Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne Langer - Session 4 [Cosmos Café 2021-12-16]

Reading / Watching / Listening

Chapter 9 “The Genesis of Artistic Import” and Chapter 10 " The Fabric of Meaning"

Previous Sessions

Session 1: Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne Langer [Cosmos Café 2021-11-04]
Session 2: Philosophy in a New Key, by Susanne K. Langer – Session 2 [Cosmos Café 2021-11-18]
Session 3: Philosophy in a New Key, by Susanne K. Langer – Session 3 [Cosmos Café 2021-12-02]

Reading Schedule

  • Nov 04: Chs, I, II, III
  • Nov 18: Chs IV, V, VI
  • Dec 02: Chs VII, VIII
  • Dec 16: Chs IX, X

Seed Questions

  • Do you think Langer’s notion of symbolic transformation and her theory of symbolism constitute a sufficiently solid foundation for the development of an aesthetics or philosophy of art? Why, or why not? (EDM)

Context, Backstory, and Related topics


uncredited image from "The Lord of Creation"

I am adding this essay, “The Lords of Creation”, to the reading list. Coming at this from the perspective of a “cultural anthropologist/archeologist” (as Johnny termed his Langer project), let us unearth this delicate specimen and handle it with care. I sense this piece will be of interest to our group if viewed from a certain lens or a certain angle. Langer, writing for Fortune magazine, provides a summary of sorts of her explorations in Philosophy in a New Key while also bathing it in the waters of war, nationalism, and other ‘creations’. that were signs of strange times. The uncredited artwork (above and more visible in the essay copy) is like a modernized Hieronymus Bosch monstrosity; a fitting painting for the essay.

01.-Langer-Susanne-K.-1944-The-lord-of-creation-Fortune-Magazine-Vol.-30-January-1944 copy.pdf (7.0 MB)


" intimate acquaintance with all sorts of music does give some versatile minds a power of grasping new sounds; people so inclined will have a “hunch”, that they are dealing with" true significant form" though they still hear a good deal of it as noise." P. 264

And when " have a hunch that you are dealing with true significant form

does that “hunch” have size or shape or color?

And what happens right before " hunch"?

And what happens after “hunch”?

And what was form before significant form?

And what difference does knowing that make?


It was quite the enjoyable romp through Langer’s inceptual text. Thanks to everyone who brought themselves to bear on this intriguing, challenging, and thought-provoking work. I didn’t post any of these articles previously as I didn’t want to interrupt our flow of reading and thinking about Langer’s approach itself, so I waited till we were done to append them for anyone who might be interested.

Obviously, from where I’m coming from, the real counterweight to Langer is Gebser who was writing at the same time about very related themes, so there is a bit of a preponderance of Gebser in the articles here. Everything is offered “as is”: you can take them, leave them, ignore them as you see fit.

I’ll upload them bibliographically (that is, in alphabetical order) and will keep my own comments to a minimum.

Brown_2021_Art_and_the_Ever_Present_Origin_.pdf (707.6 KB)
This is a bachelor’s thesis presented for consideration at a UK institution of higher learning but one focussed primarily on the fine arts.

Combs_2014_Art_and_the_Evolution_of_Consciousness.pdf (1.6 MB)
An article by Allen Combs, who spent a lot of his academic career engaging Gebser’s thought, but who is always good for putting in his own two-cents’ worth as well.

McNees_2021_The_Irruption_of_Time_in_Music_From_the.pdf (1.2 MB)
This is a piece from someone who is, I believe, working on his PhD at CIIS, and I include it here simply because of its focus on music which played a significant role in Langer’s text. (Spoiler alert: it’s rather technical in places.)

McNees_2020_From_Symbolic_Form_to_Symbolic_Function.pdf (190.6 KB)
This essay deals with Ernst Cassier’s approach to Symbolism, which definitely informed Langer’s approach (and I thought it might be a helpful introduction without having to wade through Cassier’s three volumes on the topic).

Again, merely FYI, if you’re interested.


Yes it was an enjoyable romp. I felt we touched all the bases. Looking forward to checking out these links especially the last one on Cassirer. After our romp I feel more confident about diving into Symbolic Forms, another classic that has been gathering dust on my shelves. Now is the time to take up that challenge.

