- Response to Mary Reichling, "Intersections: Form, Feeling, and Isomorphism"
Mary Reichling's paper (Philosophy of Music Education Review, 2004) elucidates the concepts of form, feeling and isomorphism that are fundamental in Susanne Langer's theory of expressiveness.1 In particular, Reichling's classification of the adjectives that Langer associates with forms is useful: one of the groups of adjectives concerns the dynamic and living qualities of forms, the second group relates to the abstractness and logicality of forms, and the third group consists of adjectives that refer to human feeling and to expressiveness.2
Reichling examines how Langer uses these attributes and she also suggests that "[t]here is a tension between the more or less static and dynamic characterizations of form."3 However, in my view these different qualifications of forms are functionally connected: indeed, there is no tension when a form is characterized as logical and abstract, on the one hand, and dynamic, on the other. The attributes of "being logical" and "being abstract" are concerned with the theoretical role that forms have in Langer's theory, namely the role of being the basis of presentational symbolism. By contrast, the properties of being dynamic and living are features of forms and they are typical of the forms of human feeling and of [End Page 208] music. Finally, that an art symbol is an expressive form is also related to its functions, namely to that of being a presentational symbol of human feeling, which is possible only if this art symbol has such a logical form that is similar to the logical forms of human feeling. There is thus no clash or inconsistency between the attributes in the distinct groups of Reichling's classification, because they characterize different dimensions of being a form.
Langer acknowledges that in her theory art symbols do not symbolize anything "in the full familiar sense," because these symbols are not connected by conventions or by custom to anything beyond them and there is thus no generalized relation of standing for something.4 This theory of expressiveness is instead based on presentational symbolism in which the concept of a form–more precisely, of a logical form–is basic. In order to argue for this view and also for the different dimensions of being a form I appeal to some of Langer's ideas as well as to some principles in Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
That a form is logical may give an impression of a structure comprising relations between some theoretical entities or abstractions, such as formulas in algebra and formalizations of natural language in symbolic logic. In Langer's view a logical form is, however, a more encompassing notion: it is a structure in a more general sense, the way a thing is constructed or put together.5 As its constitutive elements a logical form may have qualities, properties of qualities (such as the intensity of a quality), and relations between qualities (such as proportions among different speeds in motion).6 It may be elucidating to recognize that Langer also calls an abstracted logical form a concept:
Abstraction is the consideration of logical forms apart from content. . . . Abstraction is perhaps the most powerful instrument of human understanding.
Abstracted forms are called concepts. Because nature is full of analogies, we can understand certain parts of it in the light of a few very general concepts.7
The concept of rotation, for instance, is a logical form that can be realized in such phenomena as the rolling of a wheel and the turning of the globe.8 A logical form may have not only several instances but instances with different kinds of contents: "The content of a logical form may be psychical, musical, temporal, or in some other way non-physical, just as well as physical."9
As far as musical expressiveness is concerned, it is essential that a logical form–that is, a concept–may have realizations both in music and in our inner life.
Langer mentions that Wittgenstein's theory set forth in his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus is the basis of her view of symbols. Wittgenstein describes a proposition [End Page 209] (for instance, the content of the sentence...