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Ovi Symposium; Seventy-Fifth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Seventy-Fifth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2016-12-15 09:39:08
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

Between Professors Emanuel Paparella, Ernesto Paolozzi, Michael Newman and Azly Rahman
Seventy-fifth Meeting: 15 December 2016

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Symposium's regular participants

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.

 

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.

newmanProf. Michael Newman received his Master’s of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Eastern Michigan University.  He discovered his love for teaching English as a Second Language while living abroad. He moved to South Florida and began his journey for a tenure track position at Broward College where he has recently earned a tenured position teaching English for Academic Purposes.  Another great passion of his is that of philosophical writing and discussion.  

azlyDr. Azly Rahman holds a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University, and multiple Masters Degrees in the fields of International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, and Education. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. He has edited and authored seven books. He resides in the US where he teaches courses in Education, Philosophy, Cultural and American Studies, and Political Science. His interest in research and writing lies in the cultural interplay between Cybernetics, Hegemony, and Existentialism.

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Subtheme of session 75: Ethics, aesthetics and historicism within the Humanistic cultural approach of Western Civilization

Indirect Participants within the Great Imaginary Conversation across the ages: Vico, Croce, Hegel, Esperti, Augustine, Descartes, Ficino, Galileo, Apel, Dante, Salutati, Landino, Pico, Grassi, Valla, Poliziano, Bergin, Gianturco, Cassirer, Aristotle, Plato, Hoglam, Leibnitz, Kant, Held, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Homer, Buber, Jameson, Memmi, Sartre, Fanon, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Pinker, Marx, Kegan,

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Table of Contents for the 75th Session of the Ovi Symposium


Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

First Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella: “The Poetical and the Historical in Giambattista Vico’s Philosophy.”

Second Presentation by Azly Rahman: “The Self in the Modern World: from Martin Buber to Frederic Jameson.”

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Coordinator’s Preamble to the 75th Meeting

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The scholarly special section of the Ovi Magazine, dubbed “The Symposium,” was inaugurated some three and a half years ago on June 14th, 2013. It was from its inception a collective intellectual enterprise by three original collaborators who were also publishing regularly in Ovi: Drs. Paparella, Paolozzi and Nannery. Dr. Paparella had conceived the idea of a symposium a few months earlier while discussing “the two cultures” with the other two scholars. With the enthusiastic approval of the magazine’s editor in chief Thanos Kalamidas who also loves philosophy, we launched a by-monthly production with the Symposium, now a monthly meeting.

Later on other contributing scholars joined the group, all imbued with love of the humanities. Two of the original three collaborators, are still on board today, but it should be mentioned that they all, in one way or otther, contributed to the enhancement and promotion of a project whose main theme, as spelled out in its heading (“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”), remains as valid and urgent as ever. In fact, the main idea and heading of the project continues to inform and inspire all its corollary sub-themes and the various issues it has managed to explore and discuss over a span of 75 meetings. Basically, the symposium aims at a conversation on the crucial topical issues and predicaments of our turbulent times.

Perhaps the time is ripe for a reflective pause in order to assess how well have we contributed to this section of the magazine; how successfully have we  fulfilled the goals we originally set out to accomplish; how faithful have we been to the purpose of the symposium, and perhaps refresh our minds as to what exactly was that purpose, and how we can continue to carry it forward, if indeed we determine that the effort is a worthwhile one.

The Symposium was conceived as an antidote to intellectual attitudes and approaches that, unfortunately, have become all too pervasive nowadays. We are referring to approaches based on positivism in epistemology and rampant utilitarianism in ethics. These approaches present themselves as the latest trend and therefore possessing the best intellectual currency. They are so popular that just about every journal and intellectual publication of the day is in some way influenced by them.

Actually, this is not a new phenomenon. It begins in the 17th century with the advent of modern science via Galileo and Bacon and continues unabated. Things have worsened since. What often obtains nowadays is hostility toward the liberal arts curriculum and the humanities, considered useless and superfluous, at best cultural frosting on the cake of knowledge. Knowledge, of course, as Bacon conceived it, is equivalent to power.

