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Ovi Symposium; Twenty-fifth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Twenty-fifth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2014-05-10 10:53:40
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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. Abis, Buccolo, Paolozzi, Paparella and Vena
Twenty-fifth Meeting: 8 May 2014

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order):

alessadraDr. Alessandra Abis is a graduate of the Department of Foreign and Classical Languages and Literatures at the University of Bari. She, with her husband Arcangelo, founded the Adriani Teatro in 1992 in Italy. She has performed in Greek-Latin plays, among others: “Voyage in the Greek World” (Andromaca), “Miles Gloriosus” (Plauto), “The Last Temptation of Socrates (from Plato’s Ione Minor). Also from the Commedia dell’Arte: “Harlequin Doctor Flyer,” and “Without Makeup” (Chechov), “Four Portraits of Mothers,” Lady Madness (Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly).

buccoloDr. Maria Buccolo teaches theater at the University of Roma Tre in Rome, Italy. She is a graduate of the University of Bari and has participated in various projects aiming at establishing cultural bridges among nations and people, one of which is the Project for the Integration of Immigrants via the theater “Leonardo da Vinci Transfert Multilaterale dell’Innovazione” with the participation of four EU nations: France, Italy. Belgium and Rumania).

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.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

venaDr. Michael Vena is a former professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University. He has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism (with a dissertation on Leon Battista Alberti) from Yale University. He has published a book on Italian theater titled Italian Grotesque Theater (2001). Recently he has published an English collection of modern Italian plays by well known playwrights such as Pirandello, Fabbri and De Filippo.

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Indirect Participants at this meeting within the “Great Conversation” across the Ages (in the order of their appearance): Rywalt, Petito, Scarpetta, De Filippo, Stella, Parodi, Troisi, Vico, De Sanctis, Croce, Dante, Pirandello, Moliere, Taranto, Veglia, Conte, Guarino, De Martino, Maggio, Di Costanzo, Fiore, Filippelli, Nazzario, Klima, Kafka, Masaryk, Bernano, Protagoras, Gerould, Husserl, Patocka, Heraclitus, Silone, Descartes, Dostoyevsky, Jung, Marx, Lincoln, Buber, Plato.

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Table of Contents for the 25th Session of the Ovi Symposium (8 May 2014)

Preamble by way of an abstract by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “A Profile of the Comedic Playwright Gaetano di Mayo.” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

Section 2: Playwright Vaclav Havel’s Conspiracy of Hope vis a vis the EU’s Cultural Identity and the Ongoing Political Crisis in the Ukraine.” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

In this 25th meeting of the Ovi Symposium we return to the theme of the theater as cultural expression and social efficacy and fine art as an expression of man’s freedom by examining the profile of two playwrights: Gaetano Di Maio and Vaclav Havel. The former is presented by Ernesto Paolozzi, the latter by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Di Maio is a Neapolitan playwright who is well known in Italy for his comedies, but, as Paolozzi elaborates, he remains to be discovered as a man of letters and as a poet. Paolozzi knows the playwright well not only on a scholarly level but also on a personal level given that Di Maio happens to be his uncle on his mother’s side, a family of actors and directors and playwrights. Paolozzi’s masterful presentation provides a lucid idea of the invaluable contributions to the theater of this genial artist as well as to humanistic Italian culture. Paolozzi includes some bibliographical notes, including his own writings on the playwright, to motivate us to read more and obtain a better understanding of Di Maio’s genius.

In section two we return to the crucial theme of the cultural identity of the European Union via the work of the Czech playwright. This remains a relevant issue in the context of the present and ongoing Ukrainian crisis with its ominous echoes of the Cold War and the repeated references by Vladimir Putin to a “new Russia.” Havel’s work is widely recognized as that of a genuine cultural hero of the new post World War II Europe vis a vis Soviet domination and oppression. We analyze and outline it here within such a context and framework. After all, this is a man formed within the crucible of the Cold War who, despite being an Eastern European man, or perhaps because of it, never doubted or ignored the vision and ideals of the EU’s founding fathers; something that unfortunately has not been emulated in the Western part of the EU which seems more preoccupied with banks, economic and political power-games than with cultural identity and cultural ideals.

