David Rothenberg: Survival of the Beautiful

Elephant art

Ian Gibbins


Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution
by David Rothenberg
Bloomsbury Press, $32.99 pb, 320 pp, 9781408828823


David Rothenberg’s formal appellation at the New Jersey Institute of Technology is Professor of Philosophy and Music. He refers to himself as a ‘musician, composer, author and philosopher-naturalist’. Others have called him an ‘interspecies musician’. Rothenberg, a highly regarded jazz saxophonist and clarinettist, has published a range of books on science, technology, and music. But an ‘interspecies musician’? Much of Rothenberg’s fame stems from his improvised duets with ‘singing’ animals: whales (Whale Music, 2008), birds (Why Birds Sing, 2005) and even cicadas (see YouTube). With this background, Rothenberg is well credentialled to tackle a problem that lies at the heart of the apparent divide between science and the arts: what is beauty? Why do we find much birdsong beautiful? More critically, what do the birds themselves hear in these products of their evolutionary history? Can mere animals experience some kind of aesthetic sense, a sense of ‘beauty’?

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Published in March 2012, no. 339
Ian Gibbins

Ian Gibbins

Ian Gibbins is a poet, electronic musician, and video artist, having been a neuroscientist for more than thirty years and Professor of Anatomy for twenty of them. His poetry covers diverse styles and media, including electronic music, video, performance, art exhibitions, and public installations, and has been widely published in print and online, along with three books: Urban Biology (2012); The Microscope Project: How things work (2014) and Floribunda (2015), the last two in collaboration with visual artists. He also has a key role in organising the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.

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