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Ovi Symposium; Eleventh Meeting Ovi Symposium; Eleventh Meeting
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2013-12-09 10:20:50
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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
Eleventh Meeting: 24 October 2013

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Participants:

nannery01Dr. 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.

 

enDr.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.

 

papDr. 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 11th Meeting of the Symposium (24 October 2013)

Section 1: What Brueghel has to Show Us” A Presentation by Dr. Larry Nannery on the Aesthetic Appreciation of Brueghel

Section 2:  “The History of the Arts.” An Ovi Symposium Presentation by Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book L’Estetica di Benedetto Croce.

Section 3: A response to Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi’s Presentation by Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella by way of sundry Musings on Nietzsche’s View of “Art as Redemption” (from his Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers).

Section 4: Review of Professor Ernesto Paolozzi’s Ovi e-book Croce: the Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom, by Antonella Rossini in the Italian Philosophy Journal Libro Aperto (XXXIV, n. 74, September 2013).

Section 5: “A Bridge between two Cultures for the Renewal of Western Civilization.” An Ovi Symposium  Presentation by Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella

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1

What Brueghel has to Show Us:
A Presentation by Larry Nannery on the Aesthetic Appreciation of Brueghel

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Brueghel’s Self Portrait (1565)

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The Hunters in the Snow (1565)

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Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (1558)

The viewer of Brueghel’s drawings and paintings seems to have the same experience with each.  If he had not destroyed many of his works on his deathbed the situation might be different, but we cannot know this, and we should proceed to evaluate what we have before us.

The first thing the viewer experiences is the absence of a center in any of his works.  This he usually achieved by always having several centers in his depictions.  One is forced to “read” each work as though it were telling several stories.  The eye is forced to roam over several centers, each similar to but independent of the others, and often projecting an ironic comment on something.

This feature of roaming gives the work great vivacity, however drab or hellish the scene may be overall. 

Second, the human figures are drab, and always expressive of some basic human interest.  The people often seem happy or jovial, but, just as often, they are evil or destructive.  We have no examples of a virgin and child or of Christ the man of sorrows with his crown of thorns from Brueghel’s hand.  In all, the human form is seldom alone or glorious in works from his hands. 

Third, adding to the roaming feature of our experience is the common factor of a deep background.  Not only are these uniquely beautiful, with beautiful waters or mountains to view, even though not necessarily true to life.  One might say that a child has no disadvantage vis a vis an adult in feeling a correct response to these works.

The puzzle is, why would such a popular artist feel it necessary to destroy a substantial portion of his own work on his deathbed, when it would have been advantage to his young wife and children to have them as a source of income?  I speculate that his determination to destroy these painting, which would have been the equals of his other works, was due to his ambivalence about the Protestant and Catholic factions of Christianity during his lifetime.  Brueghel was at times a member of both factions, and his final position is not known.  But we do know that he married the daughter of his instructor, van Cock, who was a Catholic, and Brueghel wife, whom he knew from her infancy was, like her father, a Catholic.  Apparently, Breughal, knowing he was not long for this world, made her destroy many paintings because he feared for her safety, not to mention her well-being, after his death, which was soon to come.

I include a poem of mine from long ago to explain: it had to do with the character of his character.

BRUEGHEL, CENSOR
I

Pieter Brueghel the Elder was the greatest painter in the history of the world.
He brought to light dark and vibrant corners of the human pageant, and showed
Us many secrets, good and bad, in the texture of the human heart.
His paintings moil with little figures, common people, gross and sometimes ugly,
Ensconced in nature, doing common and sometimes shameful things.

These landscapes of the human way of life lack any center, or geometric shape.
We find in him no pagan perspective, no pride or glory, no attempt to glorify the human figure:
There is no happy nude, only naked people bundled in shapeless clothes.
He refutes by way of his paintings his contemporaries, like the Master of Flemalle,
Who had provided rude scenes from the life of the Savior, in clean luxurious clothes.
Brueghal's paintings are childlike depictions of a human race loved despite themselves.
In the paintings is dancing life, God's way of being with us.
They make the viewer a child, they put him in his original condition, a child of God.

II

In his very prime Pieter Brueghel was struck down by a heart attack
But lived on for another few days.
He lay there on the big bed in the big house he had managed to purchase there in Brussels,
Giving his wife instructions to destroy half his work.

Both sides in the religious wars were hypocrites, unChristian liars,
A collection of cutthroats, whoremongers, perverts and moneygrubbers.
Damn both their houses!
As though our perfect Savior ever counseled Christian to murder Christian,
As though exaggerated Pontiffs and sickly monks could ever be models for God's Faithful!

He had once been young, hot, had wanted to speak truth to power.
He was against denominationalism of any kind.
That was before he had a family.
What a fool he had been!
Now some questionable drawings and paintings would have to go.
If he didn't burn them, the authorities themselves would,
And probably, then they would burn all the rest, and then his wife and his children as well.
How he regretted now his early self-confidence!

III

Thanks Gott!  I am dying but not so suddenly that all my sins will cry out behind me.
Thanks Gott!  I have time to make it come out right, correct my errors, put things in order.

Burn them, Mayken, burn them as I direct.
It will be better for you and the babies.
You should never have married such a fool in the first place, my sweet!

I regret my own virtues.  I regret that I used my gifts for purposes the world cannot tolerate.
I suppose that true Christianity can not be expressed in this world and go unpunished.
What must I have been thinking!  Such wild optimism!  Burn them, burn them!
Thanks be to God the public has not seen most of these things. 

Husband and wife formed a little quick team.
She would fetch a painting, a drawing, and hold it up before him,
And he would nod yes or no.
The condemned ones went straight into the fire.
It was slower work than he desired.
He was in and out of consciousness, but the children were also helpful.

Oh, another attack!  I doubt I have enough time left.
That Martin Luther with shit on his ass.
Those Italians with their catamites.
Those cruel Spaniards, who didn't hesitate to murder children, all in the name of the Lord.
The world is full of these people.
It is not altogether a bad thing to leave this world.

Goodbye, Mayken, goodbye sweet children.
Your father loves you very much.  He has done what he could for you.
Remember me.  Be good to your mother.  Remember that I am watching you from above.
I am so regretful, so weary, that I did things I should not have.
But I always tried to do my best for you, though perhaps I have failed.
Children, I have one thing to say to you: love God always.
Farewell, we shall meet again in Heaven someday soon,
For the world in its present condition cannot go on much longer now.

IV

A catalogue of the paintings that Brueghel instructed his wife to destroy from his deathbed
Would include the following, and more besides.

A scene in hell, much more hellish than Mad Meg, honoring all true Christians.
There is a Pope there, in all his pomp and his Court and his naked mistresses,
Whose bodies have decayed and are rotting or blistered with the heat.
Besides the Pope there is Martin Luther and some other reformers lying down
In the fires of hell, seeming contented, though all about are torturing devils
With their instruments of evil standing tall.

A triptych depicting the mocking of Christ, with the Jewish priests and high priests
Wearing the garb of the Church of Rome.
His agony in the garden, His capture, accusation, flogging, carrying of the cross 
All these in little circles around the edges, with an emphasis on the cruelty
Of those who captured and persecuted him.
The central panel is a simple crucifixion, but His naked body is so agonized
That it was known to shock those who had viewed it.
His body is emaciated, lacerated, a photo of pain.
There was no eroticism in that body, nor any symbolism.