Havel’s humanistic visionary philosophy of civilization is very much needed in the present EU for it asserts that culture represents a powerful antidote to the cynical real-politick Machiavellian poison pervading much of the continent nowadays, one contrasting a Machiavellian view, that of Putin, with another Machiavellian view, that of the present crop of visionless and cynical EU politicians and bureaucrats. The misguided and unimaginative solutions being proposed in the Western bloc nowadays on how to meet Russia’s challenge to the Ukraine’s sovereignty, and on both sides of the Atlantic pond to be sure, run the gamut from a passive, a la Chamberlain, toleration of a fait accompli in Crimea, in effect an appeasement policy of a super bully  parading as liberator on the international stage, reminiscent of the anti-democratic authoritarian super-bullies of the past century, to a call for the resumption of the Cold War. It is within those two extremes that lies the cool sane voice of Havel. He is no longer with us, but I dare say that his voice will nevertheless continue to resonate for centuries in Europe and elsewhere in the world, for it is nothing less than the voice of reason and sanity.

Last but not least, I’d like to mention and welcome to the Symposium my good friend Edwin Rywalt whose short profile appears with the others in this session. We attended to the same high school (St. Francis in Lowell, Mass.) for two years some fifty six years ago. He has generously offered his pro bono services to the Ovi symposium and from now on, behind the curtain so to speak, he has offered to check each session’s file and correct any typographical mistakes and/or stilted idiomatic expressions that it may contain. I and all the other Symposium’s contributors would like to express our sincere gratitude for this valuable and needed collaboration. We remain hopeful that in the future he will also join the symposium’s dialogue and contribute his views on one of his life-long interests: the nexus between science and the liberal arts.

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1

A Profile of the Comedic Playwright Gaetano Di Maio
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

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Gaetano Di Mayo (1927-1991)

The theatrical opus of Gaetano Di Maio can be located within the theatrical tradition of the comic theater spanning Petito and Scarpetta, Eduardo and Peppino De Filippo, a theater this which presents to the spectator, as it often happens with those playwrights, facets which are social, humane and existential.

Di Maio was born in Naples on the 18th of August in 1927 where he also died at 63 on the 26 of March 1991. Son of an artist he nevertheless did not get involved with the theater till his father Oscar’s death which happened suddenly in 1948. His grandfather, Crescenzo, was, together with Federico Stella, one of the animators as both author and entrepreneur of the great theater San Ferdinando of Naples and was active in the raging literary debates at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, on the nature of dramatic, realistic and in some way political theater. His sons, Gaspar and Oscar, were versatile and prolific authors and we owe mainly to them the beginning of the so called “Neapolitical scenery,” which was at the time a type of popular genre which had not yet degenerated into a plebeian forms which manifested themselves in the years after World War II.

The mother of Gaetano, Margherita Parodi, was an actress who descends from an ancient theater family, her sisters Maria (more versed in dramatic recitation) and Olimpia (well known to the public for her interpretation of Massimo Troisi’s mother in the film Scusate il Ritardo (Excuse the Delay), and even today descendents of that family are busy in the theater, as for instance Maria’s son who has assumed as artistic name Oscar Di Maio.

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The young Gaetano had no intention of following in his father’s footsteps. He was timid and introverted, two of his constant characteristics; the other being that he tended toward literary and philosophical studies. However, after the sudden death of his father in the dark years after the war he saw the very existence of his father’s theater company in danger and consequently the economic life of his family and so many actors tied to it. Di Maio was compelled to substitute for his father as author, while the mother, Margherita, and the sister, Maria, took over the difficult entrepreneurship’s duties. From then on, Di Maio produced dozens of comedies and scenes for his own and other theatrical companies, obtaining a growing success without interrupting his studies which led him to reading Vico, De Sanctis and Croce, the great German philosophy, the entire canon of Italian literature from Dante to Pirandello, the most notable European and global philosophers of the 19th and 20th century. There is ample evidence of those studies in his unpublished manuscripts as well as in the memory of then young scholars who constituted his genuine preferred companionship.

In the sixties, in 1962 to be precise, he met Nino Taranto who was at the time at the apex of success and wrote for this famous actor the comedy Avendo Potendo Pagando,(Having, Being Able and Paying) which was acclaimed in the whole of Italy. Also for Taranto, Di Maio composed Michele Sette Spiriti (Michael of the Seven Spirits) a series of one act performances for the RAI (the Italian national TV), from which emerges more and more clearly the synthetic ability of the author, his expressive energy, his genius in inventing situations and delineating protagonists.

