The Memory of Whiteness

by Kim Stanley Robinson
Reviewed date: 2006 Jan 12
Rating: 1
351 pages
cover art

Plot synopsis: Johannes Wright, ninth Master of Holywelkin's Orchestra, embarks on his grand tour. His concerts on each of the solar system's inhabited moons and planets are the highlight not just of the artistic community but of society at large. But despite his fame, Wright finds himself the target of an assassination attempt. Investigations indicate that the plot against Wright is connected with a mysterious religious cult: the Greys. The Greys trace their religion back to before the rise of Mithraism, and they claim to have the ability to change the laws of physics. Meanwhile, Johannes Wright studies his music--which he believes to be the only true expression of truth--and unravels the mysteries of the universe through music.

Reactions: It was difficult to determine precisely how much The Memory of Whiteness sucks, but I did it. There is no redeeming value in an impressionistic novel that spends 351 pages promulgating the lie that music is the purest expression of truth in the universe. Robinson even suggest that the universe can be expressed in music:

Music was the clearest and most powerful analogy because it came closest to pure idea. And the universe was a sort of music of ideas. So that it was more than an analogy; it ignoring the vast difference in magnitudes, there was an identity there. The universe was a music of ideas. And he could write that music.

Music does not come "closest to pure idea." Language comes closest to pure idea. If music truly came closest to pure idea then Robinson would have written a symphony. That he wrote a novel is evidence of the falseness of his claims.

Further, Robinson spends page after page pondering the way music expresses human experience. For example:

All possible manifestations of human experience may be expressed in music, but always in their form only. You might say that music expresses the soul of experience, not the body. This deep relation that music has to the true nature of things makes it a language capable of the most distinct and accurate description of the universe.

What Robinson fails to address is that humans experience the universe only through their bodies. To say that music "expresses the soul of experience, not the body" is a misunderstanding the nature of experience. There can be no experience without a body.

The Memory of Whiteness rates a 1 out of 5. I read online that it is "sadly out of print." There is no sadly about it.

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