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Musings on Dante's Timelessness Musings on Dante's Timelessness
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-12-28 08:45:34
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Even today it is not uncommon to come across comments such as this: after a thousand years of dark ages Europe recovered its Greco-Roman patrimony with the advent of the Renaissance. Such a cavalier wide-brush designation, besides revealing much ignorance on a crucial and important period of European history, usually hides a blatant blind bias against the Catholic Church by those pseudo-scholars who would like to make the case that Christianity was the direct cause of the alleged “retrogression” in civilization.

Were I asked to choose one medieval man and one timeless poem that would disprove such a misguided theory I would settle on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Dante belongs to that period of history which precedes the Renaissance but is no less crucial for the rebirth of antiquity and its synthesis with Christianity: Humanism. 

The Divine Comedy’s timelessness has to do with Dante's uncanny ability to present in epic scope a total universe far vaster than anything explored by our space shuttles: a transcendent spiritual universe. One of the great ironies in the history of modern science since the Renaissance has to do with technological progress paralleled by the loss of a coherent theological cosmology.

While Dante would applaud the achievements of modern space explorations, for instance, he would not mistake its conquest for a higher theological reality. He would insist that any kind of flight in space is merely reflective of an invisible flight of the imagination by which we comprehend God's hidden theological universe. And it is this canopy of being that gives physical form to the sky in which the shuttle flies. Indeed, it may take a tragedy like the "'Challenger Seven" explosion to remind us of Dante's terrifying, mysterious, yet providential cosmology. And when President Reagan, in his eulogy to the heroic crew of the ill-fated space ship, stated that "they had a new home beyond the stars" and "they had touched the face of God," he made allusion to the spiritual universe that would be familiar to Dante who explores it in epic proportion, an expedition that would later lead us to append the name "divine" to that incredible journey to God. It is that journey  guided by Providence which seems to be mankind’s ultimate destiny and which ends well and makes us exclaim that “all is well that ends well” that merits the designation “comedy” for the epic poem, as distinguished from a tragedy or a catastrophe.

What separates Dante's epics from others in the genre of the ancient, medieval, and modern eras is that entire work takes place in another order of existence out of time and history. The setting of the poem is eternity and Dante himself remarks that his subject is the "state of souls after death." Whereas most other epics have episodes where the hero visits eternal realms of being, such as Odysseus's visit to the underworld in the Odyssey, the eternal dimensions remain a background action in most epics. Dante remarkably reverses the process. Eternity is the literal subject of the poem and Dante's cosmic imagination enables him to imagine various episodes of history from a timeless mode of being. The poem presents a dramatic rendition of how God views the history of man and how He/She knows the world to be. Therein lies the key to a comedy that is divine. Its point of view has to do with Gods's understanding of the order of many varieties of existence of which the order of time and history are merely one.

Dante's achievement revolutionizes the capacities for epic action and narrative. Dante is the greatest fantasy writer of all time. He discovers eternity as the central subject of an epic. This feat of genius reinvigorated enduring speculation about other modes of transcendent being rooted in Plato's natural theology and its utilization in the Gospels of the Bible and the Epistles of St. Paul. Dante is the vital medieval figure who concentrates Hellenic doctrines of transcendence and the Biblical vision of eternity. He shows the relevance of the legacy for subsequent eras. His influence is incalculable for the modern world: without Dante there would be no "Twilight Zone," no “Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and certainly no "ET." All these actions inevitably find their way back to Dante who pioneered the art of a story rooted in eternity intersecting history.

The fact that "ET" is one of the most popular movies of all time is evidence of Dante's enduring achievement and contemporary relevance. When we delight in such movies, we most remember who Steven Spielberg's ultimate ancestor is. By the same token when we confront the increasing disordered images, ugliness, and dehumanization of our culture, we must recall that Dante is the preeminent architect of Satan's kingdom in the Inferno.