A depiction of the Christ Child tumbling and cavorting in the shop of his carpenter father,
Inside of which there is a picture within the picture, hanging on the wall:
A hall of a sumptuous mansion in which the Princes of the Church enjoy a kingly repast.

A battle scene, in which more are dead than alive.
It had been said that some people could smell blood coming from it.
It is not clear why this painting had to be burnt.

Praying Hands, in imitation of Dürer.
But these are dirty peasant hands.
If these too earthly hands could be the very symbol of devotion,
Why then perhaps God Almighty might be a graven image too.

The execution of a Prince during the Peasant Wars,
An execution by means of hanging from a tree.
The strangled victim’s face and neck so clear,
The hatred on the faces of the executioners so fierce and happy …
Of course this would give offense.

A miniature with his wife as the Madonna, with a child on her lap.
She has the exact attitude of the Renaissance beauties who played this role
But she is no beauty.
She is dressed very simply, perhaps poorly and the Christ Child has defecated on her:
A Christ Child and a Mother Mary of the Earth    too much of this Earth.

V

Mayken herself, the hard-working beloved girl, worked with energy and economy.
She had always obeyed her husband in all things,
And wished often that he would just once obey her.
She had always said that he should paint like her father,
In order to make money, and stop moralizing all the time.
Now he saw she was right, and that gave her satisfaction.
She said of herself to herself: "I am the daughter of a famous craftsman-painter
And the wife of a painter and genius.
How come I can't tell a good painting from a bad one?"

In the middle of the hubbub and furious activity Pieter Brueghel
Sighed, as though catching his breath, and was gone in an instant.
Thus passed away the true Christian, true artist, lover of this world
Under the dispensation of God, and lover of God and His Appearances in this world
From this earth.

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2

The History of the Arts
An Ovi Symposium Presentation from Ernesto Paolozzi as translated
from his book L’estetica di Benedetto Croce

Every young student has at some time or other glanced at a book on the history of literature, or of painting, or music. Every critic worth his salt has written or at least fantasized on the writing of a thorough history of a particular artistic form. There are debates on the validity of various histories. Some are privileged, others are discarded. There are distinctions made within their analysis separating what is treated competently and what is not. Francesco De Sanctis, one of the greatest essayist and critic, is essentially noteworthy for his History of Italian Literature. 

Is it therefore possible to deny the possibility of conceiving a history of literature, of poetry, of sculpture, of cinema, the kind of disciplines to which every civilized country has dedicated chairs, institutes, journals and foundations. And yet Croce, the ideal disciple of De Sanctis, does promote this negation.

But the doubt arises: does Croce, the philosopher of historicism, radically deny the very possibility of writing histories? Or rather, does he limit himself to warn us against certain particular historicist methodologies?

In fact, when the philosopher asserts that he prefers the monographic methodology for aesthetic criticism (i.e., the search for the intrinsic values of individual artists and, above all, of the single works of art) he simply wanted to critique certain methodological prejudices which harmed what he considers the authentic historicity of art. The first among those prejudices is that of considering the history of artistic phenomena as a history of mere progress.

As far as Croce is concerned, it is impossible to theorize progress in art understood as a development of inferior forms toward superior forms. This thesis is tenable in discussing the development of techniques, of genres, of styles, of poetics. One can maintain, for example, that the overcoming of the Atistotelic unities within the dramatic theater may represent a sort of progress.

What cannot be maintained, however, is to maintain that between Aeschylus and Shakespeare there is an aesthetic progress. Pari passu one cannot affirm the same thing for scientific and philosophical production. As Popper teaches us, within a scientific environment, for example, a new theory includes and falsifies at the same time those that have preceded it, thus extending the field of veracity.

In an analogous mode, one cannot but doubt the development of art as a causal connection of one work or a group of works with others according to a mechanistic or deterministic vision. It is indeed permissible to talk of Petrachism or Manzonianism, given that between schools and authors there are connections which create relationships of mutual exchanges and mutual conditioning. It is said that a painter or a movie director instructs. However, each work of art is an work unto itself, with its particular history, connected to the entire history of humankind and tied to a particular human event which is the human event of its author.

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Francesco Petrarca (1305-1374)
the father of Humanism at the origins of Italian Literature

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Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873)
Author of the first modern Italian novel I Promessi Sposi based on a national prose language

We can bring to bear many proofs: one that is particularly significant, just to mention one, is the issue of the relationship between history and art and the social problematic with which positivistic and Marxist critique are very much concerned. As Croce puts it: “Dante is not only a social document of Medieval times, or Shakepeare one of Elizabethan times; as documentaries they have there are others by bad poets or non poets which can supply more abundant information on those ages. It has been pointed out that thus the artistic-literary history becomes a series of unrelated essays and monographyes with no nexus existing between them; but clearly the nexus is the whole of human history of which poetic personalities are an integral and conspicuous part…, and exactly because they are part of it they cannot be submersed or hidden in such a history, that is to say, in the other parts of that history, but must be allowed to keep their poroper and original character.” (Aesthetics in Nuce, p. 31).

This page from Croce is quite clear. We need to be aware that the philosopher is not denying that it is possible to interpret and above all utilize works of art, and opinion documents such as poetics and manifestos, for goals that go beyond those which are purely aesthetics. There are many fundamental pages in his books dedicated to cultural movements which are essential to understand the era in question. In La Poesia Croce looks back at his positions and attempts to better clarify them based on a criterion of equilibrium lacking in the polemical writing in the first phase of his writings. Regarding the aesthetic judgment as a history of poetry he writes that “One may surmise that identifying judgment with the history of poetry destroys history as such, breaking it up in a multiplicity individual histories placed side by side to each other, thus destroying the order of succession which is indispensable to historical thinking. Nevertheless, the judgment of poetry not only does not deny, but it does not even negate such order, which is reaffirmed and assumed in all its movements. How could we ever seriously understand and think about the Divine Comedy were we to locate it before the Ilyad, or Orlando Furioso before the Chanson de Roland? Every and each work is well interpreted and evoked only by locating it in its proper historical setting in which all the preceding works and all the preceding history converge. (La Poesia, p. 120)

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Francesco De Sanctis (1817-1883)
The Renowned 19th century Italian Literary Critic

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Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
Ovi e-book by Emanuel L. Paparella available for free from the Ovi bookshop

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3

A Response to Ernesto Paolozzi’s presentation by Emanuel L Paparella
by way of some musings on Nietzsche’s View of Art as Redemption

(excerpted from his Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers)

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The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche (1872)
This was his earliest book. Henry de Lubac considered it “a work of genius” 

“This is the new opposition: the Dionysian versus the Socratic, and the work of art that once was Greek tragedy was destroyed by it.”

                                                                        --Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

In the context on the brilliant elucidation above on the history of the arts by Ernesto Paolozzi I’d like to contribute briefly mention in this meeting of the symposium the view of Friedrich Nietzsche’s on art. Those musings are excerpted from my Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of the Great Western Philosophers. 

