The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World

The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World

by Laurence de Looze


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From our first ABCs to the Book of Revelation’s statement that Jesus is “the Alpha and Omega,” we see the world through our letters. More than just a way of writing, the alphabet is a powerful concept that has shaped Western civilization and our daily lives. In The Letter and the Cosmos, Laurence de Looze probes that influence, showing how the alphabet has served as a lens through which we conceptualize the world and how the world, and sometimes the whole cosmos, has been perceived as a kind of alphabet itself. Beginning with the ancient Greeks, he traces the use of alphabetic letters and their significance from Plato to postmodernism, offering a fascinating tour through Western history.

A sharp and entertaining examination of how languages, letterforms, orthography, and writing tools have reflected our hidden obsession with the alphabet, The Letter and the Cosmos is illustrated with copious examples of the visual and linguistic phenomena which de Looze describes. Read it, and you’ll never look at the alphabet the same way again.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442628533
Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
Publication date: 06/27/2016
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.03(w) x 8.97(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Laurence de Looze is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Western Ontario.

Table of Contents


Ancient Greek Letters

Latin Letters and the Enduring Influence of Roman Scripts

Christian Letters

The Letters of Humanism

Baroque Variations and the Search for a Universal Language

Logical Letters: The Alphabet in the Age of Reason

The Alphabets of the Industrialized World

From Modern Experiments to Post-Modern Experiences

Into the New Millennium

What People are Saying About This

Madeline Jeay

The Letter and the Cosmos is a groundbreaking and enjoyable read about the role played by the alphabet in Western culture. Laurence de Looze’s remarkable ability to synthesise and explain, with clarity and elegance, complex situations and ideas makes the reader wonder why it has not been addressed before. The considerable challenge of encompassing centuries of Western culture has been met with much grace and marks an important contribution to the field.”

Laura Kendrick

“This study is a synthesis of erudition and curiosity that manages to capture the reader’s interest with its lucid and straightforward style. Never before has the subject, on how the alphabet conditions perception in Western culture, been addressed with such scope.”

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