Pascal Michon

Elements of Rhythmology vol. 3 – Preface

The Spread of Metron from the 1840s to the 1910s

Article publié le 16 March 2019

Pour citer cet article : Pascal Michon , « Elements of Rhythmology vol. 3 – Preface , The Spread of Metron from the 1840s to the 1910s », Rhuthmos, 16 March 2019 [en ligne].
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This book is the third installment of a series that aims to cover the whole history of the concept of rhythm in the West. The first volume has dealt with the history of rhythm in Antiquity. It has uncovered the intricate and conflictive development of three theoretical prototypes: the Democritean physical, the Platonic metric, and the Aristotelian poetic paradigms. It has also thrown light on the progressive erasure of the physical and poetic paradigms, the victory of the idealist-metric paradigm in the last centuries of Antiquity, and its subsequent domination during the Middle Ages.

The second volume was principally meant to bring to light the reemergence between 1750 and 1900, thanks to a series of poets, artists and philosophers, of the two paradigms which had vanished at the end of the previous era and to evaluate the consequences of their reintroduction into Western culture—as well as their still largely unexploited potential for renewal. Consequently, the investigation on the subsequent spread of the Platonic paradigm was limited to two particular fields and periods of great significance for Western history: first, medicine, then life science, from the middle of the 16th century to the end of the 19th century; second, poetic metric and idealist philosophy during the first three decades of the 19th century. The first series of evidence that I was able to gather showed that these medical, scientific, metric, and philosophical fields have been instrumental in the transmission of the ancient and medieval Platonic model to the Moderns and its perpetuation till the 19th century. However I could not go any further.

Nowadays, the Platonic paradigm has become so pervasive and so perfectly adequate with the recent fluidization of our world, that we badly need to understand how it succeeded in reaching such a dominant position in our culture. The research presented in this volume has been mostly motivated by this observation. It will follow the main channels which were instrumental in this expansion. After 1840, the metric model of rhythm experienced a dramatic development first through a line of disciplines pertaining to natural science. From medicine, it penetrated during the 1840s and 1850s into physiology, and between the 1870s and the 1890s, in two distinct waves, into psychology. Concurrently, it spread into a second line pertaining to aesthetics. From architecture, sculpture and painting, where it had been variously used since the Renaissance, it entered in the 1840s into art history, where it steadily grew in popularity, before becoming a subject of fierce debate in the 1890s and 1900s, and finally a commonplace in most disciplines dealing with fine arts between 1900 and 1914. Lastly, from the 1890s—thus quite late compared to the two previous cases—it penetrated into the emerging social science where it was translated, either from physiology, music, or sometimes poetry, into economics, sociology, and anthropology. By 1914, the Platonic metric paradigm had clearly gotten the upper hand over a large section of the scientific life.

Although there is a kind of strong Platonic family resemblance between all scientific discourses collected in this essay, I have been vigilant, though, not to reduce them to already known features and to meticulously retrace each of their particular ways to address the issue of rhythm. I have also been careful to identify the numerous crisscrossing influences between these disciplines, as well as between them and the artistic practices that had traditionally maintained the use of the notion of rhythm. As in previous volumes, to avoid the all-too-common flimsiness of lot of contemporary essays based on vague comments of scarce empirical evidence, I have willingly provided the reader with long citations that I have often translated or re-translated myself for better accuracy and conceptual homogeneity. [1]

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[1To make it more comfortable for the reader, I translated the titles of the works I surveyed into English but, for the sake of a greater clarity, I provided the dates and the page numbers in the original version even when I used other scholars’ translations.

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