While we can rejoice in the enduring popularity of "ET," we must recognize that much of our modern and post-modern culture has identified itself with the sordid comedy of Dante's Hell; or distorted images and actions are officially promoted as worthy of serious audience attention. We have a rock group naming itself after the revolting polluted marsh of Dante's hell called "Styx" and we have other groups calling themselves "Judas Priest," "Black Sabbath," and "Megadeath."

Art awards, funded by taxpayers’ dollars, have been given to exhibits where religious icons are submerged in human filth. A film portraying Jesus as an indecisive weakling has been nominated for an Academy Award. At a modem art exhibit patrons have been invited to walk on an American flag. A Church teaching series, used in mainline denominations, portrays Christ as an ancient forerunner of Che Guevara and pictures Him leading proletarian, revolutionary mobs.

These are only a few examples of the vast suffusion in our time of what Dante would call demonic culture. Its presence as well its promotion is reflective of the massive disorder in which we live. Such conditions argue forcefully for an understanding of the sources and meaning of the sights, sounds, and images that confront us. The great difference between contemporary culture and that of Dante is that medieval culture could recognize hell as deformed and perverse, whereas contemporary culture increasingly equates hellish iconography with the normative and the chic.

The Divine Comedy teaches a culture how to be literate. The poem instructs the reader in comprehending how the symbols, icons, and images of his world form a providential economy. In this very magazine there has been a brief conversation on the thorny issue of the relationship of politics to art which, if memory serves, was initiated by one of its editors, Thanos Kalamidas and went on in its comment box while I was contributing a series of articles on aesthetics which I was teaching at the time. Perhaps it ought to be revisited, for the challenge is still there. There is indeed an ambiguous existential nexus between politics and art.

Let us for the moment focus on some insightful distinction between symbiotic and parasitic works and how they work on Dante. There is no doubt that the supreme poet immortalized himself by writing an epic that has become timeless. Nobody but a few scholars would remember him for De Monarchia, his treatise on a united Europe, nor for his sonnets and his “rime pietrose.” The Commedia however, is, and it will continue to be taught, in all the best universities in the world.

What powerfully motivated the writing of the epic were complex political events having to do with the ecclesiastical and secular powers of the times causing Dante’s painful exile from Florence. The characters in the three other-worldly realms visited by Dante in his imagination are real political people who lived in Florence at the time and affected Dante’s life. Paradoxically, they too have been immortalized by Dante’s opus. There the relationship is clearly parasitic: ignoble and obscure political people who lived in Florence in the 14th century will be remembered for many centuries. That is similar to the relationship of Socrates to his accusers. We know their names today because of Socrates and Plato. But this begs the question: what did Dante write about that made him immortal? As mentioned above the poem's timelessness has to do with Dante's ability to present a total spiritual universe.

One of the great ironies in the history of modern science since the Renaissance has to do with an almost magical technological progress paralleled by the increasing loss of a coherent spiritual universe. We are at a point that the word soul which the ancient Greeks well understood and wrote treatises about (see Aristotle’s “On the Soul”)  now conjure up the sole of one’s shoes. Dante would never mistake the achievements of modern space explorations with higher spiritual realities. He would insist that any kind of flight in space is merely reflective of an invisible flight of the imagination by which we comprehend God's hidden spiritual universe. He would never repeat the incredible banality and superficiality of the Soviet astronaut who returned to earth and declared that he had not seen the face of God in space.

The setting of the poem is eternity and Dante himself remarks that his subject is the "state of souls after death." To repeat, the fact that "ET" is one of the most popular movies of all time is evidence of Dante's enduring achievement and contemporary relevance. The same could be said for Silone’s and Kazantzakis’ novels. They are narrated presenting real people in real political historical situations but their background is the eternal; a timeless mode of being outside of time and space. And by that, Dante did not mean red men with a tail and horns or people with wings playing the harp on a cloud as the modern political activist agreeing with Mao’s characterization of religion as poison for the people, or the caricaturist of religion are apt to suggest.

