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Ritual Thinking: Sexuality, Death, World by Mario Perniola, translated by Massimo Verdicchio (Philosophy and Literary Theory: Humanity Books) Mario Perniola ranks as one of the most impressive figures in contemporary italian philosophy, along with Gianni Vattimo and Umberto Eco. The work translated here, Ritual Thinking: Sexuality, Death, World, is a composite of two major books by Perniola, La society dei Simulacri (The Society of Simulacra) and Transiti (Transits).

Perniola examines the role of eros, desire, and sexuality in our experience of the aesthetic, the technological, and in the oper­ation of the postmodern world. He does this through a wide range of inquiry into the role of art, the erotic, seduction, and simulation in Nietzsche, Ovid, Gracián, Luther, Heidegger, and other key figures in the Western tradition. Five chapters each from The Society of Simulacra and Transits illustrate Perniola`s philosophy of the present in terms of linkage, representation, and the ritual without myth. This last concept arises from a society whose be­havior seems no longer directed by customs or by individual con­science. Nonetheless, the demystification of myth in rituals that lack a mythical dimension does not entail a process of secularization, nor does it compromise the sacred character of myth. Looking to Roman religion, Perniola shows that it is, instead, an attempt to forge a link or transit between the sacred and the profane.

Transit, simulacrum, and ritual without myth are among the cornerstones of Perniola`s radically new theory developed in these two important works. Translated into 11lish for the first time, these chall11ing and stimulating essays will be invaluable to phi­losophers and students of Cultural Studies, and all those inter­ested in continental philosophy.

Mario Perniola is one of the most impressive figures on the contem­porary italian philosophical scene. He ranks as a dominant figure among the somewhat younger generation of italian thinkers (after Gianni Vattimo and Umberto Eco) developing an original, imaginative, and critical style of writing in the broadly aesthetic frame. Like Vattimo and Eco, he was a student of an almost mythical figure in the person of Luigi Pareyson, perhaps the most notable philosopher in italy after the Second World War. Pareyson made his career as Professor of Aesthetics at the Uni­versity of Turin in northern italy (Piedmont) where he wielded enormous influence on the philosophical and academic scene. His intellectual prowess as well as his responsiveness to both the intellectual culture and the italian Catholic worlds of his time and context made him a formidable figure. Pareyson was especially important for these young exciting intel­lectuals seeking to rethink the history of philosophy as well as theoretical philosophy and the broader development of aesthetic thinking in italy. As Vattimo and Eco were completing their studies under Pareyson and com­peting for the best academic posts in the italian university system, some­what younger philosophers such as Mario Perniola sought to formulate their own philosophical identity.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, and particularly in ana­lytic circles, the field of aesthetics is sometimes regarded as a less than cen­tral area of philosophy (situating it as a form of value theory alongside epistemology, metaphysics, logic, and so forth). In italy, by contrast, the Professor of Aesthetics is one of the most important chairs of the philo­sophical disciplines. Those commissioned to teach aesthetics are also expected to illuminate students of literature, the arts, and culture. This broader mandate means that the Professor of Aesthetics (and some uni­versities such as Milan even have three Chairs in Aesthetics) has many more students to teach and is expected to address a much more signifi­cantly interdisciplinary group of students than other professors of philos­ophy. As Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Rome-II this newer campus of the state universities in Rome located outside the walls of the city-Mario Perniola not only teaches an interdisciplinary cadre of students but he supervises research-oriented students pursuing advanced study in aesthetic theory. Hence Perniola`s own work covers not only the history of aesthetic theory-see, for instance, his recent highly original book on twentieth-century aesthetics, but also highly theoretical, original, insightful, and critical studies of contemporary cultural experience and modes of communica­tion. He draws not only from issues that address topics in the various modes and artifacts of expression from the arts, technology, and the media of today, but he also recognizes that they are acutely imbedded in the various western traditions that produce the enigmas and secrets of Egyptian and Roman cultures of ancient times as well.

Ritual Thinking is only the second of Mario Perniola`s many books to be translated into 11lish. And Ritual Thinking is itself a unique work as it actually combines the best of two separate volumes published in italian in the 1980s: namely La Societa dei Simulacri (Bologna, 1983) and Transiti (Bologna, 1989). In close consultation with the author, the seasoned translator Massimo Verdicchio (who provides here a superb and sensitive rendition of Perniola`s thought) and I have put together this volume of the most important and relevant selections of these two books for the 11­lish-speaking world. Those chapters that were either largely particular to the italian scene or that have less lasting importance were omitted in favor of those that reflect the genius of Perniola`s thought and its broader impli­cations. It is a delight to present this new and unique volume of Mario Perniola`s writings in 11lish for the first time.

Perniola`s work is often associated with the writings of Jean Bau­drillard in France. As the title of one of the two books combined here (La Society dei Simulacri) suggests, the role of simulations as images without referent is crucial to Perniola`s thought as it is to Baudrillard`s Simulations and Simulacra (Paris, 1981). Perniola`s account of simulations focuses on the logic of seduction (also a Baudrillardian theme as in his 1979 De la seduction). Seduction in rhetoric, in the libertine, in politics has as its dominant feature the production of emptiness, showing without hope or illusion, but nevertheless historical and concrete. Seduction is an empty exterior with no hidden meaning or identity. In simulation, the image is valued as an image, not for what it refers to, corresponds to, or represents. Images are simulations in that they seduce and yet out of their emptiness they have effects. Perniola demonstrates the role of such images in a wide range of cultural, aesthetic, and social contexts.

A full overview and account of Perniola`s thought is elaborated in detail by Massimo Verdicchio in his ”Translator`s Introduction.” My pur­pose here is to invite the reader to savor the breadth and insight of Perniola`s contribution in Ritual Thinking--a kind of thinking that touches on (as the subtitle suggests) sexuality, death, and world. This work of the 1980s is the crucial backdrop to his account of enigmas; where enigmas are shown to go beyond the secret and the fold. Perniola points out in Enigmas that ”the nature of enigma is transit,” and transit has to do with the ”going from the same to the same.” This movement from the same to the same marks the place of spectacle, image, reality. Enigmatic thinking elaborates ”the unitarily enigmatic character of reality” The enigmatic is present, felt, secret,-a fold. ”Enigma originates at the precise moment when past and future are both collapsed into an ambiguous, supremely problematic present.” He calls this present an ”Egyptian effect” because it has to do with the fascination of pyramids and hieroglyphs-enigmatic experience.
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