Reviews of the New Key

Nagel, Ernest 1943. Review of Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne K. Langer. The Journal of Philosophy 40(12): 323-329.

The central problem of this interesting book is to ascertain precisely the function served by myth, ritual, and especially the arts, and te develop an adequate theory of artistic significance. (Nagel 1943: 323)
As opposed to the TMS efforts to develop a poetics of composition or an approach to the structure of the artistic text.
What is novel 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 ground in modern logical and philosophical analysis, a wide familiarity with relevant anthropological literature, and an expert knowledge of the materials of the arts, especially of music. (Nagel 1943: 323)
It is apparent that her concepts, like discursive and non-discursive come from symbolic logic. Those of Lotman on the other hand come from another tradition, that of De Courtenay.
The second of Mrs. Langer's crucial points in contained in her distinction between "discoursive" and "presentational" symbols. Discoursive symbols have a fixed vocabulary and syntax, and involve the possibility of translation; and language, both of science and every-day affairs, falls under this category. But according to Mrs. Langer, language is not the only symbolic medium; there are things in the world of experience which, without being incommunicable, do not fit the discoursive schemes of expression, and require a presentational (or non-discoursive) mode of symbolization. Presentational symbols are illustrated by visual forms, such as patterns of lines and colors; and Mrs. Langer holds that the flux of our sensations becomes "conceptualized" through this non-discoursive symbolism of visual forms, so that as a consequence the kaleidoscopic flow of brute qualities comes to be replaced by the stable, concrete things of common experience. Although presentational symbols are as capable of articulation and complek construction as are linguistic expressions, the former are not constituted out of elementary units each with a fixed and independent connotation; accordingly, presentational symbols do not constitute a language in the proper sense of the term, and are explicitly said to be incapable of any general reference (p. 97). In spite of, or perhaps because of, these limitations they are held to be the most adequate medium for the articulation of such matters as feelings and attitudes. (Nagel 1943: 325)
To me all of this sounds very natural, for there are nonverbal forms of symbolism. Symbols, in themselves, are not necessarily verbal/discursive - the same goes for symbolism, I think.
But what is not clear from Mrs. Langer's account is the precise sense in which "presentational symbols" are symbols. It is indoubtedly the case that sense experience involves a selective and organizing activity, and thus also involves the apprehension, of not the imposition, of certain sensory forms. What, however, is symbolized in this process? (Nagel 1943: 325)
Langer does indeed seem to ignore giving a precise definition of symbols. Maybe she presumed that the readers are already familiar with her symbolic logic? Surely she will answer this reviewer in her Feeling and Form. For now I presume that Langer using symbols in the sense of a general sign (or a sign with a general meaning), which makes the question of what precisely does a symbol specifically symbolize, superfluous.
But none of her attempts at explanation throw sufficient light on the point at issue, although in the quoted passage there seems to be a faint suggestion that sensory forms are symbolic of things "in the outer world," and thus implying that sensory forms inhabit a different world. However, such an interpretation of the passage entails a dualistic theory of knowledge and reality which Mrs. Langer presumably rejects; and the perplexed reader, remembering that symbols must have objects in order to be symbols, must conclude either that sensory forms are not symbols at all, or that they are "symbols" in a radically new and hithero unspecified sense. (Nagel 1943: 326)
I'd bud in with a naive remark that this different world is that of the semiosphere, which is indeed radically new and hithero unspecified, but that would be reading too much into it. Langer herself talks of reality as a fabric of meanings, woven of signs and symbols.
certainly, Mrs. Langer supplies no good grounds for believing that music does what she says it does. (Nagel 1943: 328)
And yet music does what Mrs. Langer says it does despite her not supplying grounds that would satisfy this reviewer.
It is worth noting that although Mrs. Langer professes a conception of mind which construes the latter as transformative rather than as simply reproductive of experience, she in effect maintains a sort of "copy theory" of musical significance; for, according to her, the primary function of music is to represent patterns of emotional tension, which are presumably simply "given" to and apprehended by the composer in some fashion or other. (Nagel 1943: 328)
This reviewers own position that music involves "the discipline of human passions" is much more detestable. All in all both write at a time before the explosion of recorded music. Contemporary music can freely ascribe to a sort of "copy theory" but instead of representations of emotional tension or whatever, contemporary music copies contemporary music. Cf. sampling or the several thousand metal bands that sound exactly the same. "The smile on your face is a grin of absolution."