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“Teatro Grande” in Ancient Pompei
In 1983 Gaetano Di Maio staged in this ancient amphitheater an adaptation, in
Neapolitan dialect, of Aristophanes’
Lysistrata (first performed in 411 BC at the
Dioniso Theater in Athens). Di Maio titled it “O Sciopero de Mugliere”

Subsequently, for close to ten years, Di Maio returned to his old work, being unwilling to leave his city in order to frequent those theatrical environments which were in fashion at the time. That choice was not dictated by ideological criteria, rather it was arrived at by a natural propensity for solitude and the dislike for worldly life and the internal fights natural to the theatrical environment. And that was not all, his avocation to philosophical and literary studies returned, and these could not be harmonized with a commitment that went beyond the writings of plays in the strict sense.     

So at the beginning of the seventies, stimulated by Nino Veglia and Luisa Conte, traditional actors who had moved from skits to the theatrical company of Taranto, and Eduardo De Filippo, he began to write for the theatrical company Stabile of the Sannazaro theater in Naples, an ancient and glorious theater which had decayed and then was renovated by Nino Veglia; the same theater in which Scarpetta had represented his A Santarella (The Little Saint) with great success.

The theater  company of Veglia and Luisa Conte began with the performance of classical texts deriving a mediocre success from it. Di Maio came to the fore in 1972 with La Fortuna ha Messo gli Occhiali (Fortune has Put on Glasses), a work which would be then picked up again with various modifications in the 88-89 season with the title of O Pittore 22 è Pazza (The Painter 22 is Mad). But the greatest, overwhelming almost, unexpected success came with M Priestame a Mugliereta (Lend Me Your Wife) liberally inspired from Carlo Guarino via the attentive and intelligent direction of Giuseppe De Martino, who form then on would become the favored director of Di Maio. This is a very comic comedy, rich in intrigue and sudden unexpected scenes which can be inserted in the best tradition of French and Neapolitan comedy. It was repeated for two hundred nights setting a financial record for those years.

The very next year Di Maio presented a more complex comedy, less comical but in some aspects much more involved socially: Nu Paese nmize ‘e guaie (The Country in Trouble). It was later picked up with the title E’ Asciuto Pazzo ‘o Parrucchiano (The Pastor has Gone Crazy). In this second edition it received a success which was even greater and was well received by the critics. It came out in the 1989-90 season. In those years the middle class public of the Teatro Sannazaro had gotten used to productions that were less farsical . In this comedy Di Maio addresses the theme of sin (the miracles invented by the pastor) committed with good intentions within a framework of a satire against the closed hypocritical provincial life. In the same year via the theatrical company founded by young people of the Sannazaro theater Di Maio adapts Moliere’s Le Furberie di Scapino with the title of Le trovate di Minichello (The Inventions of Minichello).

In 1991, the year of the disappearance of the comic playright, came out Ce Pensa Mamma, a thorough reworking of the text of 1982 Letizia Corallo con Madre a Carico (Letizia Corallo with her Mother as Dependent). This text is important for the complexity of its environment, and was represented by the great actress Rosalia Maggio, of the important theatrical family Maggio.

The theater of Di Maio is now waiting for new interpreters and new directors. It is currently performing throughout Italy and among the best performances we can mention are those of the theatrical company of A. Maio of Messina which are recited in Sicilian dialect.

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A 2014 Performance by the Theatrical Company I Figli delle Stelle
of a play by Gaetano Di Maio: Il Morto sta bene in salute 

Up to now we have outlined the artistic journey of this great Neapolitan playwright. It remains necessary to begin an historical and critical valuation of his opus. Here I can only offer some initial reflexions. The writings of De Maio are strongly innovative even if they remain solidly tied to tradition. What gives his comedies the footprint and the rhythm of a musical production is, as he himself would remind us, the tight rhythm which the author confers on the text. 

Another fundamental moment was his ability to confer to his characters, even though within the frame work of  situations and plots which are quintessentially comic, a human characteristic, a psychological complexity which are typical of comedy in the best sense of that word. His great knowledge of Neapolitan script allows him to pass from the comic to the serious, from the farcical to the thoughtful without ever overdoing it, harmoniously and naturally.