Even the title of Nietzsche’s famous work on art from which the above quote is lifted reveals a nexus with Aristotle’s views on Greek Tragedy. As a great philosopher that he was, Nietzsche was aware that to build any kind of valid modern aesthetic theory one cannot simply ignore the ancients, that in fact it is imperative that origins be remembered and examined, something of which both Vico and Heidegger were also very much aware. Heidegger called it “originative thinking.”

Nietzsche is less concerned with the question “What is art?” than with the question “Why art?” That is to say, rather than trying to understand what distinguishes art from other aspects of human culture, such as science, Nietzsche is primarily interested in why there is such a thing as art in the first place. Art seems to begin with the very origins of human history. He was concerned with its function in human life. Hence the importance of going back to origins and to the ancient Greeks in particular.

Nietzsche’s answer to “Why art?” is based on his view, which he derives from Schopenhauer, that life is awful and tragic. It would be fatal to confront this truth directly. Thus, Nietzsche argues, art is a way to make life bearable, to go on despite the insight that it is not worth living, especially when it is examined in depth. In other words, art is the human response to the horrors of existence.

Next Nietzsche makes a fundamental distinction between two types of art: the Apollonian and the Dionysian. This echoes the distinction between the beautiful and the sublime elaborated in Kant and Schopenhauer. In Nietzsche’s view, Apollonian art creates a dream world, a sort of idealized realm that keeps at by the terrors of existence. He uses as an example Greek sculpture, which he sees as idealization of human life as another giant of philosophy, Hegel, also claims albeit with a very different assessment; but that’s material for another reflection.

Nietzsche connects the Apollonian with the individuated world of appearances described by Kant and Schopenhauer in which the individual is very much at home and in control. In contrast to that, Dionysian art is art that intoxicates and dissolves individuality. Here too one is reminded of Schopenhauer’s ecstatic description of the effects of sublime art in The World as Will and Representation. Closer to our times, just think of the Woodstock concert in the sixties, where people were taken over by the music. What Nietzsche is saying is that art redeems life by getting us to reject our individuality so that we can become one with the forces governing the universe as a whole.

But it gets a bit more complicated, for although Nietzsche distinguishes those two artistic tendencies toward the Apollonian and the Dionysian, he also argues that they are intimately related to each other and that they exist in dynamic tension with each other. In his The Birth of Tragedy he contents that the achievements of Apollonian art can only be understood as a conscious attempt to hold the Dionysian at bay, and vice versa. So, Nietzsche’s distinction ultimately transcends its origins in Greek tragedy. They come to denote larger cultural forces.

Which are those cultural forces? Basically they are the forces that deny life and those that affirm it. Behind the Apollonian he uncovers life-denying forces; behind the Dionysian he uncovers life-affirming forces that unflinchingly contemplate life in all its terror. He sees Socrates himself as the icon of a tendency toward an extreme life-denying rationality in Western philosophy which cavalierly dispenses with the intuitional, the imaginative, the world of emotions and feelings, or what Pascal aptly describes as “the heart [which] has reasons which reason knows not. It is the world of the Nazis ideologues, men with a Ph.D. after their names, who rationally plan the Holocaust in less than two hours and then efficiently carry it out in three short years at the tune of eleven million innocent victims.

It is by way of this dichotomy that Nietzsche is able to move a sweeping critique of the European Enlightenment, and not only its art, but in all its aspects, from science to morality. In other words, as far as Nietzsche is concerned, the Enlightenment has to still enlighten itself and the only hope for the West is a rebirth of the Dionysian. The question here arises: is that what the sixty’s generation was groping for? One has to wonder. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that after being ignored for a while, even dismissed as a proto-fascist (for which the views of his anti-Semitic sister who edited his work are largely responsible), Nietzsche is now considered one of the seminal thinkers of the 19th century; a philosopher who has considerably expanded our understanding of the complexities of the nature of art.

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4

A Review of an Ovi E-book in the Philosophy Journal Libro Aperto

Review of Ernesto Paolozzi’s Ovi e-book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom (with an introduction by Emanuel L. Paparella). It was written by Antonella Rossini, professor of contemporary philosophy in Naples, Italy. It appeared last month in the prestigious philosophy journal Libro Aperto (year XXXIV, n. 74, September 2013).

Preface by Symposium coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella: What follows is a free but faithful translation from Italian into English of a review of Ernesto Paolozzi’s e-book on Croce as recently published in Ovi magazine in both English and Spanish translations. The review appeared in Libro Aperto and it is written by Antonella Rossini, a regular contributor to such a prestigious Italian philosophy journal which last year published a glowing tribute and commemoration of Croce on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the philosopher’s death (n. 69, April-June 2012) to which participated by invitation several prominent Croce scholars from both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, among whom can be enumerated the same professor Rossini, Janos Kelemen, professor of philosophy at Elte University, Budapest, Hungary, Kunishi Kosuke, an expert in Italian literature from Kyoto university in Japan, as well as professors Paolozzi and Paparella.

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XXXIV, n. 74, July-September 2013 issue of Libro Aperto
wherein Ovi magazine’s publication of Ernesto Paolozzi’s
e-books on Croce is reviewed and commented

“Ovi magazine has published as an e-book the English and Spanish translations of Ernesto Paolozzi’s volume Benedetto Croce: the Logic of the Real and the Duty of Freedom. Aside from the intrinsic value of the book, with which Italians are already familiar, it offers an hermeneutical synthesis of the great philosopher’s thought which can be considered among the most important of the last few years. It is stimulating and particularly interesting to analyze the impact which this publication may eventually have on American culture which finds itself at the moment in an overall rethinking of the very foundations of philosophy.

Within this perspective, we need to mention the illuminating and erudite introduction by Emanuel L. Paparella, a professor of philosophy and an expert in Aristotle and Vico who knows in depth both American culture and the fortunes of Croce’s thought in the Anglo-Saxon world. Paparella reviews the biases and the equivocation which in the 70s and 80s have done considerable damage to a complex and well founded reception of Croce’s thought. For example, the idea that the Neapolitan philosopher is nothing else but an imitator of Hegel’s historicism, an idealist, a mere metaphysical thinker and philosopher of history understood in its traditional sense.

Even in the preceding years, beginning with its diffusion at the outset of the 20th century of Croce’s aesthetics, his thought was not always interpreted correctly. This was due either to bad translations or the prejudices of American culture tied to the Anglo-Saxon empiricist tradition. However, it must be mentioned that the authority of the Neapolitan philosopher was always recognized and his popularity was augmented by his fierce opposition to fascism throughout the years of such a regime.

What is particularly interesting is the new perspective within which Paparella presents Paolozzi’s volume and its particular interpretation of Croce’s thought. The American scholar emphasizes how American and Anglo-Saxon philosophy (anchored to empiricism and analytic rationalism) has undergone in the 80s a veritable identity crisis under the influence of hermeneutics, and more generally that of the post-modern. Paparella asks how is it possible not to grasp that Crocean philosophy with its Vichian approach in tandem with the neo-historicism envisioned by Croce, so different from Hegelian historicism, ought to have been considered as precursors of modern hermeneutics and post-modernism.