The symposium was created expressly as an antidote to this view of the humanities and the liberal arts; to argue that if we ignore them or declare them worthless, we will end up dehumanizing ourselves and losing our humanistic values, rendering our lives meaningless and even putting in danger our existential survival. That is to say, to make us aware of an existential issue of the highest importance which urgently demands our attention. We have dedicated at least two issues of the symposium to such a sub-theme, that of the clashing two cultures exhibited within modernity: that of the liberal arts and that of positivism, and judging from the reported number of visits by the readership we are encouraged by the fact that it has been well received. Therefore, judging from its reception we can safely assume that we are on a safe trajectory in our educative mission.

On the other hand, have we been successful in convincing the positivists, the utilitarians, the relativists among us, that to remain stuck in the “how” of science and neglect the “why” of philosophy and religion and the humanities and liberal arts  is to run the danger of dehumanization and end up in the trap of a pseudo-progress declaring that what arrives at the end and of an era and is most modern is invariably the best, and what is ancient and traditional is worthless and discardable? I kind of doubt it. My skepticism derives from observing a plethora of articles that have appeared lately even in Ovi focusing on the purely scientific and failing to offer, or at least debate, the other side of the coin, namely the humanistic aspect. And that’s why it remains ever more urgent to continue harping on this issue of the harmonization of the two cultures (as described by C.P. Snow in the book by the same title of 1956).

There are various ideological persuasions apparent in most publications nowadays: those who value the liberal arts and religion, and are convinced of their sheer necessity for a more civilized humane society. We call them humanists. Then there are the ecosophists quite friendly to the humanists, attempting to convince the rationalists and positivists that a more harmonious relationship with nature is a viable alternatives to the dead-end to which both socialism and capitalism seem to have lead us. Then there are the progressivists who consider the Enlightenment the very culmination of Western civilization (Voltaire is their icon); they are not necessarily opposed to the liberal arts, but consider religion passé or superseded; something that an “enlightened” magazine relying on the scientific and the rational ought to reject and not encourage in its pages. There are also the cosmopolitans, embracing universal values in the abstract and dreaming a more ideal utopian world, usually allied to those of a socialist persuasion. And finally there are the positivists, usually materialists and relativists, who expect technological prowess to solve all our pressing existential problems and are often unfriendly toward religion, allied to the progressivists, the capitalists and the anti-religion frame of mind.

Ovi is to be commended for resisting the temptation to limit or diminish any of those voices while attempting to offer the other side of the coin when an issue is discussed, if nowhere else than in the comment section where opposing views can be expressed and discusses to some extent, always refraining from descending to the ad hominem and the slanderous. It has done the commendable thing in giving democratic generous space to all those disparate voices. They all deserve to be heard and reflected upon. They are all part of the solution, even when, at times, they become part of the problem.

Our section, on our part, will continue to pursue with enthusiasm and devotion its original goals and agenda as above delineated. We are sincerely hoping that other lovers of the humanities from the other groups will volunteer to help us out and attempt to arrive as a mosaic of intellectual viewpoints. Those viewpoint may be rather insignificant by themselves but beautiful and meaningful when gathered and viewed together. Despite our disparate points of view we can continue the conversation and search for viable solutions. It is the dialogic nature of philosophy (love of wisdom) as exemplified in any symposium. In any case, we are confident that we have rendered those who love the humanities a signal service (pro bono, as said in Latin) and that the magazine’s quality was substantially improved by it.

The above having been said, gotten off one’s chest as the comment section renders it, I’d like to add a few brief comments on the two presentations submitted for this meeting of the symposium. The first one by Dr. Paparella is a re-presentation of a great philosopher, Giambattista Vico, perhaps the greatest that modern Italy has given to the world, one who saw the world of philosophy holistically and therefore inclusive within the intelligible world of reason of the poetical, the mythical and the imaginative. After Descartes this view of philosophy has tended to disappear and needs to be brought back to the attention of all concerned readers; those humanists who wish to know more, preserve and disseminate what is best in our Western civilization.