So my perplexity is this. While accepting the distinction between parasitic and symbiotic relationship between art and politics, is there not another relationship which modern man since Voltaire (Dante’s mimesis) has all but forgotten and yet remain vital to preserve out very humanity? I mean the nexus between the eternal and the temporal. Is modern man still capable of imagining such a relationship; and if he is, does he conceive of it as symbiotic or parasitic? Could it be that consciously, or perhaps unconsciously, modern man continues to read and study Dante, a medieval man of 800 years ago, because he has a secret longing for a return to that lost nexus, that garden of Eden from which he has been expelled and for which he longs, and to which Dante can lead him? As I said, ruminations, put perhaps appropriate to the season we are in and leading to a viable dialogue with those men of good will who long for a better world than the sad one we happen to be living in.


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Emanuel Paparella2009-12-28 15:24:36
ERRATA: some glaring typos and/or grammatical errors to be corrected:
--What separates Dante's epic...
--...remains vital to preserve our...


Marco Andreacchio2009-12-28 19:26:26
Dear Emanuel,

Thank you very much for this new year's gift.

The appeal to Dante is most appropriate: the Renaissance begins in the Middle Ages, not as a widespread socio-economic phenomenon, but as the activity of a cardinal, civilizing principle drawing light out of the dark.

But you write that Dante "would insist that any kind of flight in space is merely reflective of an invisible flight of the imagination by which we comprehend God's hidden theological universe."

Yet, the ascent Dante calls for is not at all one OF the imagination, but FROM the imagination: God as such is NOT the object of the imagination, but of His own active intellect; the Journey (Itinerarium) is not one to the image of God produced by our imagination, but one into God Himself as immaterial form of the physical/visible universe.

You further suggest that, "Dante's cosmic imagination enables him to imagine various episodes of history from a timeless mode of being," AND that "The poem presents a dramatic rendition of how God views the history of man and how He/She knows the world to be."

You seem to suggest that Dante tries to translate God's vision in the medium of the imagination: to see what God sees, but through or in the body; to translate into bodily images what which is bodiless.


Dear Emanuel,

Thank you very much for this new year's gift.

The appeal to Dante is most appropriate: the Renaissance begins in the Middle Ages, not as a widespread socio-economic phenomenon, but as the activity of a cardinal, civilizing principle drawing light out of or in the midst of the dark. There was a Medieval Enlightenment before its Modern nemesis.

But you write that Dante "would insist that any kind of flight in space is merely reflective of an invisible flight of the imagination by which we comprehend God's hidden theological universe."

Yet, the ascent Dante calls for is not merely one OF the imagination, but one FROM the imagination: God as such is NOT the object of the imagination, but of His own "Active Intellect"; the Journey (Itinerarium) is not one to the image of God produced by our imagination, but one into God Himself as immaterial form of the physical/visible universe.

You further suggest that, "Dante's cosmic imagination enables him to imagine various episodes of history from a timeless mode of being," AND that "The poem presents a dramatic rendition of how God views the history of man and how He/She knows the world to be."

You seem to suggest that Dante tries to translate God's vision into the medium of the imagination: to see what God sees, but through or in the body; to translate into bodily images what which is bodiless.

There must be an element of truth in this suggestion, but it must be complemented by the rootedness of the imagination (the motion of matter in the mind) in the intellect: Dante's imagination depends upon the intellect of God, out of which are emanated "signs" or "vestiges" pointing back to "things themselves" (res ipsae) in God. So while we first grasp through "signs" in our imagination, through these signs God calls us to rise in God Himself (perfecta ratio, and thus devoid of images) to partake in the full being and order of the universe.

That is why the characterization of Dante as "the greatest fantasy writer of all time" is likely to be misleading for the reader of our Age. Why, the declared subject of the Commedia pertains to what is devoid of body or image. What is exceptional in Dante is the VIRTUE required to plunge deep into the world of the imagination to raise it in God: to dive into matter for the sake of ordering matter back into its original Form (beyond the imagination); to render unto God what men habitually take for themselves (in their imagination). On Dante's pre-modern reading, fantasy is the common animal or physical sense we share with the beasts; the VIRTUE raising that sense into its Original Form, THIS is the true "Renaissance Man."

