On philosophical tetralogy: in response.
It is so easy to pass into the intellectual world of Hegel's das geistige Tierreich, his "spiritual 'zoo'" in which the professors pretend to have interest in each other's work, "but actually their eagerness to come and help was itself nothing else but a desire to see and exhibit their own action." Hegel says they are "just like naughty boys who enjoy themselves when they get their ears boxed because they are the cause of its being done." Vico connects this to the wider state of modern society, in which we live in "a deep solitude of spirit and will, scarcely any two being able to agree since each follows his own pleasure or caprice." The conversations that may have taken place among the ancients were no longer possible, once Descartes had set the agenda of the solitary thinker caught within the "I think." All need for the agora was gone, once Kant incorporated Descartes' insight into the barren world of the Understanding, in which the knower can apprehend representations as my representations and "so can comprehend them as synthetically combined in one apperception through the general expression, 'I think.'"
To open my part of the conversation, I wish to give some views of where my thoughts stand, mid-course, thoughts that I have not before brought together, as such, in my published writings. This will, perhaps, be a help to the reader who knows some of my work, or to those who do not know it at all. Then I will turn to direct responses to each of the essays. The reader will note that I am speaking of a tetralogy--of four authors. I have introduced this idea in my autobiographical picture. The reader will also note that the essays concern only three of my four authors--Hegel, Vico, and Cassirer. My fourth author is Joyce. I am not an expert on Joyce; he exists as a sub-theme in much of my thought and teaching. In the comments that follow I will try to explain how Joyce fits in.
In all aspects of self-knowledge one needs a guide, and in trying to explain myself now, I choose Vico as my guide.
Vico spoke in Neapolitan and wrote in Latin and in Tuscan, the language that became what is now known as Italian. Vico lived all his life, and died, in Naples, in the middle of the system of streets that cuts through the city, spaccanapoli. He was born in via San Biagio dei Librai, the street of Saint Blasius of the booksellers. Naples is a palimpsest, a tablet written over many times, with the erasures from each time still showing through, below each current architectural word, each arrangement of stones.
Vico left Naples only once, to tutor children of the Rocca family in their castle at Vatolla, in the mountains of the Cilento, south of Naples, a three-day carriage ride. There, at the age of eighteen, reading under the trees, Vico became an autodidact, working his way through the library of the nearby convent, Santa Maria della Pieta. While there, on learning of the stigmatization and subsequent imprisonment by the Inquisition of three of his friends, he decided on a lifelong plan to befriend the church authorities.
Although he sometimes traveled between Vatolla, Naples, and Portici during the nine years spent in the Cilento, Vico returned finally, in biblical fashion, to his native city as "a stranger in his own land." He awoke to find that his attachment to eloquence and the humanist ideal of putting wisdom into words had not changed, but that all his surroundings had become a barbarism of the intellect, of reflection and flattery (which is the language of reflection, applied socially). Great thoughts and great speech had disappeared into the medium of Cartesianism, and Aristotelian metaphysics, as he reports, had become a laughing-stock; everyone was concerned to be up-todate, instead of erudite and eloquent. Self-knowledge was abandoned for theory, a condition that has persisted until our own day. The philosopher, under these modern conditions, need educate himself in only a few things--principally, what has just been discovered and declared. All sense of origin is put aside. The past becomes unintelligible and of little use, even as a source. Greatness of mind becomes a rarity, recognized, if at all, as folly or as "odd ideas."
In describing his education, in his autobiography, Vico designates four authors who were the most basic sources shaping his mature thought. He comes to each of these through separate circumstances. Although these circumstances give the appearance that Vico arrives at each by accident, they are part of the providential order that directs the genesis of his thought. Vico's four authors are Plato, Tacitus, Bacon, and Grotius. They are two pagans and two heretics. These four fall into two groups: Ancients (Plato and Tacitus) and Moderns (Bacon and Grotius). Each of these pairs also mirrors Vico's distinction between the philosophical and philological. In the Scienza nuova, Vico claims that philosophy must undertake to examine philology. Plato and Bacon each stand to Tacitus and Grotius, respectively, as philosophical to philological.
In presenting his four authors, Vico relates the occasions that led him to discover each and to make each a basis of his thought, but he does not explain why he has these particular four authors, or why he has four authors and not more or less. In presenting them as his authors, Vico has arranged the source of his mature thought as a tetrad.
"Tetralogy" in Greek originally is a term used in oratory, to refer to a group of speeches (logoi) that are delivered in a law suit. In the law courts of Athens, in some cases, the accused and the accuser each were allowed two speeches. Tetralogy is connected with the Attic orator Antiphon (c. 480-411 B.C.), famous as a logographer, writing speeches for others. The rhetorical exercise of writing tetralogies shows the sophistic art of arguing, not from the evidence of witnesses, but on the probabilities of the case.
As professor of Latin eloquence, Vico may intend that his tetrad of authors are his logographers, the writers of his own speech. His aim, as he states it in the Study Methods, is to consider the advantages of both the Ancients and the Moderns. In this case the speaker is the Civil Wisdom (who, Vico says, the Egyptians formed as the imaginative universal, Hermes Trismegistus) of the Ancients, whose two speeches are those of Plato and Tacitus. They present the speeches of the accused. The speeches of the accuser are those of the modern conceivers of civil wisdom. Bacon and Grotius, unlike Descartes and Locke, are moderns who grasp the wisdom of the Ancients in modern terms. Vico's speech is that of the "Ancient-modern," the virtuous pagan who acknowledges the truth claims of each. Vico's speech combines all four corners of the tetrad--the vertical movement between the philosophical and philological, and the horizontal movement between ancient and modern. Vico's Scienza nuova might be called the speech of the tetrad.
The speech of the tetrad, once identified, is an instruction to anyone who would follow Vico's advice to the reader of the Scienza nuova: to meditate and to narrate (meditare, narrare) the science to himself. This is the proof, Vico says, that governs this science (regna in questa Scienza). The proof of this science depends upon imitation and upon repetition in the act of imitation. Vico asks the reader to don the mask of his science. Imitation here does not mean the production of a mere copy. To accomplish the act of proof of the science requires that the Vichian scientist make his own version of the tetrad. In this proof Vico becomes one of the new set of four authors from which the process of Vichian thought can go forward. It is an invitation to the thinker to remake the science.
The tetrad is by nature dialogic; it has an oppositional structure. In it there is the potential of the dialogue form, with the four thinkers as speakers. But the dialogue as a form of philosophy is gone with the Ancients. Theirs was a world in which the spoken word had a true reality. That reality was based on the strong presence of memory in intellectual and civil affairs, as well as in the recitations of the rhapsodes. Something said could not disappear, as it does in modern speech. Something said could make its imprint on memory, and achieve permanence in the common powers of memory that any community of speakers shared. But modern philosophy, born in the reality of doubt, begins in the fallibility of memory. Significant speech can live only in the written and published text. The makers of myths, like children, excel in strong and robust memory. The modern truthseeker requires the memory of the published page, the published results of the scientific thinkers.
Within the dialogic conversation of questions and answers of ancient thinkers is the narrative, often appearing as the retelling of a myth or of the experience of a hero. This narrative survives among the moderns as history, and as the rhetoric of examples, among formulators of scientific theories. The narrative becomes the form of modern philosophy, at the hand of Descartes, because it fits the form of the cogito as something speaking to itself. The narrative, in the mouth of Descartes, is a feigned speech because it is not an act of memory; it is not like the retelling of a myth in philosophical terms. Descartes' speech is feigned because it is in actuality a speech that masks what is in truth a conceptual progression; it is not a history of the human reality that underlies this progression of logical points.
Narration, like dialogue, is lost to the modern because the truth of story is lost; the belief in the reality of the myth, the fable, is not possible once the world has been made intelligible through doubt and the quest for certainty. Narration alone is not possible as the form of modern philosophy because it is only half of the ancient Socratic form of philosophizing, always requiring question and answer as its prelude and aftermath. Thus the form of philosophy, for the modern who wishes to recapture the original aim of self-knowledge, can be neither dialogic nor poetic. The narration must be connected with meditation. Meditation stands in the place of the Ancients' use of the dialogue.