A separate treatment would be needed for Di Maio the poet. He has left us unpublished poems of great literary value which were later published by the editor Palomar with a preface by Giuseppe Di Costanzo. These are verses which have little to do with his comic theater, strongly committed socially, dramatic and springing from a long and original literary habit and acquaintance with Italian and foreign literatures, with philosophy which he studied assiduously with great subtle understanding. Unless I am mistaken, the case of Di Maio could well be a real literary case which in many aspects remains to be discovered.

Bibliographical Notes

Except for a few comedies, the theater of Di Maio remains to be published, and therefore we do not have a critical edition of his work.

Neither has a collection of the reviews of hundreds of his representations published in newspapers and magazines of Italy, appeared yet.

Here we wish to remember the essays of Enrico Fiore, When Comedy Becomes Reflection, and Ernesto Paolozzi Tra Poesia e Talento: il Teatro di Gaetano Di Maio (Between Poetry and Talent: the Theater of Gaetano Di Maio) which appeared in the magazine “North and South” of January 1996. In that same number appears the essay by Renato Filippelli The Sweet Melancholy of an Existentialist which is dedicated to the poet Di Maio.

Moreover, regarding Di Maio poet, besides the already referenced long introduction to his verses of Giuseppe Di Costanzo, the essay of G. Battista Nazzaro titled Gaetano di Maio in the volume “Dibattiro col Poeta” (A debate with the poet), Naples 1992.

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 2

Playwright Vaclav Havel's Conspiracy of Hope vis a vis the EU's Cultural
Identity and the Ongoing Political Crisis in the  Ukraine

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)

Kafka’s hero is, above all a hero for our time, a godless age in which power endowed with a higher meaning has been replaced with a vacuous power of tradition and legal and bureaucratic norms, that is, by human institutions. Man, deprived of all means and all weapons in his effort to achieve freedom and order, has no hope other than the one provided by his inner space.
                                                      —Ivan Klima, The Spirit of Prague

“…planetary democracy here on Earth must be somehow linked with the Heaven above us, with the transcendent. … only in this setting can the mutuality and the commonality of the human race be newly created, with reverence and gratitude for that which transcends each of us, and all of us together. The authority of a world democratic order simply cannot be built on anything else but the revitalized authority of the universe.”
                                                       
--Vaclav Havel, Democracy’s Forgotten Dimension

With the possible exception of Franz Kafka, there is no modern Czech writer whose political philosophy, within the Western Humanistic tradition, is more inspirational than Václav Havel’s. Perhaps the best way to imagine him is as one of Kafka’s “heroes for our time,” a powerful voice calling us back home to our humanity and urging Europe to know its cultural soul.

This is not to make Havel an esoteric thinker coming out of some Olympian cloud. He is, on the contrary, the last arrival of a long line of Czech visionaries and political philosophers who were formed within the crucible of the Cold War. Particularly important as Havel’s predecessor and greatly influencing his thinking is Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), a brilliant philosopher, member for 15 years of the Austrian-Hungarian Parliament, and champion of an independent Czechoslovakia. In 1919 Masaryk became president of the first Czechoslovakian Republic, just as Havel became president of the post-cold war Czech Republic.

Masaryk was in turn greatly influenced by Franz Bernano while studying in Vienna. Like Bernano, he was alarmed by the fact that within Western civilization, increased scientific sophistication did not result in any discernible moral progress. He also discerned that modern reason, detached from the world of good and evil, had regressed to a Protagorean clever sophistry detached from the ethical. Later on, Masaryk developed a friendship with Edmund Husserl. It was he who conveyed to Husserl a sense of the spiritual crisis of modern Europe. Husserl eventually published his famous The Crisis of European Science (1936) where he affirmed that in the Western World theoretical knowledge has somehow lost contact with living human experience, and that the morally ordered world of our pre-reflective lived experience is the life-world of humankind. All these ideas are perceivable in Havel’s own thinking.

Another strong influence on Havel’s thinking is the philosopher Jan Patocka (1907-1977) who had studied with Husserl and then taught Havel. He was instrumental in publishing Charter 77, the statement of resistance to Soviet occupation and communist ideology for which both Patocka and Havel were jailed by the Communist authorities. It was Patocka who had brought Husserl to Prague as a guest lecturer when Husserl was expelled by the Nazis from Freiburg University. Patocka grouped his writings in a book titled Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History. There, we find ample evidence that the subject which most captivated him was that of the human struggle.

