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Ovi Symposium; Fifth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Fifth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2013-08-01 12:57:04
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Ovi Symposium:  “A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within
Modernity and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”
between Drs. Nannery, Paolozzi and Paparella
Fifth Meeting: 1 August 2013

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Participants:

Dr. Lawrence Nannery has studied at Boston College, Columbia University and at The New School for Social Research where he obtained his Ph.D. He founded The Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal and authored The Esoteric Composition of Kafka’s Corpus. Devising Nihilistic Literature, 2 vols. Mellen Press.

Dr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

Dr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

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Table of Content for the Fifth Meeting of the Ovi Symposium (1 August 2013)
Section 1: “Thoughts on Architecture,” a presentation by Dr. Nannery
Section 2: Sundry comments by Dr. Paparella on Dr. Nannery’s presentation on architecture
Section 3: “Art and Morality,” a presentation by Dr. Paolozzi
Section 4: A letter by Max Horkheimer to Croce’s widow upon the passing of the great philosopher, with      comments by Drs. Paolozzi and Paparella
Section 5: “On Modern Nihilism: Entrepreneurship, Technology, Utopia, Extinction”--Part 2 and
conclusion, a presentation by Dr. Paparella

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1
Thoughts on Architecture
A Presentation by Lawrence Nannery

I.

nannery01In this essay I shall talk about the kingly art of architecture, the art form that either houses the other arts, among other functions, and which displays in public a people’s proud accomplishments for all to see.

Let me supply a few examples.  What is signified by the Pyramids of Egypt?  Power and stability are displayed.  After four or five thousand years they remain, largely intact.  One might also say that they embody slavery, but this is probably only partially true.  We now know that most of the engineers and workers who built these structures were well rewarded, and generally lived a good life.  But still the pyramids were built with a religious purpose.  The continuity of Egypt was predicated on the belief in the preservation of the Pharaoh’s body, and that was equal, in the eyes of the Egyptians, to the belief in the race itself.

Counter to this, and not long after the appearance of Egypt’s power, the civilizations of Mesopotamia region.  There one finds a different display of power: the processional way.  These carvings on long avenues of rock were meant to impress one and all with the power of the rulers of such polities.  One of these processional ways resides for the most part in a museum in Berlin, and it must be said that the workmanship of these objects are truly beautiful, and do impress the viewer.

Other examples that are commonly cited as architecture as displays of power are many, and I will merely mention a few.  In the High Middle Ages in Europe, castles were constructed for kings and noblemen, reflecting the vulnerability of life in those centuries.  (Much the same characterized the larger works found in China and in Japan during the same period.)  Somewhat coterminous with the castles were the Christian cathedrals, especially those of the High Middle Age, which, although treated as beautiful objects by many today, are actually repositories of ugly construction (gargoyles, for example), and absurdly childish beliefs in such things as relics and often the dead bodies of so-called saints. 

We should add the step-pyramids of Mexico, a widespread phenomenon that combined blood sacrifices with astronomy, with the mistaken belief that the Sun lacked energy and the shedding and drinking of human blood was the only thing that could restore the potency of the Sun.

In sum, these efforts expressing beliefs and practices of that age were well expressed in stone in these latter two expressions of the spiritual needs and the beliefs of their time. 

In the modern age the physical sciences played a role in architecture.  By 1850, European architecture proclaimed to one and all a new age, an age of progress, and the triumph of a confident and secular society.  Its symbol is rightfully the Eiffel Tower, which, when built for the World’s Fair in Paris in 1870 (originally called the World Trade Center), was the tallest man-made structure in the world, and was only eclipsed by the Woolworth Building in the early 1900’s that today still stands close to the Financial Center on the island of Manhattan.

This striving for verticality also represented power, but not power that emanates from a gun, but money.  An interesting feature of what came to be called “skyscrapers”, not known to the general public is the effort to “quote” architectural features of other, classical forms of architecture, but these features had to be at least 30 stories above ground to see it on another building.  This “quoting”, which did not survive the 1950’s, was designed by the captains of industry that owned these structures to impress other captains of industry and no one else.  Almost all of these “quotes” are still there.  Once again, power.  But also an erudition that is likely faux.

There is a family resemblance between modern architecture and modern painting in that they are based upon ideas and strategies from anyone and anywhere.  This engenders a universal claim, and so the great skyscrapers that have dominated the skylines of most large cities today are enormously high, perhaps too high.  It is important to note that what was called “The International School” after 1925 or so, is not like the soaring monsters that dominate the imagination, but are associated with the name of Philip Johnson, who practiced the opposite style of building relatively small, singular houses that are quite “pretty,” not an expression of power at all.  In addition, in this style ornament is eschewed at all costs, since ornament was considered “sin.”

One last point.  These soaring buildings that might be taken to defy gravity, but few of them are beautiful.  Also, despite what was said above about the phenomenon of the “quotings” referred to above, they can be read only by the very few, since they are too high to be seen by most people who work in those buildings, never mind people on the street. This leads to another point:  by bulking the large office towers in certain areas (usually due to the type of rock that lies underground to support them), perspective is destroyed.  One can only see a few buildings, and in partial views. The workers and bosses in these buildings are able to see a few stories of a few buildings, and therefore for them, magnificence is lacking.

II.

Another facet of this most universal of all the arts is that in planning there is a tendency to go from a building to a city, and so architecture tends then to become a totalist enterprise.  For example, the Greeks tended to geometric figures in planning, which is therefore most pleasing.  It is told that a whole city built in Greece was a circular entity.  Unfortunately, the city, Heliopolis, “the city of the Sun,” has not survived to the point that we know exactly what it was like to live there.  But the trend is obvious: for the Greeks, regular geometric shapes were always pleasing to contemplate, and therefore they drew the inference that a city as a circle would have to be a high accomplishment. 

