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Ovi Symposium; sixty-fourth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2015-12-16 11:10:25
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Ovi Symposium:

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

between Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Ernesto Paolozzi and Emanuel Paparella
Sixty-fourth Meeting: 15 December 2015



Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

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.


Subtheme of session 64: “Envisioning a New Humanism for the 21st Century”

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Gross, Levitt, Shakespeare, Pound, Yeats, Lewis, Heidegger, Leavis, Trilling, Arnold, Galileo, Aristotle, Copernicus, Descartes, Boyle, Newton, Locke, Kant, Orwell, Kierkegaard, Eliot, Snow, Da Vinci, Whewell, Bacon, Vico, Feyerabend, Popper, Kuhn, Brockman, Margolis, James, Heisenberg, Mc Luhan, Gill-Mann, Kauffamn, Bak, Penrose, Asimov, Joyce, Horgan, Einstein, Bohr, Nietzsche, Hegel, Parente, Leopardi, De Sanctis, Dante, Goethe, Ariosto, Shakespeare, Corneille, Pascoli, Carducci, Fogazzaro, Dannunzio, Manzoni, Pirandello, Di Giacomo, Tari, Baumgarten, Poe.


Table of Contents for the 64th Session of the Ovi Symposium (15 December 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “The Bridge between Liberal Arts and Science: Envisioning a Third Culture.” A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2: “Aesthetics: the Liberation of Art.” A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi


Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella
(Ovi Symposium 64)


In this 64th meeting of the Ovi Symposium, the last one of the year 2015, we return to our original theme as spelled out on its heading. We explore once again the possibility of bridging the world of liberal arts and culture with the world of science and technology. Even in the 21st century they seem to be unbridgeable, running in parallel universes. The enmity between the two worlds came to a head in the 19th century but to be sure it began in the 17th century with the advent of modern science, further exacerbated by Positivism and in some way by the Enlightenment which considered religious sensibilities obscurantist and “medieval” while parading its love of free speech. The most representative figure of this stated dichotomy is of course Voltaire who supposedly said that he would defend to death the right of others to disagree with him but at the same time, somewhat disingenuously, coined the disparaging adjective “gothic” to designate anything that he considered barbaric and retrograde.

In the first presentation Paparella reminds us once again of the spirited debate that took place in England in the 19th century concerning those two worlds and in some way continued in the 20th century with the publication of C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures. Paparella evokes the memory of that quintessential man, Leonardo da Vinci, who was both an excellent artist and an excellent scientist, endowed with a mind who simply did not conceive of a dichotomy between the two; in fact, every time such a mind perceived an abyss, it would try to imagine the kind of bridge needed to cross it. The picture above is actually that of the so called “bridge to everywhere” which Da Vinci conceived and drew long ago but never realized in practice. The bridge was brought into physical reality in Oslo, Norway recently and is named “the golden horn bridge.” It will be eventually replicated in other countries as a symbol of the bridge to peace over the abyss of bigotry and xenophobia. Eistein is also evoked in Paparella’s presentation as somebody who throughout his long life always kept together science and philosophy and when asked to explain why he was so obsessed with the nature of light and its relationship to energy and time, he replied “because I want to know the thoughts of God when he created the universe.” That statement is quite similar to St. Augustine’s idea expressed all the way in the fifth century AD in his The City of God that the universe is a thought in the mind of God.

In the second presentation Paolozzi proposes the aesthetic sensibility as the most suitable cultural bridge to accomplish the envisioned synthesis of the two cultures. In effect such a synthesis implies a rediscovery of humanistic modes of thought and a rigorous critique of Positivism. Paolozzi sustains that nobody is better suited to help us accomplish the recovery of humanistic modes of thought than the 20th century philosopher Benedetto Croce, that quintessential humanist whose expertise was aesthetics as an expression of freedom. This was originally presented in the second chapter of Paolozzi’s book on Croce, which has been translated in English and Spanish and published in Ovi magazine a couple of years ago, with a timely introduction by Paparella. We reproduce that chapter in this meeting of the Ovi symposium. Actually, the whole book on Croce is invaluable and can be recovered and downloaded via the Ovi bookshop.



