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Ovi Symposium; Sixth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Sixth Meeting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-09-06 12:15:42
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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
Sixth Meeting: 15 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 Contents for the 6th Meeting of the Ovy Symposium (15 August 2013)

Section 1: “Cinema: The Complete Art Form,” a presentation by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
Section 2: An addendum to the topic of Cinema as a form of art by way of a chapter from Dr. Paparella’s
               Ovi  e-Book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers: “Walter Benjamin’s Concept of
               Art as Auratic: the Nexus between Modern Art and Technology” (chapter 10).
Section 3: “The Indivisibility and Infinity of Art: Abnormal Activity of Aesthetics,” a presentation by
                Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi translated from his book L’estetica di Benedetto Croce.
Section 4: “Vico and the Modern Idea of History, part 1,” a presentation by Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella.
Section 5: A note on Vico’s Frontispiece to The New Science by the symposium’s coordinator.
Section 6: “ Art and Technology,” by way of a response from Dr. Paolozzi to Drs. Nannery and Paparella’s
                 Treatment of Art and Technology, from a chapter in his book L’estetica di Croce.

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1.
Cinema: The Complete Art Form
A Presentation by Lawrence Nannery

I believe that the cinema has always been the “Complete Art Work” sought by every high civilization since the Greek democracy under Pericles.

nannery01In German, the term is Gesamtkunstwerk, used by Wagner to describe his operas.  For they had myth, dance, song, music and drama rolled into one.  So, however poor Wagner may have been at writing libretti, however uninteresting the songs were, and however hokey his mythology may have been, the concept of a work of art that uses every available resource in one work has been the ideal, but one seldom achieved.

My thesis in this essay is show that the cinema, created in 1896 by the Lumiere brothers, has for many decades achieved what Wagner claimed for his operas.  Following in the footsteps of Rudolph Arnheim, I want to put forward some rudiments of such an argument.  I shall do so, not by examining in detail the history of cinema, about which there are so many good books already, but by taking all the elements of the arts, and showing how the cinema successfully uses all of them, often using them to better effect than the art form in which they were first used.

These elements are: (1) language, sung or spoken; (2) spatial depth; (3) action, either in motion or in emotions in dramatic sequences; (4) time and space in infinite variety as settings for action; (5) emotional meanings at every level, and in depth and nuance; (6) background music, which colors the tone of the actions and emotions; and (7) intimacy of speech, such as an aside to the audience, a whisper, or an internal monologue.  There are many others as well, such as mise en scene.

If I can show these elements to be present in most movies, then I shall have made my case that it is the most liberal, most inclusive of all the arts in all history, and has an added, powerful effect on its audience as a matter of course, and requires less “suspension of disbelief” than any of the others.  The large size of the screen is primarily responsible for this effect, because a wince of surprise or anguish is more powerful when it is 20 feet high and 20 feet wide than those of lesser dimensions. 

Writing in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Arnheim noted that most mistakes in criticism of the formal nature of film are made on account of a false analogy with painting and stage dramas.  After all, these two are also have been thought of as purely visual media.  But even if film were silent and without musical accompaniment this analogy would still be misleading, for immediately before the viewers’ eyes is action, and the unreality of the screen is felt much more deeply than almost any play’s.  Those who made this analogy to painting could not be about action.  Thus the cinema is not like paintings, and is much more unreal than any other art.  It seems that those who admired belle époque painting, which emphasized similitude, was the reason for this poor judgment.  Later styles of painting favored the flatness of the medium, thus making the unreality of painting evident, which should have put a dent in this prejudice.  Let us not forget photography, which also depicts physical objects in the real world, with different laws from painting.  In any event, film is very distinct from both painting and photography.

But that is not the essential difference between film and painting or photography.  If a filmmaker were to take an unmoving shot of a still object over a period of time, and during this time nothing moved, the result would be liminal, and arguably not a film.  The late Norman McLaren, from Canada, made many short films in which he used only sequences of photographs of inanimate objects that were slightly repositioned again and again, and at each point a photo was taken, and, by stringing them together in a sequence a resemblance to motion was achieved.  But these efforts never achieved any widespread acceptance because it is not filmic, for film depicts motion, not the elements of motion, physical or emotional or both.  This is the reason why films go by the names of Kino, Ciné, and Moving Picture. 