The great divide between Dante and the modern Age we live may be said to pertain to the status of the imagination. For modern man, reality (including God) is the object of the imagination, whereas for pre-modern man the world of the imagination is but a dream ordered "teleologically" in an Object-Form or active principle of constitution of the visible universe. Modern man abandons pre-modern man's teaching or recognition of NATURAL TELEOLOGY.

Once we abandon the very notion of natural teleology, we are left with a peculiarly modern or Cartesian-like split and dialectics between the private imagination (an indistinct sense of things) and a public world of "external" images. From the standpoint of modern man, pre-modern man's ASCENT TO THE ETERNAL appears patently senseless, insofar as eternity is now intended "already" as something given effortlessly in the imagination.

To the extent that we rely upon a peculiarly modern reading of the imagination, or on the modern belief in the primacy of the imagination, we find no crucial need to approach Dante's COMMEDIA through his CONVIVIO and his DE VULGARI ELOQUENTIA: the "theoretical" works become mere appendixes to the "poetic" works; they are not recognized as most proper introductions to a Journey leading to an End irreducible to the imagination--a Journey that is Dante's response to modern man's perplexity in the face of a world of seemingly groundless and chaotic images.

It seems to me that only by recovering Dante's "classical" understanding of the primacy of "Objective Being" over the imagination, do we find a viable answer to the crisis of our Age--a crisis that the Article above perhaps best exemplifies where it declares:

"The great difference between contemporary culture and that of Dante is that medieval culture could recognize hell as deformed and perverse, whereas contemporary culture increasingly equates hellish iconography with the normative and the chic."

Best regards,
Marco Andreacchio



Emanuel Paparella2009-12-28 21:14:35
Dear Marco,
Thanks for the critique which I find interesting but rather unconvincing. Good for a productive and polite dialogue nevertheless, a la Greek symposium. Pass the wine of poetry please…

It is news to me that Descartes, the father of modern philosophy was a an advocate of a dicotomy in imagination or that he even made a duality between reason and imagination. As I read him, he is a pure continental rationalist who in fact rejects in his Method all works of imagination as belonging to the mind of children who need myths and fairy tales and parables (the sort that Jesus Christ told), while grown up rational men deal with the abstractions of the mind. If there is a duality in Descartes and modern philosophy as a whole it is that of the mind/body which ends up making man and I dare say, even God, a mere thinking machine (what the Greek stoics call the "nous")via the infamous “I think therefore I am.”

I would suggest, if I may, something radically different and more imaginative, which Vico would have understood perfectly: when John says “In the beginning was the Word,” he is suggesting that God rather than a “nous” of a mere abstract rational mind, may be a poem writing his epic poem, a la Dante, via the cosmos and its history. When this personal God (of Abraham, Isac and Jacob, definitely not of Descartes) incarnates Him/Herself into a body, He/She may be revealing Him/Herself not only as a poet but as a dancer too. I would suggest that the problem of modern man is that he takes himself too seriously. He has forgotten how to dance. Here Zorba, at the end of that wonderful movie “Zorba the Greek” has a lot to teach modern rational man. Just a few more musings. Thanks for stimulating them. Respectfully and cordially.


Emanuel Paparella2009-12-28 21:17:15
Errata: God may be a poet.


Emanuel Paparella2009-12-28 21:40:35
P.S. By the way, the chaotic images are in Dante's hell for sure but if the reader journeys on imaginatively with Dante to Paradiso, there the images in the first place do not become abstract, they remain images even if more ethereal than those in hell, but they are also harmonious in the guise of a sonnet of love. It would be enough to mention the last metaphore of the last line of the Commedia: "l'amor che muove il sole e le altre stelle." There is nothing chaotic in that line. It encompasses in an image (what Vico calls Fantasia) the story about all the other stories out of which issues ultimately rationality (the era of man as distinguushed from that of the gods and of heroes). But imagination remains the source and the origin of reason.