Moreover, by accepting as valid Paolozzi’s interpretation, Paparella clarifies how the dialectic thought of Croce ought to have been, and it can still be considered a possible solution to the unresolved issue of modern hermeneutics, relativism or epistemological skepticism, to which post-modernity seemed to condemn philosophy once the disingenuous neo-positivistic realism of Anglo-Saxon culture had been abandoned.

At the risk of over-simplification, we could assert that for both Paolozzi and Paparella, the toxic diatribe between subjectivists and objectivists, relativists and absolutists, can find a partial resolution in the recuperation of historicist dialectical thought, or critical dialectical thought, if you will, which suggests that history, just as life, in their eternal becoming develop in accordance to a fundamental opposition without which life itself could not exist.

In a fundamental way this is the reform of dialectic accomplished by Croce in intuiting and then demonstrating how it results impossible to think of opposition without distinction, theory without praxis, or praxis without theory within that incessant nexus between experiences and events which is the concrete life of men. From all this issues a theory of freedom not tied to any particular political philosophy or a particular conception of a State. That does not mean that empirically speaking, from time to time one cannot discern a doctrine or a conception of the State which can be considered liberal, as long as it does not identify with freedom once and for all. What Paolozzi is proposing is a methodological liberalism as advocated by Croce, particularly relevant today when the grand historical narratives of the 19th century are in a crisis and society seems to have lost all political and moral reference points.

The crucial difference between Crocean thought and the preceding historicism, that of Hegel and Marx, consists in not locating a final deterministic telos of history. For indeed, oppositions and contradictions are not only destructive, resolvable in a necessary synthesis, but, as far as Croce is concerned, they remain without a definitive immutable reality. Only in this sense one can assert that history is the story of freedom. Perhaps we ought to say that it is the story of the struggle for freedom.

That’s where the modernity of Croce’s thought resides. Paparella hopes that such a thought via Paolozzi’s interpretation may eventually be accepted from American culture, which in the process of detaching itself from a sterile academic philosophy steeped in analytic philosophy is today deprived of the post-modern, of an authentically free philosophy which opens new horizons even in the political dimension when political philosophy is generally stagnating or even regressing.”

Antonella Rossini

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Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom
E-book by Ernesto Paolozzi available for free at the Ovi bookshop

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5

A Bridge between Two Cultures for
the Renewal of Western Civilization
An Ovi Symposium Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

It is not a question of annihilating science, but of controlling it. Science is totally dependent upon philosophical opinions for all of its goals and methods, though it easily forgets it.

                                                                                                                  --Friedrich Nietzsche

If one reads the history of philosophy in the West, it will not take very long before one realizes that there is from its beginnings an irrationalism that regularly manifests itself in anti-scientific biases of one sort or another. Certain varieties of 19th century romanticism fit here. One discerns it immediately in the writings of Nietzsche, perhaps the best known philosopher to first point out the dichotomy of the Dionysian and the Apollonian in ancient Greek culture.

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Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

There is nowadays a widespread suspicion of the achievements of science coming close to an outright rejection of the idea of factual truth. This applies to academic circles too; to radical movements and “theories” such as cultural constructivism, deconstruction, radical feminism, and various other politically correct anti-empirical ists and isms. Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt have already ably analyzed this thorny issue in their book in Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. They show that this new hostility to science is part of a more general hostility to Western values and institutions, an anti-Enlightenment hostility that “mocks the idea that … a civilization is capable of progressing from ignorance to insight.”

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Higher Superstition:
The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science (1997)
by Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt

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Another book by Gross, Levitt and Lewis published in 1997

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Norman Levitt (1943-2009)

And then of course there is The Two Worlds of C.P. Snow. Few literary phrases have had as enduring an after­life as “the two cultures,” (1959) coined by C. P. Snow to describe what he saw as a dangerous schism between science and literary life. More than 50 years ago Snow, an English physicist, civil servant and novelist, delivered a lecture at Cambridge called “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” which was later published in book form. Snow’s famous lament was that “the intellectual life of the whole of Western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups,” consisting of scientists on the one hand and literary scholars on the other. Snow largely blamed literary types for this “gulf of mutual incomprehension.” These intellectuals, Snow asserted, were shamefully unembarrassed about not grasping, say, the second law of thermodynamics — even though asking if someone knows it, he writes, “is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?”

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The Two Cultures was originally published in 1959

The deeper point of “The Two Cultures” is not that we have two cultures, that is quite obvious. It is that science, above all, will keep us prosperous and secure; culture is merely frosting on the cake. Scientists, he argues, are morally “the soundest group of intellectuals we have,” while literary ethics remain suspect. Literary culture has “temporary periods” of moral failure, he argues, quoting a scientist friend who mentions the fascist proclivities of Pound and Yeats and Wyndham Lewis, and asks, “Didn’t the influence of all they represent bring Auschwitz that much nearer?” Obviously, the table is being turned around here.

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C. P. Snow (1905-1980) straddling the two cultures

Snow’s essay provoked an ad hominem response from the Cambridge critic F. R. Leavis — who called Snow “intellectually as undistinguished as it is possible to be” — and a more measured one from Lionel Trilling, who nonetheless thought Snow had produced “a book which is mistaken in a very large way indeed.” Snow’s cultural tribalism, Trilling argued, impaired the “possibility of rational discourse.”

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C.P. Snow and his mimesis F.R. Leavis (1895-1978)
Leavis was at the time the most creative and influential
literary critic since Matthew Arnold

For the past two decades, John Brockman has promoted the notion of a “third culture” to describe scientists — notably evolutionary biologists, psychologists and neuroscientists — who are “rendering visible the deeper meanings in our lives” and superseding literary artists in their ability to “shape the thoughts of their generation.”  So why did Snow think the supposed gulf between the two cultures was such a problem? Because, he argues in the latter half of his essay, it leads many capable minds to ignore science as a vocation, which prevents us from solving the world’s “main issue,” the wealth gap caused by industrialization, which threatens global stability.

Some of this sounds familiar; for decades we have regarded science as crucial to global competitiveness, an idea invoked as recently as in Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign. But in other ways “The Two Cultures” remains irretrievably a cold war document. This is, I think, why Snow’s diagnosis remains popular while his remedy is ignored. We have spent recent decades convincing ourselves that technological progress occurs in unpredictable entrepreneurial floods, allowing us to surf the waves of creative destruction.  Yet “The Two Cultures” actually embodies one of the deepest tensions in our ideas about progress. Snow, too, wants to believe the sheer force of science cannot be restrained, that it will change the world — for the better, and it will happen naturally, without human guiding hand. The Industrial Revolution, he writes, occurred “without anyone,” including intellectuals, “noticing what was happening.” But at the same time, he argues that 20th-century progress was being stymied by the indifference of poets and novelists. That’s why he wrote “The Two Cultures.”

This question is the aspect of “The Two Cultures” that speaks most directly to us today. Your answer — and many different ones are possible — probably determines how widely and deeply you think we need to spread scientific knowledge. Do we need to produce more scientists and engineers to fight climate change? How should they be deployed? Do we need broader public understanding of the issue to support governmental action? Or do we need something else?  “The Two Cultures” initially asserts the moral distinctiveness of scientists, but ends with a plea for enlisting science to halt the spread of Communism. In this sense it is a Cold War document. Nevertheless, some scholars have pointed out that contrasting scientific and humanistic knowledge is a repetition of the Methodenstreit of 1890 German universities. In the social sciences it is also commonly proposed as the quarrel of positivism versus interpretivism. Snow takes the philosophical position of scientism in conflating the complex fields of knowledge of the humanities.