After thinking about unread books I took down The Time Falling BodiesTake to Light. Surprised to find that I had lots of notes in the margins and underlined in pencil. In those days I didn’t use a yellow underliner as I do now. So, I must have read this book, the signs are all there, but I don’t recall having done so. Anamnesis, the remembering of things from a supposed previous existence, seems to have left its trace in the margins of this book. I would propose that this might be a fun read next year that would compliment the new findings that Graeber has unearthed in his recent book. William Irwin Thompson is a major figure, who has joined Graeber on the other side, and I feel that it would be a gesture of respect to bring these two great scholars into our circle of care.
Also, I am eager to review George Lakoff’s seminal works on Metaphor and Mind. This one is especially interesting as a follow up to Langer.
And finally, I’ve mentioned before an intense fascination with Mcluhan’s Laws of Media* .
I also hope we can take on Hegel next year and perhaps Bergson. The sky’s the limit!


I Received a Serendipitous Feeling when being unable
to Participate in this last Cafe’. How so is by opening to the
difference of within/on the Cafe’ & having a “New Way of
Sensing” the Discussion without or better pausing the need
to “Make Sense” as I was participating in the Position of after
the Cafe’ took place…with that here are some Feeling-Images
to share what I Received from Your Community of Expression…
OIP (2)


And Feeling-Images…
And when Feeling-Images
What were Images before Feeling?
And how many Images before Feeling?
And when Feeling- Images…
Where does the (-) between Feeling-Images come from?

A Third Person Account

" The combination of two images may produce a cross-phase transference if the imagery and other associations attributed in one phase of consciousness were encountered in another phase of consciousness. If a person encountered during waking phase of consciousness were encountered in another phase of consciousness becomes equated with a radiant being previously experienced during the dream phase, a cross-phase metaphorical association has been made. This kind of symbolism is very common to cultures with myth-laden cosmology attained in polyphasic consciousness and are integrated via a single hermeneutical framework."- Brain, Symbol, Experience, Chales Laughlin (1990)

That’s one way of communicating about it. Here is an alternate way.

Of Dogs and Men

I make friends with a frightened dog.
In a dark room with a woman.
We are on the couch together.
The dog goes in and out of a box,
That rests upon my chest.

And Marco in a waking state tells me Moby died.

And a decade ago, while shaving in the mirror,
I flashed upon Norton, a pit bull that belongs to
an old lover, a fluffy sort of guy, I have not seen in years.

I asked my image in the mirror-
" I wonder how Norton is doing?"

An hour later, on the street, I bump into that old lover.
" Norton has transcended." He says,
in a broken voice, as he points up to the clear blue sky.
He loved Norton more than he ever loved me.
This man had once been a radiant being but
Now he looks as worn as an old shoe.
This episode happened in a waking state.

And others because you did not keep that sacred vow
Have been friends of mine

And last night I dreamed of a dog, again, in a room with a clock without hands. I call a woman to tell her I found the dog and will bring her with me. She is annoyed as I have perturbed her sleep. She asks," Do you know what time it is?" I look again at the clock without hands. I wake up and write the dream down in the waking state before the illusive whatever- it- might- be starts to fade.

And are there relationships between Moby, Norton, and the Dog in last night’s dream and a clock without hands?

And there are many ways of being Real and many ways of being Unreal.

In a waking state, Sunday morning, gazing out the open window, breathing the chilled air, sipping coffee, and contemplating the clock with no hands. A timeless zone? Has the clock with no hands become a silent moon?

And relaxation fills the room, and there are
no more punctuation marks-
The ‘I’ floats in an unknown relation,
‘I’ thought this would be a long way off.
But it has come. And the readiness is all
A dog yelps in another room.

We all wear masks.
We have muted ourselves.
No one can be heard.
No one can be seen.
A pure feeling between thought.
Falling snow
Smack dab
In the middle of nowhere.


Feeling Into/on/with/around your questions John there is Darkness with
Shades of Light.What I am about to share is like a child learning to crawl,maybe walk , for I “a Beginner’s Mind” do Feel before Seeing Images.

As the Ocean is Formless & Given to Form in Waves of Movement,
My Attention is given to the Movement between Feeling arising in the
Vastness beyond " I ( standing in the Ocean) " & Form Forming into Images…

A Threshold Does Be at the Edges of “I”

Now Here In The Middle; this “I” Form Responds , Images (like waves) Arising,Within,Without,Around & Moving…

A Child crawls,wobbles,walks, runs,falls, & with a little help , gets up Laughs
& Does it again until Darkness Embraces the Light!?

Like Surfing You Feel Your Feet & See the Ride (Control & No Control):

Thank You John for another Ride on Giving Attention to the Feelings
arising from the Darkness & the Wholeness with the Light!!!