The Bridge between Liberal Arts and Science: Envisioning a Third Culture
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


C.P. Snow (1905-1980) and his mimesis F.R. Leavis (1895-1978)
Leavis was at the time the most creative and influential literary critic since Matthew Arnold

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

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

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

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

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

Snow is especially impatient with the politics of “the traditional culture.” He indicts “nine-tenths” of the great literary figures of the early twentieth century (1914–1950) as politically suspect. Scientists, too, appreciate the tragic nature of human life—that each of us “dies alone.” But they are wise enough to distinguish between the “individual condition and the social condition” of man. As Leavis notes, the second law of thermodynamics is a piece of specialized knowledge, useful or irrelevant depending on the job to be done; the works of Shakespeare provide a window into the soul of humanity: to read them is tantamount to acquiring self-knowledge. Snow seems oblivious to this distinction as are most professors selling capitalism and entrepreneurship nowadays. A similar confusion is at work in Snow’s effort to neutralize individuality by assimilating it to the project of “social hope.”

But what is the “social hope” that transcends, cancels or makes indifferent the inescapable tragic existential condition, the angst of choosing one’s destiny of each individual as pointed out by a Kierkegaard? Where, if not in individuals, is what is hoped for … to be located?  This is for Leavis the central philistinism and, the deeply anti-cultural bias, of Snow’s position. For him, a society’s material standard of living provides the ultimate, really the only, criterion of “the good life”; science is the means of raising the standard of living, ergo science is the final arbiter of value. Culture— literary, artistic culture—is merely frosting on the cake. It provides us with no moral challenge or insight, because the only serious questions are how to keep increasing and effectively distributing the world’s wealth, and these are not questions culture is competent to address. “The upshot” of Snow’s argument, Leavis writes, “is that if you insist on the need for any other kind of concern, entailing forethought, action and provision, about the human future—any other kind of misgiving—than that which talks in terms of productivity, material standards of living, hygienic and technological progress, then you are a Luddite.”

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

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


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

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


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

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


Since the advent of Positivism Western Culture has experienced a split between the world of the Humanities or Liberal Arts and that of Science. That split was analyzed by C.P. Snow in his famous book The Two Cultures which appeared in mid-20th century. Can we in the 21st century envision a third culture which, at least in theory, can synthesize the two estranged cultures?

We should preface the issue by pointing out the origins of the term “science.” William Whewell, a philosopher and historian of science who used 'science' in his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences of 1840, is credited with establishing the term. I suppose one can even go further back to Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method. However, the term was not recorded as an idea till the early 1830 at the Association for the Advanced Science when it was proposed as an analogy to the term “artist.”  Leonardo Da Vinci would have approved, given that he conceived of himself holistically as both an artist and a scientist and perceived no dichotomy between the two. And yet, the two cultures simply ignore and exclude what was originally the analogy to science-art. And there is the root cause of the divide identified in the 18th century by Giambattista Vico in his New Science as “the barbarism of the intellect.”

Also worth mentioning here is the towering figure of that quintessential theoretical physics’ scientist Albert Einstein who when asked why he seemed obsessed by the nature of light and its relationship to time and energy, replied “because I wish to know the thoughts of God at the moment of creation of the universe.” Since his youth, the two kind of books Einstein read were science books and philosophy books. He saw them as complementary to each other.