The second presentation by Rahman, admirably explores the thought of Fredrik Jameson on the dehumanization of the self within modernity and positivism. It delves into how man, when he begins to conceive himself as a machine or a cog in the machinery that is the universe, ends up dehumanizing himself. It is this kind of analysis that gives the lie to the positivistic approach claiming that everything that comes at the end of a process is always progress and the best and that the humanities can be disposed of. It is then that we begin to intuit that the worst may also come at the end and in fact may still be in the making. One then begins to perceive that to be sick and not even to know it, is indeed the sickness unto death of which a Kierkegaard wrote about. It is to become the object of dehumanizing forces that manipulate our lives  depriving them of meaning and purpose. But let the readers judge for themselves.

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1.

The Poetical and the Historical in Giambattista Vico’s Philosophy
By Emanuel L. Paparella

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Giambattista Vico’s New Science begins with an image, a frontispiece which Vico placed there so that the reader could recollect, at a glance, the whole opus. That image was not placed there for mere aestheticism. It informs the whole of Vico’s poetic philosophy. The art of memory and recalling is indeed fundamental for a proper understanding of Vico’s speculation, one free of distortions, misrepresentations, misreading or subsuming. Within this image, very familiar to those who know anything about Vico, one soon notices that the universe within time and space has been divided into three observed and perceived phenomena: the divine, the human, and the natural world. Observed by whom? By Providence represented as an all seeing eye, but most importantly by man who needs poetic wisdom (represented by Homer receiving the light of providence as reflected by metaphysics). Without these Man cannot ascend to Truth. That image holds all those elements together. Hence the first important observation of Vico’s thought is that it represents a philosophy of recollective universals generating philosophical understanding not from rational categories but from the image.

In other words, imagination becomes a new method, rather than mere subject matter for philosophical thought. A corollary to this observation is that were we to use the rationalistic method (that of the category) to understand Vico, we would ipso facto distort him and misunderstand him. Another way of putting it is this: Vico’s thought can only be understood from the inside. The human mind has to apply the same methodology that Vico uses to arrive at an understanding of itself. In his oration on “The Heroic Mind” (1732) Vico tells us that the heroic mind is the basis of a true education and in seeking the sublime has as its goal human wisdom oriented toward the common good of the human race. Not too dissimilar it would appear from Plato’s Republic. However, in his address of 1737 to the Academia degli Oziosi (The Academy of the Men of Leisure) Vico has recourse to Socrates as exemplary of someone who could reason about all parts of knowledge, human and divine.

What Vico deplores in modern education is the loss of the perspective of the whole. He always insists that the flower of wisdom is the grasping of the whole through the particular and the specific. What Vico is suggesting is that the reader of his work needs to be heroic too but in doing so he ought not consider The New Science something esoteric, reserved to a select few initiates into the mysteries, but rather exoteric in the sense that the human mind has certain common traits and can therefore narrate to itself The New Science and arrive at the same conclusions as Vico did; that is, discern within itself the ideal eternal history narrated by Vico and thus experience the same divine pleasure. For after all the story is the story of humankind (“storia” in Italian means both story and history) and Vico, as Virgil with Dante, is a mere guide for the reader to attain the “dilettoso monte.”

What are the ideas to which Vico guides the reader? Basically they are wisdom, heroism, tragedy, barbarism (of both sense and intellect), memory, providence, imagination, ingenuity. All ideas which the Western philosophical tradition considers superseded. And yet these ideas contain principles which are basic to the shaping of any modern humanistic thought.

The greatest danger to those who would correctly interpret Vico is that of placing his thought at the service of a position that is not his own by pigeon-holing him into a school of thought or a discipline. One such is the philosophy of history, another is cultural anthropology. Croce, for example, while attempting to promote Vico’s ideas tried to see Vico as an Italian Hegel. He went as far as devising an imaginary conversation between Hegel and a visiting Neapolitan scholar titled “An unknown page from the Last Months of Hegel’s Life” (The Personalist, 45 (1964), pp. 344-351). Thus Croce insured that for the first half of the 20th century Vico would be seen through the eyes of a philosophy of the idea, or Idealism. In turn, that inhibited an open reading of Vico’s own unique views.