The Romans, having achieved total power, imitated the Greek conception in broad outline, and most important, built landmark buildings in marble.  They apparently avoided painting over the surfaces, which set the tone for such later cities as Washington, D.C.

In the same vein, in times of disorder, even in the ancient world, walls were considered necessary to repel barbarians.  Forefending possible barbarians at the gates, walls were a universal feature for every city’s population.  Even today, walls that protected Rome from invasion dating to the fourth century B.C. can still be seen at the very doors of the main train station in Rome.  Nothing concrete is known about them, but the main train station dates to the wartime period of the 1940’s, and it was situated to advertise the walls, which are very old indeed, because it shows the resilience and the prudence of Rome’s rulers.

The Middle Ages were indelibly times of disorder, and just about every town in Europe during a thousand years had walls.  People would not want to live in a city without walls, since barbarians roamed indefinitely, and life was very cheap.

In the largest towns there were walls as well.  Paris, for example, had city walls up until the late 19th century.  Several street names even today carry the names of nearby gates in those walls.  The walls were definitively torn down in the 1840’s, possibly because of the knowledge that they provided no defense against modern artillery.  There are still some remnants of the actual wall still standing, but these are quite minor exceptions.  More important, the destruction of the walls provided Haussmann with the opportunity to rebuild Paris.  Haussmann tore down the walls and put in their place the “grand boulevards” which bordered the new luxury apartments of the nouveau riche of the city.

III.

There is a similarity between what I have stated in an earlier contribution about the universal sources of painting and here, in the field of architecture.  In the modern age, inspiration may come from anywhere, and many ambitious architects have sought to use novel ideas taken from foreign practices and ideas that appeal to people in regions far away from the architect’s own origins.  Two good examples of such borrowing would be the “processional ways” of entrances to the Louvre and also certain much-visited public buildings in Washington, D.C.  Although these avenues, which are underground, were made for pragmatic reasons, viz., the intrusion of vehicles in huge parking lots, still, the artistic effect is very good.  They are not displays of power, but of good taste.

But, though there is nothing initially with this attitude, it may in the end cause neighborhoods under construction for burgeoning populations to be somewhat bewildered by the odd appearance of the buildings they are encouraged to live in.  This often causes a backlash, where either no one at all wants to live in the new “development” or only the poor, who suffer from dilapidated conditions in their homes, will be forced to take what they can get.  We see this in what is known as “public housing” in many cities in the USA, and “council housing” in Great Britain.  Perforce, this was the situation in Germany and the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.  Though the buildings are indeed well built, people do not want to live in them, primarily because only the poor are eligible to live in them, and the residents suffer from a further derogation in social status whenever it becomes known that they reside “in the projects.”  It is a stigma that is unfair in the main, but it does show that good housing for the poor, and good service in keeping the buildings in relatively good working order not only does not solve the status problems of the poor, but can, ironically, make them worse. [i]

Architects often slip unwittingly into city planning in the name of building a large development, which often entails the destruction of much old housing units.  Again, even if the original plans are quite beautiful, practical considerations often cause the good intentions of the planners to fall far short of results that will please those who are destined to live within the confines of the development, not to mention the community of architects.  It is useful to know that the same motions of mind and technique, when the development is for the rich, seldom entail any such negative elements.  The case is, that those who can afford to buy into these condominia and cooperatives believe that they have earned a better life on that basis alone.

IV.

Architecture as Art and as a Necessity

Architecture is as large and present in human space and time as anything else.  Here is a short list of a few places that are expressed in architecture.

1.  Religious Buildings
2.  Art Museums
3.  Educational Buildings
4.  Government Buildings
5.  Hospital Buildings
6.  Family Homes
7.  Warehouses
8.  Prisons
9.  Sport Stadiums
10 Tunnels
11. Public Memorials

By now I suppose that the reader can understand what I am driving at.  My claim is that almost everything is housed, and by one definition architecture provides the housing of certain people or objects.  If the housing is an act of necessity then it may not be considered an important function.  But, if the housing exists in order to tell the world or a smaller community the meaning of certain very important things that are the silent expressions of the sense of the community itself, then it is an artistic presentation.  A litmus test as to whether a work by architects is to be taken as an artistic piece of work, or at least a significant work, depends upon whether the creators have done their work motivated by the desire or need to make a statement about the human condition or the virtues of a community.

[1] See, for example, Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007.  Fourth Edition. The chapter entitled “New Brutalism.”symposium16_400

Model of the Roman Forum

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2
Sundry Comments by Paparella on Nannery’s Presentation on Architecture

Larry, thank you for this fascinating excursus into the world of architecture. I learned much from it. Particularly interesting to me is the distinction made between architecture as a show of power and architecture as symbolical of what is meaningful and relevant to a whole people. Here we are back to Heidegger’s conception of the Greek temple as a paradigm of ancient Greek culture and of art in general as an historical document of sort revealing the truth of a particular culture. Within such a paradigm we may perhaps include the Gothic cathedral of the late medieval period as both a symbol of the Catholic Church at the height of its political and moral influence and power, just before the Reformation and the Renaissance, and of the transcendence of God as symbolized by the prodigious height of such a cathedral with its pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses and stained glasses. It is an intriguing fact for me that in the West much more wealth was spent on the gothic cathedrals of the 12th century than was spent for the space programs of the 20th century. Here we find an interesting nexus between art, economics and faith. The cathedrals seem to defy purely economic utilitarian considerations.