 As soon as it appeared, the brief work became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. By 1961, the book was already in its seventh printing. I personally read it while I was in college in 1965. Its fame got an additional boost in 1962 when the critic F. R. Leavis published his attack on The Two Cultures in The Spectator. Leavis derided what he considered the “embarrassing vulgarity of style,” his “complete ignorance” of history, literature, the history of civilization, and the human significance of the Industrial Revolution. He can’t be said to know what a novel is, so continues Leavis, he is “utterly without a glimmer of what creative literature is, or why it matters.”

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Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Considered the father of modern science,
he was the post-Renaissance mathematician, astronomer, and
philosopher who played a vital role in the scientific revolution

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Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
A philosopher of science and the father of the scientific method

The extreme reaction was partly a response to Snow’s own extremity. But the questions raised by The Two Cultures—and by Leavis’s criticism remain. There is little doubt that since Galileo and beyond the gulf between scientists and literary intellectuals has grown wider as science has become ever more specialized and complex and seems unbridgeable. The more pressing issue concerns the fate of culture in a world increasingly determined by science and technology. Leavis described C. P. Snow as a “portent” revealing modern society’s tendency to trivialize culture by reducing it to a form of diversion or entertainment. For him, it was not surprising that The Two Cultures so captured the public imagination: it did so precisely because it pandered to the debased notion of culture championed by established taste.  As we look around it is hard not to notice a civilization and its culture bent on cultural suicide: the triumph of pop culture, the glorification of mindless sensationalism, the attack on the very idea of permanent cultural achievement—in the West. All this in tandem with unprecedented material wealth and profound cultural and intellectual degradation. C. P. Snow may be the canary in the mine. He is a symptom of something deeply troubling.  

The tone of The Two Cultures is intriguing in itself. It swings between the anecdotal and the apocalyptic. In some “afterthoughts” on the two-cultures controversy that he published in Encounter in 1960, Snow refers to his lecture as a “call to action.” But what is the problem? And what actions does Snow recommend given the gulf of  mutual incomprehension of which he talks? On one page the problem is reforming the schools so that “English and American children get a reasonable education.” A bit later the problem is mobilizing Western resources to industrialize India, Africa and Southeast Asia, and Latin America, and the Middle East, in order to forestall widespread starvation, revolution, and anarchy. The Soviet Union, as far as Snow is concerned. It all appears as a  terrible muddle. It would be nice if “literary intellectuals” knew more science, the gulf as described by Snow seems unbreakable. Snow uses “literary intellectual” interchangeably with “traditional culture.” This fusion yields the observation that there is “an unscientific,” even an “anti-scientific” flavor to “the whole ‘traditional’ culture.” What can this mean? Aristotle, Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes, Boyle, Newton, Locke, Kant: are there any more “traditional” representatives of “the whole ‘traditional culture’”?

At the beginning of his lecture, Snow affects a generous even-handedness in his attitude toward scientists and literary intellectuals. There’s a bit of criticism for both. But this show of even-handedness soon evaporates. The “culture” of science, Snow tells us, “contains a great deal of argument, usually much more rigorous, and almost always at a higher conceptual level, than the literary persons’ arguments.” Literary intellectuals are “natural Luddites”; scientists “have the future in their bones.” This is a formulation that Snow likes enough to repeat: “If the scientists have the future in their bones,” he writes, “then the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.” To clinch his argument that literary intellectuals (“the traditional culture”) “wish the future did not exist,” Snow holds up … George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four—as if that harrowing admonitory tale could have been written by anyone who did not have a passionate concern for the future!

Snow is especially impatient with the politics of “the traditional culture.” He indicts “nine-tenths” of the great literary figures of the early twentieth century (1914–1950) as politically suspect. Scientists, too, appreciate the tragic nature of human life—that each of us “dies alone.” But they are wise enough to distinguish between the “individual condition and the social condition” of man. As Leavis notes, the second law of thermodynamics is a piece of specialized knowledge, useful or irrelevant depending on the job to be done; the works of Shakespeare provide a window into the soul of humanity: to read them is tantamount to acquiring self-knowledge. Snow seems oblivious to this distinction as are most professors selling capitalism and entrepreneurship nowadays. A similar confusion is at work in Snow’s effort to neutralize individuality by assimilating it to the project of “social hope.” But what is the “social hope” that transcends, cancels or makes indifferent the inescapable tragic existential condition, the angst of choosing one’s destiny of each individual as pointed out by a Kierkegaard? Where, if not in individuals, is what is hoped for … to be located?  This is for Leavis the central philistinism and, the deeply anti-cultural bias, of Snow’s position. For him, a society’s material standard of living provides the ultimate, really the only, criterion of “the good life”; science is the means of raising the standard of living, ergo science is the final arbiter of value. Culture— literary, artistic culture—is merely frosting on the cake. It provides us with no moral challenge or insight, because the only serious questions are how to keep increasing and effectively distributing the world’s wealth, and these are not questions culture is competent to address. “The upshot” of Snow’s argument, Leavis writes, “is that if you insist on the need for any other kind of concern, entailing forethought, action and provision, about the human future—any other kind of misgiving—than that which talks in terms of productivity, material standards of living, hygienic and technological progress, then you are a Luddite.”

The progress of science may be inexorable but Leavis is not prepared to accept that science represents a moral resource or that there is such a thing as a culture of science. Science may tells us how best to do things we have already decided to do, not why we should do them. Its province is the province of means not ends. That is its glory and its limitation. In this sense the statement by Albert Einstein makes perfect sense: our age is characterized by perfection of means and scarcity of goals.

One word that is missing from Snow’s essay the editors of The Spectator note in an unsigned editorial, is “philosophy”—“that effort to impart moral direction that was found in the best nineteenth-century English writers.” Chief among them Matthew Arnold whose Rede lecture delivered in 1882—the same as Snow’s lecture, and titled “Literature and Science”—was itself a kind of “two cultures” argument. But his point was essentially the opposite of Snow’s. Written in response to T. H. Huxley’s insistence that literature should and inevitably would be supplanted by science, Arnold argued that, “so long as human nature is what it is,” culture would continue to provide mankind with its fulcrum of moral understanding.”

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The Poet Matthew Arnold (1822-1888): Champion of the Liberal Arts

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T.H. Huxley (1825-1895), friend of Charles Darwin whose scientific
concerns were Physiology, Paleontology, Geology, and Natural History

Arnold, like Leavis is concerned with “the cultural consequences of the technological revolution.” He too argues passionately  against the trivialization of culture, against “a superficial humanism” that is “mainly decorative.” And both looked to culture to provide a way of relating the “results of modern science” to “our need for conduct, our need for beauty.” This is the crux: that culture is in some deep sense inseparable from conduct—from that unscientific but ineluctable question, “How should I live my life?” Leavis’s point was the same. It is exactly the  upheavals precipitated by the march of science and technology that has  rendered culture—the arts and humanities—both more precarious and more precious. So the preservation of culture as a guide to “conduct” is now more crucial than ever. For Arnold, if mankind was to confront the moral challenges of modern science “in full intelligent possession of its humanity” and maintain “a basic living deference towards that to which, opening as it does into the unknown and itself unmeasurable, we know we belong,” then the realm of culture had to be protected from the reductive forces of a crude scientific rationalism.