Let us take a look at depth as an element in the cinema.  Depth is never missing in cinema, not even when auteurs decide to give their images a flat texture.  This gives an initial advantage to realism, since all real objects in our common visual experience are three-dimensional.  The “unreality” of cinema consists in the fact that a two-dimensional medium gives us at all times the illusion of three-dimensionality.

It does seem paradoxical to some that depth should be supplied by a medium that is a strip of film not more than a few millimeters thick.  But that is the magical thing: most 20th century art forms violate the dogma of literalism that dominated in the arts in the 19th century.  But it was never true that the medium must be of the same nature as the things depicted.  What does the word “laugh” in a novel have to do with actual laughter in real life?  Art depicts, and “representation” means “presenting again.”  This fact frees the artist up to use any technique he chooses to achieve any effect he chooses.  A fortiori, non-representational art forms were always free of this error, necessarily so. 

In the arts we are always free, whether we know it or not.

Those who prefer the stage to the cinema often argue that it is “more real” than the latter.  This is a naïve assertion because it assumes that “natural” things should be depicted by “natural” techniques.  But there is no such thing as a technique that is natural.  And, more, what is experienced in watching a film completely belies this confidence in “naturalism”.  From a logical point of view, it does seem that this cannot be so, because the reality is three-dimensional and the medium is not.  After all, the Paris Opera House has the deepest stage set of any theater, I believe, even to this day.  Yet the set designs fool no one in the audience.  We must conclude that they are not actually designed to deceive, but only to make the audience suspend disbelief. 

A recent article of The New York Review of Books (May 10, 2012 ed.) takes note of a statement of Alfred Jarry in 1896: “I am absolutely convinced that a descriptive placard has far more ‘suggestive’ power than any stage scenery.  No scenery, no array of walkers-on could really evoke ‘the Polish Army marching across the Ukraine’.”  Indeed, just at that year of the birth of cinema it was perfectly correct to say this, since the stage can never do more than suggest large things, or things in depth, because the stage is not a fully realistic medium, despite the fact that the actors and the sets are themselves three-dimensional.  The players in a stage play are three-dimensional, but they are not the characters they play, and the sets, similarly, are not the background objects they depict, but are there merely to suggest those objects, whatever they may be depictions of.  So, we are forced to conclude that even the stage is not a fully realistic medium, any more than the cinema.  If that is so, then why posit a difference between the two media?  I answer: the difference lies in the degree of deception; in cinema it is complete.

Here is a good example.  What is the basis of the ability of the cinema to convey depth and the objects in those depths more definitively than any pseudo-realistic element of the stage?  The superiority of film over stage lies in the fact that the illusion put forward in film is total.  In film there is no depth, and yet depth is the phenomenon that the viewer is subject to, and totally confirmed instinctively by the brain and the eye.

How is this possible?  It was an accidental discovery, which is the most primitive level of technical discovery, according to Ortega y Gasset.  Ortega would have said that the discovery was of necessity accidental.  Ironic that!  The cinema has an advantage in being able to dissemble movement in depth, using films of preshot materials to give the audience of a conversation, let’s say, taking place in an automobile, or, say, an army on the march.  These kinds of shots are much more effective in giving the illusion of depth and motion than any stagecraft.  Add longshots of large expanses of territory, and the picture in nearly complete.  As Arnheim tells us, technical studies show that this effect is the result of stereoscopic recordings plus the slightly flatter and less stereoscopic nature of the human cornea.  So, the magic of it is accidental.  So be it.

In sum, film is so versatile that it can be the most or the least realistic of all media.  It can do whatever it chooses to do with depth, and with all the other elements of cinema as well.  Kino gives the illusion of reality much more convincingly than either painting or the theater. 

That is the magic of the medium.