Every time I visit one of those architectural masterpieces I am overwhelmed by their sheer beauty and majesty and the intimation of a transcendent reality that such beauty engenders.  I am thinking here of the Rheims cathedral (see picture below), just to mention one of a plethora of such structures. I am also thinking of the gothic style of some of the oldest universities in the world, in one of which I studied in for four years (Yale University) when pursuing my doctorate in the 70s. One entered its library of four million books as if one entered a gothic cathedral with reverence and awe (see picture below). There are two interpretations possible upon viewing the Yale Sterling library: one can view the majesty of the architecture as intimating that knowledge is power or one may interpret the beauty as an idea related to truth and goodness and leading to wisdom. One’s philosophy of education may well dictate which choice one opts for.  In any case, I think it is a misnomer to call those architectural structures “gothic” (some even double the insult by dubbing the Yale architecture “pseudo gothic,”) as if to imply that they are primitive and barbaric. Voltaire and his anti-religious “enlightened” modern cohorts are partly responsible for such a misnomer, if there ever was one. To my mind gothic cathedrals and architectural structures are among the most beautiful and priceless works of art ever devised by man’s genius, appealing to emotions based either in faith or civic pride and giving the lie to those who insist that the medieval epoch was primitive and retrograde when compared to modernity.

Of course in judging those architectural structures one has to distinguish their religious-moral value from their artistic value, as Croce and Ernesto and yourself have well pointed out. Perhaps we three contributors to this symposium, not to speak of Christopher Dawson of The Making of Europe fame, can agree on this much, that despite Voltaire or Marx’s stance or any other stance inimical to religion and Christianity or the Catholic Church (the last acceptable bias in a politically correct society) the gothic cathedrals will forever remain inestimable autonomous works of art in themselves, independent of their importance to faith or the historical testimony they lend to the so called God intoxicated century of faith (the 12th).

One more brief observation: there is an American Vico scholar worth mentioning to the Ovi readers who  may have something to add to what you have just presented. For decades now he has been delving with the nexus between architecture and the poetic philosophy of Giambattista Vico. I am referring to Professor Donald Kunze of Pennsylvania State University who first studied architecture at N. C. State University (B.A in Architecture) received his Ph.D. in cultural geography in 1983 and subsequently taught architecture studio and theory at Pen State. I highly recommend his book dealing with the philosophy of place of Vico titled Thought and Place:The Imagination and Memory of Eternal Places in the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico and examining the operation of metaphoric imagination and memory in landscape, architecture, and art. Also worth perusing is his co-edited book Commonplaces with John Pickles and David Black, plus his Four Concepts of Virtuality to Reconstruct the Civic in Architecture, as well as his Architecture Post Mortem:The Diastolic Architecture of Decline, Dystopia, and Death, edited with Professor C. David Bertolini (Louisiana State University), and Simone Brott (Queensland University of Technology, Australia) a volume which was part of the Ashgate Series of Studies in Architecture. It surveys architecture’s encounter with death, decline, and ruination following late capitalism.

Some of the reviews to be found on line have this to say on such a book: “as the world moves closer to an economic abyss that many perceive to be the death of capital, contraction and crisis are no longer mere phases of normal market fluctuations, but rather the irruption of the unconscious of ideology itself. Post mortem is that historical moment wherein architecture’s symbolic contract with capital is put on stage, naked to all. Architecture is not irrelevant to fiscal and political contagion as is commonly believed; it is the victim and penetrating analytical agent of the current crisis. As the very apparatus for modernity’s guilt and unfulfilled drives-modernity’s debt-architecture is that ideological element that functions as a master signifier of its own destruction, ordering all other signifiers and modes of signification beneath it. It is under these conditions that architecture theory has retreated to an 'Alamo' of history, a final desert outpost where history has been asked to transcend itself. For architecture’s hoped-for utopia always involves an apocalypse. This timely collection of essays reformulates architecture’s relation to modernity via the operational death-drive: architecture is but a passage between life and death.” I would just add that particularly interesting in this regard is the introduction by Donald Kunze “The Way Things Are,” Todd McGowan’s essay “The Psychic Constitution of Space,” and David Bertolini’s essay “Ethics and Architecture” dealing with the thorny issue of art and morality (the theme treaded in today’s meeting by Ernesto Paolozzi).

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The Rheims’ Gothic Cathedral

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Yale University’s Gothic architecture

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The Yale University Sterling Memorial Library

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The inside Gothic Nave of the Yale University Sterling Memorial Library:
The largest academic library in the United States housing some four million volumes
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Exterior Gothic Front of Yale University Sterling Memorial Library

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Inside Gothic style of the Yale University Sterling Memorial Library

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3
Art and Morality
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
Translated form his book L’estetica di Benedetto Croce

enCroce writes that “a third negation, which is accomplished via the theory of art as intuition, is that of conceiving art as a moral act …An artistic image may indeed portray an act that is morally approvable or disapprovable, however the image itself, qua image, is neither morally approvable or disapprovable. Not only there is no criminal code which can condemn an image to death or to jail, but no moral judgment by a rational being can make it his object: it would be like judging as immoral Dante’s Francesca or moral Shakespeare’s Cordelia…as to judge a square moral and a triangle immoral. (Breviario di estetica, in Nuovi saggi di estetica, pp. 13-14).

It is this particular aspect of Croce’s aesthetics which has with greatest probability and more than any other given rise to controversies. In fact the moralistic conception of art is well represented in the history of aesthetics, is pervasive in the most varied philosophical conceptions and is close to that common sense which tends to judge reality in a moralistic key. As the same Croce reminds us, it is this position which, while at times criticized by the critics, has as its supporters eminent representatives such as Parini, Alfieri, Manzoni, Mazzini (even if the last one often contradicts it) and it also had the important function of contradicting another misguided theory, that of the identification of art with purely hedonistic pleasure. As Croce puts it: “The moralistic theory of art is also represented in the history of aesthetic theories, and it never died even if today it is discredited; discredited not only for its inherent lack of merit, but also in part because of the current lack of morality within some modern tendencies, which render easy, albeit psychologically uncomfortable, a refusal which ought to be made only for logical reasons as we do here. This moralistic doctrine is derived from the goal given to art of guiding to what is good, to inspire the rejection of evil, to correct and improve social customs and the request submitted to artists to contribute to the civil education of the masses, to the strengthening of the national militaristic spirit of a people, to the spreading of ideals of industrious and modest life, and so on. All things which art cannot accomplish, just as geometry cannot accomplish, which despite this inability does not lose its respectability, and there is no reason why art should lose it. (Ibidem, p. 14).

