Hicks, Andrew. Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
“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.” 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.
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.
In praise of Composing the World, John Marenbon (Senior Research Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge) writes, “Hicks’ book is required reading, not just for historians of music and cosmology, but for everyone interested in medieval thought,” and Peter Pesic (director of the Science Institute at St. John’s College, Sante Fe, NM and author of Music and the Making of Modern Science) calls it “a scholarly tour de force that will be a valuable resource for all who are interested in the deep history of cosmic harmony.”
For more details on the book, consult the publisher’s website here.