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Vaclav Havel making a point

In the last essay of this book titled, Wars of the 20th century and the 20th century as War, Patocka writes a brilliant commentary on fragment 26 of Heraclitus, and interprets his polemos as “struggle, fight, war,” a kind of adversarial relationship with reality, a struggle against the world which ontologically can be compared to realities such as love, compassion, happiness, justice. In fact, for Patocka, polemos, had priority over the other realities. Thus, Patocka corrects Husserl’s assumption of an underlying harmony within reality. These “heretical essays” became a sort of manifesto to rally the Czech citizenry against the Soviet forces of occupation. They insist that when the ontological supports of hope fail, then personal responsibility must be evoked, in order to establish a community of solidarity. Out of this solidarity which Ignazio Silone used to brand as “the conspiracy of hope” arises what Patocka calls “the power of the powerless.”

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Havel’s The Power of the Powerless:
Citizens against the State in Central Eastern Europe (1985)

The legal basis of this solidarity was the 1977 Helsinki Agreement on human rights which affirms that human beings are obliged to discover and protect a valid moral foundation, and one ought not to expect that it be provided by the state or social forces alone. As Patocka himself explains: “There must be a self-evident, non-circumstantial ethic, and unconditional morality. A moral system does not exist to help society function but simply so that man can be human… it is morality which defines man.This concept of human rights is redolent of the concept of “inalienable rights” which are self-evident, accrue to being human, and which no state can give or take away, as proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence.

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Havel’s The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice (1997)

What Masaryk, Patocka and Havel have in common is a recognition that as a result of a disharmony that began with Cartesian rationalism, European life and thought are in profound crisis. This of course echoes Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences where the problems of modern philosophy are traced back to Descartes, the beginning of a crisis of self-alienation; something also noticed by Vico, but alas ignored, some two hundred years before in his New Science (1730). Husserl insists that this profound alienation and dysfunction could not be resolved unless normative status be attributed to Lebenswelt (life-world), the basis of ethical autonomy. Mechanistic science had unfortunately substituted the old awareness that human life belongs to an ordered moral universe. This idea is especially evident in Masaryk’s Suicide as a Mass Phenomenon of Modern Civilization. Nineteenth-century science has, in fact, usurped the authority previously accorded to faith and reason. Masaryk is convinced that it is crucial that humans return to a world of primary experience in order to be reconnected to a vital sense of good and evil. This is also the vital concern of Dostoyevsky’s existential novels.

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Theatre Theory Theatre: The Major Critical Texts
from Aristotle to Zeami by Sowinka and Havel

Havel is part of an ongoing Czech intellectual tradition which, in order to be able to "live in truth" has recourse to Husserl’s Lebenswelt to counter an oppressive Marxist ideology tending toward manipulative, rationalistic and mechanistic theoretical deductions. This is possible only by paying attention to “the flow of life.” Indeed, for Havel “time is a river into which one cannot step twice in the same place” (fragment 21 of Heraclitus). When Havel in his “Politics and Conscience” (1984) makes reference to Husserl’s distinction of the natural world from “the world of lived experience” by which to approach the spiritual framework of modern Western Civilization and the source of its crisis, he is by implication also invoking Vico’s distinction between the world of nature made by God, and the world of culture made by man. In any case, Havel’s brilliant insight is this: there is a fundamental distinction between the world that can be constructed out of an ideological viewpoint and the world rooted in a trustworthy lived-experience. Impersonal manipulative forces can be resisted only by the one true power we all possess: our own humanity. This is nothing less than Humanism at its very best.

It all begs this question: Where does Havel locate the foundation for this humanity which he finds in the phenomenal experiential world? The answer can be glimpsed in a letter written in 1989, from prison, to his wife Olga: “Behind all phenomena and discrete entities in the world, we may observe, intimate, or experience existentially in various ways something like a general ‘order of Being.’ The essence and order of this order are veiled in mystery; it is as much an enigma as the Sphinx, it always speaks to us differently and always, I suppose, in ways that we ourselves are open to, in ways, to put it simply, that we can hear.” (“Letters to Olga,” letter n. 76)

Within this “order of Being,” the emphasis is not on sight, on clear and distinct Cartesian ideas, but on hearing, on the perception of the mysterious. In 1994, in a lecture at Stamford University Havel also makes reference to “unconscious experiences,” as well as “archetypes and archetypal visions.” This echoes Jung’s collective unconscious and the archetypes, or the idea of fundamental experiences shared by the entire human race, found in all cultures, no matter how distant in space and time they may be from one another.

