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Notes 58.2 (2001) 320-325

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Book Review

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2d ed. Edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan; New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2001. [29 vols. ISBN 1-56159-239-0. $4,580.]

The encyclopedic articulation of a world presupposes, in a way that the art of the summa does not, a plurality of dichotomies and discourses. Oppositions concerning the nature of meaningfulness, understanding, and knowledge itself are at its core. What is knowledge? And what determines its relationship to information? Is it represented best as a closed inventory--d'Alembert's "engine of ordered learning"; or as an open-ended arbitration--Diderot's "living school for philosophers"? (For this duality within the encyclopedic enterprise does extend back to the Encyclopédie; I have benefited from Wilda Anderson's "Encyclopedic Topologies," Modern Language Notes 101 [1986], 912-29). The institutionalization of encyclopedism since the nineteenth century would appear to express Western culture's hegemonic striving to collect, possess, order, and control--a given--but does the totalizing text in fact represent some total stock of knowledge, or does it instead propose a model? That is, does the ordering of fragments (the dictionary) in an integrated structure (the system) mirror the world or set out principles for constructing it? The problem does not end here. How can the additive progress of knowledge be called into play? And to what degree must a self-conscious attempt at encyclopedism acquiesce before its own utopian premise--that ongoing discourses will yield new fragments and thus new connections--and so account for its own fragmentary condition? It is of course these dichotomies and (perhaps insoluble) oppositions that infuse the themes of totalizing fictional narratives with urgency, from Dante's Divine Comedy to Cervantes's Don Quixote and Goethe's Faust, paradigmatic allegories of the quest for encyclopedic knowledge. The status of such works in the Western canon testifies to the centrality of this compulsion, this "Drang zur Universalität," as Hermann Broch and Elias Canetti encapsulated it. (I rely on Ronald Swigger, "Fictional Encyclopedism," Comparative Literature Studies 12 [1976], 351-66.) Testimony of a contrasting sort can be read in the susceptibility of the encyclopedic mode to broad parody, most famously in Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet, as well as to irony bordering on ridicule, as in a number of the ficciones of Borges, so beloved of librarians on account, among other things, of their proof that encyclopedias are impossible.

It has been suggested that encyclopedias made for today's audiences are consulted not for knowledge but for information. While conceding that the specialist souls of our age give small quarter to the notion of a comprehensive speculum mundi (even as a pedagogical device), I would not care to see the work under review--hereafter NG2--relativized that way. (My remarks, it should be stressed, are intended to apply to the printed edition. The attributes and objectives of the electronic edition are addressed in this issue in a separate review, pp. 406- 8.) Obviously NG2 may be consulted as a modern reference resource: for information. But it seems clear to me that it inclines toward something greater, if that is the word. Emphatically not a deviant offshoot from the Grove family line--in all important aspects its profile remains recognizable--NG2 presents itself as an encyclopedic dictionary of a lofty order, aspiring to eloquence, capacious and long-breathed, synthetic and systematized, replete with a diagrammatic map (29:[viii]) that for all the world looks like the divine scheme from some humanistic Bibliotheca Universalis. It is fair to say that this articulation of an inhering totality fulfills its promise as a milestone. [End Page 320]

The reasons why this should be so have much to do with the parallel evolution of the successive Grove editions and European academic musicology. (A publication history in outline can be assembled from the verso of NG2's title pages and the reprinted prefaces in vol. 1.) In the first lines of introduction...


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