Garvin, Lucius 1944. Review of Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne K. Langer. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4(4): 565-569.

Mrs. Langer's thesis, in this skillful and stimulating piece of philosophical writing, is that philosophy has available in the use and interpretation of symbols a revolutionary instrument for the resolution of many of its profounder problems. Actually, Mrs. Langer holds, an understanding of the process of symbolization does not so much solve old problems as it generated new ones. This it does by providing new and basic conceptual frameworks into which our old sets of questions may be transposed. To recognize that the most essential and natural function of the human mind is that of "symbolic transformation" is to throw illumination not only on the fields of science and discursive thinking, but also on the non-discursive areas of myth, ritual, and art. (Garvin 1944: 565)
For me this amounts to recognizing the value of semiotics.
Symbol-using is described as that character which distinctively marks man off from the other animals. The human brain is a "transformer" by which the materials of experience are "wrought into symbolis, which are our elementary ideas" (p. 42). Speech begins as "sheer expression," as in the verbal play of early childhood, and only later attains the practical function of communication. Language, or discursive symbolism, if its origins be sought in symbolic activity rather than in intellectual signal-using, probably arose out of lower forms of symbolistic thinking - dream, ritual, and imagination. These lower forms are non-discursive, or presentational, in that they present their elements (visually, for example, as in the case of a picture) simultaneously and not successively. A presentational symbol also differs from a language symbol in that its elements have no independent meaning and do not enter into a vocabulary or syntax. Consequently, presentational symbols lack the possibility of general reference, each such symbol being directly representative of one and only one subject. To generalize a presentational symbol, abstraction is necessary, and, therefore, recourse to a discursive process. (Garvin 1944: 566)
Thus there is also some ground for confusing her distinction with Jakobson's similarity and contiguity, given that successive = contiguous.
Emotions are, to be sure, unspeakable; tehy cannot be represented in language. (Garvin 1944: 566)
Tom frowned his displeasure at the contention that the phrase "Tom frowned his displeasure" cannot represent his displeasure.

Parker, DeWitt H. 1943. Review of Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne K. Langer. The Philosophical Review 52(3): 306-307.

The traditional philosophy is new played out, not because its problems have been found to be insoluble, but because they have become meaningless to us. Each way of thinking is determined by the questions asked, and we no longer ask those propounded by the classical thinkers. This does not, however, imply the end of philosophy, but only that its music must be written in a new key. That key is the study of symbolism, of langiage in the broad sense. (Parker 1943: 306)
Spelling out the obvious musical metaphor in Langer's title.
It can, indeed, be shown that symbolism pervades the entire fabric of the mind: images, even sensations, and much that is currently called feeling, are, in essence, conceptual interpretations of reality. The need for the symbolic transformation of experience is primary in man, on an equal footing with the craving for food nad sexual expression, and is not a mere means for the assuagement of such other desires. It is characterized by a like seriousness, and for its satisfaction men will run comparable risks and make comparable sacrifices. The capacity for it is the differentia of man among the animals. (Parker 1943: 306)
Hmm. I'm sure it can be proposed (propositionalized, talked about) but how does one show that symbolism pervades the entire fabric of the mind? Rather, I think, it is a matter of methodology or even belief, that is to say, semiophrenia.
Mrs. Langer's whole book, which so often uses the term 'reason', is an argument designed to prove that man is fundamentally in all his characteristic doings, a rational, or at least a thinking animal. In the second place, her insistence on the symbolic, conceptual nature of myth and art is a re-affirmation of the theory that prevails in German Romantic philosophy from its conception in Herder to its culmination in Hegel. Compare, for example the passage in Herder's Kalligone, II. 2, where the writer defends the seriousness of poetry as offering "universes out of the heart and mind of the poets" against Kant's definition of it as a "play of ideas", with Mrs. Langer's page 34! There is, to be sure, a fundamental difference between Mrs. Langer's position and that of traditional philosophy; for Mrs. Langer appears to be a materialest (man's "substance is chemical", page 40), of one may still employ that term with meaning, and to accept as valid what she takes to be the findings of physical science, rather than the import of poetry, myth and religion. (Parker 1943: 307)
I'm sure similarities can be found, more so because Langer relied heavily on German writings. But the difference is exactly her "new key" - a new approach to the same issues philosophers have long dealt with.