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

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

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

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

Important to point out that one of the enterprises of Leonardo was that of the building complex bridges. It appears that in the Renaissance it was rather common for scientist-artists to also be architects and engineers. One thinks of Michelangelo who was also an architect. So unconsciously, if you will, the scientist-artists of the Renaissance were already busy building the triangular bridge of art, science and technology. It is worth noting that for 500 years the graceful bridge above shown  remained a mere obscure drawing in one of Leonardo’s notebooks, until it was brought into being by the contemporary painter-artist Vebjorn Sand. The original Leonardo’s project goes back to 1502 as part of a civil engineering project for Sultan Bagezid II. Its smaller version, financed with a public project in a nation which ironically does not belong to the EU, is now a pedestrian crossing near Oslo over European route E18. The Wall Street Journal in 2005 referred to this project as a “logo for the nations.” The goal of the Sand project is in fact both practical and culturally symbolic: to build practical but graceful footbridges around the world using only local materials and local artisans as a sort of public art project. It is hard to think of a more apt symbol and metaphor for the bridging of disparate cultures in the EU and the world at large.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Aesthetics: The Liberation of Art
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(From ch. 2 of his book Benedetto Croce: the Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom)


The 20th century philosopher Benedetto Croce (1866-1952)

Croce’s Aesthetics as science of expression and general linguistics, known simply as Aesthetics or Grand Aesthetics, is the work that earned Croce international fame and that, even today, more than a century from its publication in 1912, is perhaps his most popular work, at least, outside of Italy. One only needs to run through the best informed and most up to date bibliographical reviews to realize it. From Japan to England, there are a number of translations of this work, and in anthologies of his works devoted to the philosophy of art, this work always occupies a central role.


1915 English Translation of Croce’s Masterpiece

The Aesthetics can be regarded as a milestone in the history of twentieth century philosophy, and in the history of aesthetics in general. It contains in essence Croce’s entire thought and sums up its close confrontation with the philosophical currents of the time. Croce, always ready to historicize himself, gives an account of both issues, in the preface to the fifth edition of September 15, 1921: The strength of this first treatment consisted, on the one hand, of a critique of the physiological, psychological and naturalistic Aesthetic in all its forms, and on the other, of a critique of any metaphysical accounts of the Aesthetic, with the consequential destruction of the conceptual errors that they upheld and valorized, against which this work opposed the simple notion that art is expression, expression, of course, which is not immediate and practical, but theoretical, that is to say, intuition.

“On this clearly established notion, which I have never had any reason to abandon, since it proved to be sound and adaptable, I have not ceased, since then, to define it more precisely. The two main developments I have outlined are: (1) the demonstration of the lyrical character of pure intuition (1908); and (2) the demonstration of its universal or cosmic character (1918). One could say that the first counters any false view of art as realistic or imitative, and the second counters the no less false view of art as unbridled passion or “romantic” effusion. The origins or seeds of both of these developments were certainly to be found in this present book, but no more than as seeds or origins.”

Croce expresses himself even more clearly in the Introduction to Guide to Aesthetics (Breviario di estetica) of 1912, a set of four papers written for the Opening of the Rice Institute at Houston University, and which had enormous editorial success. Hoping that the short volume could also benefit Italian students, whom the editor Laterza wanted to target, Croce thought that it would be simpler and more interesting for those who wanted to get closer to philosophical questions, to start with the aesthetic. The problems of Art lead more easily and spontaneously not only to acquire the habit of speculation, but also to give a foretaste of the logic, ethics, and metaphysics. For in fact, to understand the relation of content and form in art is to begin to understand the synthetic a priori. Similarly, to understand the relation of intuition and expression is to overcome the materialism and spiritualism dualism. To understand the empiricism of the classification of literary genres and of the arts is to understand a glimpse of the difference between naturalistic and philosophical processes, and so on. The aesthetic is for Croce the testing ground of every philosophy. And, in fact, the fundamental concepts worked out and outlined in his first great book, and always re-examined and better clarified throughout the years, are seminal to understanding the development of his thought and to substantiating the ideological and cultural premises put forward in the first pages of this short work.

