The philosophy of William James can be useful in the interpretation of works of art, although James himself never specifically set forth an aesthetic theory. As an example, a Jamesian view of consciousness is enacted on multiple levels in Charles Ives's Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840–60,” and the accompanying Essays before a Sonata. James's metaphor for the working of the human mind—a view widely circulated in Ives's day—as a “stream of thought,” the largely transitory movement of which James likened to a bird's flights and perchings; the value James finds in vagueness; and his treatment of the nature of truth as fundamentally mutable and provisional all find musical expression in the “Concord” Sonata. Additionally, the complex genealogy of the sonata and its connection to related works, notably the Fourth and Universe Symphonies, can be interpreted as reflecting James's cosmological vision of a pluralistic universe or “multiverse.” Reading the sonata through a Jamesian lens provides new insights into the behavior of Ives's music by relating it to turn-of-the-century thinking about the functioning of the human brain as well as early-twentieth-century American philosophy and cosmology.
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