Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos

Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos

by Andrew Hicks


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Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos by Andrew Hicks

"We can hear the universe!" This was the triumphant proclamation at a February 2016 press conference announcing that the Laser Interferometer Gravity Observatory (LIGO) had detected a "transient gravitational-wave signal." What LIGO heard in the morning hours of September 14, 2015 was the vibration of cosmic forces unleashed with mind-boggling power across a cosmic medium of equally mind-boggling expansiveness: the transient ripple of two black holes colliding more than a billion years ago. The confirmation of gravitational waves sent tremors through the scientific community, but the public imagination was more captivated by the sonic translation of the cosmic signal, a sound detectable only through an act of carefully attuned listening. As astrophysicist Szabolcs Marka remarked, "Until this moment, we had our eyes on the sky and we couldn't hear the music. The skies will never be the same."

Taking in hand this current "discovery" that we can listen to the cosmos, Andrew Hicks argues that sound—and the harmonious coordination of sounds, sources, and listeners—has always been an integral part of the history of studying the cosmos. Composing the World charts one constellation of musical metaphors, analogies, and expressive modalities embedded within a late-ancient and medieval cosmological discourse: that of a cosmos animated and choreographed according to a specifically musical aesthetic. The specific historical terrain of Hicks' discussion centers upon the world of twelfth-century philosophy, and from there he offers a new intellectual history of the role of harmony in medieval cosmological discourse, a discourse which itself focused on the reception and development of Platonism.

Hicks illuminates how a cosmological aesthetics based on the "music of the spheres" both governed the moral, physical, and psychic equilibrium of the human, and assured the coherence of the universe as a whole. With a rare convergence of musicological, philosophical, and philological rigor, Hicks presents a narrative tour through medieval cosmology with reflections on important philosophical movements along the way, raising connections to Cartesian dualism, Uexküll's theoretical biology, and Deleuze and Guattari's musically inspired language of milieus and (de)territorialization. Hicks ultimately suggests that the models of musical cosmology popular in late antiquity and the twelfth century are relevant to our modern philosophical and scientific undertakings. Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Composing the World will resonate with a variety of readers, and it encourages us to rethink the role of music and sound within our greater understanding of the universe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780190658205
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 01/06/2017
Series: Critical Conjunctures in Music and Sound Series
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 871,620
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Andrew Hicks is an Assistant Professor of Music and Medieval Studies at Cornell University, a member of the graduate fields of Classics and Near Eastern Studies, and a faculty affiliate in Religious Studies. His scholarship clusters around the intellectual history of musical thought from a cross-disciplinary perspective that embraces philosophical, cosmological, scientific, and grammatical discourse in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and spans the linguistic and cultural spheres of Latin, Greek, Persian, and Arabic.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations
Series Editors' Foreword
About the Companion Website

PRELUDE: Listening to the Universe
PART ONE: The Framework
1. Harmonizing the World: Natural Philosophy and Order
2. Knowing the World: Music, Mathematics, and Physics
PART TWO: The Particulars
3. Composing the Human: Harmonies of the Microcosm
4. Hearing the World: Sonic Materialisms
5. Composing the Cosmic: Harmonies of the Macrocosm
POSTLUDE: The Musical Aesthetics of a World So Composed

Appendix One: William of Conches, Glosulae de magno Prisciano
Appendix Two: Hisdosus, De anima mundi Platonica
Works Cited

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