The Aesthetic begins with this very famous statement: Knowledge takes two forms: it is either intuitive knowledge or logical knowledge; knowledge obtained by means of our power to create mental representations, or knowledge obtained by means of the intellect; knowledge of individuals, or knowledge of universals; of particular things, or of the relationships between them; it is, in short, either that which produces representations or that which produces concepts.(Ae 1) In so doing the philosopher states his own position clearly and precisely which, even after many reflections and clarifications, will remain fundamental to its overall philosophical system. Knowledge originates in intuition and this is the form of knowledge of the individual. Above all, we represent the world to ourselves, the “reality” around us, then we understand the relations and the connections that hold together the unitarian (universal) fabric of our experiences. What we see, feel, perceive, in what Croce calls the auroral (i.e. original ) form of knowledge are the images or representations of particular events: the face of an interesting woman, the curious face of a child before a new object, the monotony of a middle class interior, a certain expression of ours in a given moment of our existence, and so on. Only in a secondary, ideal moment, we define what we intuit linking it to a universal concept, qualifying what we represent to ourselves as a practical or theoretical event, useful or harmful, good or bad, and so on. It is useless to add that the schematization or simplification proposed here has only didactic and popular value because both in Croce’s thought and in reality (which is what matters most) the development and the unraveling of conscience occurs in a much more complex way. But, it is worth emphasizing, even in passing, that Croce’s argument has in common with empiricism, which he opposed, the idea that the origin of knowledge is in sensation (modernly understood as activity productive of knowledge and not as mere, passive, reception and, therefore, as definite image, representation), in the knowledge of individuality.

In short, an argumentation, even in the largely tributary Kantian thought, to which Croce (as we shall see with respect to the theory of judgment) may be owes much more than to Hegel. It may useful in order to uphold this interpretation, to compare the Aesthetic of 1902 to the less well-known beginning of the later Logic. The premise of logical activity, which is the subject of this treatise, are representations or intuitions. If man had no representations, he would not think; if he were not an imaginative spirit, he would not be a logical spirit either. It is generally admitted that thought refers back to sensation, as its antecedent, and this doctrine we have no difficulty in making our own, provided two things are clear. In the first place that sensation is conceived as something active and cognitive, as a cognitive act; and not as something formless and passive, or active, rather as living and not theorizing activity. In the second place that sensation be understood in its purity, without any logical reflection and elaboration, as simple sensation, and not as perception. The latter, as we shall see later, far from being implied, implies logical activity, or even identifies with it (L 3-4).

Of course, these first Crocean theses, above all that of the Aesthetic, presented various problems that the philosopher will confront, in particular for what concerns the nature of intuition, in the later writings on the philosophy of art. In the first book already, the difference with Kant is, often times, implicitly marked and, in particular, with respect to spatiality and temporality to which one used to link intuitions. An undue relation to which Croce decisively objected. But it is without doubt, as Croce often times recognized, that in the first Aesthetic, the general framework, the language and the style, suffer from the cultural climate of the day, from that positivist naturalism that the philosopher always harshly fought. With time, as we mentioned, Croce developed the concept of intuition. He will specify that the chief character of intuition is knowledge of the sentiment. In Guide to Aesthetics, Croce writes that “what lends coherence and unity to intuition is intense feeling. Intuition is truly such because it expresses an intense feeling, and can arise only when the latter is its source and basis” (25). This reflection, which tends to substantiate the empty mechanical character of intuition, understood first as mere knowledge of the individual, led to many misunderstandings.

The use of the adjective lyric, for instance, to indicate the new nature of intuition, even though Croce made it clear that it was only a synonym of intuition, generated the confusion, not entirely cleared up, that he was a romantic. In actual fact, among the many possible implications, which cannot all be accounted for here, Croce meant precisely that intuitive knowledge is always sentimentally affected, that it is always an expression of an inner state which invests the “content” of knowledge itself. If this were not the case, one would fall back in a kind of empiricism, even if skillful and modern. If we go back to some of the examples mentioned, it will be easy to understand the meaning of Croce’s thought. We spoke of intuition-representation of the face of a woman or of a child, and we added the attributes of interesting and curiosity. Now, if we analyze carefully the cognitive process, we realize that we cannot “know” those faces outside their sentimental determinations (interesting, curious). At best, those faces (or anything else) could inspire indifference, but indifference too is a state of mind, a sentiment. We should not speak, therefore, of a Crocean romanticism but, if anything, of a subjective gnosiologism, if this too were not a reductive formula.