Was made aware of another brief paper (5 pp.) that relates, in general terms, to Langer’s preoccupation with music; here , sound and music in the very distant past:

Eneix_2021_Megaliths_Music_and_the_Mind.pdf (196.2 KB)

The information presented is also thought-provoking in connection with two other works which have been mentioned here in various threads and CCafés, namely Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Graeber & Wengrove’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, which I am reading in parallel at the moment. In particular the notions and asserted flows of cause-and-effect in the different pieces gives one definite pause for thought.

And speaking of these last-named authors, for anyone interested, here is a link to an interesting article on the topic of Big History itself:


Hi everyone, and thank you for all your recommendations.

I wanted to offer an article I came across during our reading of Langer (unsure if it was already recommended within our group) on the Philosophy of Creativity. The title undersells the scope and subject of this paper, which speaks to the psychological underpinnings & aesthetic benefits of creating something new.

The Philosophy of Creativity - Berys Gaut

With this in mind, I was trawling my reading lists and came across Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I have had recommended to me on numerous occasions, but I have never been able to finish.


I’m curious about that book, too. This review, by an interesting thinker, got me interested in actually reading it.


Oh ho! Another blast from the past.

First book I read after moving to CA in 1983 to work in the defense industry, recommended by my first engineering “mentor” at my first job – who was also arguably the smartest person I ever met. (Gave him a pin-on button once that read: “People who think they know it all really piss of those of us who do.”) He was an efficiency fanatic and self-taught keyboardist who walked out on a vice-presidency at a major electronic testing device manufacturer because the CEO’s bonus depended on the company operating at a 10% loss and who single-handedly programmed a materials processing system in dBase II and developed a SuperCalc (a former competitor to Excel) app to determine how to optimize the cut-outs of linking strips from standard sheets of aluminum in order to minimize waste. He was the only techno-freak I ever knew who actually had a healthy and balanced relationship to technology.

And thanks for the link to the article, John. So, yeah, I’d be up for another go at this one at some point.


Wow, there’s so much reading on tap. I’ve got to sit down and relax with some of these papers. I read Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was a teenager, I think. I’d surely get a lot more out of it now; I remember close to nothing. I do like mechanics; it is just so satisfying when something works, does what it is supposed to, whether that’s a poem, a bicycle, or a chunk of code. We could argue about what machines are supposed to do.

That is really the issue: our goals, desires, purposes. In my experience, people, we, usually get what we wish for, one way or another, for better and worse, eventually. Exactly how we do so might be a secondary matter. Then again, our means are not necessarily neutral. Moreover, all art is technological. Some artists embrace certain devices, others resist. The meaning is aesthetic ultimately, as I see it, though it is not mere preference. The quality of our relationship with technology, as with the virtual generally, could be a matter of life and death, liberty or bondage.

We have also thought about this in terms of dependency paths, the progression from rock to spear to bow and arrow… it keeps coming up. The technosphere looms over our lives; it invades everything. But what is it, really? I believe we have a generational opportunity to reimagine the human in the light of a multiple historical and cosmic, as well as unreal, scales. It is a thankless and almost impossible task. Maybe we are up for it.

Does anyone have thoughts about what we might explore on Thursday, the 6th of January (2022)? That would be the first Thursday of the month and I would love to begin with something pithy, poignant, and potent, perhaps even poetic.

Thanks, @johnnydavis54, for sharing your canine-friendly dreams. I call myself a dog/god lover, and I am sure Mooby occupies a dogged part of my soul and always will (we just received her ashes today); and I am not surprised that we would be connecting on that imaginal level.


I want to dedicate the next wave of impossible dreaming to a new civilization that values the survival of the wittiest. Dreams will be the royal road to that realization.

In last night’s dreamspace I turn lucid. I rub my hands together and know I am dreaming. How to make best use of this lucidity? I put my hands on the ground and bless the earth. A man who is above me says." You need to drop your attention into your hips and pelvis."

Then I am in a room with Marco and with many others re-designing a social space that is happening in a huge high rise, with big windows, over looking vast city panoramas. A very Atlantean like city unfolds majestically below and beyond. I dislike some of the furnishings within the space that are out dated and try to make my preferences known. We all get to work. I get on my knees with a bucket of water and clean floors, I go down to the basement with an electrician and do some re-wiring. Back to the upper floors where a body of water floats in the corner of the room, a body of water that holds a shape but that has no definite material that holds its shape. Some how we do this with our minds, through vibrations, light, sound and subtle symbolic formations .