Emanuel Paparella2009-12-28 21:44:02
Errata: metaphor, distinguished.


Emanuel Paparella2009-12-29 02:45:23
P.S.S. It occurs to me that dancing and singing in a circle around the still point (the dance of the saints) is a key image of Dante’s Paradiso to understand the essence of the Church triumphant in heaven which he encounters before ascending to the Empyrean and there attain the vision of God where his journey ends. Indeed, nobody sings and dances in hell. We have an image which contains the visual (the dancing circle), the audio (the singing), with no foul smells as encountered in hell. All the senses seem to be harmonized and incarnate themselves in the dance before they are all taken in by the final vision. All this is attained via imagination, not via reasoning. The precise text is Paradiso 24:13-21. Here it is verbatim:

E come cerchi in tempra d’orïuoli
si giran sì, che ’l primo a chi pon mente
quïeto pare, e l’ultimo che voli;
così quelle carole, differentemente
danzando, de la sua ricchezza
mi facieno stimar, veloci e lente.
Di quella ch’io notai di più carezza
vid’ ïo uscire un foco sì felice,
che nullo vi lasciò di più chiarezza.
(Par. 24.13-21)

An interesting detail: the greater the speed of the individual dancers, the greater their brightness; they are the visual marks of greater worthiness. And the light is not the abstract ethereal light of reason of Mount Olympus where Socrates and Plato contemplate the forms. It is incarnated in the body of the individual saints. Food for thought.


Thanos2009-12-30 11:08:35
BTW I would appreciate the IP 2516465708 to stop since ...knowing the IP the next move is rather ...easy!!!


Marco Andreacchio2009-12-30 13:45:52
Dear Emanuel,

We are both critical of Descartes, but our criticism differs in significant ways. I trust that our previous statements have succeeded in bringing to light important elements of our disagreement, and thus at once crucial aspects of THE ISSUES we all face in our Age (whatever stance we might take around them, they still occupy the "common center" of our World).

We both agree that Plato was not a Christian, though we probably disagree as to what precisely he was (in the positive).

We also disagree as to the character and very opening of Vico's Scienza Nuova (1744). But we do agree that Vico's work is very important to modern man's understanding of his place in the Cosmos.

Disagreement, I trust, is the food of Philosophy. And if Plato is right, then Socrates is still feasting.

In closing, an "Aristotelian" question:

How can one be an apologist of poetry and a denier that angels dance, at the same time?

As for me, I could swear that angles do dance. To this extent at least, shall we not stand in the company of Botticelli and Fra Angelico?

http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/b/botticel/91late/130nativi.html

http://www.templestudy.com/2009/06/11/cosmic-ringdance-angels-frederick-huchel/

All the best,
Marco


Emanuel Paparella2009-12-29 07:34:08
Another footnote: the imaginative in Dante is diabolical in hell as it must be by the very nature of what he describes. There is no doubt however that Dante considers it an aberration while the modern ethos since Sade considers it “normal.” But there is another kind of imagination; that of Rousseau, the idyllic romantic imagination of which many young people in the 60s were imbued. Theirs was an attempt to escape sheer boredom and the banality of the everyday producing and consuming automaton and as such it was a pseudo moral imagination. That is not the “fantasia” or imaginative thinking of Vico, nor is it the imaginative thinking of Dante’s Paradiso which display the authentic moral imagination.


In his lectures entitled After Strange Gods (1934), T. S. Eliot touches upon the diabolic imagination: that kind of imagination which delights in the perverse and subhuman. There he says that “The number of people in possession of any criteria for discriminating between good and evil is very small,” the number of the half-alive hungry for any form of spiritual experience, or for what offers itself as spiritual experience, high or low, good or bad, is considerable. My own generation has not served them very well. Never has the printing press been so busy, and never have such varieties of buncombe and false doctrine come from it. Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!”