In fact, an intense feeling, an intuition which is not an intense feeling, an intuition of something, is an empty abstraction. That is why Croce, like Kant, defines art as a lyrical synthetic a priori. By intense feeling, one should not understand the show of emotion of a mere psychological or practical order. The contemplated but not lived intense feeling belongs to Leopardi, which is something similar but theoretically less ambiguous than Husserl’s erlebnis, to mention a trend of contemporary philosophy shaped by the same cultural climate. Croce clarifies this concept first, in the essay of 1917, “Il carattere di totalità dell’espressione artistica,” (The totality character of artistic expression), where he speaks of cosmic intuition, and later in Aesthetica in nuce.

Many are the meanings that one can attribute to the new definition, and many and controversial are the interpretations. Here it will suffice to allude to the distinction between practical and cognitive feeling through which one knows the world in its individual aspects. So we will understand why intuition has a universal character, even though it is knowledge of the individual, and, therefore, can be intelligible; why we cannot communicate to others our pain for the disappearance of a person dear to us but we can represent it, communicate it as representation. This is how Croce puts it in Aesthetica in nuce: “It is in the difference between feeling as contemplated (poetry, in fact), and feeling as enacted or undergone, that lies the catharsis, the liberation from the affections, the calming property which has been attributed to art; and to this corresponds the aesthetic condemnation of works of art if or in so far as immediate feeling breaks into them or uses them as an outlet. The same difference accounts for that other character (once again, properly speaking, synonymous with poetic expressiveness), the ‘infinity’ of art which differentiates it from feeling or immediate passion which are finite, and this is also described as the ‘universal’ or ‘cosmic’ character of poetry” (Ain 219-220).

Are these shifts from pure intuition to cosmic intuition the sign of clear-cut caesura in Croce’s work? Croce denies it, stating that it is improper to speak of a second or a third aesthetics, but only of developments, refinements and corollaries of the first. Alfredo Parente takes up with great insight the question of the logical status of feeling to which the philosopher will never attribute an autonomous value, a categorical meaning. These are complex and fascinating questions which, however, cannot be the object of a synthetic paper on Croce’s vast production such as this. It is useful, however, to take a step back to discuss the basic theses of his Aesthetic by trying to capture the “subversive” nature of their pronouncements. Above all the identity of intuition and expression and, as a result, that of intuition and art that seemed to his contemporaries surprising if not paradoxical. If a mood is really known, and fully intuited, it is also totally expressed and represented.

Some will say that common experience shows the contrary because it is easy to show that there is nothing more difficult than communicating to others our experiences, emotions, and moods. In fact, it is like that. But Croce differentiates between expression and communication, despite creating new uncertainties and many misunderstandings, supporting the thesis according to which the communication of a certain emotional state, of an intuition, can fail for various reasons, but this does not happen to the expression in and for itself. In order to understand this, it is useful to reflect on one’s own personal experience. What we intuit, what we know, is always expressed, represented at least to ourselves. If things were otherwise, we would not really have knowledge of anything. What could we know if we did not represent it? And what could we try to communicate to others? There would be a dualism between intuition and representation that would dissolve the entire cognitive act. Common experience, or common sense, show us, this time, that Croce’s thesis (and of philosophers in general, from Kant on) is not at all paradoxical and, if anything, what is paradoxical is the criticism moved to that thesis. Naturally, one should not underestimate the effort that sometimes is needed to reach what one usually calls a full expression of one’s moods. Croce accepts this process (in fact, he believes that the ultra-romantic view that holds the contrary is misleading), but he simply reminds us that in this plight what one has difficulty achieving is not the expression but the intuition that one has to define, and which is always already expressed.