Meditation is the act, not of moving through the world, as is achieved by narration; it is the act of fixing the mind on what is true about something within what can be narrated. Narration combined with meditation produces the form of the oration. Ratio, the proper listing of things, cannot stand on its own. It can take on the form of philosophical truth only when it enters into a bond with narratio and oratio. The addition of meditative thought to the narrative thought produces the oration.
In the oration the narrative is fixed around certain points. For the modern seeker, the source of ancient self-knowledge is to formulate ideas in terms of the oration. The oration is the natural form of rhetorical and jurisprudential thought. The philosopher becomes a speaker in the theatre of the world, or in the theatre of the law court, of the Republic of Letters; therein ideas are to be judged, both rhetorically and rationally. The oration is recaptured from the Greeks and Latins by the Renaissance thinkers, especially from the Latin formulators of the Greek traditions. The oration is the natural form of self-knowledge, the form through which its truths can be brought out within the modern world.
In connection with the oration as the form of self-knowledge, the letter must also be considered, for the letter is also a way of speaking. The history of letters runs from the Ancients, from the letters of Pliny the Younger, and those of Cicero to Atticus, to Renaissance letters, such as Petrarch's Letter to Posterity. As Count Lodovico says, in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier: "It is my belief that writing is nothing other than a kind of speech which remains in being after it has been uttered, the representation, as it were, or rather the very life of our words. ... So surely the rule is that what is proper in writing is also proper in speaking; and the finest speech resembles the finest writing." In orations we need only think of the influential Oration on the Dignity of Man, by Pico della Mirandola, which was written to be spoken. In humane letters, speaking is the scene of writing, whether it be in the tradition of the letter, which is meant to be a public document, or in the eloquent tradition that follows the definition by Quintilian of eloqui: "for the verb eloqui means the production and communication to the audience of all that the speaker has conceived in his mind, and without this power all the preliminary accomplishments of oratory are as useless as a sword that is kept permanently concealed within its sheath" (Inst. orat. VIII, pr. 15-16).
The oration and the letter are the parents of the essay, such as those formulated by Montaigne, his Essais. The written oration is a speech imagined and spoken on the page. An essay in its true form has this sense of presence of the author's voice to convey. The modern conception of the "article" or "paper" is a degenerate form of what begins in the Renaissance as the recovery of the oration from the ancient world. The article or paper aims at the anonymity of the author for the reader; it is a work that could be written by anyone. All style has been removed by professional training or by the universal principles of copyediting, or both, so that thought begins to speak in a universal voice. The article or paper eschews narratio and reduces oratio as much as possible to ratio--the production of an ordered set of points and evidences. Here eloquence--that ideal of a whole put into language--has no place. When eloquence is lost, then so is wisdom (eloquence being understood by the Ancients as "wisdom that speaks"), and, with the loss of wisdom, prudence is lost (prudence being that wisdom that becomes naturally "civil," that enters human actions and is distinctive of the citizen). In the article or the paper, thought becomes unwise and unlearned; thought loses the sense of the whole. It loses the powers of digression and epiphany, and the unexpected connection, presented in an ingenious detail. Ratio is allowed into human language without a keeper.
With ratio in the foreground comes the absence of passion. The rational anonymity of the article-paper makes it passionless; the reader sees only the skeleton of reason, an X-ray vision that leaves only the faint outlines of the body of the living words, that are each full of their own past meanings, each word remaining ambiguous and requiring erudition by the reader. The hollow reader examines the X ray for defects. The oration is an embodiment of passion because it wishes to move the reader toward intellectual or moral virtue, to produce insight, to have the self confront the self. The philosophical oration takes the reader back to the first wisdom of the seven Sages, gnothi seauton--Know thyself. The self, through its power of language, attempts to enter itself, its own reality. Self-knowledge requires passion. The oration, as a form of self-knowledge, involves both animus and anima--it requires both tongue and heart.
Among the moderns, the orality of memory exists no more; thought is owned by the written word. We moderns must recover the word as active. The reader can recreate the text, by the same principles by which it was composed. Vico speaks of a threefold method of reading--to read first for the meaning of the whole of the work, then to read to grasp its transitions, and finally to read to absorb its manner of expression. This way of reading corresponds to the three phases of composition of an oration--inventio (the discovery of materials), dispositio (their arrangement), elocutio (their formulation in language). In this way the reader recomposes what the author has said and enters the author's world, the inner writing of the author's thought. Such reading is based on imitation and on repetition--the two great principles of real learning. A true oration, full of passion, moves the reader's passion. Once moved, the reader's passion seeks its own object. The economy of this production is governed by prudence. So moves the Republic of Letters within itself. It is never far removed from the world of civil wisdom; in that republic, what is needed for citizenship is found.
To remake the science the reader requires his own voices. One of these, for me, must be Vico himself. The reader's speech, like Vico's, takes place under the condition of the barbarism of reflection, and the purpose of the speech is to free the reader from the conditions of reflection. Reflection is unsuitable as a mode of philosophical knowledge of the human world because it must treat the human world as an object, toward which thought can be sent and then returned--reflected. Reflective thinking is a false form of self-knowledge. Reflection acts as though the inner being of the knower can be reached by the self forming a concept of its being--by the self simply turning its conceptual powers of thought back upon itself. In this, the self takes itself as no more than an object, to be fixed in thought. It does not enter its own inner reality.
Self-knowledge, which is the opposite of reflection, requires that the self speak out the being of its inner life--to put into language its own reality. Reflection makes us think of a mirror of thought. With this mirror, thought reflects the surface of an object, that is there to be seen, both in its immediacy and as a reflection of thought. Speculation--a word that I wish to associate with self-knowledge--is a mirror of a different sort. Speculum is a mirror that allows us to see what otherwise we could not see at all. Specio, speculare is to spy out, to see what otherwise is not to be seen. In the speech of self-knowledge, the nature of the self, seen unveiled, is revealed, not reflected upon.
In the speculative speech of self-knowledge, the self is present, in a mask. The oration the self makes is an attempt to reveal its own nature to itself. In true speech, there is the attempt to see within the mask--to spy out what is truly there, making the words. In reflective speech, the self is an object that is immediately apprehended, and that then must be formed in thought. In speculative speech, the self is present both immediately and mediately in its speech, in the way that the face is present in the mask. The good eye is required to see both at once, and in their own dialectical relationship. Reflection is useless in this process of self-knowing; all it can do is to seek the appearance that it then wishes to form with its powers of conception. Reflection is critical philosophy, seeking the principles of right reason to sort out the appearance from the thought, the certain from the uncertain. Speculation is topical philosophy, seeking the beginning points that will produce a true speech. Without the true speech, all criticism is blind.
The reader who has absorbed Vico's sense of self-knowledge in an age of barbarism must make a speech that contrasts the lost origin against the present condition. Such a speech is one of the ancients against the moderns, more specifically, of how to balance the one against the other. To speak simply on behalf of the ancients is to engage in intellectual nostalgia, and to speak only in a modern way is simply to be in the present. Barbarians believe only in the present; antiquarians believe only in the past. The modern seeker of self-knowledge must have logographers who have balanced the origin against the present. They must be thinkers who have mastered the interrelations between mythos and logos. Mythos loves the origin and logos loves what has moved out and forward from the origin. Logographers must begin their love of wisdom with verbum, not res, with the primacy of the word over the thing: the word is the access to being.
My tetrad of logographers has taken a good twenty years to discover; and they are Hegel, Cassirer; Vico, Joyce. With each is associated a particular work. Hegel and Cassirer are heroes of the logos. Each has attempted to make logos into myth, to move from verbum as logos to verbum as mythos. Hegel is the hero of the concept as internally full of motion, as a device of dialectic and speculation--Hegel's so-called "concrete universal" or Begriff. His work is Phanomenologie des Geistes. Here the conceptual sense of logos lives through the appearance. Cassirer is the hero of the symbol--the attempt to make the concrete concept a true cultural phenomenon through the device of symbolic form. His main work is Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Hegel and Cassirer are moderns who attempt to approach the origin through logos.
