Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00

THE italIAN DIFFERENCE 3

Eclecticism and mixture
In addition, the third characteristic of italian philosophical culture, eclecticism, should also not be considered naively, as if it were a philosophical theory or a directing principle of cultural organization. It is, at one and the same time, something less and something more than a philosophy, something less and something more than an organizing principle. In fact, it is essentially not the idea (as it is typical of ancient or nineteenth century philosophical eclecticism) that truth is to be found divided among various systems or fundamental positions, ultimately to be reconciled or harmonized. Indeed, behind the eclecticism of italian culture does not lie the aim of choice, of selecting the true, the good or the beautiful, of drawing them out from various and disparate sources. Nor does there lie the intention, which is typical of the organization of culture, to guarantee the existence of a frame of reference within which the various tendencies can be freely compared with one another. This typical organization of culture does not involve people who, through their neutrality, offer the possibility of such a confrontation. italian eclecticism is not a playground, for it is not simply concerned with the true, the good, and the beautiful, as these are philosophically understood; and even less does it think that the victor ought to emerge from a contest between various concurrent philosophies. The significance of italian eclecticism emerges from the two characteristics considered previously, that is to say, from repetition and transmission. In fact, the important point is the bond or juncture, between the absence of origin, identity and autochthonism, and the multiplicity of relationships, influences, and connections. It not only permits approaches, transplants, and the most diverse combinations, but more profoundly, it attributes an essential function to the mixture. Dozens of countries exist in the world by now, whose cultures exhibit a deeper mixture than that of italy. But only in italy does there exist an almost 3000-year-Iong tradition in which the mixture has paradoxically acquired a purity all its own, giving it an autonomous nature which differentiates it from mere disorder and arbitrariness.
Disorder and arbitrariness exist where two or more identities do not succeed in maintaining their purity and perspicuity, but rather confuse their characteristics by creating amorphous and inert conglomerations. Instead the italian mixture is somehow profoundly different, for in italy, from the very beginning, these original identities are absent. From the very beginning, we have had much to do with copies, with repetitions, with simulacra, which have taken the place of the originals but which are not the originals. The mixture, then, does not compromise, does not corrupt, and does not contaminate anything. The fact that a philosophy or an organizing form in italy represents a conceptual, formal, and stylistic unity, is no guarantee of genuineness or of authenticity. Faced with an orthodoxy that is a copy of itself, that is doubled in on itself, eclecticism shows, more adequately and more transparently, the derivative and spurious character of italian philosophical culture. The greatness of italian eclecticism still cannot be measured by traditional criteria. The fact that it reaches better theoretical or practical results than those reached by Western philosophical culture is not important. It is narrow-mindedly nationalistic, chauvinistic, and misleading to base an italian primacy on the fact that ”problems born else.where are solved in italy,” as was held in the last century. The greatness of italian eclecticism does not lie in a better solution reached by choosing and comparing various doctrines. The italian mixture is not a method for discovering the truth, nor an arena from which a victor can be expected to emerge; it is rather a strategy aiming to accomplish the difference of history and of language, so that men may consent and adhere to it.
In the case of italian eclecticism it is not necessary to talk about subjective choice, almost as if it were possible for an individual thinker to establish what ingredients should be thrown together to produce his work. The elements of the mixture are already given by history and language, by the situation. The individual thinker is faced with the task of electing rather than that of selecting. That is, the individual is faced with a process of appropriation-and-acceptance, through which the primary elements of the graft and of combination are duplicated [with regard to themselves] and become objects of their own will. Combinations and grafts or insertions are therefore not the fruit of arbitrariness or of individual fantasy, but are imposed by the difference of the historical and linguistic context. This objectivity of the choice constitutes the premise of the election, of which Ignatius Loyola speaks in his ”Exercises”: election places the will of the subject at the service of a reality, that, by imposing itself from the outside, takes place as it meets us, disturbs us, transforms us.
Translated by Roger Friedman
Published in ”Graduate Faculty Philosophical Journal”, volumeJAP Number 1
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