Let us move now to the question of the identification of the individual’s intuitive knowledge with art, so far implied as a given. Croce is aware of the difficulty of maintaining that the normal faculty, or function, whereby we represent the world in its individual aspects, is identifiable with the great works of art. But if we look closely, the difference that everyone seems to grasp is not “specific,” but only extensive and empirical. “The intuition enshrined in the simplest popular love song,” writes Croce in the Aesthetics, “which says as much, or little more, than the declarations of love that issue daily from the mouths of thousand ordinary people, can be perfect in the intensity of its humble simplicity, although substantially more limited in its range than the complex intuition enshrined in one of Leopardi’s poems” (Ae 14). If we are allowed a banal example, we could say that between ordinary intuition and great art there is the same difference that exists between a simple arithmetic operation and a complicated algebraic calculation. They are both calculations, even though, apparently, very different from one another. From what we have said, it is clear that art is an autonomous form (distinct) from other forms or functions of the spirit, that is, of human activity. Art is knowledge but not Logic. Art is feeling but not practical feeling; therefore, not praxis. Naturally, art is inseparable from the remaining activities of man though it differentiates itself from them. In fact, it implies them or it is implied by them. In this sense, and only in this sense, we can speak of pure intuition. Not in a moral or in an aesthetic-critical sense, but in relation to the fact that it is autonomous from other categorical forms.

From the theoretical picture we have drawn so far, many particular doctrines derive as corollaries, often more well-known than Croce’s general theory, because more immediately effective at the level of critical activity. One has just to think of the identity of content and form, which was already asserted by De Sanctis. This is an unquestionable identity because, to put it once again in Kantian language, between form and content there is a synthetic a priori, as we have already seen in the case of the identity intuition-expression. Hence the impossibility of the perfect translation since it is not possible to transfer a “content” in other forms of expression without modifying at least in part that content, for the reasons already given. One more reason to believe that it is not possible to have an objective interpretation of works of art, which has led some to include Croce in the so-called philosophy of hermeneutics, and justifiably so. Not to mention the importance of the negation of genera and the classification of the arts. These are useful and practical empirical distinctions but useless and often harmful when strictly applied as criteria for judging a work of art. In much the same way one must understand the question of technique which accompanies artistic activity, but does not exhaust artistic expression, which is always a creative and original act. Art is one insofar as it is expression and Croce, beginning with the title of “Aesthetics as Science of Expression and General Linguistics,” identifies it without question with language.

With extreme modernity, by identifying language (not single languages, as historically developed) with the expression of intuitive or individual knowledge, Croce liberated human activity from its oppressive conditions. This is the fundamental point on which I would like to conclude. Croce’s Aesthetic, as his entire philosophy, is a concrete and working philosophy of liberty. In this specific case it was a question of liberating artistic activity from the ties with which tradition, the pedantry of critics, the slyness of false artists, tried and will always try to repress it and force it.

A novel, a symphony or a monument are not romantic, classical, baroque, Arcadic, ancient or modern, unless by metaphor. Above all, they are beautiful or ugly, successful or unsuccessful cognitive acts. After a long and bumpy course, full of theoretical difficulties that implicate the whole history of philosophy, one arrives, finally, to a conclusion that may seem simple, and which after all is the task of philosophy: to explain reality and not to replace it with more or less ingenious eccentricities, to find the reasons of what we all observe and know. It is not by chance that Guide to Aesthetics begins with these subtly ironic, but true, words: To the question, “What is art?” one could reply in jest - and it would not be a foolish retort - that art is something everybody knows about. As a matter of fact, had we not some inkling already as to what art is, the question itself could not even be raised. For every question entails some notion of what is being asked, implicit in the question and, therefore, qualified and known. (3) Philosophy of Art and its Criticism It would not be fair to Croce if we instituted a hierarchy between his activity as critic and as a theorist of art. There is between the two a clear and continuous osmosis, both because the concrete experience of critic suggested to the philosopher problems and themes of general speculation, and because the theory sheds light on the criticism.