The temptation to reduce culture to a reservoir of titillating pastimes is all but irresistible nowadays. Rock music, “performance art,” television, video games (not to mention drugs, violence, and mindless sex): since Descartes we are everywhere encouraged to think of ourselves as complicated machines for consuming sensations—the more, and more exotic, the better. Culture is no longer an invitation to confront our humanity but a series of opportunities to impoverish it through diversion. We are, as Eliot put it in Four Quartets, “distracted from distraction by distraction.” C. P. Snow and his entrepreneurial cohorts represents the smiling, jovial face of this predicament. Critics like Arnold and Leavis offer us the beginnings of an alternative. Let those who have ears, let them hear.

In November 1956, a month after C. P. Snow published his essay on The Two Cultures (already considered in a previous article), the American novelist and professor of biochemistry Isaac Asimov completed his short story “The Last Question” which centers on the pressing reality of universal entropy: endgame of the Second Law of Thermodynamic which can easily be interpreted to mean that the universe is doomed and is journeying toward its own final demise.  In this story we are treated to this intriguing scenario: as humanity merges with the technology it has itself created and idolizes it, each generation asks this crucial question “How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?” only to receive the scientific answer, “There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer”

Of course there is a more crucial question which is the one posed by Heidegger in his Being and Time as stated above: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” but scientists who seem more interested in the how we keep the game going, do not show the same enthusiasm for the why the universe exists in the first place.

But to continue with Asimov’s story, after mankind has disappeared, the sum mental potential of its mental processes lives on in AC, a supercomputer which continues to “think” while the stars crumble, planets cool, and space and time simply cease to exist. Eons have passed, and AC has finally discovered how to reverse the direction of entropy. But there is nobody to tell, mankind and the universe being long dead. No matter. “Let there be light!” AC says, “And there was light.” This is quite a story to reflect upon. What is Asimov trying to tell us as a scientist as he ponders on the future of the universe?

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Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) who wrote the short story The Last Question

I think that the real message of the story is not that there are deterministic laws at work in the universe, nor that man is an insignificant late comer to the cosmic drama. No, the real message is that when scientists attempt to give final meaningful answers such as the meaning of the universe, they invariably prove that they are still in Plato’s famous cave, and what they allege to be light or the sun is really is a secondary man-made light, the fire in the cave, or science which supposedly has all the answers that philosophy has failed to deliver. What is most shocking in the Asimov story is that at the end AC begins to hubristically think of itself as a god of sorts and thinks that he can reinvent the wheel of creation. This is Nietzsche’s eternal return in a nihilistic universe without meaning and purpose.

It is an exercise in self-deception to think that one can escape the box of scientism and logical positivism by using science and logical positivism as a research tool. One will remain stuck in that box, just at the chained slaves in Plato’s cave remain stuck in the cave looking at appearances and shadows projected on the wall by the light of fire (a secondary light) and assuming them to be reality, as long as they are unable to cut their chains and leave the cave and see the true light of the sun.

I suppose another way to stage the problematic is this question: does human kind have an Archimedean lever by which to escape the constraints of time and space and determine where the universe came from and where it may ultimately be headed? Do those spiritual books, such as the Bible, that ask the right questions and hint at a plausible answer, to be deemed mere myths and fables, a crude unscientific uncivilized attempt to explain imaginatively what one cannot explain rationally and scientifically? I surmise that most atheists would answer with a yes without being able to satisfactorily explain how order can come out of chaos and how the universe can make and then destroy itself, never mind the why which remains a more important question than how in man’s search for meaning.

On a more practical level, there are a plethora of long and impressive scientific papers, complete with hundreds of academic footnotes and bibliographical information which presume to give the “scientific” answer to certain political social problems. We have seen some of those in Ovi magazine, but I suppose we can go all the way back to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital in this regard.

These treatises encourage a rather skeptical attitude on just about any social phenomenon, especially religion considered retrograde and obscurantist, except for one: it own positivistic assumptions and methodology. Those are never challenged or looked at. To the question “What exactly does your science consists of?” the forthcoming answer is usually logical positivism, contemptuous of intuition, mythology, the poetical, the visionary, the interpretative (especially of history) and concerned with how to make human life materially more prosperous and comfortable; for in a materialistic universe by bread alone does man live. This shabby cultural phenomenon which has trivialized everything that a used to be called culture and has reduced us to consuming automatons, can be observed everywhere in and out of academia. We are indeed back to the two cultures of C.P. Snow and the warnings of Matthew Arnold.

Recall if you will that Snow attempts to narrate the decadence of Britain as due to the fact that scientists and philosophers do not talk to each other. In his famous essay he compares Britain with Venice in its decadence: "Like us, the Venetians had once been fabulously lucky. They had become rich, as we did, by accident… They knew, just as clearly as we know, that the current of history had begun to flow against them. Many of them gave their minds to working out ways to keep going. It would have meant breaking the pattern into which they had crystallized. They were fond of the pattern, just as we are fond of ours. They never found the will to break it." And here Snow while having a valid insight fails to properly formulate it, as Vico does with the history of the Romans. The insight is this: one cannot get out of the box of positivism by using positivism which is what he was doing as a scientist, albeit he also fancied himself a novelist which he was not; at best he was a mediocre novelist.

What Snow needed to do but fails to do is to challenge the basic positivist scientific assumption  he utilized in analyzing the two cultures. So, predictably he ends up with the wrong-headed solution which is fairly Baconian: knowledge is power and power controls the world and now let us proceed to identify who the villains who control the world might be. That is a world apart from the Socratic Aristotelian “knowledge is virtue.” It is however quite close to the social Darwinism of an Ayn Rand and her “virtue of selfishness.”

II

There is another work worth mentioning here which attempts to analyze the roots causes of so much inequality and injustice in the world. It is The Money Masters – a 1996 documentary film produced by attorney Patrick S. J. Carmack and directed and narrated by William T. Still. It discusses the concepts of money, debt and taxes, and describes their development from biblical times onward. It covers the history of fractional-reserve banking, central banking, monetary policy, the bond market, and the Federal Reserve System in the United States. The film, which is widely available online, was followed by The Secret of Oz in 2009. These documentaries, not unlike C.P. Snow’s inquiry into the two cultures need to be viewed and pondered carefully since it too may lead to some fruitful dialogues and insights into the birth and decay of advanced powerful cultures which go astray and end up losing their very soul. But this obtains only as long as one’s interlocutor is willing to examine his/her research assumptions. We ought to read those works, if for no other reason than avoiding the danger of reinventing the wheel and then foolishingly proclaiming that we have made a great new discovery. We ought to be careful in choosing and formulating the themes of our cultural proposals lest they reveal not visions and dreams but prejudices and biases. In academia those questions are called “loaded questions,” they already have an answer in mind before the question is even asked.