Reid, Louis Arnaud 1945. Review of Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne K. Langer. Mind 54(213): 73-83.

The "New Key" is the new recognition of the importance of symbols. Everywhere, the author points out, symbols and their meaning have come into the focus of attention. Science and technology, which at first sight appear to be concerned with sheer observation and sense evidence, are in fact less empirical than they seem, having far more to do with symbols than with sense reports. Sense reports are in the main not of the facts being investigated, but of index needles, revolving drums, sensitive plates - themselves symbols. (Reid 1945: 76)
It is obvious that symbolism is also at the core of concursivity, although I don't very much like to frame it that way because of the ambiguity of the term ("symbol").
No doubt man's superiority in the race for self-preservation was first due to his capacity to respond to a wide range of signals. But man, unlike other animals, uses signs not to indicate things, but also to represent them. Most words are used, not to direct our eyes and ears and noses towards things, but to talk about them, and in absentia. Such 'signs' are not symptoms of things, but symbols. Symbolic activity is indeed often most un-biological. The animal's experience is checked realistically, but human symbolism, in words or otherwise, may pickle our errors, confusing and warping our responses. If man is merely a superior biologically adaptive animal, he is extraordinarily inefficient, for the meows of a cat are more efficacious than the many bootless rites and sacrifices which characterise religion and art. (Reid 1945: 76)
This symbolic capacity (or "culture", as some would put it) makes the study of human behaviour much more complex than that of animals. At least that seems to be the general impression.
'Meaning' is psychological ('I mean'), or logical ('it means'). Meaning is not a quality, nor even a relation. It is a function, which is "a pattern viewed with reference to one special term round which it centers; this patters emerges when we look at the given term in its total relation to the other terms about it" (p. 55), the term itself - depending upon our interest - holding a key position. The two kinds of meaning, signs and symbols, are now carefully differentiated, the sign (which may be 'natural' or 'artificial') indicating the existence - past, present, future - of a thing, event, or condition, the symbol not evoking actions appropriate to the presence of the object, but thoughts. Symbols "are not proxy for their objects, but are vehicles for the conception of objects". Symbols directly 'mean' conceptions, not things. Signs 'announce', but symbols lead us to conceive - though it is obvious that the same entity (e.g. a name) may be used sometimes as a sign and sometimes as a symbol. (Reid 1945: 74)
This explanation is indeed helpful, although it must be recognized that semioticians are not very fond of this (nor the writings of Ducasse), because it staggers in darkness, unaware of the semeiotics of Peirce or semiology of Saussure, trying to make sense of "signs" and "symbols" in ways that today would seem ill-conceived.
The primary motive of language, Mrs. Langer holds, is the transformation of experience into conceptions, and not the elaboration of signals and symbols. (Reid 1945: 76)
Again, I completely missed this point in Langer's book.
The first thing we instinctively strive to conceive is simply the experience of being alive. (Reid 1945: 76)
Elu on hernes.
If ritual begins in motor attitudes, myth begins in fantasy, remaining tacit for long in dreams. The lowest form of story - the 'silly' and 'impossible' story of primitive men or children - is little more than dream, but rather less incoherent: and as the story goes abroad, coherence increases and personal symbols are replaced by more universal ones. But this is not yet myth. Myth, as distinct from 'silly' stories or fairy tales, is not irresponsible individual wisd-fulfilment, but is religiously serious, and is taken either as historic fact or mystic truth. (Reid 1945: 78)
This is exactly what I meant but couldn't well articulate in relation with (shared) somatoceptions.

