Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00


The Difference of the italian Philosophical Culture

The four characteristics of italian philosophical culture
Inquiring into the specific characteristics of italian philosophical culture, in comparison to Western philosophical culture, we are led directly to two observations. The first observation underscores the polarity between philology on the one hand and civil activism (impegno civile) on the other. italian philosophers seem fated to oscillate between these two poles, without successfully establishing a unified perspective that would comprise and overcome such an opposition. Naturally, within the scope oft his polarity, many qualitative variations are possible: philology can rise to the task of understanding texts or it can stoop to mere erudition; civil activism can ascend to political and moral reflection or it can fall into jaded rhetoric. But the very multiplicity of levels, on which this polarity can be realized, seems to confirm its basic structural characteristics. The structural dimensions of this polarity are in fact even more evident when it is present-as so often occurs-in a single person, who turns out, so to speak, to be divided internally. This internal division aligns the person along two dimensions: an ultraspecialistic philological dimension, reserved exclusively for students and colleagues and free of civil preoccupations; and a broad public dimension, which precisely in its attempt to direct itself to everyone, disregards a rigorous vocabulary.
The second observation underscores the polarity between eclecticism and militancy. On the one hand, italian philosophical culture seems to proceed, for the most part, not according to the progressive development of an autonomous point of view, but rather through riskier grafts and even through the most incongruous combinations, aiming to harmonize directions and tendencies of` thought that are considered incompatible with one another outside of italy. On the other hand, it tends to create distinctions following extrinsic criteria of a political nature, which mirror the distinctions and the separations existing among the various groups active on the italian political scene. This polarity therefore seems to confuse just where it should clarify differences, and to separate just where it ought to unite, showing that the two apparently opposed faults, eclecticism and militancy, are actually linked.
These two polarities between philology and civil activism and between eclecticism and militancy, are also connected. A philology that never succeeds in being philosophy reduces the opposition between incompatible orientations to simple distinctions between diverse objects of study and between equivalent and interchangeable fields of research, and thus paves the way for eclecticism. Similarly, a civil activism which never develops into an organization of` culture is destitute of that intrinsic theoricity that permits it to be autonomous against factions and party interests. It therefore inevitably transforms itself into militancy.

italian identity and difference
For such reasons, a comparison between italian philosophical culture and modern European thought leads almost inevitably to depressing conclusions and fundamentally confirms the commonplace that the italian people is comprised of poets, saints, navigators, as well as musicians, artists and - why not?- businessmen, but not philosophers. Now, in my view, this judgment is profoundly unjust, precisely because it is based on an extrinsic comparison between italian philosophy and Western philosophy. It attributes to the latter an abstract normative value and does not suspect the possibility of an italian difference that follows diverse, autonomous, and perhaps alternative paths from the rest of Europe.
At the present moment, in which Western philosophy seems to have concluded its parabola from metaphysics to nihilism, at a time like now, when the organization of Western culture seems to have concluded its parabola from the church to the nihilism of the technological age, a thinking that meditates and interrogates cannot remain prisoner within a humiliating and mortifying comparison with experiences devoid of propulsive force.
We are not speaking here - as has been done in the past – of opposing to every European thinker a corresponding italian thinker, as for instance: ”Europe has Descartes, but we have Galileo; Europe has Spinoza, but we have Giordano Bruno; Europe has Hegel, but we have Vico: Europe has Marx, but we have Machiavelli…” This procedure is short-sighted, resentful, and deafly nationalistic. It is the product of the Risorgimento, which is to say, of the effort to define an italian identity, to give the dignity of nationhood, in the words of Manzoni, to ”the scattered folk that has no name (”al volgo disperso che nome non ha”). It is necessary to realize the Risorgimento is now over, and that nationalistic ways, based on a comparison and vindication of identities, have completely exhausted their historical function.
The sort of thinking which meditates and inquires no longer attributes a privileged role, meaning, or function to philosophy and to the organization of culture. Rather, it maintains that the essential lies elsewhere, in other dimensions, in experiences and events that, at first sight, seem marginal in comparison to the mainstream of the Western philosophical tradition, like the existence and the destiny of archaic, Presocratic Greeks, of the first Christian communities, of poets and poetry. But all these experiences are extraneous to and remote from the italian tradition. Certainly, it is possible to maintain that the courtly love of the troubadours, Joachim of Fiore`s eschatology or Giacomo Leopardi`s poetry present an interest similar to that which Heidegger assigns to the Presocratics, to Meister Eckhart. and to Hölderlin. But is this the italian difference? Aren`t we forced, once more, into a comparison from which necessarily emerge in a dependent and subordinate position? Paraphrasing the Marquis de Sade, we need to say, ”italiens, encor un effort… ” in order to understand and will what we are.
This effort, in my opinion, must direct itself toward what remains unthought and unsaid within the choices leading to philology and to civil activism, to eclecticism and to militancy; it means denying philosophy and the organization of culture as these have been determined and developed in the Western tradition. Certainly I am not speaking here of an openly theorized and argued refusal, of a consciously lived and experienced refusal; nor am I speaking of a refusal that clearly identifies the adversary and establishes with it a relationship of contradiction and struggle. I should like to advance a more ambitious program: namely, to overcome the adversary ”without arriving at a confrontation”, that is, to take on its aspect by appropriating its reasons and taking its place. There is a way of fighting an enemy that is much less dangerous, much less uncertain in its development and much more effective and radical in its results than 11aging in a life and death struggle. This strategy consists in stripping the enemy of its identity, in transforming oneself into an indiscernible copy from the other. Whoever wins in a life and death struggle, not only leaves the vanquished its identity, but this identity becomes elevated, affirmed and sublimated. Whoever puts himself in the place of his enemy smothers, cancels out, and abolishes the enemy`s identity, thus opening a space of indetermination and of indiscernible differences.
It used to be common to reprimand italian culture for its lack of creativity and originality. This is a characteristic the italians inherited from Latin culture. In ancient Rome not only philosophy, but also art and literature were deeply indebted to Greece, just as modern italian culture is indebted to Europe. But this is not a fault. italian creativity and originality, like that of its Latin antecedents, is not to be sought in its contents. As long as philology and eclecticism are considered rough sketches of philosophy, and civil activism and militancy as rough sketches of the organization of culture, the essential point is missed. Philology and civil activism, eclecticism and militancy are not and do not claim to be real theories, real organizations of culture; rather they are to be taken as strategies, modes, and procedures to deconstruct, unhinge, and uproot the philosophical and cultural tradition of the West. In the merely philological attitude there is such an exaggerated and extreme faithfulness and respect for the past and its preservation that its possibilities of development in the present and in the future are destroyed. In civil activism there is such a generic and inconclusive anxiety toward communication that every organic form of sociality is dissolved. In eclecticism there is such a weak and weary concept of truth, that its very need is annulled; and finally, there is in militancy such a factious and short-sighted defense of the cause that its credibility is minimized. Nevertheless, it would be mistaken to view only the destructive and nihilistic side of italian philosophical culture and to ascribe its essence to a negativity that undermines and secretly boycotts whatever has been edified and constructed in Europe. italian philosophical culture is not a sort of fifth column of European culture, dedicated to sabotage and betrayal. On the contrary, it is essentially positive, or better, affirmative. But what it affirms is profoundly different from the claimed mainstream of Western philosophical culture.
Translated by Roger Friedman
Published in ”Graduate Faculty Philosophical Journal”, volumeJAP Number 1
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