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Which is all to say I suppose, that C.P. Snow’s and William Still’s inquiries while important as far as they go, unfortunately do not go far enough. If they really intended to carry on a fruitful dialogue with the second culture and perhaps create a third synthesis of science and liberal arts, a third culture so to speak, they would have needed to find the courage and the vision to boldly go beyond the analysis of mere economic-political phenomena such as bankers, bureaucracies, unions, media, industrial commercial entrepreneurship, multinational corporations, “bully capitalism,” big business, environmental degradation, government control, federal reserve policy, bond market, opportunistic capitalism, central banking and so on, you name it, ad nauseam.

They would have had to go beyond the mere proposal of reforms, as if everything else is otherwise ok with the global village in which we now live. They would have had to propose a dream and a vision within spiritual realities now considered retrograde and passé, beyond materialistic national xenophobic narratives; they would have had to propose what Silone calls “the conspiracy of hope” beyond mere ideologies. They would have had to challenge first and foremost the basic fallacious tenet that “economic growth” based on social Darwinism and ceaseless consumerism, or what we call savage capitalism, is always desirable and leads to individual and social happiness (understood in a materialistic sordid way rather than the Aristotelian eudemonia), always preferable to socialism or other forms of governance. So their works begin to sound as mere anti-communist propaganda for capitalism and entrepreneurship.

Moreover, what they should have paused upon is the catastrophe of having two cultures replete with very intelligent people who have not found a creative positive way to talk to each other. We have witnessed the phenomenon in the very pages of this magazine. There is indeed a moral in such a tale which may well apply to all those who are out to reform the world and perhaps even change it, but then obtusely refuse to examine their supposedly “enlightened” assumptions which support their critique. Be that as it may, hope springs eternal and one may continue hoping for Silone’s conspiracy of hope. What did Socrates say? “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

III

In the third segment of this essay I’d like to focus briefly, on the desirability within modernity of envisioning a third culture: a cultural bridge, or a sort of theoretical ideal synthesis of the two estranged cultures. The origins of the term “science” go back to William Whewell, a philosopher and historian of science who used 'science' in his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences of 1840, and is credited with establishing the term. I suppose one can even go further back to Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method.                                            

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                                             Leonardo Da Vinci’s Bridge to Everywhere in Norway

However, the term was not recorded as an idea till the early 1830s at the Association for the Advanced Science when it was proposed as an analogy to the term “artist.”  Leonardo Da Vinci would have approved, given that he conceived of himself holistically as both an artist and a scientist and perceived no dichotomy between the two. And yet, the two cultures simply ignore and exclude what was originally the analogy to science-art. And there is the root cause of the divide identified in the 18th century by Giambattista Vico in his New Science as “the barbarism of the intellect,” something I have already discussed at length in the pages of Ovi magazine.

It is significant to point out here that in the second edition of The Two Cultures, in 1963, Snow added a new essay titled "The Two Cultures: A Second Look." In that essay he predicted that a new "Third Culture" would emerge and close the gap between literary intellectuals and scientists.  Also important to take notice that he originally named his lecture "The Rich and the Poor" In his last public statement he makes clear that the larger global and economic issues remain central and urgent: "Peace. Food. No more people than the Earth can take. That is the cause." As I have already pointed out in my previous articles one must wonder what Snow’s real agenda was after all. In point of fact he produced precious little in the way of a theoretical philosophical scheme with which to synthesize his two cultural worlds and bring about a third culture.

So the question persists: is it desirable that artists working with computers and inspired by the exciting innovations and discoveries taking place in science, be also keenly interested in what the cultural critics and commentators from the humanities have to say on the meaning and impact these discoveries and innovations have on culture and society? Can the use of the computer be a point of reference, a sort of center, and if so can the center hold?  Because our work and tools are in constant flux, we are forced to articulate the reasoning and meaning informing the art produced, which has traditionally been the role of art critics and historians. This, I would suggest, creates room for an active dialogue with both humanists and scientists. Thus we are placed in between these "Two Cultures," which creates a triangle and promises to an emergence of a Third Culture. This may be a privileged but also a dangerous position, at least in this transitional stage. Therefore it is important to take a hard close look at the background and current status of the so called Two Cultures.

But before we delve into the issue perhaps we should first answer the question: are there still today, the era of post-modern art and philosophy, individuals who resemble Da Vinci in the sense of not conceiving themselves within the dichotomy art/science? Actually there are such individuals, one that comes to mind is Paul Feyerabend who wrote an influential book titled Against Method (1975) which was translated into sixteen languages. In that book he argued that philosophy cannot provide a methodology and rationale for science since there is no rationale to begin with and to explain. Particularly irritating to scientists was his famous “anything goes” assertion which went like this: “All Methodologies have their limitations and the only 'rule' that survives is 'anything goes.'” He also suggested in that book that assuming that science and art share a problem solving attitude, then the only significant difference between them would disappear and then we could speak of styles and preferences for the former, and progress for the latter. Indeed, much of epistemic relativism in philosophy is understood by the scientific community as violent attacks on science. And that is too bad.

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Paul Fereyabend’s Book : Against Method (1975)

What I find most fascinating and Da Vinci-like about Fereyabend is his complete embrace of paradox. Like Da Vinci he is another complex persona who as a teenager studied opera and astronomy simultaneously and envisioned himself working in both fields. Later he kept going back and forth between majoring in physics and philosophy, eventually settling on the latter. Fereyabend studied under Popper at the London School of Economics. He then moved to Berkeley, where he befriended Kuhn and strongly rejected science as being superior to other modes of knowledge and as a result he ended up being labeled an anti-scientist.  

Important to point out that one of the enterprises of Leonardo was that of the building complex bridges. It appears that in the Renaissance it was rather common for scientist-artists to also be architects and engineers. One thinks of Michelangelo who was also an architect. So unconsciously, if you will, the scientist-artists of the Renaissance were already busy building the triangular bridge of art, science and technology.

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A New Europe in Search of its Soul
by Emanuel L. Paparella (2005)

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Paul Fereyabend

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Leonardo Da Vinci who did not discern a duality between science and art

But I am afraid that there is still much work to be done in building this proposed bridge between the humanities and the sciences. Much cynicism and skepticism has to be overcome. For instance, John Brockman, editor of a book of essays entitled The Third Culture, negates Snow's optimistic prediction that a day will come when literary intellectuals will communicate effectively with scientists. Instead he makes the claim that the contemporary scientists are the third culture and alludes that there is no need for trying to establish communication between scientists and literary intellectuals, who he calls the "middlemen."  Although the choice of people in his book is significant, the mere fact that it is comprised almost completely of Western white men, with the exception of Lynn Margolis with her essay "Gaia is a tough Bitch" makes it impossible to take his proposition seriously. But it does point to the continuing gap between the humanities and sciences and clearly shows that the bridge being constructed is still very fragile.

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John Brockman (1941-    ) A cultural impresario
who runs the world’s smartest website bridging the
two cultures and advocating both science and the arts

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The Third Culture by John Brockman (1996)

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Lynn Margolis

Perhaps the source of the communication problem can be traced to the fact that most of the philosophers under attack in the scientific community do not work closely with scientists and that scientists are equally isolated from the movements of philosophical thought and contemporary artistic expression. As long as the work does not have a reason to be located in a few disciplines simultaneously, room for misunderstandings will be ample. The work of artists working with technology demands interaction with scholars from a wide variety of disciplines such as computer science, social studies, philosophy, cultural studies.