Vico and Joyce are heroes of mythos. They attempt to recreate the origin, not simply to begin from it. They incorporate some of the reality of the origin into their thought. Vico is a hero of the universale fantastico, of the trope of the metaphor, the master key to his science. His work is the Scienza nuova. Here mythos holds sway in intellectual language. Joyce is a hero of the epiphany (Latinized Greek: epiphania), achieved through the trope of irony. His work is Finnegans Wake, in which language is manipulated to allow a vision of language itself, the common sense (sensus communis) of humanity, that underlies all particular languages. Joyce's work is a series of epiphanies, of "showings" of the divine or unseen.
Vico's tetrad was:
Plato Bacon Tacitus Grotius
These are ordered according to Vico's philosophical-philological method. Plato and Bacon are on the philosophical side, and Tacitus and Grotius are on the philological side. Complete thought requires both sides of the speech, and it requires both pairs, as it must encompass the balance of ancients and moderns.
My tetrad is:
Hegel Vico Cassirer Joyce
They are ordered in pairs, from general to particular. Thus Hegel's Begriff is made more specific by Cassirer, in his notion of the symbol. The symbol is an embodiment of the Begriff as a cultural agent. Vico's universale fantastico is formulated by Vico as an idea, a way to take thought back to its origin in the mental language of the body (mente corpo linguaggio). Joyce's ironic and epiphanous use of language is an attempt to write the reader back to the language of universali fantastici, to allow the reader to experience, through breaks in language, the original insights of human language. Joyce attempts actually to create a language of universali fantastici in our modern world of reflection.
What governs all four is: that "the True is the whole" (Hegel) and that "the whole is the flower of wisdom" (Vico), that "self-knowledge is the highest aim of philosophical inquiry" (Cassirer), and that the key to self-knowledge is what is "fabled by the daughters of memory" (Joyce).
There is a second conception of tetralogy: it is a term used for a group of four connected plays. In ancient Greek theatre, these consisted of three tragedies followed by a satyr play. If this is applied to the four authors I have delineated, Vico, Hegel, and Cassirer author the tragedies of the day, and Joyce is the satyr play. The satyr play was a burlesque of a mythical story, perhaps with a chorus of men with horses' tails and ears. Joyce's play is the whole mythical story of humanity and, as he insisted, it is a work of humor, full of jokes: "in risu veritas."
Hegel, Cassirer, and Vico are each tragic, in the sense that their heroic efforts to make the complete philosophical speech are not successful. Their heroic efforts are not fulfilled, and the outcome is melancholy. Cassirer's philosophy of human culture never overcomes its distance from the passions and life of culture. Hegel ends the Phenomenology with the image of the golgotha of spirit, spirit unable to complete its original aim, to make the love of wisdom into actual wisdom. Vico's corso and ricorso is a continual pattern of gentile history, in which the divine lesson of providence must be begun over and over. Joyce's wake takes us back to the satyr play, which is comic, but not comic in a modern sense (as an opposite to the tragic), for the satyr play also is the precursor of Greek tragedy.
Although an analogy can be made with literary tetralogy, the legal tetralogy is perhaps the most appropriate, and the sense of the tetrad that seems most to apply to Vico's original delineation of four authors. In this regard Vico is the modern Antiphon, the first logographer in the court of history, whose speech of accused and accuser is a single speech, comprising both the philosophical and the philological speech. Each of these sides purports to command the truth about the human world, but we must listen to both. We, as readers, are the hearers in the court of the great city of the human race, attempting to discover its jurisprudence. By studying Vico's speech we can learn to make our own. Vico's speech is the model for us to imitate.
Hegel, Cassirer, Vico, and Joyce are each makers of their own speech. But Vico's four authors is an instruction, to combine their speeches into the new proof, which Vico recommends the reader make for himself. The speech of my philosophical position becomes the combination of all the elements from these four. But each reader must aim at his own tetrad of logographers, that will appear within the providence of his own career of thought and reading. The authors must select the reader; the reader cannot simply select them in a single act of decision. In effect, the reader of Vico who realizes the power and necessity of the tetrad must try out various authors, in order eventually to sense those who have written his speech for him. Any other process is meaningless, because authors artificially chosen can never truly speak to the hearer in the court of humanity and Republic of Letters. In other words, the four authors must be discovered, not simply decided upon, or chosen. They are the "certains," from which the reader can make his true speech.
The tetrad is a structure of opposites, of the two-in-the-one. The four authors can be seen as paired, vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. In each case they are a two-in-one, the one being the fact that each pair is a coincidentia oppositorum. The tetrad is a conception of multiple dualisms, dialectically held together, but the tetrad is not itself a fifth thing, something over and above the combinations of opposites. The opposites of my four authors, that determine my speech of the whole, are: concept (Begriff), symbol, metaphor, epiphany. As these oppose each other, accused to accuser, the configurations of my speech are determined. The problem is to speak between each of their pairs, and also among all of them.
This is a speech of self-knowledge, because it takes its beginning point from verbum, not res. It is a speech that begins from speech itself. Thus it is a humanism. One must begin from one side of the verbum-res opposition or the other. There is no other genuinely human standpoint. For the humanist, the motto must be: in verbo res. To begin from the verbum side holds out the promise that the other, res, can be encountered as an other, that speaks back. Res can be spoken about as the other, and spied into--seen in the mirror of verbum. But to begin with res is to begin with the truly mute, with the great silence of the other, that surrounds speech. If we begin with res, with what is by nature truly mute, we remain mute, in a sense, in our own exercise of speech. Res, as primary over verbum, lends itself to formal expression, to works that can designate or reflect its nature. Res, like Being in itself, has no internal motion, and thus, ultimately, can offer us only a silent other, that is ever-present, but mute in its presence. We can only wait for it to speak, and waiting is not a human project.
The Four Essays
1. Philosophy and Rhetoric
Can there be a "recognition" of philosophy and rhetoric? (Hegel's "Master-Slave"). When I first read John H. Smith's The Spirit and Its Letter: Traces of Rhetoric in Hegel's Philosophy of "Bildung," I thought that it was one of the most interesting works on Hegel I have read. It remains so for me because it demonstrates, beyond any doubt, that there is a dimension to Hegel's work that everyone thought was not there: that Hegel himself knew rhetoric, and that there are rhetorical principles operating deep within Hegel's conception and presentation of Bildung. Smith takes the opportunity, in this essay, to raise the further issue, of what Hegel's philosophy may tell us about the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy as such. There is an ancient quarrel between rhetoric and philosophy, as there is an ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy. The quarrel is over which can give us the truth, which can give us the language needed for truth. I think I will stay with the term "quarrel" (not war), because quarrel is a literary term and has a noble tradition, and is connected with the later quarrel between the ancients and moderns.
In my Hegel's Recollection I suggested that, in addition to the contexts that have traditionally been connected to the struggle of the master and slave (psychological, political, social), we should consider philosophy itself as a context of the struggle. Hegel's text itself suggests that it is a struggle of philosophy with authority, with power, because the stages of consciousness that immediately emerge from the struggle are ancient ways of the philosopher's confrontation with power and authority--the stages of stoicism and scepticism, and the theological metaphysics of the unhappy consciousness. Smith suggests something even further, that within the struggle of the self with the other Hegel is portraying, there are levels of struggle going on within the language used--struggles over what form of language will give us the mastery over the phenomenon. There is a struggle between rhetoric and philosophy as to which is the master, and Smith describes how they shift sides, from slave to master and back. Hegel's "master-slave" has once again proved to be his most fruitful metaphor.
Early in his remarks, Smith says "that this struggle is not played out to the demise of one or the other opponent means that some mode of recognition--not just recollection--needs, or we shall see, 'ought', to be established between them." I see his point, and it is a most interesting one. The key to how we are to understand the status of rhetoric and philosophy depends upon how we understand Aufhebung. Smith quotes Judith Butler's response to Joseph Flay's criticism of Kojeve and Derrida. Butler suggests that Aufhebung may not be so "self-serious, totalizing, and appropriative as Bataille, Derrida, and indeed, Flay suggest." She suggests that Aufhebung is more comic in form, and that a sense of humor is necessary to understand it, that it embodies a peculiarly Hegelian sense of humor. Butler is right on the mark. She puts her point forward reservedly. Let me put it (mine) more boldly. If Flay ever met Hegel, Hegel would walk up to him and give him the horselaugh! As Gadamer has pointed out, Swabians like to shock.