Indeed Vico’s ship has been sailed under many banners: idealism, Catholicism, Marxism, historicism, modern methodologies galore, contemporary epistemology, emphasizing Vico as an influence, a mere precursor of more thorough philosophies; the most notable perhaps being Croce’s view of Vico as a precursor of Hegel. Thus Vico is robbed of his own originality. In his Autobiography Vico speaks of his hope to be an influential thinker but in Vici vindiciae he warns of the distortions of his thought already afoot (in the Acta Eruditorum where his book was reviewed). Later he writes to Abbè Esperti (1726) lamenting that the reception of his book was like that of an infant still born, then musing that indeed a book that displeases so many people cannot possibly have universal applause especially in a world dominated by the “chance” of Epicurus and the “necessity" of Descartes. Indeed, both are still alive and well in Europe. And how could Vico expect otherwise? His ideas were considered not modern enough, passé, anachronistic. His conception of “verum factum convertuntur” against which Croce argued could be traced back to St. Augustine’s doctrine that God creates by knowing or to Aquinas’ statement that “ens et verum convertuntur” (truth and reality are convertible), or the Renaissance Platonism of Marsilio Ficino, or the experimental method of Galileo (see Rodolfo Mondolfo’s Il verum factum prima di Vico(Naples, Guida, 1969).

To go from these antecedents to the principle of history made by humans, man who is his own history, was not an easy nut to crack within the prevalent Cartesian philosophical approach of the times. He was considered an anachronistic throw-back to the ancients, “the owl of Minerva of Renaissance humanistic culture” as Karl-Otto Apel defines Vico in his Die idée der Sparche in der Tradition des Humanismus von Dante bis Vico echoing Ernesto Grassi’s Macht des Bildes (Power of the Image. Cologne: 1970, p.194), where Grassi connects Vico’s thought to certain humanists: Salutati, Landino, Pico, Valla, Poliziano. But these men are usually regarded as mere literati and accorded little if any philosophical study.

Since Thomas Bergin’s translation of The New Science into English (1948, Cornell University), it has come to be regarded as a tool to confront the fragmentation of contemporary thought. But once again his ideas have been connected to seminal thinkers in semiotic, phenomenology, structuralism, genetic psychology, myth analysis, literary criticism, linguistics, and so on. In other words, there seems to be a post-modern concern to seek the foundations of knowledge through Vico’s thought. And here indeed Vico has been most helpful. In grasping what Vico calls “the barbarism of the intellect” as symptomatic of the deep solitude of spirit and will of modern man [“la somma solitudine d’animo e di voleri”] which Vico associates with the end of the third era of the ideal eternal history, the era of men where pure reason reigns uncontested; a sort of decadence when men “finally go mad and waste their substance” (N.S., 241 and 1106). This is what Vico defines as reflective thought devoid of what he calls “sapienza poetica.”(poetic wisdom). This is a thought that has forgotten its connection with the imagination of the whole, a loss of the human image of itself; the inability of the thinker to reflect its own wholeness into the products of his own thought. This barbarism of thought is a kind of human experience deprived of a cultural guide or center, without a perspective on the human mind. As Elio Gianturco used to comment in his magisterial lectures on Vico at New York University (1970): we live in a Cartesian world dominated by procedures, efficient ordering and technological know-how as fix-all for whatever ails us.

From what we have said above, it would appear that using Vico’s thought to seek the foundations of social humanistic knowledge fits quite well with Vico’s own concerns as stated in his orations: to connect knowledge with wisdom, heroism and eloquence. We should remember that Vico was for most of his academic career an Assistant Professor of Eloquence at the University of Naples. This is all well and good, but there is a caveat of which Vico himself warns us about; namely that the human mind has a propensity to reduce what is unfamiliar and distant to what is familiar and at hand. And Vico goes pretty far back into the origins of the human world. In other words, the propensity is to merge the meaning of Vico’s ideas to those developed more fully by later thinkers. Donald Phillip Verene calls this propensity “Vico’s Achilles’ heel” thus identifying the facility with which Vico’s thought has been transformed into viewpoints that are not his. This is astonishing indeed when one thinks that Vico himself takes pains in his oration De Antiquissima Italorum sapientia to declare that he belongs to no school of thought as such.