Let me repeat once again the wise comment of the philosopher Daniel C. Dennet on the dichotomy science/humanities which remains to be bridged by a third humanistic culture in between the two antagonistic ones of science on one side and that of the liberal arts on the other still opposing each other: I have already mentioned in a previous symposium meeting but it bears reiteration: “It's a two way-street. When scientists decide to ‘settle’ the hard questions of ethics and meaning, for instance, they usually manage to make fools of themselves, for a simple reason: They are smart but ignorant. The reason philosophers spend so much of their time and energy raking over the history of the field is that the history of philosophy consists, in large measure, of very tempting mistakes, and the only way to avoid making them again and again is to study how the great thinkers of the past got snared by them. Scientists who think their up-to-date scientific knowledge renders them immune to the illusions that lured Aristotle and Hume and Kant and the others into such difficulties are in for a rude awakening.”

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Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett
The book argues for a scientific analysis of
in order to predict the future of such a phenomenon

The envisioned bridge is triangulated and made into a more stable structure with the work of artists who are utilizing new technologies and are in active dialogue with both sides. Artists using technology are uniquely positioned in the middle of the scientific and literary/philosophical communities, and we are allowed "poetic license," which gives us the freedom to reinforce the delicate bridge and contribute to the creation of a new mutant third culture. By utilizing tools familiar to scientists and collaborating with the scientific community, we may be getting closer to an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual respect.

This road, however, is not without dangers. It is a delicate mission to be in between disciplines that are themselves in a tenuous relationship. I experienced that existentially when, at Yale University, I decided to write an interdisciplinary Ph.D. dissertation encompassing philosophy and literature within Humanism and requiring the participation of two different academic departments. It was not an easy road.  Perhaps the greatest danger is for artists to look to the literary, philosophical, and theoretical circles for interpretations of scientific data and then further reinterpret their versions without checking back with the scientists. Much postmodern writing borders on linguistic play with mathematics and scientific terminology that serves to alienate the scientific community, which has used precise methods to arrive at those theories. This is not to say that one should blindly accept all products of the scientific community, but simply to suggest that any working relationship needs to be based on mutual respect and dialogue.

The other danger that faces those 'in between' working on creating 'something else' is the general attitude of theory being above practice, prevalent in both humanities and sciences. At this stage, it is in the practice of art that the freedom lies to make assertions that are beyond the rational and beyond necessary methodology of proving a thesis. Practice informed by theory, utilizing a methodology which makes it accessible to both worlds, is the key. Or, conversely, theory informed by practice. Here the pragmatism of a pierce or a William James could prove most useful. Currently, much of this bridge-building work takes place in universities in any case. Academia allows artists contact with scholars from many disciplines. In order to function and communicate effectively in this context, one is forced to learn the etiquette and language of various disciplines, as difficult as that may prove to be. The challenge, then, is to do this without losing the intuitive practice that taps into the silent, the unknown, the mysterious, the sublime and the poetical.

One of the most important scientists who has commented on the similarities between artists' and scientists' creative process is physicist Werner Heisenberg (1958). He believed artists' creativity arose out of the interplay between the spirit of the time and the individual. For McLuhan, artistic inspiration is the process of subliminally sniffing out environmental change: "It's always been the artist who perceives that alterations in man caused by a new medium, who recognizes that the future is the present, and uses his work to prepare ground for it. Back to the future.

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Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)
 is one of the most important figures in the development
of quantum mechanics and its modern interpretation

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Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)
 who is famous for his aphorism “the medium is the message”

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Roger Penrose (1931-    )
A mathematical physicist and philosopher
who has contributed to general relativity and cosmology

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John Horgan (1953-   ) who asserts that science is at an end

The work of philosophers trying to create the synthesis of a third culture is vitally dependent on an active dialogue with scientists and humanists while performing an important function of being bridge builders. And as any engineer knows, we have to know the territory on both sides and be very precise in how we negotiate the space 'in between.' Negotiating the gap between the canon of rationality and the fluid poetic is ultimately the goal of artists who work with communication technologies.

Gell-Mann is the founder of the Santa Fe Institute where Kauffamn, Bak, Penrose, and others have worked on the possibility that there might be a still-undiscovered law of nature that explains why the universe has generated so much order in spite of the supposedly universal drift towards disorder decreed by the second law of thermodynamics. Are we getting closer to Asimov “final question” on thermodynamics? This something else as Gell-Mann refers to it would be located beyond the horizon of current science-something that can explain better the mystery of life and of human consciousness and of existence itself. To Gell-Mann this indicated a certain tendency towards obscurantism and mystification.

One of the most profound goals of chaoplexity pursued by Kauffman, Per Bak, John Holland, and others is the elucidation of a new law, or set of principles, or unified theory, or something that will make it possible to predict the behavior of a variety of dissimilar complex systems. A closely related proposal is that the universe harbors a complexity-generating force that counteracts the second law of thermodynamics and creates galaxies, life, and even life intelligent enough to contemplate itself. How could one not then summon the ancient texts of the Vedas, Buddhism, and much of eastern mysticism? Although Gell-Mann was playing when he referred to the eightfold way and to Finnegan's Wake, he did touch on that something else many disciplines are struggling to define.

The discussion of whether we are reaching the 'end of art' is not limited to the field of art. Apparently this is an ongoing and lively discussion in the world of science as well. John Horgan, who spent years profiling major names in the world of science for Scientific American, asks this question in The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age (1996). He lists a number of disciplines and questions major personalities in their fields about whether they are reaching their limits: philosophy, physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, scientific theology, and machine science. One could easily compile a list of disciplines in the humanities asking this same question, but the simple point Horgan misses is that every end constitutes a new beginning, and by stating a doubt that there will be anymore Einsteins or Bohrs in the future, he does not take into account the possible emergence of a group genius and endless mutations of disciplines that truly do result in something radically new.

 symposium122

The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in
the Twilight of the Scientific Age (1975) by John Horgan

Reaching limits in science or any other discipline for that matter really means being on the threshold of the inevitable something else. Ultimately, bridging and synthesizing many worlds while composing “something else” becomes the art. Leonardo Da Vinci would have no problem with that process, for he possessed a mind that was always envisioning and carrying out the solution to problems considered impossible to solve, and conceiving new origins and new births.”Rinascimento” [Renaissance], after all, literally means “re-birth.” Another such re-birth is urgently needed. It will only begin when the Enlightenment begins to enlighten itself.

Here below for the benefit of the inquisitive reader are two books challenging taken for granted assumptions and suggesting in greater detail various ways and means on how  best to envision the above discussed bridging of the liberal arts and scientific cultures for the renewal and re-birth of Western Civilization, beyond the euro, power-politics, and economic concerns. One of those books is an Ovi e-book and can be downloaded for free:

 symposium123

Europa: an Idea and a Journey:
 Essays on the Origins of the EU’s Cultural Identity
and its Present Economic-Political Crisis (2012)
by Emanuel L. Paparella

 symposium50

Europe beyond the Euro (2012)
An Ovi e-book by Emanuel L. Paparella

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End of the 11th Meeting of the Ovi Symposium (24 October 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 -

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