At the end of Hegel's Recollection, I quote part of one of the conversations from Bertold Brecht's Fluchtlingsgesprache (Refugee dialogues). Brecht says: "Concerning humor I always think of the philosopher Hegel." Brecht focuses on the Larger Logic, saying: "It is one of the most humorous works in world literature. It deals with the life of concepts, their slippery, unstable, irresponsible existence, how they revile each other and do battle with knives and then sit themselves down together at dinner as if nothing had happened." Sitting down to dinner is hardly the self-serious notion of Aufhebung. Brecht continues: "They appear, so to speak, in pairs; each married to its opposite and they settle their affairs in pairs, that is, they sign contracts in pairs, enter into legal actions in pairs, contrive raids and burglaries in pairs, write books and give affidavits in pairs, and do so as pairs whose members are completely at odds with each other." Aufhebung is pictured as a kind of ironic hand-in-hand.
Brecht continues: "What order affirms, disorder, its inseparable partner, opposes at once, in one breath where possible. They can neither live without one another nor with one another." Brecht concludes this discourse, as I have here condensed: "I have never met a person without a sense of humor who has understood Hegel's dialectic." I never have, either. Most professional Hegelians are like Jorge, in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. They believe that, if they speak in the language of "grimness" (tetraggine), they have said something true. They do not know how to make truth laugh (fare ridere la verita). Hegel called them unsere Buchstabenphilosophen (our literal-minded philosophers). Butler, and Smith in quoting her, have the insight that Aufhebung is not a simple operation of totalization, that within it there is irony.
Irony, like metaphor, holds two disparate things together for us to comprehend, but it does not totalize them. In Brecht's terms, it makes a pair of them. Here Vico is helpful. Of the four classic tropes, that he takes up from Gerard Voss--metaphor, metonomy, synecdochy, irony--Vico says irony is the philosophic trope. This fourth trope is manifest in human affairs only when the philosophers arrive in the life of a nation. All true philosophy is ironic; that was the lesson Socrates was trying to teach, when he was also trying to teach that self-knowledge is the heart of the philosophical project, what Hegel was later to call Bildung. The literal-minded philosopher, or literal-minded commentator, substitutes self-seriousness for self-knowing, and grimness of language and mind for the truth he cannot catch.
Brecht's sense of "pairing" is what I have tried to capture in my "double-Ansich" reading of Hegel's method in the Phenomenology. There is no moment of synthesis, no totalizing sense of Aufhebung possible. Smith, to my mind, has rightly stated my meaning on this when he points out that consciousness is a process, that goes back and forth across its two moments. On my interpretation, absolute knowing, the final stage of the "science of the experience of consciousness," is recollection or Erinnerung, as Smith also correctly understands. But absolute knowing does not manifest a totalizing or literal sense of Aufhebung, on my view. Rather, absolute knowing is the recognition that the two poles of the Ansich (the "in-itself") are a pair, each requiring the other. All stages of consciousness, up to this point, have become involved in one or another form of illusion, believing that there was a common medium that would hold the two sides together. Each stage of consciousness thought that it could bridge the absolute gap between my apprehension of the object as object and my apprehension of the object as mine (in which my own apprehension becomes my object of focus). Thus each stage ends in an illusion of its own making.
Erinnerung (recollection), on my view, includes the philosophical act of Anerkennen (recognition). Thus the philosopher's memory apprehends all sorts of recognitions as ironic pairs. Experience, for the philosopher, is a theatre of memory. It is a stage in which all the parts of the human world are observed. Hegel, the Swabian, can make so many jokes, then turn to the onlooker and say, "Get it?" When he turns to the literal-minded philosopher he is met by the blank stare--and perhaps with a logical or theological speech. Hegel, with a smile on his face, turns back to his panorama of experience, his Wissenschaft. Perhaps we can include him in Joyce's comment: "the divine comic, Denti Alligator." The Phenomenology is Hegel's divine bear hug.
At this point most Hegelians will say I have gone too far, and they will return to making points like that old saw, that Kojeve (and Verene) never presented the real Hegel, as if anyone could know who the real Hegel is, as if there is a real Hegel there, in the background, standing on flat feet. In saying this, please know that I do not mean that there are various Hegels, that all misreadings are truly readings, etc. After all, I have an interpretation of Hegel. I do not have more than one. But the use of the "real Hegel," as a principle of philosophical criticism, is vacuous. Such an approach is the night in which all cows are black. The approach does not contain a real distinction. The "real" Hegel is just a projection of the critic's desire to be right.
The final question that Smith puts is: what is the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy themselves? Of what I have said above, claiming that philosophy is the recollection of recognitions, Smith would ask: but what is the language in which we can express the truth of these memories? This is the question of the recognition between philosophy and rhetoric, that in the master-slave dialectic shifts between slave and master. It is not settled within the Phenomenology. Smith holds, and rightly so, that both philosophy and rhetoric have emerged from the struggle. Even if Hegel's aim is to establish the language of the Begriff over the Bild, still the imagistic or rhetorical element remains. Cassirer is quite right that the tendency of Hegel's system is to reduce all forms of experience to the one form of logic. Yet Hegel can never overcome the Bild, and, like all philosophers with such rationalistic inclinations, he goes back to the image, the metaphor, over and over again, particularly when his thought gets into difficulties. Rhetoric and the image always gives philosophical language its new beginning, as Grassi has eloquently shown in his Die Macht der Phantasie and other works.
At the end of his essay, Smith suggests that we are in the position of needing to rethink the roots of the recognition of rhetoric and philosophy. I think he is right. They are a pair. I would suggest one line of inquiry: the recovery of the faculty of ingenium. Ingenium is what is behind both irony and metaphor, because it is the power to perceive a connection between two disparate things or orders of things. It is the thought of thinking in pairs. Such capacity is also at the root of Hegel's dialectic, that has been ruined by having been taken so seriously, by understanding Aufhebung as synthesis or totalization. Dialectic is what philosophy has and ingenium is what rhetoric has, and they are both master keys to understanding recognition. They both refer to what goes on in the thought of recognition. Education in these two powers may offer us a new Bildung that could itself offer us some relief from the self-satisfied, self-serious philosophers. It would offer an increased possibility to have a language in which to find and to speak the truth. For all the interest that contemporary philosophers have in language, none, so far as I know, has ever learned to speak.
2. Philosophy and Poetry
Can there be a settlement of the war between philosophy and poetry? (Vico's jurisprudence). When I first read Henry Harris's essay I thought he was attacking me, because it contains odd mood swings, from statements of the highest compliment--that I am "one of the most noteworthy Vico scholars outside of Italy," and that my interpretation of Vico's quotation of Phaedrus's fable about Socrates is "one of the most insightful pieces of fable-interpretation I have ever read"--to the threat that he is going to "cross swords" with me, and the statement that because of philosophical interests that I had before I came to the study of Vico my "interpretation of Vico is awkwardly skewed." At another place he calls me a "Heideggerian (or post-Heideggerian)" and in yet another he calls me a "child of the Romantics," claiming that he is "unquestionably" correct in this judgment.
In describing how he believes I have not acknowledged the various sides of the heroic age in Vico, and then saying that this is also true of my view of the third age of humans, Harris declares: "and here again he is badly out of step with Vico." I assume that all this is supposed to be an echo of the "crossing swords" metaphor and of the "war" declared in the title of his essay. These metaphors seem extreme to my poetic soul, but it is apparently appropriate rhetoric for the rationalistic temperament that Harris wishes to endorse.