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The exterior and interior of a movie house

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                       35 mm movie projector                  Poster Picture for Oscar Winning Cinema Paradiso

2. Note for section 2 of the 6th meeting of the Ovi Symposium from its coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella:

By way of a pertinent addendum, comment and point of discussion on Larry Nannery’s insightful presentation on cinema as a form of art, I’d like to share a chapter from one of my Ovi e-book (chapter 10): Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers published in June 2013 and found in Ovi’s virtual bookstore. It introduces the readers to Walter Benjamin’s aesthetic theory on technology and art.

Walter Benjamin's Concept of Art as Auratic:
the Nexus between Modern Art and Technology
(From chapter 10 of Paparella’s Ovi e-book: Aesthetic

Theories of Great Western Philosophers)

“Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.”

                           --Walter Benjamin (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”)

It is hard to envision a philosopher of art that has reflected more deeply than Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) on how the revolutionary changes in modern art have affected our understanding of art itself.  Benjamin was a genial German Marxist philosopher and literary critic. For him the key to the understanding of modern art was modern technology, particularly photography and film.

In his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Benjamin theorizes the artwork’s loss of aura and how this loss alters the function of art in society. Concomitantly, Benjamin is concerned with the nexus between art and politics. One has to keep in mind that he was writing as Hitler came to power, the times of what Vico dubs “the barbarism of the intellect,” the times of “book burnings” (1933); also that he was a Jew. For his own mental and psychological survival, Benjamin had to keep alive within himself the hope that art somehow could be used in the struggle against Nazism.

Benjamin’s concern in art is less that of providing a working definition of art than in understanding how the function of art has changed under capitalism and its cutting-edge technological innovations. He is particularly interested in understanding how “mechanical reproduction,” that is to say, the ability to copy works of art via purely technical means changes art’s social function. In this regard, the development of photography and film is of primary importance. Photography has the ability to reproduce an unlimited number of accurate copies, and film is that art form based on photography which makes it seem to reproduce the world in time as well as in space.

The above preamble takes us to Benjamin’s main thesis. Basically it is this: the reproducibility of the artworks has caused their aura to decline. Why does Benjamin use the term aura? Because he is attempting to capture the reverence that earlier societies, often within religious contexts, had for works of art. To establish this claim Benjamin has recourse to an analogy between the structure of art object and commodities and goods produced for the market. He reminds us that in the first volume of Das Kapital, Karl Marx had distinguished between the ability of a commodity to satisfy a human need (its use value) and its value on the market place (its exchange value), arguing that exchange value had come to predominate under capitalism. Analogously, Benjamin first distinguished the cult value of the artwork (its place within a cult as a unique object often hidden from view) from its exhibition value (its worth as an object accessible to all). Technological reproduction, he argues, makes the cult value of art recede in favor of its exhibition value.

For Benjamin, this simply means that many of the ways philosophers have characterized art are no longer valid. For example, it is no longer possible to regard art as autonomous, art for art’s sake, a realm in which specific social interests have no part, as Kant and others had previously asserted thus creating a dichotomy between the aesthetic and the ethical. So, for Benjamin the burning question is whether or not art can have a positive political function, not excluding that of people joining a revolution against fascism. He remarks that fascists such as Hitler, Mussolini, Marinetti (the Italian originator of Futurism in art) had aesthetized politics with their mass demonstrations and rallies, to wit the movie Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl, starring none other than Adolph Hitler.

Benjamin therefore proposes as antidote to this propagandistic mind-set, that art be politicized as a weapon in the struggle for social justice. As in Marx, there is a dialectic of sort working in Benjamin’s conception of art: in assessing the impact of technology on art, he sees the reproducibility of art in modern societies as destructive of its aura; but on the other hand the loss of aura makes possible a use of art that was previously unthinkable: art promoting a socialist revolution.

The question than arises: is this nothing but the other side of the same coin? And what in fact happens to art in general, and particularly in the former Soviet Union, when art is so conceived (as propaganda for some form of social scheme)?