In the long study process the two attitudes are born, Vichian-like, out of a single birth. Just as his aesthetic pronouncements, Croce’s critical essays have generated polemics, enthusiastic adherence, and sharp rejections: from the initial essays collected in the first four volumes of La letteratura della nuova Italia (Literature of the New Italy)(1914-1940) to those in Poesia e non poesia, (Poetry and Not Poetry) not to mention the reaction generated from his study on Dante, to the studies on Goethe (1919) and on Ariosto Shakespeare e Corneille (1920) where the variations on the cosmic character of intuition are introduced. In an extended survey of great, small and even unimportant poets of post-unification Italy, Croce fully exercises his taste and even a certain polemical vocation that sometimes even risks excess. There is real harsh criticism of major poets such as Giovanni Pascoli, and disproportionate enthusiasm for minor poets. However, a unified guideline emerges as the essay “Di un carattere della più recente letteratura italiana” (About a trait in the most recent Italian Literature) of 1907, makes clear, namely the opposition between Carducci’s era to the later and decadent period of Pascoli, Fogazzaro and D’Annunzio. Croce’s negative judgment of the latter period reflect his personal taste, his general ideas on the nature of art and, in some ways, the ethico-political beliefs of the philosopher, not yet completely expressed as in the later years of opposition to the Fascist regime, but already evident in many of his attitudes.

The fight against aestheticism, sensualism, romanticism, which at a general philosophical level always goes together with a struggle against rationalism and positivism, as we have seen, also applies to his literary criticism. But beyond the ideological connotations that somehow condition Croce’s thought, some of his pronouncements, even if not always accepted, remain famous, as they are always original, surprising, to the point of always arousing interest and attention. For example, negating artistic value to the first five cantos of Dante’s Commedia, the distinction between the allegorical structure (that is, non poetic, other than art) of the poem, considered a mere, if indispensable, basis on which poetry is generated, and, consequently, the negation of the aesthetic value of allegory. Similar pronouncements undermined many of the taboos of Italian literature, and were a threat to so many pedants and moralists. A sort of ante litteram fight against received ideas. But the arguments set off by Croce’s critical essays were many. Among these, the polemic on Manzoni, at first viewed as a mere moralist caught in a Catholicism verging on conformism, and then partially rehabilitated later. The peremptory condemnation of Leopardi philosopher. The contemptuous slashing of D’Annunzio, defined an “amateur of sensations”. The rejection of the Baroque. The uncompromising criticism of Pirandello as a bad philosopher, and as the poet of the “identity card.” On the other hand, he praised Ariosto as poet of harmony and refined irony. His boundless admiration for Goethe and Shakespeare, and his definite appreciation for Baudelaire and Flaubert. He “discovered” and launched Salvatore Di Giacomo, as a regional and European poet.

Clearly, it is much easier to disagree with Croce’s single critical judgments, tendencies and taste than with his more theoretical pronouncements. His essay on Leopardi leaves much to be desired, so much so that two of the greatest historians of Italian literature, and sympathetic to Croce’s views, Francesco Flora and Natalino Sapegno, re-examined more liberally the figure of Leopardi and his work, qualifying Croce’s judgment of a “strangled life,” which does contain some grain of truth, into the more humanly comprehensible “history of a soul.” And yet, we must be aware that if we move from the famous definitions, by now well assimilated, to a re-reading of those works, our judgement changes once again. Both because sometimes even the most severe pronouncements appear plausible and because the critical “slashing” seem less final, paired more with adjectives that disturb than with substantial disparagements. Leopardi’s poetry, to return to our example, is salvaged even if his attitude is condemned, which, by the way, is perfectly in line with Croce’s methodology. To be sure the case of Pascoli, D’Annunzio and Pirandello are different but, even years later, can one deny a certain puerility in Pascoli, the obvious artfulness of D’Annunzio, and even in the case of the greatly acclaimed Pirandello, can one deny a certain tiresome pedantry in trying to “shock” the ladies and the middle class with his vaunting the mutability of the human condition?