Vico, in his "Corollary on Duels and Reprisals" in Book 4 of the Scienza nuova, says that duels are the way things are settled in barbarous times. Vico relates how "Frotho, king of Denmark, ordered that all disputes should be settled by duels, thereby forbidding their settlement by legitimate judgements." He says that the Germans were especially high professors of "the science of dueling," therewith obliging the prospective adversaries "to tell the truth." Vico says, further, that "there are two great vestiges of such duels, one from Greek and one from Roman history, showing that the peoples must have begun their wars (called duella by the ancient Latins) with combats between the offended individuals," and he cites the combat between Menelaus and Paris in the Trojan war and that between the three Horatii and three Curiatii in the war between the Romans and the Albans. Vico finally says that "in the returned barbarian times the barbarous custom was to cut off the hand of the loser, however just his cause." Crossing swords seems to me a perilous affair because, as Vico presents it, no one really wins. I have always preferred the jurisprudential, even if it means taking our dispute into small claims court.
I very much agree with Harris's statement of his purpose, at the end of the first paragraph, that his "object, as will be seen, is only to set up a perspective within which Vico studies should be viewed--and within which many more studies need to be done." This was also my own purpose, in both of my Vico books. Vico's Science of Imagination has the form of an essay, and has been read as such by all readers I have encountered. There was never an intent to have said the final word. Immediately following its publication, in the style of Vico, who was always rewriting and revising, I went on to extend and revise my views, starting with an essay on the importance of the Muses for Vico's proof of the new science, and continuing in subsequent essays (see the list of my selected writings). In The New Art of Autobiography: An Essay on the 'Life of Giambattista Vico Written by Himself' I made its "essay" character part of the title; thus in the preface I say: "I have called this book an 'essay' in its subtitle because my intention is to open up a discussion on a new topic, not to close one off with a treatise." The "whole is the flower of wisdom," and with a thinker like Vico there is no final word, any more than an issue of law can be settled by a duel. As Plato brings home in the Seventh Letter, no one's philosophy is ever fully written down, although one wants to say things that are true, in this case both about Vico and through Vico.
Harris's point that my presentation of Vico's notion of the hero does not do justice to all sides of the hero is correct, and he is also correct in his observation that, in my two books, I do not discuss at any length Vico's conception of his new science as a "philosophy of authority." I do discuss this in an essay, "Vico's New Critical Art and the Authority of the Noble Lie," a paper given at one of the Dartmouth colloquia, that appeared in Discourses of Authority in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1989), but I do not expect anyone to have read all that I have written on Vico. I think that my discussion of the hero is unnecessarily one-sided as it stands, and I do not disagree at all with the features Harris has brought out. I intend to say more, at some future point, of what I think about Vico's conception of authority and his social philosophy, because it is an area that has only been touched on, most recently by Bruce Haddock, in his Vico's Political Thought.
Harris's diagnosis of me as "unquestionably" a "child of the Romantics" is mistaken. In philosophy we are each a child of our time, as Hegel reminds us, and in the case of the twentieth century, we are the inheritors of what Geoffrey Clive called the "Romantic enlightenment." That general part of all of our backgrounds cannot be changed. But Harris's philosophical pediatrics and "unquestionable" diagnosis is close to practicing medicine without a license. My account of the hero may be incomplete, but my understandings of the hero are intended as ancient and humanist, not Romantic.
A second point in Harris's essay concerns my interpretation of Vico's autobiography. I find that he offers an excellent concise statement of some of my central theses, concerning Vico's alteration of his birthdate (my ruminations on the meaning of the alteration was what led me to write the book), Vico's themes of autodidact, his return from Vatolla, etc. For the reader who has not read my essay on The New Art of Autobiography, Harris's summary is most helpful. He is right that I do not discuss the passage which he quotes from Vico's oration of 1732, "On the Heroic Mind." And it may very well be, as he suggests, useful for my interpretation. I agree with Gentile, and with Harris, that Vico is a Platonist or Neoplatonist, and that there is an ambiguity about his Cartesianism. Vico, as I have claimed, with Grassi, is the inheritor of Renaissance humanism, and that means Platonism. I have specifically shown this, for example, in terms of the connections between Giulio Camillo's Neoplatonic Renaissance theatre of memory and Vico's Scienza nuova.
I point out, in The New Art of Autobiography, that the traditional view of Vico's inaugural orations is that they are Cartesian, but that Vico later recounts their themes, in his autobiography, as on the side of rhetoric, against Descartes, and I say: "But the truth may lie somewhere between this view and Vico's own" (22). In my introduction to the new edition of these orations (On Humanistic Education: Six Inaugural Orations 1699-1707) (Cornell University Press, 1993), I say, with emphasis: "This is my point: in these first six orations Vico has certainly not identified Descartes as the villain in what is defective with the modern conception of education and theory of knowledge, but the conception of education that Vico propounds is also certainly not Cartesian in nature." I am happy to have Harris make as much of the ambiguity of Vico's Cartesianism as he can, for I do not subscribe--and, he says, neither does he--to "the Hegelian canon that what a man says and does in public is the true measure of what he is" (as Harris puts it).
I would add, however, two cautions to Harris's account. I would be very careful about how to take Vico's claim to be using a geometric method. Harris takes this at face value. But Vico is an ironist, and as Vico points out, the trope of philosophy is irony. In Vico's day the appeal to the geometric method was rhetorical; it did not necessarily mean that one was actually using a mathematical model in the way that, say, Spinoza does, in his Ethics. Each of Vico's axioms (degnita) is actually a kind of enthymeme, not a logical first principle. To appeal to the geometric method was something like appealing today to statistics. It was a claim that seemed to settle one's point, without the need to do anything further. There was some irony in Vico being able to do this, because he was not really using the geometric method in the sense of rationalist metaphysics. He liked plane geometry over analytic geometry because of the former's use of images; thus he advocated it as part of the education of the young, but warned of the dangers of a too early involvement in analytic geometry.
In the chapter on "Method" in the Scienza nuova, Vico identifies his method with the art of the Muses, to meditate (meditare) and narrate (narrare) the ideal eternal history as what had, has, and will have to be (dovette, deve, dovra), his version of the method of the Muses, to sing of what is, was, and is to come. Such a song will tell us what "providence has wrought in history" (so far is Vico from a rationalist proof). Indeed, the frontispiece is constructed by a "geometric method" of lines and angles and shapes, all of which have been explicated by Mario Papini in his book, Il Geroglifico della storia. Significato e funzione della dipintura nella "Scienza nuova" di G. B. Vico (1984), and his "A Graph for the Dipintura" in New Vico Studies (vol. 9, 1991).
My second caution to Harris is: on what ground can he so arrogantly dismiss the dipintura (the frontispiece) as a part of Vico's Scienza nuova? This is an example of Vico's conceit of scholars (boria dei dotti). Vico himself commissioned the engraving, and directed its parts; he develops his introduction to the book in terms of explaining the significance of each of the items depicted. In doing this, he was following the emblem tradition of the Renaissance and Bacon's view that an emblem is a visual concept, and he probably was influenced by Shaftesbury's theory of tablature as a way to present philosophical and ethical ideas. Vico compares his dipintura to the Tablet of Cebes, one of Shaftesbury's classic examples. How can one dismiss parts of a thinker's work? I say that Harris's dismissal of the frontispiece as a genuine part of Vico's new science, is "awkwardly skewed by the philosophical interests that he had himself developed before he came to the study of Vico." Perhaps this is his hidden Croceanism (despite his disavowal of Croce).
Finally, a word about Harris's bizarre excursion into the dangers of poetry, that poetry can lead straight to Hitler and the Third Reich, which leads him to say that "the poets must continue to be kept in order by those who think properly." In saying this, Harris has clearly given up his original claim to amateur status, and has become a professor. This is a domino theory if I ever saw one, a slippery slope of the intellect and spirit. One starts out liking poetry and myth, and before one knows it, one is in uniform with the Third Reich! Cassirer will have to help me here. Harris has forgotten that he earlier accused me of Cassirerianism in Vico studies. I did my doctorate on Cassirer, and edited his papers, including ones on the dangers of political myths. As Cassirer says, myth is "always there, lurking in the background, waiting for its hour of opportunity," ready to take over the political process when there are times of crisis (see my edition of Cassirer's papers: Symbol, Myth, and Culture, 246).