This, up to now, is the clearest and least controversial part of the Crocean theory, given that it cannot be denied that art is distinct from morality as it is from philosophy, since were it not so, it would no longer be art but philosophy or morality. The complications ensue as soon as Croce attempts, as we have seen in the preceding chapters, to understand the terms of the nexus between art and the other forms of human activity, ethics in particular. The problem is dealt with in Croce’s more mature essays after establishing that at best morality can be subject matter for art, and then attempting to show that art has its own intrinsic morality and that at the basis of art one can only posit the moral personality. As Croce puts it: “Therefore the foundation of every poetry, is human personality, and since human personality culminates in human morality, the foundation of every poem is moral consciousness. It is understood that with this we are not affirming that the artist has to be a deep thinker and critic, not that he needs to be an exemplary or even an heroic man; but he does need to have that participation in the world of thought and action which allows him to live by his own  direct experience or in sympathy with that of others, the full human drama.” With those words, Croce is reemphasizing that we ought not look into contends for the morality of art, but rather in the success of the artistic expression. In fact, just as it is true that artists who “close themselves to human emotions and the anxiety of thought, end up as sterile, at best they succeed by imitation or by a disconnected impressionism” it is also true that on the other hand, it is not necessary “to possess a moral personality to be a poet and an artist.” Further exemplifying, what is immoral in art is present when the artistic expression is modified for ends that are not aesthetic, to get publicity, to divulge a political or philosophical idea or, as it now does not appear paradoxical, to transmit a moral message.

This new position of Croce has given rise to a great span of very interesting interpretations. Certainly the emphasis on moral strength intrinsic to poetry, as we have seen, was controversial vis a vis the ruling Dannunzianism, just as the renewed critique against didacticism was controversial vis a vis fascism. On a purely philosophical plane, these reflections in the field of aesthetics ought to be located within the mature phase of Croce’s thought where ethics seems to lose its categorical character of a category among other categories (since there is no such thing as a work of art that is only ethical; works of art are either aesthetic or logical or useful and ethics pervades them all) in order to assume a wider meaning of categorical mode.symposium23

Plato and Aristotle, detail from Raphael’s School of Athens

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4
A Letter from Max Horkheimer to Croce’s Widow upon the Passing of the Great Philosopher

Coordinator’s comment: I have Ernesto Paolozzi’s expressed permission to translate and include in this fifth meeting of the Ovi symposium the following letter by Max Horkheimer forwarded by him and dating back to the passing of Benedetto Croce in 1952. It is a heartfelt condolence letter but it is  much more than that; it is also a glowing eulogy for the disappearance of one of the greatest philosophers of all times, and the reasons why his passing represented at the time a real loss for the philosophical community and for Western culture in general.

Ernesto insightful comment accompanying such a letter and as also translated by me is the following: “Notice please how the letter grasps the full sense of the autonomy of art, of the originality of modern historicism vis a vis Hegel…and so many other things, all admirably condensed in a brief letter.” To such a statement I would simply add that the real intellectual tragedy, unbeknown to Horkheimer at the time, ensued only later when for decades Croce was all but ignored and forgotten in philosophical academic and non-academic circles.

In the light of my last symposium’s presentation, the reader ought to also take notice that Heidegger, who was still alive at the time, is alluded to via an explicit mention of fascism and the fascist mind-set to which Croce had always been a “manifest enemy.” Also noteworthy, Horkheimer’s last paragraph of the letter which, despite the post-mortem unfortunate neglect of Croce, remains even today a sort of prophecy on his philosophy; namely that, despite the vicissitudes and uncertainties of history, it will long endure based on its own merits and be transmitted to posterity as one of the most insightful philosophy of aesthetics ever imagined.

Gentile signora,

A nome della facoltà di Filosofia dell’Università Johann Wolfang Goethe, che ha conferito allo scomparso  la laurea honoris causa, Le vorrei esprimere le nostre sincere e profondamente sentite condoglianze.

Siamo del tutto consapevoli della gravità di questa perdita: Benedetto Croce è veramente insostituibile. Non è esagerato affermare che egli appartiene ai pochi che, dopo un’epoca in cui la filosofia, il pensiero sulla verità come sul tutto, ha minacciato di scomparire tra le scienze positive, ne hanno restituito la dignità. Che egli abbia fatto questo nel contesto della grande tradizione tedesca, la cui eredità oggi, dopo il crollo dell’antispirito fascista, è diventata doppiamente attuale, ce lo rende particolarmente vicino. Egli, tuttavia, non appartiene agli epigoni che intendevano ristabilire una metafisica ormai superata, ma ha recuperato la tradizione della filosofia speculativa a partire dall’esperienza concreta della sua propria situazione. Proprio questo,infatti, lo ha condotto ad Hegel, in uno spirito in cui premeva,nel sistema dell’idealismo obiettivo, ciò che è vivo e non ciò che è morto. Tale forza di Croce nel portare avanti la tradizione del pensiero speculativo senza cedere al pericolo dell’accademismo né del romanticismo, può essere paragonata solamente a quella di Henri Bergson. A differenza di questo, però, egli non si è fermato ad un principio metafisico astratto e generico, ma si è addentrato, sforzando fino in fondo il concetto, nelle strutture profonde delle idee.

