The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World
From our first ABCs to the Book of Revelation’s statement that Jesus is “the Alpha and Omega,” we see the world through our letters. More than just a way of writing, the alphabet is a powerful concept that has shaped Western civilization and our daily lives. In The Letter and the Cosmos, Laurence de Looze probes that influence, showing how the alphabet has served as a lens through which we conceptualize the world and how the world, and sometimes the whole cosmos, has been perceived as a kind of alphabet itself. Beginning with the ancient Greeks, he traces the use of alphabetic letters and their significance from Plato to postmodernism, offering a fascinating tour through Western history.
A sharp and entertaining examination of how languages, letterforms, orthography, and writing tools have reflected our hidden obsession with the alphabet, The Letter and the Cosmos is illustrated with copious examples of the visual and linguistic phenomena which de Looze describes. Read it, and you’ll never look at the alphabet the same way again.
- Division: Scholarly Publishing
- World Rights
- Page Count: 288 pages
- Illustrations: 52
- Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.7in x 9.0in
"This book’s clear style and helpful illustrations make it engaging for specialists and non-specialists alike…[It] offers an insightful and valuable account of how the alphabet has been understood historically, from the Greeks to the present day, and in contrast to other writing systems."
David Watt, University of Manitoba
University of Toronto Quarterly, vol 87 3, Summer 2018
‘The Letter and the Cosmos makes a positive contribution not only for specialists searching for an excellent sweeping over view, but general readers who want a fun read that they cannot put down and from which they will gain insights. Highly recommended.’
David B. Levy
Canadian Journal of History - vol 53:01:2018
‘The Letter and the Cosmos is hugely stimulating to read… This is a wide ranging, consistently engaging work of synthetic scholarship from which no one will fail to come away enriched.’
Robert J. Mayhew
Journal of Historical Geography vol 58:2017
“The Letter and the Cosmos is a groundbreaking and enjoyable read about the role played by the alphabet in Western culture. Laurence de Looze’s remarkable ability to synthesise and explain, with clarity and elegance, complex situations and ideas makes the reader wonder why it has not been addressed before. The considerable challenge of encompassing centuries of Western culture has been met with much grace and marks an important contribution to the field.”
Madeline Jeay, Department of French, McMaster University
“This study is a synthesis of erudition and curiosity that manages to capture the reader’s interest with its lucid and straightforward style. Never before has the subject, on how the alphabet conditions perception in Western culture, been addressed with such scope.”
Laura Kendrick, Institut d'Etudes Culturelles et Internationales, Université de Versailles / Paris-Saclay
Author InformationLaurence de Looze is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Western Ontario.
Table of contents
Ancient Greek Letters
Latin Letters and the Enduring Influence of Roman Scripts
The Letters of Humanism
Baroque Variations and the Search for a Universal Language
Logical Letters: The Alphabet in the Age of Reason
The Alphabets of the Industrialized World
From Modern Experiments to Post-Modern Experiences
Into the New Millennium
Subjects and Courses