So the crucial question is this: How should the reader approach Vico? The simple answer is this: on his own merits, as the unique thinker he was and the originator of a new original orientation for philosophical thought. The originality of his philosophy consists in placing the image over the concept. For a tradition conceiving of its origins as Aristotle’s rationality this sounds topsy-turvy; for indeed “reason” continues to dominate it together with scientific thought. But let the reader pay attention to the title of Vico’s work: it is not a “New Philosophy” but a “New Science.” So Vico is far from abandoning reason and science as such.

In any case the tradition begins with the Platonic quarrel with poetic images (which some have misguidedly resurrected as the quarrel between ancients and moderns); although it must also be said that Plato’s language remains ambiguous because it uses the poetical and the mythological and images galore when it best suits it. In fairness to Plato one ought to keep in mind that he made a distinction between “good poetry” (that which spoke of the gods and the heroes) and "bad poetry," everything else. Aristotle reinforces the rationalistic tradition by defining man a rational animal; that definition gives no clue that integral to reason, even at its most developed stage, are feelings and emotions from which it originally sprang. But in reality, despite Croce's brave attempt at integration through Hegel, Vico stands outside the Western philosophical tradition.

Cassirer who like Croce had a great affinity for Vico, also attempted an integration by distinguishing the philosophy of spirit (Geist) and the philosophy of life (Leben). This is a distinction that may prove useful for understanding Vico’s position vis-à-vis modern philosophy without subsuming him under the ancient philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. However, the fundamental model of the symbol in Cassirer remains cognitive. It is a brave attempt to extend a cognitive model of thought to other form of experience: language, art, history, myth. Something that Plato would not have approved. Cassirer gives due credit to Vico by calling him “the true discoverer of the myth” [der eigentliche Entdecker des Mythos in Erkenntmisproblem inder Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neuern Zeit, 1973, IV, p. 300], as translated in The Problem of Knowledge by William H. Hoglam and Charles W. Hendel, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1950, p. 296), but he remains different from Vico because he discovers the myth through the rational concept and in so doing he has to necessarily identify Vico with the philosophy of Geist. As with Croce the attempt here is to try to incorporate Vico within the Western rationalistic tradition.

How so? In the sense that Cassirer sees philosophical idealism moving from Leibniz to Kant and Klaus Held within the philosophy of Geist all the way to his own conception of symbols (see his Introduction to The Symbolic Forms). He sees the role of the imagination in the outline of Kant’s Critique of Judgment as an important aspect of his thought. And indeed Kant has a great interest in the bond between intuition and the concept and the existence of the “unreflective judgment” (reflektierende Urteilshkraft) and organic form pointing in the direction of a concrete philosophy of all areas of human culture. Cassirer also appreciates Hegel’s effects within the philosophy of the concept as something abstracted from experience in order to create by means of the speculative proposition [speculative Satz] a new sense of the concept as “concrete universal” [begriff] within the Western tradition of reason. He transforms reason from simple understanding [Verstand] into reason as the inner form of experience [Verneuft] in his Phenomenology of Spirit. Cassirer himself point out that their transformation ends up as the reduction of the idea to the simple form of logic in Hegel’s Science of Logic.

On the other side of the spectrum of the Western philosophical tradition there is the philosophy of Leben, of life and existence and even the irrational which Cassirer sees as a reaction to Geist, an attempt to come to terms with the immediate. It is most apparent in the thought of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Scheler and Heidegger. Here one waits for the appearance of Being. Spirit (Geist) is seen not as a transformation of life but as alienation, an inauthentic relationship to Being. So, Western Philosophy presents us with a disjoint: either we pursue philosophical understanding in terms of the principles of evidence, the concept, the syllogism, the argument; or we think directly from the situation of life, we "transvaluate values" as Nietzsche suggests, or wait for Being, as Heidegger advices. Vico offers an alternative to both traditions because his thought begins outside this disjoint. It begins neither with Geist nor with Leben but with fantasia as an original and independent power of the human mind. Here images are manifestations of an original power of spirit which gives fundamental form to mind and life. Vico calls these images "universali fantastici" but they are not concepts in poetic cloaks as rationalists tend to assert. The image is not understood in relation to the concept but on its own terms.