Singer, Milton B. 1943. Review of Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne K. Langer. Isis 34(6): 529-530.

That this key of symbolism is entirely new is debatable. Almost every important period in philosophical discussion has found time to be preoccupied with this subject. One needs only to mention the discussions of SEXTUS EMPIRICUS, AUGUSTINE, OCCAM, LOCKE. But that themes in this key are being played today wit hgreater intensity and in some cases with greater inventiveness, is true. (Singer 1943: 529)
What is meant by symbolism here is once again semiotics.
Mrs. LANGER does not confine herselv, moreover, to laying down a program for other workers to carry out. Her book contains well-informed and frequently highly suggestive discussions of a variety of specific and pertinent topics in the field of the theory of signs. These include the origins of language; the logic of signs and symbols; the semantics of language, ritual, and magic, among others. For man's wish "symbolically to transform" his experiences is all-pervasive, and is more fundamental, in her opinion, than the communicative, practical uses of language, with which it is often considered coextensive. (Singer 1943: 529)
Uh, yeah.
The most original contribution of the present book to such a theory is Mrs. LANGER's distinction between a discursive symbolism and a non-discursive symbolism. Most previous theories, she feels, have concerned themselves too exclusively with discursive symbolism, of which language is the most important representative, and have neglected the rich fields of non-discursive or "wordless" symbols, such as that of art. A non-discursive symbolism has no vocabulary, according to Mrs. LANGER, because its elements have no fixed meanings, and vary with every context. They are neither definable nor translatable in terms of other units, and have no regular grammar or general reference. The elements of photography, e.g. lines, shadings, etc., have different meanings in different pictures and at different places in the same picture. Yet symbolic activity in the non-discursive moods is no less "constructive" and "rational" than in the discursive. Music, for example, the author regards as a non-discursive symbolism. (Singer 1943: 529)
Exactly because this is Langer's most original contribution we must recognize her influence on Lotman.
The analysis of music as a non-discursive symbolism may remind the reader of PEIRCE's iconic signs and of Professor CHARLES MORRIS' theory of esthetic signs. (Singer 1943: 530)
Indeed. I would set Langer in line with exactly these thinkers.
She does have some cogent criticism of prevailing theories, and several new distinctions, to offer. What she has to say, for instance, in criticism of the theory that a symbol evokes action appropriate to the presence of its object, is certainly convincing. Her distinction between significance, denotation, and connotation, is also worth considering. (Singer 1943: 530)
Thus it may be possible that Langer can be used to neutralize some more pressing and detestable aspects of behaviourism in Morris.

Johnson, James R. 1993. The Unknown Lnager: Philosophy from the New Key to the Trilogy of Mind. Journal of Aesthetic Education 27(1): 63-73.