Having said this, it is probably also true that some of Croce’s “devaluations” are somewhat excessive. What is astonishing (and, surprisingly, it is very rarely pointed out), it often seems that Croce the critic forgets Croce the theorist, that in some cases the philosopher conducts a type of content-oriented, if not ideological, criticism which, as we saw, is an attitude that he had always harshly combated. It would seem, and the use of the conditional is necessary, that in Pirandello’s case, perhaps the most surprising, (as far as D’Annunzio is concerned, once his rehabilitation is no longer fashionable, Croce’s judgment will be in part softened by the public’s reluctance to read his works) the negative judgment on the derivative philosophy of the Sicilian writer conditions the overall critical judgment, as if Croce could not understand that in some cases “philosophy” is transformed in art, in state of mind, mood. Of course, in most cases, aesthetic judgment is well differentiated from the moral one, even if in the mature phase of Croce’s thought the relation between ethics and art becomes ever narrower without yielding, however, to moralism, or to content. The moral condemnation of decadentism, for instance, goes hand in hand with the aesthetic condemnation of an art that is never fulfilled but gets reduced, in our view, to a relation of mere causality.

On the other hand, one ought to better investigate his positive judgment of Baudelaire, the cursed poet par excellence. In the great French poet, Croce finds that special truth of art that is a form of knowledge, which is not always present in D’Annunzio’s provincial imitations. Therefore, there is no moral prejudice. In trying to classify Croce’s taste, we could set up two groups, on the one hand the poets he loved and on the other those he disliked. From these a common trait emerges, namely a classical, virile taste, a favoritism for great art, for art as expression of the fundamental dialectic of pain and pleasure, as Alfredo Parente has justly noted. An art that resolves in expression, in the poetic image, life’s turmoil, the tragedy of human condition that trouble us from birth to death, and which is not annulment, or rhetorical artifice, or intellectual play. But it is not always like this, because Croce’s judgment often catches us by surprise forcing us to reconsider the composition of the ideal classifications that we have just set up. Fortunately, this occurs because taste is free. Even when influenced it is never conditioned or determined.

Finally, I would like to remember the importance that Croce attaches to the theories of some poets and critics to the study of the history of aesthetics. Naturally, he differentiates between poetics and aesthetic, between the programs, the personal declarations of taste, the poetic manifestoes, from the proper and true analyses of the artistic phenomenon. Nonetheless, Croce discovers in the poetics of Baudelaire and Flaubert elements of the greatest interest, and he even goes so far as to state that in order to attain innovative elements for the history of aesthetic, one must turn, in French culture, to the poets and not to the philosophical tradition, too tied up with Cartesianism and almost made powerless by rationalism. As far as Italy is concerned, he remarks that only Francesco De Sanctis (even if he thinks that the little known Antonio Tari is also important) despite the rhapsodic character of his writings, rises up to the speculative power of a Giambattista Vico, true “discoverer” of modern aesthetics (Baumgarten is a special case that cannot be dealt with here).

One could write, as we have suggested elsewhere, a history of aesthetics by non philosophers (that is, non professional ones) from Croce’s point of view. Thus, one could deal in greater depth, and in a less fragmentary way, with the affinities between Croce’s aesthetic of the autonomy of art and French symbolism, the intuitions of E. Allan Poe, the theories of T.S. Eliot, or Joyce’s sensibility (for instance, the aesthetic statements in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). From this study, very probably, a view of Croce could emerge that is very current in its conception of modernity, and even post-modernity, in striking contradiction to his language, and life style.




Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

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64th Meeting -


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