Ciò gli ha permesso una cosa che era preclusa proprio ai pensatori idealisti del suo tempo, di affrontare la problematica della società reale, di non limitarsi a riconoscere il nesso tra questioni sociali attuali e cosiddette questioni filosofiche fondamentali, ma di esprimere tale conoscenza attraverso la propria esistenza. Sbagliamo ben poco se sosteniamo che fu, non ultima,la forza della sua visione teorica che gli rese possibile respingere senza incertezze tutte le tentazioni rivolte a lui da un pensiero vincolato  all’autorità e conformista, che sarebbero potute diventare pericolose per ogni altra persona della sua estrazione e posizione. E noi crediamo che da ciò abbia anche origine la straordinaria autorità oggettiva che promanò da lui, nemico di ogni infondata pretesa autoritaria, e che impedì allo stesso Mussolini di eliminare il nemico manifesto del sistema fascista.

Non solo per questo, e non solo nella cerchia dell’ambiente scientifico, tuttavia, percepiamo così dolorosamente il fatto che egli ci abbia lasciato. Ciò che egli ha compiuto nel campo dell’estetica riguarda ogni uomo che sia ancora padrone dell’esperienza spirituale e che non si consegni ciecamente al meccanismo dell’industria culturale. Egli, che proveniva dalla critica letteraria,è stato forse, dai tempi di Hegel, il primo filosofo importante che abbia avuto contemporaneamente un rapporto vivace, spontaneo ed originario con l’arte, riflettendo in piena responsabilità teorica sulla questione dell’arte. La sua visione fondamentale, secondo cui l’opera d’arte non può essere misurata in base al suo concetto di genere, senza che vada perduta la basilare questione relativa alla verità o alla falsità dell’opera stessa, ha avuto una forza liberatrice che si perpetua tuttora nell’esperienza artisti cadi innumerevoli persone, che non sanno nemmeno che tale contributo teorico, l’emancipazione dell’estetica dal pensiero classificatorio, si deve a Croce.

Anche se noi ora, gentile Signora, le diciamo che il ricordo di colui che ci ha lasciati, in veneranda età e dopo una ricchissima vita, rimarrà sempre presente, tale promessa da sola non eguaglia comunque la verità del fatto che il valore della filosofia di Croce si spiegherà e vivrà per propria forza esclusiva, indipendentemente dal grande personaggio che ebbe la fortuna di concepire quella filosofia. Forse in ciò Lei potrà trovare un po’ di consolazione.

Translation:

Dear Mrs. Croce,

In the name of the school of Philosophy of the University Johann Wolfgang Goethe, which has conferred to the late Benedetto Croce the doctorate honoris causa, we’d like to express our sincere and deep sympathies.

We are very conscious of the enormity of this loss: there is only one and there are no substitutes for Benedetto Croce. It is no exaggeration to assert that he belongs to those few philosophers who, after an epoch when philosophy, thinking on truth and everything else, has run the danger of disappearing among the positivistic sciences, have restored its dignity to it. The fact he was able to do this within the context of the great German tradition whose heredity today, after the demise of an anti-spiritual fascism, is doubly relevant and renders him particularly dear to us. Nevertheless, he does not belong to the epigones which intended to re-establish a passé metaphysics, but to those who have recuperated the tradition of speculative philosophy beginning the concrete experience of one’s own existential situation. It is this, in fact, which has led us to Hegel, in a spirit which emphasized, in the spirit of objective idealism, what is alive rather than what is dead. This great accomplishment of Croce, that of carrying forward the tradition of speculative thought without giving in to the temptation of academic foibles or romanticism, can only be compared to that of Bergson. However, as distinct from the latter, that of Croce did not stop at an abstract and generic metaphysical principle, but went beyond pushing the envelope to the utmost within the deep structures of ideas.

This allowed him to do something that was beyond reach of the idealist thinkers of his time, to confront the real social problematic of his times, without limiting oneself to the identification of the nexus between current social issues and the so called fundamental philosophical issues, thus expressing this knowledge arrived at via one’s own existence. We are confident that we do not err when we assert that it was the strength of his theoretical vision which allowed him to refute without any hesitation all the temptations which aimed at him from the kind of conformist thought tied to authority, which could have become dangerous for any other person in his position and in his abreaction. We are convinced that from this strength originates an extraordinary objective authority which he exuded which stopped the same Mussolini from eliminating the manifest enemy of the fascist system.

And we perceive the sad fact that he is no longer with us not only within the context of the scientific scholarly environment. What he accomplished in the field of aesthetics has relevancy for every man who is still in charge of his own spiritual experience and does not blindly surrender to the mechanism of cultural production. He, who came from literary criticism, has been, perhaps from Hegel’s times, the first important philosopher who has possessed both a spirited, spontaneous original connection with art, reflecting as he did, with full theoretical, on the issue of art. His fundamental vision according to which a work of art cannot be measured on the basis of its concept of genre, without losing the basic issue of truth or falsehood of the work itself, has given us a liberating force which is still felt today in the experience of artists and innumerable people who do not even know yet that such a theoretical contribution, i.e., the emancipation of aesthetics from the classifying thought, is mainly due to Croce. 

Dear kind lady, even if we now tell you that the memory of he who left us, at such venerable age and after a full and rich life, will remain forever alive within us, nevertheless this promise by itself is not the equivalent the truth of the fact that the value of Croce’s philosophy will continue to grow and live by its own intrinsic merits, independent from the great person who had the fortune of conceiving that philosophy. Perhaps in that thought you may be able to find a modicum of consolation.         

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5
On Modern Nihilism: Entrepreneurship, Technology, Utopia, Extinction
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella
(part 2--conclusion)

“We have modified our environment so radically that we must now modify ourselves in order to exist in this new environment.”   --Professor Norbert Wiener

papWho is master, who is servant in the previously described technical framework?  Hard to tell. Heidegger has recourse to the German word Gestell. The verb stellen has a special resonance in philosophy since Kant. As far as Kant is concerned, there is no difference in the idea of a thing as merely possible and the idea of the same thing as actually existing. Fifty possible dollars is the same amount as fifty real dollars. The difference is to be found not in the concept itself but in the judgment of existence by which we posit the second. The reality of the thing, as far as judgment is concerned, derives from the act of the will that establishes it as real. Obviously that simple word Gestell possesses a link with the philosophy of the will. The framework is the expression of man’s will to power when it comes to coping with nature, it is ourselves in our collective life, and yet it seems to elude our will, it seems to live a life of its own.