Marco Andreacchio2009-12-29 17:41:07
(No idea how or why my earlier posting reappears the second time. It would be good if someone could delete it. Thank you for looking into the matter.)

Dear Emanuel,

Let us agree that civil disagreement is the food of philosophy, or of “The Dialogue of Mankind.”

Allow me to first address your latest statement on the distinction between moral and immoral imagination, as well as on the possibility of discriminating between the two. Eliot suggests the possibility of our “possessing” the criteria for distinguishing between good and evil—a possibility actualized only in very few of us; shall we say, by genuine (modern) prophets/poets?

I think we both agree that there are criteria to distinguish good from evil, or a genuine morality from a degenerate one. The question is whether the criteria in question are images or imaginative, and thus changing, or whether they transcend the scope and content of the imagination, i.e. whether an arduous Ascent or “Navigation” is required for the sake of intuiting eternal criteria. It would seem that on one reading, some (admittedly very few) of us possess knowledge the ground of Good and Evil: they have eaten of the Fruit of the Tree in the Garden, and they remember its “taste.” On another reading, which I shall call the Platonic reading, properly speaking we do not possess the criteria to distinguish between Good and Evil; instead, we all PARTAKE—to various degrees—in those criteria, or ETERNAL (intelligible, not imaginative) FORMS. This second reading, but not the first, is compatible with the demands of Biblical revelation, and especially with Christianity insofar as it places Platonic Ideas in God, PERFECTA RATIO.

But what about the possibility of our understanding the criteria of morality “imaginatively” or “poetically”? Is the modern apologist of the primacy of the imagination over reason coherent when it comes to standing by what he preaches?

A recent communication from a dear friend inspires me to re-propose to your attention the problem of condemning all reason that rises above instrumentality. The only “real” reason recognized by the apologist of the primacy of the imagination is instrumental (cut off from NATURE-as-standard). One might assume that the apologist of the primacy of the imagination would thereby reject instrumental reason in favor of imagination triumphant tout court, but instead he feels compelled to appeal to instrumental reason/calculation as THE instrument of salvation for our imaginative life, insofar as this life is felt to be constantly endangered by the threat of violent death, especially violent death at the hands of others—“death insofar as man can do something about it, i.e. death insofar as it can be avoided and avenged.” Thus, a specific kind of reason is indeed retained for the sake of protecting us from a specific kind of death, a death that is thereby raised to the status of ultimate guidance in the use we make of reasoning. To quote from a notorious critic of modern rationalism: now, “death takes the place of the TELOS” of classical political philosophy.

Now, while we are both critical of modern rationalism and its ugly byproducts, our criticism differs in significant ways that I believe to be worth reflecting upon. While I do not doubt that there is imagination in Dante’s Commedia, I question the attribution to Dante of the belief in the primacy of the imagination (over the intellect).

I find the Poet-Theologian’s thought to be incompatible with modern anti-rationalism. To my knowledge, Dante and/or medieval theology never refer to God as poet, but as PURISSIMA MENS or PERFECTA RATIO (terms inherited by Vico himself): the True God of LOGOS marks the metaphysical boundary of the imagination; He is the original and proper seat of “things themselves” or of “souls” rather than of bodies (cf. opening of Vico’s SN).

Accordingly, for Dante, no less than for St. Thomas and the classical tradition, all motion presupposes and is defined by an end proper to it; but the imagination is itself a kind of motion; therefore the imagination must presuppose an end irreducible to it, such that does not depend upon it: an end to which our minds may conform “rationally” (where reason sempliciter is the conformity of the mind to the order of things, i.e. the perfect and divine coincidence of form/being and content/existence). But the consummate End of the imagination is God, PERFECTA RATIO (perfect reason). This is the canonical medieval position Dante does not depart from, with the understanding that man partakes in (never, “appropriates” and “applies”!) reason to the extent that he partakes in (never, “replaces”!) God’s authority.

If you come across even a single medieval canonical (not officially and unqualifiedly heretical) source referring to God as an imaginative being, please, by all means, do let me know about it.