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Walter Benjamin

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3.
The Indivisibility and Infinity of Art, Above Normative Activity of Aesthetics
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
Translated from his book Croce’s Aesthetics by Emanuel L. Paparella

enLike every human function Art is inexhaustible. According to Croce, it is evident that we cannot put limitations on artistic acts, just as we cannot exhaust by a determinate number of categories moral or useful acts. We can affirm that either metaphorically or as a controversial statement, art is dead, that there is no morality any longer, that values have vanished. These are expressions that have no real philosophical meaning: every man in a way always performs moral actions, aesthetic actions and so on. Every man acts and thinks.

Croce’s aesthetics as we have seen in the previous presentations, from a mere theoretical point of view, wished to define some general reference points, without intending (because it could not) define concretely the boundaries within which the aesthetic experience can be limited. We can assert that art is form of knowledge, a state of being of the cognitive intention, without being able to establish which are the infinite, cognitive acts of knowledge which can be realized through art. In this sense we can also assert that Croce’s aesthetics is formal, which is to say, it is not normative, but neither is it formalistic: Croce’s aesthetic in fact does not privilege style or form at the expense of content.

This does not mean that the formality of aesthetics or of philosophy in general has no nexus with praxis which influences philosophy and vice versa, as the same Croce, going back to the Vichian, Hegelian, in some aspects Marxist tradition, clarified, especially in his book of 1938 revealingly titled History as Thought and as Action. We would go too far afield were we to pause to examine the very deep connections between theory and praxis. Here we will limit ourselves to examining the indirect aspect through which a philosophical theory, in our case aesthetics, determines a different orientation and behavior in those who get inspiration from such a philosophy and from which he/she is conditioned. To deny, for example, that art is a philosophy in nuce, tending to the education of human kind, is the equivalent of denying aesthetic value to those didactic works which can have other values but not aesthetic ones. In such a sense even the most formalistic philosophy is normative. Were it not so, even the pure formality of philosophy would end up in the useless. But what no philosophy can determine a priori, according to Croce, is which work can be considered didactic, which is to say aesthetic or not aesthetic, since that judgment belongs to the critics, or to the readers who operate at all times within concrete particular conditions determined by the taste of the times and individual predispositions.

For all those reasons, from the general principles of Croce’s aesthetics derive a series of corollaries which address concretely the life of art and which with the passage of time have become the genuine matter of investigation for writers and critics. Particular motives have increasingly become the fundamental motive, leaving in the background the central theoretical issues. The very same activity of literary critic of Croce and his frequent returning to specific themes have led scholars and critics to focus on various questions, more than on the essence of Crocean thought.

If art, as it is evident, is infinite and indivisible as a category or specific function, is equally evident that we could discuss particular problematic and issues which issue from the concrete life of works of art.

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San Carlo Opera House in Naples Italy

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4.
Vico and the Modern Idea of History
Part I

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

papIt is intriguing that within modern times (from Galileo and Bacon onward) the idea of global history was born in the European philosophical mind at the same time when European imperialism was at its culmination supported by science and technology as the definitive modern  answer to all social, political and economic problems. Specifically, historicism is born with the publication of Giambattista Vico’s New Science (1725) in the 18th century. Until then history was not considered universal but tribal and not worthy even to be called a science since it was not concerned with universal problems. The ancient Greek certainly did not consider it a pathway to truth, neither did Descartes. But by the 18th century, the so called age of enlightenment, the whole world could be envisioned as one stage wherein a single global drama could be played out.

It was almost natural that Europe would arrive at the idea of universal history and see itself at the very center of its processes. Natural too that it should have put its meaning and interpretation in terms of Western Civilization. In fact, had there not been those early Greek thinkers who initiated philosophy as we know it, there would not be any science, not technology and no atomic bombs either; which is to say, without its  origins in ancient Greece there would not have been no modern culmination of science and technology either.

Vico has taught us that to understand the nature of any cultural historical phenomenon one must study its origins. To even begin to grasp the advent of our modern technical civilization and the entrepreneur’s mind-set we ought not begin with the scientific mind-set of the 17th century but with its origins, as Vico has well taught us, and situate the emergence of the new modern science within the larger background of Western history. We need to begin at the beginning of thought among the early Greek.

