Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00

THE ITALIAN DIFFERENCE 4

Militancy and the body
The fourth characteristic of italian philosophical culture, militancy, seems to contradict eclecticism: no matter how much consent is placed in the defense of an eclectic combination, it will never be able to impose itself with the absolute force of the obligation of a faith. But what does militancy have to do with faith? Faith refers to an internal dimension, whereas militancy refers to an external dimension, to the miles, understood in the first place in its collective meaning as army. Faith is connected with the soul, militancy pertains to the body.
Clearly, the body is the point of arrival of the three notions discussed above: repetition. transmission and mixture. Repetition in fact implies an emptying of the interior dimension, an emancipation with respect to the lived dimension, an effort to consider the appearance autonomous and to be pursued in a meditation upon corporeality. Similarly, the notion of transmission implies a circulation of forms, of ways of life, of attitudes, a circulation that dissolves their original significance: historical event and language are wink and gesture, therefore body, and not sign or symbol, or a cipher of something spiritual. Finally, the italian mixture is not a mystic reconciliation of everything with everything, a universal pacification in a super-soul of the world, a triumph of the unity of human and divine, but quite the contrary, it is a strategy that mixes precise givens that are historically determined and objectively corporeal. Election is not a mystic-contemplative experience in which man and world disappear in the union of the soul with God, but a way of valuing things, people, and the world in their difference, movement, and radical otherness.
The italian notion of the body is strictly tied to its Latin etymology from the word ”corpus”. It thus moves in a linguistic and conceptual space completely different from that of the German ”Leib”, which derives from Old German ”lip” and denotes an animated body in all of life`s dimensions. In the italian body there is nothing of the vitalistic emphasis so noticeable in the concept of ”Leib”, which affirms the body`s unity with the soul in a conceptual framework characterized by reconciliation and harmonization between the two. The italian body is something else, different and irreducible to an aesthetic-spiritual sublimation. It is not determined conceptually through an opposition to an inanimate body, a corpse; rather, it is determined in analogy to the collective, to the ensemble composed of parts, that is, to the corporation.
italian militancy is what is called in italy ”spirito di corpo”, that is, solidarity, consciousness of belonging to a ”societas”, but not fanaticism, nor belligerent fury. italian militancy has the density, the slowness, and even the opacity of the corporation, of the ”collegium” of the ”universitas personarum”.
The collective body, the institution, the ”societas” does not yet have in italian culture, as it did not have in the Latin culture from which it derives, an abstract unity that transcends what makes up its parts. The ”corpus” is something profoundly different from the Greek ”polis”, which, as Aristotle says (Pol. 1253a), exists by nature and is anterior to every individual of which it is composed; it is something profoundly different from the modern state and even from the modern ideological party, which follows the conceptual model of he Greek ”polis”. In italy, rather, ”civitas” is unthinkable without citizens. Even linguistically, ”civitas” is derived from ”civis”. That means that militancy does not indicate a relationship between ”civis” and a transcendent totality, but rather a relationship between ”civis” and other ”cives”: we are fellow-citizens prior to being citizens. Militancy is not constituted as fealty to a transcendent entity, to a spirit of the institution, but rather as repetition, transmittable mediation, and mixture.
Even in this case, a consideration of Jesuit experience reveals itself as unavoidable for the understanding of italian culture. By reinterpreting the ancient Roman conception of ”militia”, the Jesuits elaborated it and assured its influence across the centuries. The ”Compagnia di Gesù” is repeatedly considered in its ”Constitutions” as a ”corpo”, a body ”formed by members who are prior to the all”.
Obviously, none of this means that italy lacks a notion of the individual body; but still it is never the German ”Leib”. The individual body is conceived as a vestment, as a ”hide,” as a covering that no identity inhabits and that, precisely for this reason, is abandoned to the currents of habit and opportunity. At the basis of a similar conception lies the negation of subjectivity, of pleasure, and of pain propounded by Stoicism, which excludes the possibility of desire or self-will independent of the given, of the situation, of what Loyola calls ”the will of God” and in whose indifference he finds the foundations for an ”art of continual enjoyment.” This ”militia” against subjectivity and individual desire is undoubtedly original and most important: it is what transforms the human body into a ”miles”. Thus even the aesthetic and ethical celebration of nudity, typical of ancient Greece, is foreign to the italian notion of the body. The Greek conception presupposes that beneath the vestments is found the naked truth, the creatural original. But the body has no truth to reveal. It is just as external and fortuitous as the vestment. In italy there is between body and clothes an interchangeability that manifests itself, for example, in Bernini`s ”The Ecstasy of St. Theresa”, which represents a vestment-body, a vestment that is as vibrant as a body. From this interchangeability comes the specific characteristics of italian fashion and of italian pornography.

Toward a thinking of ritual and opportunity
Repetition, transmission, mixture, and body reveal themselves to be the key elements of a philosophical culture that has coherently followed a path completely different from the mainstream of Western culture for almost 3000 years. It is not easy to circumscribe this path in a single formula or in unequivocal definition: mainly because, as has been shown, everything in italy tends to take on a second, third, or fourth significance different from those fixed in the European tradition, not so much on account of an incorrigible cunning on the part of italians, but fundamentally because this path, which is inscribed in language and in history, has not yet really been said and thought. In conclusion, however, two aspects deserve to be underscored because they illuminate the four elements mentioned above: ritual and opportunity.
Anthropologists and historians of religions are in the habit of opposing mythic thought to the Western cultural tradition. italian philosophical culture, on the other hand, seems motivated by ”ritual thinking”, by a most original conception of rite that forgets, abolishes, and cancels the original myth, creating a structure so elastic as to be able to stand up under any circumstances. That is precisely why italian culture harks to a ”thinking of opportunity” which is not, however, narrow-minded utilitarianism, but a trust that every situation contains positive aspects for whoever knows how to accept and appropriate them. If this is undoubtedly not the best of all possible worlds, as metaphysical optimism maintains, it still depends on us to turn the difference of history and language in the direction of happiness and success, or, as the Jesuits used to say, toward consolation and ”the greater glory of God.”
If the Western tradition is dominated by the separation between the philosophy and the organization of culture, between knowledge and power understood as forms that secretly belong together but which can never reach an actual integration, italian culture has perhaps always possessed the secret of this integration, in spite of the acknowledged and never sufficiently deplored historical powerlessness of its scholars and the historical ignorance of its leaders. Translated by Roger Friedman
Published in ”Graduate Faculty Philosophical Journal”, volumeJAP Number 1
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