I brought with me to this reading through Susanne Langer’s text a desire to play with frames, to create them and to break them and to make new frames. That actually happened. Thank you.

The writer is within her world. The various readers are gathered in a different world from hers and a different world from one another. We are within a Digital Age, just getting started. She was at the begining of the Cold War era.

A mental set is a willingness to respond in a certain way. There is an opposition during shifting mental sets in changing situations. These oppositions can produce different kinds of pleasures, different kinds of tortures.

The Rabbi and the Pope. I don’t like jokes with a pre-given punch line. I enjoy humor with both verbal and non verbal shifts in tone, gesture and tempos. Wit is the ability to apply humor to changing circumstances. Having said that I enjoyed sharing the joke in the forum even though everyone was muted and there was no laughter. Heard laughter is better than a sound track but unheard laughter from muted boxes in cyberspace is perhaps all that we have of the grounded audiences with long memories, that are fading away into oblivion and techno bubbles.

How can we have wit without real voices and real punch lines happening within a shared meta-attention? And the capacity to hold tensions between sensoriums long enough for something interesting to happen? It’s a sense of timing. We are, as a culture, running out of this most ineffable commodity.

" It is difficult to think of information we have no names for, and in our thinking we can’t go far beyond what we can speak about. We attempt to communicate the bare events of our dreams but not its affective burden, the rich pre-categorical information that infuses them. Poetry attempts to overcome these limitations." Ruevan Tzur

Altered states, trance, dreams, poetry, drawings, hueristics, and weird stuff disturbs our mental sets but aalso creates pleasure if done on purpose. I would prefer that we don’t have a rush to line up readings too far in advance. So, maybe an open frame might be useful at the start of the year so that those who particiate can reflect upon our reflections and ponder the depths of a future time that we want to share. What will our moods be like on January 6, 2022 ?

Maybe we should do this live. I don’t know that writing in this box is the right way to do this planning phase that the future requires, that rides upon moods beneath a surface structure. We need vocies and faces not writing to do this kind of re-categorizing, and re-percieving, which happens in a pause, a gesture, and hides in the background until summoned by an active agentic force seeking consummation.

Happy New Year everyone! Stay strong.



That is a good question. I suppose we’ll find out…

Free-form could be a good way to start the year, and it is a good time for dreaming. I might be curious to hear everyone’s dream reports, and I would like to explore new frames of time. Where are we when we are not in 2021 or 2022 but in a quality of time? What will be novel and creative in our time?

David Foster Wallace imagined that our calendar would be put up for sale for corporate branding. “Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment,” “Year of Glad,” “Year of the Trial-Sized Love Bar,” & c. I wonder how you might name the new year, if you could, and why? And what kind of time frames are we working and dwelling with in our relative and absolute lives? How’s everyone’s progress coming on their ships of death? And what calls for thinking from the sphere of trans-tragic time? Is the Singularity still near?

Merry Xmas, everyone. Thanks for another engaging and nourishing year. Peace and goodwill to all. I pray that you are healthy and feel relaxed, and have good company, with plenty to eat and drink, and some left over to share, too. :christmas_tree:


Seasons greetings!

This conversation has a will of its own.

One moving away from the symbolism at play in the meaning (or the means by which we can see the sign & acknowledge our signifier) supplied by Langer; to a possible singularity of Human integration (a simpatico state of Being within the virtual) within a particular technological future. And now to a possibly imagined future state, in which we define that which ought to matter most in order to hold onto ourselves.

From my outsider position, I think this can become a vast and complex task to find a singular text to cover all and the possible in an ever-expanding topic base. But an option that may be beneficial would be to go over an article or graduate thesis to share the main concerns of our cohort regarding where we should focus our attention next.

Suppose we each listed one article or graduate thesis (under 20 pages): Academia is an excellent place to review papers that could speak to your concern.

In that case, we can each shine a light on our crucial point of contention or need for reflection. We may see new insight into each other’s concerns and crowdsource a shared direction of which topic/text would next satisfy our infinite curiosity.


And from an outsider position, (and this convesation has a will of its own) is there anything else about this conversation with a will of its own?

From my position as an insider/outsider it feels like a wild beast that needs to calm down. Once I had the pleasure of working in an animal shelter with dogs who had been mistreated. Junk yard dogs, fierce alpha males, who could deal with a human but would attack any other dog. The task was how to socialize these animals who were suffering from post-traumatic stress and were unable to co-regulate? Breaking up the fights was dangerous. You could get a finger bitten off! Although I never succeeded in my task to socialize these traumatized animals I had bonding moments with them individually. When they trusted you, they turned from a ferocious monster, to an innocent puppy.