When we focus on such origins we notice the strange fact that no such eruption of thought occurred in the ancient Oriental world. While it is true that the Chinese were (and still are) a highly intelligent people, that there is no indication that they were in any way at a lower intellectual level than the Greeks, they did not produce science, not even the beginning of science. There is little indication that, left on its own, they would have arrived at science. The contrary can be asserted: that the harmonious and well balanced patterns of Chinese civilization were against the reckless and dangerous adventure of the mind what we in the west call reason.

While it is true that with Galileo the earth is no longer the center of the universe we have to keep in mind the bigger picture: that Greek science maintained that there an immediate bond between ourselves and nature. The motto for this nexus was Sozein ta Phainomena (to preserve things as they show themselves to be) which simply meant that the Greek scientist would preserve the nexus between natural objects and our direct perception of them.

The question arises: why did philosophy which prepares the way for modern science originate among the Greeks? Why did it take place there? Why did it take place at all? To begin to answer this question we have to grasp the fact that human creation is not deterministic, human acts are unpredictable; that a new vision can go beyond any existing previous framework. That is to say, the outburst of light in ancient Greece need not have happened at all.

The birth of philosophy cannot be reckoned as the effect of a cause. The birth of philosophy, its origins, so important to determine its essence for Vico, is the point at which Being comes into its own and claims mortal minds. There is no more split between subject and object, between thought and Being. As Parmenides first perceived, they belong together in unity. Being is the whole, the All calling to thought. There is intellectual awe at the thought that the human mind is capable of raising itself above all that is, that it is, that it exists. Hence the famous question: why is there something rather than nothing?, a question which begins Heidegger’s Being and Time.

A century and a half after Parmenides Aristotle brings to completion the great age of Greek philosophy. This century and a half from Parmenides to Aristotle is the most revolutionary and speedy acceleration of all of history. This may seem preposterous to us moderns but consider this: the period opens with Parmenides’ vision of Being as an intelligible whole within which human thought is to find its elements. It is like the sun at sunrise: its light is still perceived as one of the things of the phenomena. It closes with Aristotle mapping out various and distinct realms of beings mapped out into the territories of different disciplines, not changed that much since then: logic, mathematics as a deductive system, physics or natural science, biology, psychology, ethics, politics, economics. Science is born, albeit to be intelligible to itself it has to cling to the maternal apron strings of philosophy. Now we are at high noon; the light of the sun pervades everything and yet, just because it is so pervasive it is no longer consciously perceived; it is just there taken for granted and needs to be rediscovered and disclosed again

For Aristotle to be is to be an individual entity of some kind, to exist is to be an individual instance of a species. So when the Greeks created philosophy proper they ceased to be aware of the light of Being itself in which they saw what they saw. The history of Being for Western thought begins therefore with the forgetting of Being. But the schematized world of Aristotle still has an inner unity which we moderns have lost without even being aware of it. That unity is the Greek sense of Physis which we translate as nature. Stones, plants, animals, stars, and planets still belong to the one cosmos within which man lives and has its being as a natural being. The cosmic alienation, the nihilism of us moderns, had not yet entered the Greek spirit.  

Modern science has been around for some three hundred years now. However we ought not forget that it is built upon the foundations of Greek science. Without Euclid and Archimedes, Newton would have been impossible. Yet most of us would agree that our science is not exactly that of the Greeks, or why would we call it “modern science”? More often than not we couple it with technology. In his Science and the Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead brilliantly deals with this conundrum. There he upsets one of the taken for granted assumptions of conventional history which seems to take for granted that the modern period begins when men turn from the faith of the Middle Ages to a reliance on reason culminating with the age of Enlightenment (18th century). What is overlooked is that the Middle Ages were characterized by the sweeping rationalism of the scholastics (among whom Thomas Aquinas) and in reality the modern period begins with a revolt against such a rationalism and a turning to the stubborn empirical facts of experience. It is that, according to Whitehead that is at the origins of the modern era.

