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Living Streams: Continuity and Change from Rabelais to Joyce

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Gerald Gillespie

This book examines how a long line of imaginative writers, starting from Rabelais and continuing over Cervantes and Sterne down to such modernists as Proust, Mann, Joyce, and Barth, has reaffirmed the picture of an enduring Western civilization despite repeated crises and transformations. The humanist capacity to recapture a sense of European greatness as exhibited in Antiquity was paralleled by and continued in the guise of newer vernacular works, achievements regarded as vital forms of a shared cultural rebirth. This was amplified most notably in the tradition of the ironic encyclopedic novel which surveyed the state of successive phases of culture. The evolving heritage and revitalization of the arts constituted main subject matters in the series of major self-conscious epochal movements, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Modernism, which Postmodernism reflexively now struggles to supersede.

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Chapter 3: The World as Music: Variations on a Cosmological Theme

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CHAPTER THREE

The World as Music: Variations on a Cosmological Theme

Language and music, starting at least since ancient Greek and Hebrew literature, often appear paired conceptually. It is no surprise that Renaissance savants as well as poets, inheritors of that record and of many arts linked with music, speculated on a possible deep relationship. The general anthropological-linguistic theory of the Renaissance era, according to which certain languages retained qualities of the earliest human naming of things in Eden, may have waned in scientific discourse in later centuries; but the poetic desire to get closer to authentic words again, words with the capacity of unifying music and meaning, has recurred in such ideas as the latter-day Symbolist goal of repristinating language. A second kind of Renaissance scientific speculation involved renewal of interest in ancient cosmology, especially the Pythagorean tradition. The passion for charting mathematical-musical proportions and principles spilled over into the poetic imagination. Dante’s powerfully visual epic La divina commedia shows unmistakably that a complex basis of cosmological modeling already existed in the late Middle Ages. Thus in the preface to his edition of 1481, Cristoforo Landino feels justified in citing the analogy between divine and worldly creators in Pythagorean terms:

Et e idio sommo poeta: et e el mondo suo poema. E chome idio dispone la creatura. In el visibile et invisibile mondo che e sua opera in numero Misura et Peso. Onde el propheta Deus omnia facit numero...

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