...from the Philosophical Sketches of 1962:
I am using the word "feeling" not in the arbitrarily limited sense of "pleasure and displeasure" to which psychologilsts have often restricted it, but on the contrary in its idest possible sense, i.e., to designate anything that may be felt. In this sense it includes both sensation and emotion - the felt responses of our sense organs to the environment, of our proprioceptive mechanisms to internal changes, and of the organism as a whole to its situation as a whole, the so-called "emotive feelings". ... All these ways of feeling have characteristic forms, and a closer study of their forms shows a striking resemblance between them and the forms of growth, motion, development, and decline familiar to the biologist, the typical forms of vital process.
(Johnson 1993: 64)
At least she is being clear about it. In many writers it is extremely difficult to discriminate whether sensation or emotion is meant by "feeling".
Langer presents the categorical definition of "symbol" as late as 1953 in the final work of the New Key, Feeling and Form. In that book, symbol is defined as "any device whereby we are enabled to make an abstraction." The symbol, while susceptible to endless change and modification, is an entity and therefore is classifiable. (Johnson 1993: 67)
As I had thought, she answered her critics.
While the definition of the symbolic process changes in the organicism now being considered, the function and purpose do not:
The great importance of reference and communication by means of symbols has led semanticists to regard these uses as the defining properties of symbols - that is, to think of a symbol as essentially a sign which stands for something else and is used to represent that thing in discourse. This preoccupation has led them to neglect, or even miss entirely, the more primitive function of symbols, which is to formulate experience as something imaginable in the first place - to fix entities, and formulate facts and the fact - like elements of thought called "fantasies." This function is articulation. Symbols articulate ideas.
(Johnson 1993: 67)
That is, in the semiotic continuum reaching from signification to communication, she prefers signification.

Rader, Melvin 1957. Review of Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne K. Langer. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 16(2): 269-270.

Although she continues to call the work of art a symbol, "perhaps for want of a more accurate word," she explains that "it is a symbol in a somewhat special sense, because it performs some symbolic functions, but not all; especially, it does not stand for something else, nor refer to anything that exists apart from it. According to the usual definition of 'symbol,' a work of art should not be classed as a symbol at all." (Rader 1957: 270)
Too bad she didn't come up with a new notion for her special sense. Perhaps because of this, there are similar problems in the semiotics of culture.
Her theory of "non-discursive presentational symbolism" is still mainly intact, but is now stated with a nicer discrimination of art's incomparable function. There is the same appreciation of the holistic nature of presentational forms; the same insistence that art exhibits the "conceived" patterns of sentience ("of life, as it is felt and directly known"); and the same attempt to differentiate the arts in terms of "primary apparitions." (Rader 1957: 270)
That is yet another way of putting our "continuous texts".

Whyte, L. L. 1951. Review of Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne K. Langer. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2(5): 68-71.

With a friendly salute to the great achievements of the school of Russell, Wittgenstein, Ogden and Richards, Carnap, etc., and all the students of language, which has tended to restrict 'symbolism' to the study of the influence of linguistic symbols on thought and has started off from the conception of logical form expressed in such symbols, Mrs. Langer has gone back to a prior and more general issue: the symbolising tendency or function evident in all culture, including the special forms which are separated (at some risk to understanding) in the categories of Art, Music, Myth, Religion, Language, Philosophy, Mathematics, and Science. (Whyte 1951: 69)
Thus it seems that Langer was implicitly constructing a semiotics of culture.
Symbolism is expression (in Langer's new sense) and this is an end in itself (e.g. the child's or primitive' sdelight in naming, talking, etc., even to himself), and not merely an instrument for communication or survival, as orthodox epistemology has wrongly assumed. (Whyte 1951: 70)
This reviewer also noted the aspect of autocommunication in Langer's work.
Language is not the only means of articulating thoughth, and everything which is not speakable thought is not formless feeling. For gesture, ritual, art, music, and poetry all express (and not merely convey) articulated meaning, that is the morphology of aspects of mental life: patterns of motion and rest; tension and release; preparation, fulfilment, excitation; sudden change; in fact all the stationary forms and dynamic patterns of human experience. (Whyte 1951: 70)
And yet the struggle against logocentrism continues.

S., G. 1944. Review of Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne K. Langer. Music and Letters 25(1): 57-59.

Can it discover something equally recondite, the impulse to receive? - for there is creativeness in reception: "You are the music while the music lasts". (S. 1944: 58)
You are the book while you read it.
Mrs. Langer's "new key" is useless, because there is no keyhole. (S. 1944: 58-59)


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