In the first chapter of Vico's Science of Imagination, I describe Cassirer's notion of culture, his philosophy of Geist, and I set against it philosophies of life, or Lebensphilosophie. I use Heidegger as an example. It is the only time I mention Heidegger in either of the two books of mine that Harris has read, and I mention Heidegger to dismiss his views as wrong. Why would Harris ever conclude that I see my Vico interpretation in the context of "Heideggerian (or post-Heideggerian) analysis of our modern culture on the side of practice"? My critique of modernity is based on another enemy of Heidegger, the French thinker Jacques Ellul, whose views I connect with Vico's conception of the "barbarism of reflection," throughout my final chapter of Vico's Science of Imagination. It seems these days that no one can have a critique of technological society without someone jumping to the conclusion that he is a follower of Heidegger. I say, with Cassirer, the Jew who left Germany in 1933: "a philosophy whose whole attention is focused on the Geworfenheit, the Being-thrown of man, can no longer do its duty" (ibid., 230).
Harris seems to believe that Plato, the greatest poet and user and teller of myths in the history of philosophy, just threw out the poets in order to "think properly," as if somehow to endorse the importance of fantasia and mythos and poetry is to give up on reason! In the Phaedo, Socrates says one should not become a hater of argument, a misologist, for it would be as much against knowledge as to become a misanthrope in the world of human society, and give up on humanity. Harris is a "hater of poetry," and would raise up the frightening ideal of those who can "think properly." What of Hegel, who must be a heroic mind for Harris, who claims that poetry is the teacher of humanity (Lehrerin der Menschheit), or what of Joyce, Harris's and my favorite Vichian poet--who will teach Joyce to "think properly"? Vico says, in the Most Ancient Wisdom of the Italians, that anyone who would try to make a speech or live a life by the geometric method engages in rational madness.
It strikes me as odd, at least as an item of Vico interpretation, that Harris would hold that civilization cannot collapse back to the forests. Whether or not it is true, Vico thinks so. Here is what Vico says in the conclusion to the Scienza nuova: "But if the peoples are rotting in that ultimate civil disease and cannot agree on a monarch from within, and are not conquered and preserved by better nations from without, then providence for their extreme ill has its extreme remedy at hand" (1106). He then goes on to describe how the only way that providence can bring such peoples back to piety, faith, and truth is to reduce their life back to the forests again. This picture of disintegration echoes Plato in the Laws (676A-682B), to an extent, and it echoes Machiavelli's picture of this in the Discorsi (I.2), except that, as Nicolini points out, Machiavelli never held that there could be a reversion to the forests, as does Vico. Harris, I think, has here mistaken Machiavelli for Vico.
As I said above, I was dissuaded by Vico from engaging in the duel, and I decided to plead my case in the court of the Republic of Letters, small claims section. But should this not suffice, Henry, I am prepared to "duke it out."
3. Philosophy and Piety
Can there be more than melancholic wisdom in philosophy? (Vico's "divine pleasure"). The question that James Robert Goetsch poses for me at the end of his essay was unexpected. His excellent book (forthcoming, Yale University Press), which shows how Vico's axioms are derived from the rhetorical tradition of enthymemes rather than from the logical and mathematical traditions of self-evident propositions, would have led me to expect something about the axioms. Instead he has asked me a question about what is truly first in another, but related, sense, and I shall try to oblige as best I can. His question prompts me to say something about Vico that I have not said before. But that is the logic of the unexpected.
Goetsch calls attention to the Pratica of the Scienza nuova, the addition that Vico wrote considering whether there was a form of practice distinctive to his new science. This is translated by Bergin and Fisch as "Practic of the New Science." The translation was done at the urging of Giorgio Tagliacozzo and myself and was first published in our collection, Giambattista Vico's Science of Humanity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976); it is included in the 1984 Cornell paperback edition of the New Science. Goetsch quotes Vico's statement that, in order to offer something practical in his science, we should here, at the end of things, look backwards to the beginning (or look at things in the reverse; the Italian is ambiguous). Vico says "guardarsi a rovescio la figura proposta nel principio." Guardare a rovescio, to look backwards, to turn things upside-down, is a principle of philosophy that Vico shares with Hegel, who wrote to his friend van Ghert (18 Dec. 1812) that speculative philosophy inverts the world, much to the consternation of healthy common sense. To philosophize, for both Vico and Hegel, one has to stand on one's head. Such posture is dizzying, like a fall on the head, and naturally leads to melancholic temperament, to "head melancholy," as Burton describes it in The Anatomy of Melancholy.
Goetsch speaks of Vico's claim to witness the identity of the itself (tauton), to see the lights of divine providence. I agree that we must do more than witness the action of providence in history; we must witness further what providence itself is, in its own identity (insofar as this is open to us, as minds of a philosophical age). Goetsch asks: "When this is done [when we have grasped Vico's science], do we do more than remember? Is recollective fantasia [the term I have coined for the imagination at work in the Scienza nuova itself] perhaps a means to the end of witnessing those three lights, and not simply a means to a melancholic memory of a shattered whole? Is wisdom always tragic--all madness and dissolution in the ineluctable 'other'?"
Where are we to look for the answer? For I do believe that there is something more than just the melancholic recollection of the world. As Goetsch reminds us, Vico, in his proof of the new science, speaks of a "divine pleasure" (divin piacere) that will result from a comprehension of his science: "O reader, that these proofs are of a kind divine and should give thee a divine pleasure" (349). Divine pleasure is the hoped-for relief from the philosopher's melancholy. It is the only relief, for melancholy, in this case, is not a psychological condition that can pass with treatment, it is a condition of soul, a way one is--the temperament that produces real philosophy, first discovered by Aristotle, and seconded by Cicero: "Aristotle indeed affirms, all ingenious men to be melancholic" (Tusc. I.xxxiii.80; in Aristotle, Prob. xxx.1).
To meditate and narrate to oneself the ideal eternal history of all nations is to discover the true story of the nations, their vera narratio. But it is also a severe narration, it is a melancholic wisdom. The melancholic has natural difficulty relating to the mobile vulgus, and cannot share their healthy common sense. He must always very quickly go for the mask, as does Joyce's Stephen when trying to talk with a girl in the street, who is friendly to him. His speech confused her, and "I felt sorry and mean. Turned off that valve at once and opened the spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus, invented and patented in all countries by Dante Alighieri." The great collection of individuals do not have any piety toward the tauton. They do not know what piety is, and tend to be fearless and shameless. Vico's last words in the Scienza nuova are "that this Science carries inseparable with it the study of piety, and that he who is not pious cannot be truly wise" (1112).
The connection of philosophy to piety, I suggest, will require guardare a rovescio, a route of thought that takes us back to the divine eye. I wish to go back to the beginning of Vico's book itself, and return to the figura of la metafisica, of the dipintura--of the frontispiece. My suggestion is to move the eye of the philosopher, now, from the bottom of the picture back up to the top, and in this way to retrace the path of the divine light. Vico never gave up on the fact that "wisdom is a knowledge of things human and divine." To define wisdom in this way is to incorporate, within its definition, piety. For piety is always a scienza in divinita, a science that first begins in the taking of the auspices, of the actions of Jove in the sky, the first attempt to see the divine eye.
If I look at the dipintura, I find, going from the bottom up, a tetralogy of equilateral triangles. Look at the helmet of Hermes at the base of the statue of Homer. This is the one item of the civil world on which Vico does not comment, in his explanation of the frontispiece. That is because it is Vico's hat. Hermes, or Mercury, is the hero "who carries the law to the mutinous famuli in his divine rod (a real word for the auspices), the same rod with which, as Vergil tells, he brings back souls from Orcus. (That is, he restores to social life the clients who, having left the protection of the heroes, were again being scattered and lost in the lawless state which is the Orcus of the poets, waiting to swallow all men)" (604). Vico, with his lituus, divides the regions of history and saves those who do not know the law of the nations.