By building his philosophy on fantasia Vico creates a position outside Western philosophy as traditionally understood. His is the kind of thought that teaches the art of memory and recovery. Unfortunately philosophers of memory have enjoyed no respectful standing in the general histories of philosophy. They are seen as literary, rhetorical, not philosophical in nature because they are not conceptual. What is not conceptual is simply denied philosophical standing. Within this rationalism imagination is at best conceived as the handmaiden of the concept, an element of the mind subject to investigation by a theory of knowledge (standing between perception and concept) or perhaps viewed as part of a theory of aesthetics. Within the latter imagination is seen as apart from the concerns of theory of knowledge; the image is free only apart from the concept seen as supreme achievement of reason fully developed ["ragione tutta spiegata," as Vico calls it].

In other words, imagination is considered a mere subject matter, never a mode of philosophical thought; at best the image and the metaphor become devices to illustrate conceptual philosophical meanings. Plato is exemplary here. In his dialogues, the image remains outside the form of philosophical thought to be used only when conceptual reasoning rises toward what he considers a view of the whole, or it is used as a simple instrument of communication to liven up the thought. Vico to the contrary insists that philosophy, astronomy, economics, morality, politics, history, even logic can be poetic (see book II of The New Science).

Paradoxically, without imagination, a view of the whole cannot be reached. See the image of the charioteer and the two winged horses in the Phaedrus and then read book X of the Republic where the rational idea is separated from the wisdom of Homer (a figure most prominently displayed in Vico's frontispiece). This contemptuous cavalier attitude toward the image considered inferior to the idea, has dogged Western philosophy for twenty four centuries. Vico proves that indeed there is no such thing as an individual called Homer: he is the representation of the oral poetical tradition of the Greeks and in that sense, despite Plato's esoteric opinion, Homer remains the exoteric "educator of Hellas."

In conclusion, I would like to propose that Vico's philosophy offers a fresh new starting point. It is not a question of siding with the poetic wisdom of Homer against the rational wisdom of Plato, but of interpreting wisdom (and therefore reason too) in a new way as "sapienza poetica," (poetical wisdom). It is a sort of synthesis, a novantiqua; a blending of the two to arrive at a new understanding of both image and idea. That is what Vico shows the reader: he works his way back to the world of original thought (the myth) since for him "verum factum convertuntur," the true and the made are convertible and Man can return to origins via what he himself has made: history, institutions, languages, artifacts, etc., in fact he can do that more surely than with science observing a nature that he has not made. Through his discovery of the imaginative universal, of fantasia as a way of thinking and acting, Vico finds a new origin for philosophical thought. Heidegger calls it "originative thinking," without however giving much credit to Vico for this insight, but then he did the same disservice to Kierkegaard’s powerful critique of Hegel’s philosophy of history.

In any case, it is Vico who with his conception of fantasia creates a novantiqua outside of the above mentioned disjoint between Geist and Leben and the ancient Platonic disjoint between idea and image. I suggest that Vico in the 21st century ought to be accorded a fair hearing on his own merits as a Herculean hero of philosophy. His message is urgently needed for a reassessment of the cultural identity of Western civilization in general and of the European Union in particular.

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2.

The Self in the Modern World: from Martin Buber to Frederic Jameson
By Azly Rahman

In Symposium #72 we explored Martin Buber’s idea of the I—Thou and how the metaphysical notion of the self, drawn from Hassidic philosophy could be used to understand the spiritual aspect of dehumanization. Buber posits that we live in a world of “it” in an existence of the “I-it-Thou” in which the “I” or the true self in its lifetime, aspires to arrive at an understanding of the “Thou” or the Divine or Self-Knowledge but the “it” or “the material world” we are in impedes this the process of self-actualization and clouds our journey. As I have proposed in my essay in the previous symposium, the “I-it-Thou” notion of existence is also conceived in other reIigions and cultural-philosophies such as Islam Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.