I also worked downtown in a nursery for spoiled lap dogs who tore up the house when the family was gone. My first day they were all over the place. I established authority by taking a broom and striking the floor with it. They got quiet and payed attention. I then sat on a stool , closed my eyes and went into a meditative state. When I opened my eyes, to my surprise, they were all lined up against the wall on either side of me , with their eyes closed. I allowed each one of them to take turns sitting on my lap. The owner walked into the nursery and was shocked by the silence. I was a bit shocked by it as well. I have rarely found an ashram experience of such depth.

I let them get wild but when they attacked each other, I raised the broom and they got quiet. I never punished an animal or used violence although they knew I could. Affection was mutual.

I share these vibrations as I’m aware that many of us are experiencing disconnects and lockdowns while this culture runs amok. I am confident that each of us can co-regulate in group efforts, I’m sure that we will find a project that is just right for us at this time . It might be useful at the next Cafe on the 6th to reflect more on Langer and put last years turbulent Cafes into perspective and add papers, articles, books, and unexpressed obsessions onto the imaginal table inviting a shared desired outcome. You mentioned creativity, Ewere, giving voice to a value that we all share.

And dealing with that wild beast, the hungry intellect. I’m rehearsing in my own mind some questions for the self-reflexive groupmind. And when a creative mood, that’s like what?


That is interesting that you share about that experience with both “Junk Yard” and “Penthouse” dogs, @johnnydavis54. That’s just how our Mooby was; she was intensely loyal, inherently proud—an alpha female—but also unpredictable and aggressive, with other dogs particularly.

Mooby only brooked certain puppy personalities and was compatible with some canine chemistries, but not others. Going for walks, we’d keep her on a leash and could never get near any other dogs. She would lunge and snarl if any other dogs got too close. She literally flunked out of the doggie daycare we tried to leave her at once, so we could take a family trip. She had attacked another small dog (even though we warned them to be very careful if they let her out with other dogs). They gave us her report card when we picked her up, grading various aspects of her behavior, such as sociability, obedience, eating, and so on. They would consider taking her back only if we got massive rehabilitation and retraining done.

But Mooby loved humans and kids and was the cuddly and fun to be with, a noble personality, and she would often snooze beside me while I meditated. And she got along gaily (with a couple scary, bloody exceptions) with her companion for over a decade, Particle Dog, an extremely jittery and sometimes exasperating, but ultimately lovable rat terrier. Both dogs came from shelters and their pasts are unknown but likely involved neglect and abuse, a lot of time living in cages, getting transported to unknown places, punished and rewarded, with all the indignities of even the most humane treatment, not to mention the truly cruel and inhumane, which makes the blood rise to even think of it.

Well, over the weekend, I did start reading that survey of the philosophy of creativity, which you posted earlier, @edoubleoo. It is a very readable and sure-handed text, which gives good deal of food for thought—to think about how we think about creativity—in a manner distinct from but drawing on the psychology of creativity, which is a more pervasive, yet corporately diluted field.

The question of whether creativity is a virtue is interesting, though I don’t think too hard. (Obviously, it depends…) The distinctions between creativity, originality, and discovery are even more interesting to me, and I think could help us think about the relationships between art, science, and AI. But I am most curious about and attracted to the author’s theory of creativity based on a notion of agency. That would connect with one of the salient themes that emerged in our last talk on Langer. It also connects with what I see as one of the main purposes or drivers of Cosmos as a cooperative, which has to do with developing collective agency through creative praxis.

In any event, I’ll have read that piece along with whatever else I have time for, and I’ve also read the Big History piece (let’s not forget myth and history), and I’ve had McLuhan and Bergson’s ideas floating around my intellectual orbit, along with other, adjacent possibilities. I am also thinking about the metaphors we use for creativity. Poincaré, as Berys Gaut references, writes about creativity as swarming of thought. Other thinkers, artists, and scientists prefer the rhythms of walking, lovemaking, or war…

It would also be interesting to consider the different levels, scales, or circumstances in which creativity could be a virtue or a vice. And what kind of creativity could we bring to the next Café? And to this next year in inquiries, experiments, resesarch, and projects? Whither agency? And what can we carry forward from the past which allows something new from the future to emerge? How does creative time work? And does the Cosmos have a will of its own?

What is the creator