Whitehead focuses on Galileo who insisted on mechanics established mathematically as the most important aspect of the new modern science. Indeed it became the central part of physics all the way to the end of the 19th century. Astonishingly, Galileo rather than stick with the empirical “irreducible and stubborn facts” sets up a concept which cannot be validated by actual facts. He postulates that a body in motion will continue to be in motion ad infinitum on a frictionless plane. The empirical fact is that our experience has never presented us with a perfectly frictionless surface nor with a plane which is infinite in extension. No matter, as far as Galileo is concerned. This concept of inertia is needed for his theory. Whitehead points out that medieval rationalism has not for a moment surrendered to the brute facts. It is the other way around: it posits conditions contrary to facts and then paradoxically it measures those facts in the light of those contrafactual conditions. Reason becomes “legislative of experience.”

Kant perceived this as the real revolution of the new science to eventually become the revolution within philosophy. As Bacon had intimated, the advancement of knowledge necessitated that we should stop following nature passively; rather we should question nature and force it to give us answers. The Critique of Pure Reason, is less an attempt to set up a system of idealistic philosophy and more an attempt to grasp the meaning of this new science and its consequences for human understanding.

So, Galileo is much more than an event in the history of ideas. We have come a long way since then and paradoxically rather than becoming masters of nature, the age of extinction is upon us. What has happened is a transformation of human reason which in turns transforms all subsequent human history. This change is pervasive reaching into religion, art and culture in general. In politics man is envisioned as a lord and master of nature transforming his social existence. So there is an essential bond between science and technology. Technology embodies physically what science has already accomplished in thought when science sets up its own conditions as a measure of nature.

[to be continued at the next meeting of the Ovi symposium].

5.

Note on Vico’s Frontspiece to The New Science by the Symposium’s coordinator Paparella

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  Frontispiece of Vico’s New Science (1730)            Parmenides (left) and Heraclitus
depicting Homer, Philosophy and Providence      Detail from Raphael’s School of Athens

In his book, The New Science, Vico uses the frontispiece as the work’s ‘mythic stage’ (see image above). That image becomes the ‘mute speech’ of the first humans, able to prophecy in the style of mi-dire, half-speech. The image itself shows the three-fold matheme structure that characterizes the work to follow. Jove and the altar, symbols of institutions derived from the first religions, and finally the ‘mercantile’ bases of modernity. The ‘a’ element is the invisible helmet of Hermes, indicated by the blind Homer; this gesture is the enunciating act of The New Science, the effect that becomes the cause of an ‘obverted’ reading, where the reader takes the place of the author.

 

Vico included it at the very last minute before publication of the second edition (1730) as a hieroglyph of the truth of his work. The reader should notice the strange position of the globe. It suggests that physical nature is only half of reality, and not even the most significant half. The eye of God can be discerned in the upper left-hand corner. The woman on the right is an allegory of metaphysics contemplating God’s providence. She stands on the celestial globe, i.e., the physical world supported by the altar on one side only. On the left we see a statue of Homer, the theological poet, representing the oldest wisdom of the world. A ray of divine providence connects the eye of God with the heart of the lady metaphysics; a second ray connects her with Homer, i.e., with the civil world of the Gentiles, thus bypassing the physical world of nature. As Vico himself explains it: “…metaphysics contemplates God above the order of natural things, She contemplates in God the world of human minds in order to show his providence in the world of human spirits, which is the civil world of nations.” The reason why the globe is supported by the altar on one side only is that “the philosophers, contemplating divine providence only through the natural order, have shown only a part of it…They have not yet contemplated his providence in respect of that part of it which is most proper to men whose nature has the principal property: that of being social.”
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Portrait of Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)
He taught rhetoric at the University of Naples
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Original Cover for the Third Edition of Vico’s
Scienza Nuova as Printed in Naples in 1744

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6.
Art and Technology:
Paolozzi’s response and comments to Nannery and Paparella’s
Presentations by way of a Discussion on the Subject
(as translated from his book L’Estetica di Croce by Emanuel L. Paparella)

From what we have discussed up to now, it ought to be obvious that in Croce’s aesthetics there is a rejection of any theory which attempts to distinguish or judge art on the basis of purely technical notions. Indeed, the problem is not that of choosing between art’s spontaneity and the technique of artistic expressions but that of understanding their complex relationship. It would be enough to think of the paradoxes we would meet were we to become radical supporters of one or the other theses. It is impossible to think of an artistic expression which does not follow some specific technical procedures, just as one cannot identify technique with art since to be able to use a camera does not mean that one is a great movie director.