Look along the line that runs up from the helmet across the tablet to the plow (l'arato), along its line, past the corner of the altar, to the lighted shoulder and blind eye of Homer. From the things of the civil world at the base of the picture we have come back to Homer, who is the first poet of the gentiles. The discovery of the true Homer allows us to discover the true basis of metaphysics, to free ourselves from the Stoicism of Descartes and the Epicureanism of Locke. As Vico says, in the second most important addition to the Scienza nuova--that compares to the "Practic"--his "Reprehension of the Metaphysics of Rene Descartes, Benedict Spinoza, and John Locke": "therefore if one does not begin from--'a god who to all men is Jove,'--one cannot have any idea either of science or of virtue.... For the metaphysics of the philosophers must agree with the metaphysic of the poets, on this most important point, that from the idea of divinity have come all the sciences that have enriched the world with all the arts of humanity" (1212).
Vico then makes clear that to found metaphysics on substance and suppositional thought, that generates certainty without offering a knowledge per causas, is useless. Metaphysics must begin from the poets' apprehension of being. The first form of our apprehension of being is poetic: "just as this vulgar [poetic] metaphysic taught men lost in the bestial state to form the first human thought from that of Jove, so the learned must not admit any truth in metaphysic that does not begin from true Being, which is God" (ibid.). The philosophers must go to school with the poets. That is why Vico calls poetry a kind of wisdom, by titling the largest book of the Scienza nuova, "Sapienza poetica," Poetic Wisdom.
Look now, from the illumination of Homer, up to the source of the light in the convex jewel worn on the breast of Dame Metaphysic. Vico says that the jewel cannot be flat or it would emit only a single ray of light. It is convex because it diffuses the divine light through the civil world. From our under angle, making the divine ascent with our eyes, we follow the rays as they converge into the jewel, between the big breasts of metaphysics. We notice that she is now wearing the helmet of Hermes, her winged hat or winged temples. The messenger again. We have come through two triangles: one, from the hat at the base of the statue of Homer to the plow, to Homer's blind gaze; then, along one side of a second triangle, to the breast of Metaphysic (the base of this triangle being the line from Metaphysic down to the intersection of the tablet and the plow).
Now look, finally, along the side of a third triangle, from the ray of divine light going now up from Metaphysic to the divine eye itself. This triangle is formed by the two rays, and its base is the imaginary line from Homer's head to the divine eye. Now we are face-to-face with the divine. Our eye looks into (imitates) its eye. We are vis-a-vis the "itself," to the extent that we can be such. Now we notice the fourth equilateral triangle, that enclosing the eye itself. We now are looking directly into the divine light, the divine sun-eye. We have moved from the world of the cave culture, the cave-dwellers of the vulgus mobile, along the route toward the sun, until, finally, we are not looking at it through the image of Homer, or the reflection of the jewel, but blindingly, straight on.
We are now above the globe of nature and the zodiac and the civil world. But we are Hermes. We put on the cap when we left the civil world of the cave, the great city of the human race, the cave. The cap is the inverse of the golden bough, for the bough lets us exit the underworld when we wish, and we are glad to go. But here we would be glad to stay, in the divine pleasure that courses through our mortal body, in our path that has ended our narration and meditation on the motions of providence. The cap requires us to return, and in fact we know not why.
We have a rightful trepidation because, as philosophers, we know the fate of such descents. For Plato raises the question of what those in the cave will do, when they encounter the returnee, who has seen the sun. "If they could lay hands on the man who was trying to set them free and lead them up, would they kill him." And the answer is, "Yes they would." With Vico we descend, and we say to ourselves the line with which Vico closes his autobiography, speaking of Socrates, "If I were consigned his fame, I would not shun to die as he, and because I would be acquitted when I became ashes, I would endure the inequity of the sentence" (Phaedrus, Fabulae III.ix.3-4).
But having returned, attempting to teach the doctrine of the three worlds of the divine, the natural, and the civil, attempting to show the "jurisprudence of the human race," attempting to be the "wisdom that speaks" (la sapienza che parla), Vico found only ridicule, and had the epithet "Mastro Tizzicuzzo" (Master Bag-of-Bones) called behind his back, in the streets of Naples. He found only the banality of his colleagues, who said that at one time they thought him a learned man, but once he wrote the Scienza nuova, they knew he was quite mad. He was the Socrates, not of the polis but of the new polis, Neapolis. In the new polis, he who pursues self-knowledge and virtue is not put to death. Vico experienced what Rousseau would later explain, in the First Discourse, about Socrates. Should Socrates return, he would only be met with insult, mockery, and contempt, and cast aside.
Goetsch's question is right in implying that there must be something that offsets melancholy, and that it is reached by a backward vision. The philosopher must always look back over his shoulder to see the truth. It is the divine eye that offsets the melancholy, but it does not replace it.
4. Philosophy and Beginnings
Can there be new beginnings in history? (Cassirer's "self-liberation"). Krois's book, Cassirer: Symbolic Forms and History (Yale University Press 1987), is the fullest and most authoritative account of Cassirer's central philosophical themes available. In it he is concerned with the sense in which there is a normative or ethical direction to Cassirer's thought, and he brings this perspective to bear, in this essay on new beginnings. He introduces a topic into the present discussions that has not yet appeared: the theme of human freedom.
Krois is certainly right, that Vico has a cyclic conception of history and that Cassirer does not. Cassirer says, in An Essay on Man, "Human culture taken as a whole may be described as the process of man's progressive self-liberation." Vico speaks only of corso e ricorso, history as eternal pattern, "ideal eternal history." This is not to say, as some have, that Cassirer's view of history is the Enlightenment view of human progress. What Cassirer means by progressive self-liberation, is the freedom that the knowing self obtains from the world, the object known, when man, as animal symbolicum, develops the power of the symbol. Man achieves distance from the immediacy of a world of pure expression, in which no human thought or action can be freely formed.
Vico, it is said, looks at history and never smiles. He sees that all nations are born and rise and fall, if they are not conquered by others from without or do not discover a new leader from within. But the nation that has done the conquering will itself be subject to the eternal pattern of disintegration, and the reformed and re-led nation will simply extend its life, but will not escape this cyclic historical process, either.
Nations come from the forest and return to them, as is explored in the book by Robert Pogue Harrison, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (University of Chicago Press, 1992), using Vico as his theme. Cassirer holds that there are not only destructions of civilizations in history but also new beginnings, and that these new beginnings are accomplishments due to the reality of human freedom. He holds, against Heidegger, that these are not "breakthroughs" in the order of things, they are not zufallig, or accidental. For Cassirer there truly is human freedom, but there is no necessary dialectic that makes history "the story of liberty," in his view. Krois is also right, to my mind, in saying that Cassirer and Vico share a notion of "common humanity," and that this offers us a counter to the wretched denials of it by the enemies of humanism, such as Foucault. But then, Foucault is only a terroriste du mot. There are no morals in Foucault, just fragmented personality, shards of soul behind the mask.
Krois points to the fact that there can be new beginnings in history, that the Renaissance is a new beginning, and that Italy is the land of new beginnings, the land of the Renaissance. Vico's Scienza nuova is itself a new beginning, as is the work of both Machiavelli and Galileo. Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms was a new beginning, and it is supported by the new beginning Cassirer himself made, by opening up the Renaissance as a period of philosophy. The trilogy of his works on the Renaissance, the Platonic renaissance in England, and the Enlightenment, Cassirer calls "a phenomenology of the philosophic spirit." In this trilogy Cassirer is showing how philosophy begins anew, in what corresponds to the third age of Vico's ricorso of Western history. Both Cassirer and Vico believed that "the first science to be learned should be mythology or the interpretation of fables" (Scienza nuova, 51). Cassirer, like Vico, and in fact following Vico, began his conception of human culture in the symbolic form of mythical thought.
Cassirer also has a view, evident in The Myth of the State, that culture can fall apart. He is influenced by Hegel in his conception of a phenomenology of knowledge, but he does not subscribe to a dialectic in which there is always a further advance and Aufhebung. The Myth of the State makes clear that there is no guarantee that culture cannot become the possession of the barbarians. In this uncertainty about history, Cassirer is at one with Vico, the difference being that Vico, like a lawyer comparing past cases--in this instance, the fall of past nations--claims that there will always be a return to the forest. What else do we see, when we look at history? Nations rise and fall; none becomes the master of history and lives forever. Neither Vico nor Cassirer see philosophy as an instrument for the reform of history. Cassirer, in his late works, quoting Schweitzer, says that philosophy can act as a "watchman" in times of crisis, but philosophy does not cause nor cure the crisis. In this sense both Vico and Cassirer have doctrines of prudence. Philosophy is the conscience of the human race. Cassirer shares with Vico the notion of the "great city of the human race," in which the philosopher can perform an educative function.