(continues below...)




Marco Andreacchio2009-12-29 17:42:32
PART 2 (follows from above):
+++
On Descartes’ anti-Platonic opposition to pre-modern pure rationalism:

Allow me to introduce a response with two quotes from Descartes’ REGULAE:
“…we both can and ought to call our imagination to aid” (imaginationis adjumento nos uti posse et debere…)

“So that universally speaking, neither do we come-to-know philosophical entities which really do not fall under the imagination” (Neque in universum nos agnoscere ejusmodi entia philosophica, quae revera sub imaginationem non cadunt; Rule XIV).

Jacob Klein’s commentary on the Regulae (in GREEK MATHEMATICAL THOUGHT AND THE ORIGIN OF ALGEBRA, Part II.12.B; see: http://www.amazon.com/Greek-Mathematical-Thought-Origin-Algebra/dp/0486272893/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262041629&sr=8-1), includes the following passages:

“For Descartes this concept [‘of certain and evident knowledge’] is so essential because, and only because, it allows him to assign a fundamental role to the IMAGINATIO (=PHANTASIA). Thus the IMAGINATIO is, in the REGULAE, always in the foreground […Descartes’] ‘pure’ intellect, which refers only to itself, is also able to turn (or ‘apply’) itself to its ‘ideas’ which the IMAGINATION offers it, and can even ‘separate’ single constituents of these ideas. In this ‘turning toward’ the imagination, the intellect has, strictly speaking, already ceased to be ‘pure,’ but it retains the ability PROPER to it—and FOREIGN to the imagination—of carrying out this kind of a ‘separating’ operation. However, within the ‘realm’ of this ‘alien’ imagination, IT MUST MAKE USE OF THIS VERY IMAGINATION […] Thus the IMAGINATIVE power […] here enters the service of a faculty directed precisely toward something not ‘perceptually clear,’ namely the ‘pure intellect’ […] THUS THE IMAGINATIVE POWER MAKES POSSIBLE A SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATION OF THE INDETERMINATE CONTENT WHICH HAS BEEN ‘SEPARATED’ BY THE ‘NAKED’ INTELLECT […] The ‘pure’ intellect […] in order to be at all able to come in contact with the ‘world’ in general […] needs the mediation of a special faculty, namely precisely that of the imagination.”

Again, Descartes’ “symbol-generating abstraction which leads from the ordinary numbers to ‘letter-signs’ (NOTAE) or ‘termini generales’ (457, 20), also called ‘puri et nudi’ (455, 21), needs the imagination in exactly the same way as when it leads to figures. In the former case, however, is it the retentive ability of the imagination, the ‘memoria,’ which is being aimed at (cf. Rule XII, 414, 23f. and 416, I f.) […] The imagination is defined by its ‘service’ function, which insures the possibility of symbolic knowledge in general and, in particular, of the MATHESIS UNIVERSALIS as a general theory of proportions and equations […] The ‘service’ rendered by the imagination depends, therefore, on a ‘real,’ and not a ‘figurative,’ ‘rendering’ of the corporeal world; the imagination always represents precisely that within the corporeal world which REALLY constitutes its true nature, its ‘substance,’ its ‘corporality’ […] This and nothing else explains why the imagination can guarantee the ability of the MATHESIS UNIVERSALIS to grasp the structure of the ‘true world’ and so to prove itself a ‘wonderful science’ (scientia mirabilis) indeed.”

In order to reach an adequate understanding of Descartes and of Klein’s study, it may be best to return to the sources themselves. But if I may proffer a provisional indication of an essential element of Cartesianism as brought to light by Klein, I shall note that what we face in Descartes is the replacement of a classical immediate “object” of contemplation with a “concept” (conceptus) conceived in the ego through the imagination. This point alone should suffice to call into radical question the popularized view that Descartes was a pure rationalist.