It would indeed be ridiculous to declare that one is against technology. To do that is to be against ourselves in our present existence. We are now completely dependent on technology. Our means of communication are increasingly shaped by it. Technology dictates the horizon within which our human future needs to be planned. It is indeed our mode of Being in our distinct historical epoch. Will we eventually see around it and grasp another mode of Being? Which is to hint at this question: Will there be a new humanism? The task of philosophy is neither the rejection nor the affirmation of technology, but rather an attempt to see where technical and technological thinking, with no other principle but itself, will ultimately lead us. Most importantly, the task of philosophy is to determine whether or not a countervailing mode of thought may be urgently called for.

There is no doubt that as Heidegger clearly perceived, technology poses problems that did not exist before and have to be solved rather urgently. This, as Bill Gates likes to point out, impels us to continue to perfect our technology. If each steps creates and imbalance we are compelled to take another step toward a more perfect and comprehensive technology which will rectify the imbalance. This is obviously a drive toward totality which seems to be inherent in technology. In some way we are compelled to aim at utopia or be condemned to witness  Western civilization collapse upon itself, a victim of the technological problems it has failed to solve. The question naturally arises: Is our choice then between utopia and extinction?

A few months ago (on  2 February 2013) an article by Christos Mouzeviris appeared in Ovi magazine titled “Defending European Values and Culture.” In it one finds this statement: “We invest and subsidize almost everything in Europe, why can't we treat our art as a commodity as well?” That is a statement which is probably shared by many in Western civilization on both sides of the Atlantic ocean and is well worth pondering, for indeed the way one interprets it determines whether or not the right diagnosis and prognosis will be proposed for what presently ails Western Civilization. If that statement wishes to indicate a desire to imitate or parrot the American culture industry in order to defend and promote a European one, it would mean that the real sickness has not been diagnosed properly and the prognosis will be misguided as well. Marx for one would certainly reject reducing art to a mere commodity and propaganda for one's pet culture.

What is needed is an authentic alternative, not a parroting. So, we are back to C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures, or the kind of culture clash that is still ongoing in both Europe and America. Here is the same mortal sickness seen under different perspectives and viewpoints. We can go back all the way to 1861 and Charles Baudelaire “Le Fleur du Mal” and discover there the term “Americanization” a designation for which he is given credit together with the idea of “modernity” where he proclaims that “technology shall Americanize us all.” How did he mean it? There, I suggest, is the correct diagnosis, in the identification of what is alleged to be modern to what is progressive as the particular malady of the modern condition. This is best seen when Baudelaire writes that “…so far will machinery have Americanized us, so far will Progress have atrophied in us all that is spiritual, that no dream of the Utopians, however bloody…will be comparable to the results.”

A bit closer to our times, in the 20th century (in 1929) Bertolt Brecht refers in a poem to America’s films, records, and “chewing gum” and ironically notes that “Americans seem destined to rule the world by helping it to progress. Back to “inevitable progress” and misguidedly considering what is the latest as the most modern and the most desirable and the most progressive. Paradoxically, Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communist party, actually lamented the “anti-Americanism of the European petty bourgeois” and wondered in his writings if Henry Ford’s methods might be turned to socialist ends.

Even closer to our times and certainly more shocking for those who wish to blame all that ails Europe on its Christian heritage while advocating its demise, we have Pope John Paul II who in a speech to the EU Parliament in 1988 had this to say on the perceived decadence of EU culture: “If the religious and Christian substratum of this continent is marginalized in its role as inspiration of ethical and social efficacy, we would be negating not only the past heritage of Europe but a future worthy of European Man—and by that I mean every European Man, be he a believer or a non believer .”

As I said, different perspectives lead to different diagnosis; and different diagnosis lead to different prognosis. The businessman Bill Gates, being a bit more reflexive and socially conscious than the businessman Mitt Romney, who is merely interested in the accumulation of wealth to be stored in Swiss bank accounts or in Caiman Islands or the grabbing of political power, remains confident in the achievement of eventual utopia. But let us not forget that the word utopia as coined by Thomas More literally means “nowhere” in ancient Greek.” Gates, as most of us, wants to avoid oblivion but this implies more than mere survival. As the existentialists Kierkegaard and Heidegger point out, we’d like to have some meaning and significance in our lives, for while life becomes ever more mechanically perfect, we do not wish to be surprised by the fact that utopia and oblivion may coincide after all. Utopia could mean rupture with our past and the oblivion of its inheritance, particularly in the arts. For it is the rub of imperfection which brings out the particular and the individual. One cannot write a story of two people who were perfectly happy together. That kind of private utopia would spell the monotony of oblivion and eventual extinction. Once mankind has been condemned to utopia, which some have called “the end of history,” it would have to re-create a religion of some kind to restore meaning to its existence.

We are now in the midst of an energy crisis which represents a serious challenge to human kind. But as serious as such a challenge is, we still need to answer the question of whether or not the drive to totality is integral part of modern technology. Which is to say, we may need to ask the question Are we still able to stop and if so when and where do we stop the so called inevitable “march of progress” reduced to the successful selling of shampoo and sushi?