But how do we characterize this sense of the self in a world of materialism in the language of modernity? How do we explain who we are in this Age of Information in which that has perhaps turned us into spirits in a material world and perhaps ghost in the machine, as the British rock group The Police would say? How do we understand the idea of the “cave” we are and the shadows we are seeing on its wall, borrowing Plato and his allegory – and ultimately plan an escape by first, removing our chains? In what way, might some of the themes explored be contextualized into a sense of a philosophy of self-in-a-technological society if we are to crawl out of this cave and reminisce the sense of authenticity we are searching for?

Roadmap:  My plan for this 75th. Symposium is to first situate some of the themes from the work of the social-philosopher Frederic Jameson, namely from his essay "The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" which also appears in his seminal work, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

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Frederic Jameson

Jameson is one of the key figures writing about this “cultural aspect of Marxism”, continuing the work of earlier astute observers of capitalism such as Albert Memmi, Jean Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon, and Walter Benjamin. The history of the evolution of writings in this genre can perhaps be traced back to the work of The Frankfurt School of Social Research headed by Max Horkheimer in the 1940s or “The Frankfurt School” –  movement that began in Germany as a response to the primacy and hegemony of the “Berlin Council of Logical Positivists”.

That was the brief survey of the context of the writing of Fredric Jameson. In the following paragraphs, I offer the main theme of his writing as it pertains to the impact of postmodernity as a cultural label of self and consciousness on the individual. Jameson wrote about how one could still make sense of this world of “meaninglessness” by understanding how to navigate through it with one’s own “social cartograph”.

Jamesonian analysis of the self:

Rather than reiterating what the Jamesonian article is about, I begin my essay with the essential points he raised in the conclusion section particularly the idea of social cartography. Jameson is inviting us to engage in a critical examination of the most fundamental aspects of our location in this ontological vocation of things, i.e. how we interact and act in the space we inhabit---our personal and communal and national as well as global spaces. Metaphoring this call for praxis with the notion of social cartography, Jameson believed that this is an important step to understand the how the self ought to be positioned in this apparently paralyzing state of postmodern beingness.

He writes about this cartography in his conclusion: ...An aesthetic of cognitive mapping - a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system-will necessarily have to respect this now enormously complex representational dialectic and to invent radically new forms in order to do it justice. This is not, then, clearly a call for a return to some older kind of machinery, some older and more transparent national space, or some more traditional and reassuring perspectival or mimetic enclave: the new political art-if it is indeed possible at all-will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is, to say, to its fundamental object-the world space of multinational capital-at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spatial as well as our social confusion. The politicalform of postmodernism, if there ever is any, will have as its vocation the invention and projection of a global cognitive mapping, on a social as well as a spatial scale. (paragraph 110)

Jameson's dissection of the logic of late capitalism (dialectical materialism) essentially and hence, goes like this: That postmodernism, from a "periodizing thesis" point of view cannot hold if we are to understand this "fashionable" terminology of social change as yet another stage in the development of capitalism. One can look at the styles of postmodernism through architecture, the visual arts, literature, and the range of aesthetic populism and call it an extension of modernism or a maturated version of high modernism. However, Jameson offered another lens to look at this seemingly periodized change in cognitive-social moment in our history from a critical perspective fashioned after an analysis of the base-superstructural dimension of change. He spoke of the death and horror underlying the change wrought about bypostmodernism -- under the shibboleth of liberal democracy and free market lies the withering of the individual and the triumph of materialism and the reigning of an Orwellian version of authoritarianism.

The individual, a product of the powerful forces of social change in the invisible hands of those who owns the means of material production whether hegemonized or not, becomes cogs in the wheels of this newer, smarter, and more highly systematic and digitized form of machinery of oppression. Hence Jameson elaborated extensively the idea of the erosion of the moral, spiritual, cognitive, and emotional strength of the individual; a process of erosion which is consequenced upon the thematic forms of depthlessness Jameson spoke of as "waning of affect", "death of the subject", incongruency of the inside and the outside, the prevalence of the separation of the inside and the outside, and a range of other themes of alienation, disjuncture, and fragmentation characteristic of the self-corroded by the ebbs and tides of technological and materialistic life. Jameson extended his analysis to the way the themes of alienation are presented in the variety of visual experiences and the architecture of thinking which dominates the so-called postmodernist movement.