(Another study of Descartes that I have found worth examining is Paolo Cristofolini’s “Sul problema cartesiano della memoria intellettuale”—in: IL PENSIERO, 1962. Urbino: S.T.E.U.; pp. 378-402.)

Best regards,
Marco

***
P.S. You justly suggest that Dante’s COMMEDIA leads from chaotic images to orderly ones; I would add: it “civilizes” the horizon of the imagination; it “cultivates” it into a veritable MUNDUM. But this would seem to be possible only beginning from a principle of ordering that is not a mere image (or power thereof). Dante’s PARADISO ends with God’s Love BEYOND (the power of) THE IMAGINATION, turning Dante’s “desire and the WILL” (desio e ’l VELLE) in unison with “the sun and the other stars”:

“Oh, light eternal that alone in yourself reside,
alone yourself intend and by yourself intelligized
and intending yourself you love and smile to!

[O luce etterna che sola in te sidi,
sola t'intendi, e da te intelletta
e intendente te ami e arridi!]

For the high imagination here lacked power;
but already revolved my desire and the will,
just as a wheel that in-the-same-way is moved,
the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

[A l'alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e 'l velle,
sì come rota ch'igualmente è mossa,
l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle.]

Dante’s “stars,” of course, are “fixed.” All three of the Books of the COMMEDIA end with the fixed “stars.” The INFERNO (XXXIV, 139) reads: “And thus we came out to see again the stars [a riveder le stelle]; the PURGATORIO (XXXIII, 145) reads: “Pure and disposed to rise to the stars.”

“The love that moves the sun and the other stars,” i.e. the fixed stars, is the order or loving ordinance of the visible universe (Dante’s “other stars” are at once fixed and moved, marking as they do the boundaries of the visible universe). Dante’s desire is finally attuned to the divine order of the universe.

(The chaos I had referred to in my previous “comment” was the “confusion of seeds” in which modern man wanders seemingly hapless.)








Emanuel Paparella2009-12-30 08:39:58
I am afraid, that we could go on and on in this vein ad infinitum. Clearly by now few if any are even following this discussion. As already stated, Descartes’ “Discourse on Method” is more than clear on the contempt he hold the whole interpersonal realm, what Martin Buber calls the realm of the I-Thou, as well as the realm of myth, fables, fairy tales, in short the whole world of the imagination of which Vico speaks. Vico begins his New Science with an attack on that kind of Cartesian contempt for the imaginative.

I suggest that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God” is not Plato and so is the image of a poet God and a dancing God who incarnates himself in a body as found in the work of a poetical philosopher such as Dante; an event this that we are still celebrating (only with a body can one dance; angels don’t dance) of which Plato did not have the foggiest. Vico’s speculation can legitimately be called a “poetic philosophy” since imagination includes rationality, but the opposite is also true: Dante’s speculation can be called a philosophical poetry and here is the paradox: both are true and complementary to each other. The pure rationalist eventually becomes the Nazi rationalizing things that ought never have been rationalized exploiting even the poetry in Nietzsche’s thought. Santayana wrote a whole book on that. So, it is obvious that we continue to disagree without becoming disagreeable boors and descending to ad hominem arguments, for indeed, only one man dared to say “I am the Truth” and it certainly was not Aristotle nor Plato.


Thanos2009-12-30 11:03:59
Sorry for inconvenience about the comments, I don't really know what's going on. I have deleted the second comment but i cannot change a comment. But I hope that the Ovi magazine readers understand what really happened here and that they read the correct text the correct way.


Thanos2009-12-30 11:10:00
BTW I would apreciate if the IP 2516465708 stop since ...now we have the IP is easy to find ...more!


Emanuel Paparella2009-12-30 12:30:26
Thanks Thanos. There are always those who will resort to insults and ad hominem attacks (covert or overt)to promote their biased misguided agenda; they will always be with us; no surprises there. The best way to deal with those types is to condemn what they do and to expose them for the cowards that they are. One can only hope that they still posses a sense of shame and a modicum of honor. No matter. The conspiracy of hope goes on nevertheless.


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