As we have already seen, humanists of the 19th century (the likes of Matthew Arnold) complained about an oppressive deterministic modern technology suffocating the humanities. That kind of technology now seems primitive to us. As Norbert Wiener observed in the 1940s “We have modified our environment so radically that we must now modify ourselves in order to exist in this new environment.” Again, where does it stop and what is the danger of dehumanization? Behaviorist like Skinners are logical in this respect: they doubt the a new material Jerusalem can be built as long as one carries the old Adam within oneself. That is to say, human beings need to be re-engineered too. What is needed is a technology of human behavior, a science by the name of behaviorism. One needs to attack the problem at its roots: at the level of the human genes. Genetic engineering with its recombination of DNA may indeed be the final solution. After all the pursuit of knowledge is always fraught with danger, or why did God provide us with intelligence if we are not allowed to intervene in the process of life? This line of reasoning begins to feel rather similar to the conundrum in the garden of Eden with its forbidden tree of life. Closer to our times it is reminiscent of the theory of the super-race and the eugenic experiments of the Nazis.

So, what does Heidegger mean when he declares that “the essence of technology is danger”? Does he have in mind the Gulf oil spill of a few years ago? Not really. The danger he has in mind is far more serious and menacing; it is that of totalizing technology which lifts humankind to a level where it has to confront problems with which scientific or technical thinking is not prepared to cope. Let us assume for a moment that we have arrived at complete competence in genetic manipulation. What will we then do with this power? What kind of life will we foster? What human traits will we seek to engender? Can technique by itself determine a philosophy? And if not where shall we get the wisdom to use this power wisely? It would appear that such a wisdom may have to come from another kind of thinking, one at which a technical civilization may have become wholly incompetent, if for no other reason than trough lack of practice.

Finally, a few concluding remarks on the ongoing dehumanization of man in the light of the detailed analysis we have conducted on the modern businessman and his unshakable trust in science and technology to solve all his existential problems.

Socrates warned us that the unexamined life is not worth living; that man needs to ask the question what does it mean to be human and only after adequately answering that question will he be able to devise a theory of “the good life.” But there is a more profound concept of the self. St. Augustine puts the riddle of the self this way: What is so much thine as thyself and what is so little thine as thyself? What Augustine is pointing out is this: underlying the question “Who am I” is a further question: “Is my I really mine?” Ultimately this is the question of freedom asking “How much in control am I of the self?”

Those are questions acutely felt by those perceptive modern men who feel themselves “thrown into existence,” as Heidegger puts it, in a world largely devoid of meaning, condemned to play certain roles within certain social structures oriented toward consumerism, production, success, and material affluence. Questions that Thoreau already attempted to address way back in 1847 with his reflections on Walden Pond.  Closer to us, Jacques Ellul explores extensively the modern phenomenon of what he dubs a value-free technological “efficient ordering” which pervades all aspects of modern life since Descartes (see his The Betrayal of the West and The Technological Society, 1964).

Previous to Jacques Ellul, Marx had already identified this form of alienation in the individual’s role as object of exploitation. But this alienation transcends the mere economic sphere of one’s humanity and occurs in all types of societies. In fact, the greater the organization of a society—i.e., the interdependence of all its social phenomena and the determinism of its processes—the greater seems to be the alienation, anonymity and servitude of its individuals to processes and forces that hamper their creativity and identity. Indeed, this is the question of freedom.

As already argued, we live in two cultural worlds which hardly understand and communicate with each other: the humanistic world and the scientific world. Those who live in the latter are quick to point out that technology has provided us with the means to subdue the earth and free the destitute and oppressed masses from brutalizing labor. That is however only partly true given that millions of people in the third world as I write this remain oppressed and exploited. Those people usually fail to observe how in the 20th century, after World War I, the very concept of Utopia present even in Marxist ideology practically disappeared. In the 19th century, when belief in the so called “inevitable” progress of science was prevalent, utopia was felt to be the very goal of history. Utopia meant a world without oppression and injustice, without hunger and class conflicts. Marx certainly envisioned it as the culmination of man’s history, after a few inevitable dialectical class conflicts that is. Alas, this vision is no longer with us. As Einstein pointed out in the 20th century, we are now mainly preoccupied with the means of the goal of utopia. In the process of perfecting those means, the goal, i.e., utopia itself, is lost sight of. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of education where means have long ago swallowed up goals and “educrats” have firmly established themselves as the well-paid managers of those means. It is no secret that bureaucracy now absorbs 60% or more of the money earmarked for education in the Western World.

At this sorry stage of depersonalization, the pressing question is about our very humanity. Are we still capable of acting humanely? Is the self still home? If it is not, that may explain why so many individuals do not know what do with their leisure. They simply do not know what to do with their selves. Pascal for one provides the answer as to why so much of modern recreation assumes a mode of centrifugal dissipation rather than one of centripetal concentration. In his famous Pensee he points out that the cause of our unhappiness can be identified in the fact that we cannot simply sit still in a room for more than a few minutes. Or as Dante illustrates it in his Commedia, to be alone is a terrifying experience if no self is encountered. It is in the loss of the self that much modern existential angst can be located. Once I have lost my self, I may knock at the door of my own home and find that nobody lives there any longer. To say it with Dante, “so bitter it is that death is little more.” At that point I may become unable to pursue the question of my own humanity.

Dante for one needed Virgil’s guide to overcome the three beasts that obstructed the beginning of his journey into the self. And here we return to the theme of freedom and determinism. Contrary to what Freudianism may hold, humans are not mere bundles of impulses independent of time and place. Society is perfectly capable of adapting and molding these impulses and even perverting them in order to fit them into its principles of reality. All that needs to be done is to make people believe that their wants are their needs and that to be deprived of those wants is be victimized. Politicians seem to be very good at this sort of game. As Jackson Lears has aptly written in his No Place of Grace: “… A therapeutic world view…has become part of the continuing pattern of evasive banality in modern culture. Celebrating spurious harmony, the therapeutic outlook has further undermined personal moral responsibility and promoted ethics of self-fulfillment well attuned to the consumer ethos of 20th century capitalism.”

Our incessant talk shows are mere symptoms of that kind of cancer eating at our Western civilization. When the disease has become pervasive, people begin to sincerely believe that to be human and to have self-esteem is to own a car equipped with a telephone with which to order pizza on the way home. Some have even installed make-believe phones with which to confer more self-esteem and self-importance on themselves. To drive while talking on the phone gives others the impression that momentous decisions are being executed.