Rather than these presentations become lessons in what has gone wrong with civilization, where we are heading pathologically, and what kind of horror underlies the we have built our civilization upon, Jameson writes that these themes are in fact presented as styles of the high modernist and postmodernist movements. There is hence no moral lesson to be learned from the lessons in social decay.  The social philosopher offered a way out of this condition of oppression although not exactly clear whom he is addressing his suggestions to. He writes about socio-cartographing oneself in this architecture of socio-cognitive oppression. This is to be done by first looking at one's own location in the weltanschauung or worldview constructed by forces of multinational capital. This ought to be the beginning of, borrowing the Brazilian educator's words, understanding of one's "ontological vocation" in which, through the power of critical consciousness or conscientization and through Subjectivizing one's objective condition, the path to freedom can be found.

"Whose "Information Society" are we in?:

If we are to locate the source of our civilization's discontent, we might find it in the way we have structured our thoughts and in the way, linguistic-philosopher Steven Pinker might speak of, as how we have built a prison house of language in the way we make sense of phenomena. We are asked to believe that we are in an "Age of Cybernetics", in an "Age of Information"., functioning in a "Networked Economy" and living in a "Borderless World". Our consciousness is constantly bombarded by the images of success via competition, cut-throat competition that is, and in the way, we are told how economics operate and how our lives is ordered by the bulls and bears of the Stock Market. Many a philosopher of language might agree that language mirrors thought and the mirror which mirrors our understanding of ourselves might have been the same one hung in the Cave in which Plato spoke of the Allegory. But instead of asking the question "What is the Information Society"? we might best ask "Whose Information Society are we in?" The latter demands a reconceptualization of meaning of this overused word, which have the hegemonizing effect upon us.

The question too demands us to ask questions of power-relations and in the manner of Jamesonian critique, demands us to locate ourselves in the abyss of data smog. Jameson eloquently writes about the nature of the technological ontology our consciousness inhabits, one which mesmerizes and homogenizes, and one in which the ideology of multinational capital dominates: ...I want to suggest that our faulty representations of some immense communicational and computer network are themselves but a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely the whole world system of present-day multinational capitalism. The technology of contemporary society is therefore mesmerizing and fascinating, not so much in its own right, but because it seems to offer some privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control even more difficult for our minds and imaginations to grasp-namely the whole new decentred global network of the third stage of capital itself. This is a figural process presently best observed in a whole mode of contemporary entertainment literature, which one is tempted to characterize as 'high tech paranoia', in which the circuits and networks of some putative global computer hook-up are narratively mobilized by labyrinthine conspiracies of autonomous but deadly interlocking and competing information agencies in a complexity often beyond the capacity of the normal reading mind. (paragraph 77). Having stated the main points of the Jamesonian critique of technological-based transnational capitalism and how the hegemony embedded in the base-superstructure of the system, I will, in the next symposium turn to how the question of alienation can be looked at from the point of view of constructivism as proposed by psychologist Robert Kegan in his work The Evolving Self.

For now, I conclude with this statement: I have alluded to the Jamesonian notion of the individual trapped in this monad, this moment in time of structural oppression mistaken as the technological culture. It is in the idea that much of how we define ourselves as modern or postmodern, technological or cybernetic, or this or that based on some material conception of life, are a result of a language play of the culture we are in. This brief exploration of the work of the American Marxist, social philosopher, and literary theorist I contend is an extension of the work the notion of the self I write about in the previous symposium. Both Buber and Jameson spoke of methods to “reclaim oneself from the world of depthlessness” shaped by the society evolving at the speed of data transfers – a symbiosis of what we wish to become and what we then create to define our beingness. In other words, we let the technological-ness of our surroundings define who we really are and in due course of our life, we become defined and acted upon rather than be the definer and the actor of the life we are living. We thus are defined as individuals who are "developing" and in being defined as such, we are to be developed by some unseen forces such as society or culture which might be disabling to the naturalness of how we ought to really order our lives.

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 END  OF 75th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (15/12/2016)

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