MIND: AN ESSAY ON HUMAN FEELING, Vol. III by Susanne K. Langer

MIND: AN ESSAY ON HUMAN FEELING, Vol. III

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A strong, if not quite conclusive, conclusion to Langer's magnum opus. Langer published the first volume of her study of ""the nature and origin of the veritable gulf that divides human from animal mentality"" in 1967 (when she was 72). Old age and falling eyesight have new forced her to cut short her massive essay without the fully articulated epistemological-metaphysical theory she had hoped to crown it with. Still, Langer has always been a stunningly encyclopedic surveyor rather than a system-builder; and this book, like her earlier ones, is rich in suggestive insights. In the broadest terms, her analysis concentrates on the evolutionary transition from ""motivational"" (roughly speaking, magical) to ""causal"" (rational or scientific) thinking. In her rather Comtean scheme, Langer sees the realization of both the naturalness and the inevitability of death as the critical factor in cultural development: the most primitive peoples consider death a dreadful accident, while the great historical religions deny or try to assuage the trauma of mortality. But this religious dream ends with the rise of the tragic vision, which acknowledges the cost of ""our advanced individuation""--the haunted perception that human life constitutes a single act whose rhythm, however vigorous out mental powers, always has a fatal diminuendo. (Langer had some very good things to say about ""comic rhythm"" in Feeling and Form, but she is understandably disinclined to pursue that line of thought here.) Langer's cosmic sweep, based on her prodigious reading in biology, anthropology, and the arts, leads her into dubious generalizations, especially about the supposed intellectual backwardness of ""the lowest savages."" Nonetheless, this is a stimulating and, under the circumstances, even heroic performance.

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1982
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press