The gorilla with a telephone in his paw is of course merely funny. A much less amusing and sinister aspect of this pressure to adjust and conform are the propagandistic and ideological apparatuses that have distinguished the 20th century.  People caught in those monstrosities can hardly be imagined as being endowed with a shred of autonomy or as striving after what Jung called “individuation.” In those types of societies, man has not only dehumanized himself but he is unable to cure himself. An outside force seems to be needed. It can only come from the few individuals in whom the image of authentic humanity is still kept alive and who have the courage to free that image by condemning and altering corrupting social structures. Solzhenitsyn jumps to mind.

In the 60s we had in America a counterculture movement largely sponsored by college students and theorized by Herbert Marcuse in his book Eros and Civilization. He thought, as some misguided intellectuals still do, that a new humanity was on the horizon, ushered in by new technological developments which would keep oppressive work at a minimum while raising leisure and freedom to the maximum. The aggressive instincts identified by Freud as aroused by social repression, would simply wither away. So would Judeo-Christian morality, another vestige of social repression. This new man, perhaps the other face of the coin of Nietzsche’s “Overman,” not to be confused with the rather silly “Superman” of the comics, would be characterized by the fact that he would not have to merit life; he would simply enjoy it. Whatever aggressive instincts might be left in him would be sublimated through sports and the building of civilized communities that respected nature.

Here we should pause to note that of the many hippy communes established in the 60s, few survived and those which did had some kind of religious foundation. In any case, this was perhaps the last naïve attempt at utopia on the part of modern technocratic man. It never came to pass. What did come to pass is best explained by Allan Bloom in his controversial The Closing of the American Mind where he provides an analysis of this “new man.” Far from being tolerant and simply enjoying life in Utopia, the “new man” has by now entrenched himself in the University’s chambers of power (the same chambers at whose gates he was protesting in the 60s) and from there he now imposes “political correctness” on academia. All done, mind you, in the name of civilizing tolerance and equality. What in reality is at work is a sort of Nietzchean nihilism and relativism. As indeed Nietzsche correctly foresaw in the 19th century, once God is dead, one is left with little more than “the will to power,” or a reduction of persons to functions of emergent social conditions. Within such a community, neither God (be he/she the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition or that of the philosophers, of Plato’s or Descartes or Spinoza) nor man (as conceived by the Renaissance) is any longer the measure of all things. The measure is constituted almost exclusively by material and economic structures.

In song and in dance this man will end up bragging of the fact that he is a “material man,” turning vices into virtues on his TV shows where everybody washes one’s dirty linens in public, where every opinion is as good as any other, where triviality and banality reign supreme and truth is prostituted to expediency and freedom is mistaken for license. This new humanity is constituted by economic structures conceived as a sort of demiurge fashioning it. But this demiurge named “market” far from being a panacea can easily become an instrument of repression and dehumanization when not tempered by justice.

Few people, either with the capitalistic or the socialist camp, bother to seriously ask the question: How can we humanize these economic structures that leave so many people at the margins of prosperity? Even Nobel winners in economics and science do not seem to be able to formulate the question, never mind answering it. What seems to be desperately needed is an independent picture of humanity; i.e., an awareness of being a self; that is to say, a new humanism. Without that picture even the need for a journey is not perceivable. As Kierkegaard best rendered it, man then remains in the despair of self-forgetfulness, in the “sickness unto death” of the well adjusted individual identifying with the values of his society, blissfully unaware that he has been reduced to a consuming automaton by the entrepreneurs of this world. It is that picture that this symposium is attempting to recreate.

When man cannot conceive of his own destiny any longer and begins to talk of soul as mere mind, and then of mind as mere “software” identified within the brain, when this “trans-human” world has come to pass, then indeed the sickness may be terminal. For when the I is lost, one cannot even grieve over its loss. And Kierkegaard who is the father of existentialist philosophy is not talking here of a mere psychological phenomenon. Rather he is talking about an existential despair, the angst of which a Thoreau or a Heidegger speak. This is a sort of sickness that is hardly noticeable in the workaday world where the afflicted are engaged in all sorts of productive activities geared to repress the anxiety, while remaining lost “in a dark wood” with not even the faintest desire to seek “the right way.” This is the life of “quiet desperation.”

Tragically, in that self-forgetfulness and imperceptible loss of identity, modern man becomes less than primitive man; he becomes, in fact, a monstrosity. Elie Wiezel is right in affirming that the proper ethical implications of mankind’s Nazi past have hardly been drawn. For we remain unwilling to question our humanity and thus relive the terror of such a past. Here one wishes that Heidegger had applied his own insights to his own life thus providing us with a better more existential example. Not for nothing Croce chided him when he misguidedly joined the Nazi party and thought he had heard the voice of Being in Hitler.

Tony Judt coined the word “misremembering” by which he meant that we commemorate the Holocaust once a year via museums and monuments and a conference or two and then we go our merry way oblivious of the lessons of such a momentous event. For it is easier by far to lay flowers on the tomb of the Third Reich’s unknown soldier in an inauthentic gesture of reconciliation. But genuine reconciliation requires remembrance, acceptance, the asking of forgiveness, the granting of forgiveness, repentance, reparation. When these are missing reconciliation becomes a mockery. It becomes oblivion and self-forgetfulness, even extinction. As Dante, Vico and Croce have been trying to teach us for centuries now, to be human is to be forced to ask about one’s self and one’s history, to be compelled by the image toward which one is thrust and which emerges at the intersection of essence and existence, at the point of ethical tension between what is and what ought to be.symposium25_02

Detail from Raphael’s The School of Athens

End of the Fifth Meeting of the Ovi Symposium (8/1/2013)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting -

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