In Croce’s opinion technology fulfills merely a communicative function which was independent of the true and original artistic creation. For example, the divisions of the arts (sculpture, painting, music, etc.) based on empirical or physical principles gives no insight into the essential nature of art which is the aesthetic result of the work. One can know all about the technique of music making and yet not be able to produce significant compositions. However, technique does have a function. In his Breviario Croce reasserts that the artist, as every man, is a complex man and is therefore a practical man as well as a poet, and “as such he finds ways not to have his spiritual work disappear in oblivion, and to make possible for himself and for others, the reproduction of his images.” (Breviario di estetica, p. 38). Nonetheless in his Aesthetic in nuce of 1928 in the chapter on “Espressione e comunicazione” Croce writes that “technique is generally a cognition or a variety of cognitions arranged and disposed to guide practical action and, in the case of art, is the practical action that forms objects and instruments for the remembrance and the communication of works of art.” (Estetica in nuce, p. 18).

It is only with his La poesia of 1936 that the philosopher, even without modifying the essence of his concept amplifies the practical horizon within which technique fulfills its precious function. In a note titled La tecnica nel significato di tradizione storica [technique within the significance of historical tradition] writes that “it is impossibile for us to free ourselves from technique, neither it is possible with technique to ‘remake oneself virgin and primitives,’ something that happens with every inspiration or creation, and is one of the two necessary moments of the same act.” (La poesia, pp. 338-339).

Under this point of view one can speak of a reevaluation of technique in as much as it represents the historical result of a process. And it is perhaps necessary to add that, in reality, poetical imagination, intuition, never come about apart from technique, given that the painter “thinks” in a pictorial mode, the music composer in a musical mode, the comedian in a theatrical mode. So, while we have to admit that technique does not make art, we need to also accept the idea that artistic creation always happens in concrete within a certain historical condition. The comedian as well as the drama director always imagines a specific concrete situation, not an abstraction, and always in reference to the expressive mode which is most apt for its sensibilities. Which does not mean that the comedian is unable to construct his work without a stage and actors in flesh and blood, or that an artist cannot be mistaken in using a technical instrument and yet has intuited, imagined, created, or however one wants to put it, his artistic expression. Theater people know how to distinguish between talent and artistic ability. It is in this distinction, which is dictated from experience, if not from common sense, that we may find the fundamental Crocean position.

Finally, we need to deal with the question of technical innovation. In this case too innovation can be original and important, worthy to represent a new historical initiative (the introduction of perspective in painting), but it cannot justify artistic experience by itself which can happen or not happen despite the particular new technique that has been employed. On the other hand technical innovation, especially when it is revolutionary, for example the use of photography, of the cinema and finally of the computer, reveals in the final analysis the perishable nature  of those same techniques which are in fact only means of expression.  However, after all that we have discussed, given that between means and end there is a dialectical relationship and not merely extrinsic, in many cases it happens that the choice of a new technique becomes in itself an aesthetic choice, the fruit of artistic creation and not only of ingenuity. Those who defend the reality of technology then risks of becoming prisoner of a sort of aesthetic conservatism masked as progressivism; of defending, in other words, a tradition, even if great and important, vis a vis the new creativity.

To be able to distinguish then between ingenuity and imagination, between talent and art, is not a function of aesthetics, to which belongs the duty of indicating the general horizon of thought, but it is a function of the critic, of the public, who judge and choose, always in an absolutely novel and free way.

symposium36

Photograph of Benedetto Croce
(1866-1952)

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End of 6th Meeting of the Ovi Symposium (8/15/2013)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

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

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