Are there really any new beginnings in history? All books are about other books. The humanist knows that, if the hermeneuticist does not (when the text is approached simply to discover its internal coherence and the logic of its relationship to the reader, sources are unimportant). The Renaissance is itself an odd (or maybe not so odd) notion of a new beginning, because it is a rebirth of something that was before--the learning and culture of the ancient world. What the Renaissance does, it does through a rediscovery of the ancients. Descartes claims to make a new beginning, and can do so only by becoming barbarous, denying all that has gone before, denouncing rhetoric and letters, and, finally, having to go about the world stage, as he says, in a mask, like a comedian: the cogito incognito.
Krois says that, for me, philosophy is a humanity, and he is right in this. To say this is also to say that, for me, philosophy is governed by the Muses, whose mother is Memory, and to say this is to say that philosophy is memory. For Memory lies nine nights (one for each letter of her name, MNEMOSYNE) with Zeus (Jove). Philosophy is a central humanity, that keeps us from forgetting. The truth is the whole, and we arrive at partial truths by forgetting something, by excluding it from our consideration. The literal-minded in philosophy are thus nearly bereft of memory, bastards born of some tenth night of Jove's activity, perhaps the night the pure logos was conceived.
In the end, I am on the side of Vico in regard to history. I wish to acknowledge the occurrence of new beginnings, and Krois has put the question of them forward. I would hold to Vico's view, which allows for history to be shaped by the will. The world of civil things as studied by philology--"the doctrine of all things that depend upon human choice; for example, all histories of the languages, customs, and deeds of peoples at war and peace" (7)--are the evidence of new beginnings in history. Yet the large pattern of providential order can be seen in one insight. That all things circulate in patterns of "ideal eternal history" can be seen only in a single act of ingenious vision. It is, in the end, an important insight for the notion of human freedom.
Guicciardini, who in his historical works is part of a new beginning in the writing of history, puts it this way in his Ricordi (1530): "All that which has been in the past and is at present will be again in the future. But both the names and the surfaces of things change, so that he who does not have a good eye will not recognize them. Nor will he know how to grasp a norm of conduct or make a judgment by means of this observation."
The exercise of human freedom does not require the formulation of one's action or potential action as a universal rule. It does not require such clarity of mind. What it requires is the perception of pattern, the pattern of what is really there in a situation, understood against patterns of what has been known in the past. Such freedom is guided by virtue. The new geginning is a renaissance of some old beginning. The appeal here is to the sensus communis of the law, to a jurisprudential mode of thinking. Freedom is not feedom unless one can act on it, and the means for such acting is jurisprudential knowledge, the ability to think from past to present to future by analogy of cases. Vico's three principles of humanity, the universal customs of religion, marriage, and burial, become the basis of the ius gentium naturale, the law that all nations actually have in common, that for the philosopher becomes "the law of the nations." This requires what Guicciardini calls the "good eye," the buon occhio. Without the power of the buon occhio on the part of the individual, and in fact on the part of the nation in its best times, there is no actual freedom, none that can enter the flow of events of history.
The first sign of the corruption of freedom is the alteration of the sense of the law. Cassirer knew this from Nazi Germany, and Vico knew this. In his dramatic passage on the decline and corruption of nations, at the end of the 1730 edition of the Scienza nuova (and which does not appear in the 1744 edition), Vico says: "Because unlike in the time of the barbarism of sense, the barbarism of reflection pays attention only to the words and not to the spirit of the laws and regulations; even worse, whatever might have been claimed in these empty sounds of words is believed to be just. In this way the barbarism of reflection claims to recognize and know the just, what the regulations and laws intend, and endeavors to defraud them through the superstition of words."
When people begin to believe they can say anything, they also believe they can do anything. Cassirer knew this when he wrote in The Myth of the State: "Our modern politicians know very well that great masses are much more easily moved by the force of imagination than by sheer physical force. And they have made ample use of this knowledge. The politician becomes a sort of public fortuneteller. Prophecy is an essential element in the new technique of rulership. The most improbable or even impossible promises are made; the millennium is predicted over and over again." Not all new beginnings are good. The Third Reich was a new beginning, and it also claimed to be the renaissance of the greatness of the past.
Cassirer always remains one of my four authors, one I share with Krois. Cassirer, who never will fully face the big questions, still never fails to illuminate and instruct. One reads any work of his with profit. If Vico is the discoverer of the myth, as Cassirer says he is, then Cassirer is the discoverer of the symbol, which in its own way gives contemporary philosophy a new beginning, and also gives us the most illuminating book of modern political philosophy: The Myth of the State.
These are my responses. And how am I to conclude these excursions into my own thought? This luxury that I did not seek, but have had the honor to enjoy! My master of English philosophical style has always been R. G. Collingwood, and I have always held that his logic of questions and answers was the key to philosophy, far more than arguments, which anyone can do. So far as I can see, to do philosophy requires only two things: the question and the metaphor. All the rest is extra. When anyone endorses poetry and mythos as strongly as I do, the group of philosophers in the corner begin to mutter, to raise the spectre that this will turn philosophy into poetry. How will we be able to tell the difference?--they say.
There is no philosophy without metaphor. So get used to it. The metaphors are always there; just look with a good eye. What keeps philosophy from becoming poetry is the logic of the question. Once the question is introduced, the immediacy of the metaphor is broken, and the metaphor becomes a guide, but it shows us the sights that the question requests. We never know what these sights are, until we ask. If we turn too quickly to argument we become like crows, cawing at language. No copia, no eloquence. No style. As Whitehead says, style is the aim of education, "the ultimate morality of mind." The whole fails first our minds and then our words.
Vico says that "the whole is really the flower of wisdom," Hegel says that "Das Wahre ist das Ganze," and Cassirer says that all the symbolic forms are "harmony in contrariety." The humanist is no romantic, although it is a temptation to confuse them, in these days when humanism is so misunderstood, a temptation to violate Vico's second axiom, to make the unfamiliar familiar, in order to say: "There, I've figured that out." "It's just what we thought it was, all along." "Another example of what we already know."
And just when we thought that critical philosophy had finally taken charge of speculative, topical philosophy, we notice the following disturbing sentence affixed to the wall of the academy: Forget! Our wholemole millwheeling vicociclometer, a tetradomational gaz- ebocroticon (the "Mamma Lujah" known to every schoolboy scan- daller, be he Matty, Marky, Lukey or John-a-Donk), auto- kinatonetically preprovided with a clappercoupling smeltingworks exprogressive process, (for the farmer, his son and their homely codes, known as eggburst, eggblend, eggburial and hatch-as-hatch can) receives through a portal vein the dialytically separated elements of precedent decomposition for the verypetpurpose of subsequent recombination so that the heroticisms, catastrophes and eccentricities transmitted by the ancient legacy of the past, type by tope, letter from litter, word at ward, with sendence of sundance, since the days of Plooney and Columcellas when Giacinta, Pervenche and Margaret swayed over the all-too-ghoulish and illyrical and innu- mantic in our mutter nation, all, anastomosically assimilated and preteridentified paraidiotically, in fact, the sameold gamebold adomic structure of our Finnius the old One, as highly charged with electrons as hophazards can effective it, may be there for you, Cockaloor- alooraloomenos, when cup, platter and pot come piping hot, as sure as herself pits hen to paper and there's scribings scrawled on eggs.
The speech of the part thinks by forgetting, by leaving things out, and sees, if at all, by lamplight. The speech of the whole thinks with memory and sees, with the good, metaphysical eye, the "scribings scrawled on eggs."
Emory University Atlanta, Georgia
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Donald Phillip Verene, Memory and Imagination: Hegel, Vico, and Cassirer|
|Author:||Verene, Donald Phillip|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1994|
|Previous Article:||Verene and Cassirer: on new beginnings.|
|Next Article:||Armistice in the recent battle of the books: Paul de Man, Claudio Guillen, and History.|