Vaclev Havel’s plays are a great achievement on the world stage. He wrote plays that that are as accurate a record of Czech life in the mid-to late-twentieth-century as anything we’ve known in theater. From the first, he was interested not only in the “power of the powerlessness” but in the ways in which power works to shape both the individual and his legacy: the world twists us into unrecognizable shapes that our children, sadly, come to regard as the truth.

The theatre was in his bones. By the time the Prague Spring hit in 1968 (the same year Joseph Papp produced Havel’s “The Memorandum” at the Public Theatre, thus exposing the dissident to a larger American audience), he had worked as an assistant director on a number of shows and had written a number of short plays about oppression.

In pieces like “Audience,” and “Protest,” we learn that Vanek is a former screenwriter who, like Havel, works in a beer factory when the Communist regime takes over the “old” Czechoslovakia. In “A Private View,” a formerly middle-class couple learns to thrive in an atmosphere of suspicion, greed, and totalitarianism. One heard and admired so many things about him, not least his interest in popular music as it was played in a theatrical forum. He considered the audience and the artist as collaborators of a kind, each possessed of civilizing impulses that each could bring out in the other. Here is a quote in this regard: “I consider it immensely important that we concern ourselves with culture not just as one among many human activities, but in the broadest sense—the ‘culture of everything,’ the general level of public manners. By that I mean chiefly the kind of relations that exist among people, between the powerful and the weak, the healthy and the sick, the young and the elderly, adults and children, business people and customers, men and women, teachers and students, officers and soldiers, policemen and citizens, and so on.”

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The Plays of Vaclav Havel

What is unique to Havel is that, like Vico, he sees the history of the cosmos recorded in the inner workings of all human beings: the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. Moreover, the history of the cosmos is projected into man’s own creations, it is the story of man, and it joins us together. Even after thousands of years, people of different epochs and cultures feel that somehow they are parts and partakers of the same Being, that they carry part of the infinity of such a Being. As Havel aptly puts it: “all cultures assume the existence of something that might be called the ‘Memory of Being,’ in which everything is constantly recorded.” Which means that the guarantees of human freedom are not found in systems of thought, or ideologies, or programs of action but in “man’s relationship to that which transcends him, without which he would not be, and of which he is integral part.” (In “Democracy’s Forgotten Dimension,” April 1995, pp. 3-10)

One of the constant refrains in Havel’s political philosophy is that of the loss of respect, including self-respect, apparent in the modern and post-modern world: loss or respect for what Havel calls “the order of nature, the order of humanity, and for secular authority as well.” Gone is the sense of responsibility that inhabitants of the same planet ought to have towards one another. Havel sees the causes of this loss of respect in the loss of a “transcendental anchor” which he considers the source of responsibility and self-respect. He pleads that “humankind must reconnect itself to “the mythologies and religions of all cultures.”Only thus they can engage in the common quest for the general good. What exactly is the general good? Havel’s answer is that a “global civilization” is already in the process of preparing a place for a “planetary democracy.” But this planetary democracy here on Earth must be somehow linked with the Heaven above us, with the transcendent. Havel is convinced that only in this setting “can the mutuality and the commonality of the human race be newly created, with reverence and gratitude for that which transcends each of us, and all of us together. The authority of a world democratic order simply cannot be built on anything else but the revitalized authority of the universe.” (ibid. p. 9). Havel does not assume that such an order has already arrived in Europe. On the contrary, his essay titled “The Hope for Europe” (The New York Review, June 20, 1996) stands as a provocative survey of Europe’s enormous influence on human civilization, but this influence is seen as ambiguous; it can be constructive but it can also be destructive.

