 19th century, music embodied the classic ideals of an ordered universe—having harmonies among the music of the spheres (musica mundana), the music of the human organism (musica humana), and ordinary music-making (musica instrumentalis). In parallel, science was a noble pursuit aimed at establishing the natural order of things (embodied, for example, in the Great Chain of Being). James cites Pythagoras as the prime begetter of these ideas. The sixth-century Greek thinker espoused a philosophy of the interrelatedness of all things and a system of dualities (one/many; odd/even; limited/unlimited, etc.) that led to his elaborate numerology. Pythagoras is also credited with the discovery of the ratios (1/2, 2/3, 3/4...) that define the harmonic intervals of the scale: the octave, the major fifth, the fourth, etc. The tradition of cosmic harmonies continued through Plato, Plotinus, the Christian mystics, and the Hermetic cults, with James reminding us of the links that joined astronomy/astrology and science/alchemy in the works of Kepler and Newton. In the 19th century came what James regards as the great anomaly in music history: Romanticism, with its earthy expression of human passions. Similarly, science divorced itself from lofty ideals to be measured on the human scale. Paradoxically, music and science became pursuits of an elite—a tradition that has continued to the present, albeit with a reaction to Romanticism in atonality, aleatory music, and other experiments. Ours is not a happy time, James notes rather sadly, saying that perhaps we need to be reinfused with cosmic consciousness....or to seek it outside the concert hall. Doubtless, experts will accuse the author of overstatement and will find exceptions and countercurrents; but, overall, his discussion is lively and stimulating.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8021-1307-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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