Let us examine more closely Havel’s views on ideology, European Civilization and the European Union. In an essay by the title of “Politics and the World Itself” published in 1992, Havel critiques the Cartesian-Marxist assumption, which is the general assumption of philosophical rationalists, that reality is governed by a finite number of universal laws whose interrelationship can be grasped by the human mind and anticipated in systematic formulae. He insists that there are no laws and no theories that can comprehensively direct or explain human life within the context of an ideological fix-all. Consequently, we need to abandon “the arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzle to be solved, a machine with instructions for use waiting to be discovered, a body of information to be put into a computer with the hope that, sooner or later, it will spit out a universal solution.” Moreover, as far as Havel is concerned, there is no “universal key to salvation.” We must recognize the pluralism of the world within an elementary sense of transcendental responsibility. This kind of responsibility is anchored in “archetypal wisdom, good taste, courage, compassion, and, not least, faith in the importance of particular measures.”

In 1990 Havel addressed the U.S. Congress on the subject of democratic ideals and the rebirth of the human spirit where he reflected on the end of the bipolarity of the Cold War and the beginning of “an era of multi-polarity in which all of us, large and small, former slaves and former masters will be able to create what your great President Lincoln called ‘the family of men.’” He also declared that: “consciousness precedes being,” by which he simply means that the salvation of the human world lies in the human heart, the human power to reflect, and in human responsibility.” More specifically Havel proclaimed that: “Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed—be it ecological, social, demographic, or a general breakdown of civilization—will be unavoidable.” (A joint session of the U.S. Congress. Toward a Civil Society: Selected Speeches and Writings, 1990-1994, pp. 31-45).

This echoes Martin Buber or C.P. Snow's insight on the two worlds: the world of "I-it" of science concerned with manipulation and use of matter out there (what Descartes calls extension into space), and the world of "I-Thou," the world of the humanities and the poetic characterized by dialogue and ethical concerns. So, what is to be done? Havel answers not with another ideology, or a program, or a Platonic blueprint, but by simply reminding people that the way out of the crisis is dedication to responsibility: “Responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success—responsibility to the order of being where all of our actions are indelibly recorded and where they will be properly judged.”

In 1995 Havel gave a commencement address at Harvard University where he recognizes that the world has already entered a single technological civilization and in the spirit of Husserl, Masaryk and Patocka he sounded the alarm: there is also afoot a contrary movement which finds expression in dramatic revivals of ancient traditions, religions and cultures. In other words there is an attempt at the recovery of “archetypal spirituality,” a searching for “what transcends us, whether we mean the mystery of Being or a moral order that stands above us…Our respect for other people, for other nations, and for other cultures, can only grow from a humble respect for the cosmic order and from an awareness that we are a part of it, that we share in it and that nothing of what we do is lost, but rather becomes part of the eternal memory of Being, where it is judged.”

What about Europe? In 1996 in his address at Aachen which he called “The Hope for Europe” (See The New York Review, June 20, 1996) Havel surveys and analyzes Europe’s enormous influence in world civilization but articulates some provocative thoughts: in the first place he asserts that this influence can be both constructive and destructive. The challenge is to discern the positive constructive influences on which to build. He identifies the best that Europe has to offer the world in “a place of shared values.” To talk of shared values is to talk about European spiritual and intellectual identity, the European soul, if you will. His sincere hope is that Europe, for the first time in its history “might establish itself on democratic principles as a whole entity.” There is a caveat: this will happen only if the values that underlie the European tradition are supported by a philosophically anchored sense of responsibility.More precisely: “The only meaningful task for the Europe of the next century is to be the best it can possibly be—that is, to revivify its best spiritual and intellectual traditions and thus help to create a new global pattern of coexistence.”(ibid.). This is a far cry from what one hears nowadays by way of contrasting one Machiavellian scheme with another one more useful to one’s continental interests. We see those proposals from time to time in the pages of Ovi magazine.

In Havel's “The Politics of Hope” one reads that “in my own life I am reaching for something that goes far beyond me and the horizon of the world that I know; in everything I do I touch eternity in a strange way.” With this grounding, politics becomes "the universal consultation on the reform of the affairs which render man human.” There is no doubt that in Havel we have today a rare strong voice of the post-Cold War “new Europe" advocating a sort of "conspiracy of hope." A conspiracy this which insists that politics must be accorded a transcendental source and foundation or it will be building on sand. The new Europeans would do well to heed such a voice.

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 END  OF 25TH SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (08/04/2014)

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