Sundry Musings on the New Millennium's Transatlantic Dialogue - Part II

Continued from Part I.

All of these essays issued out of a series of reflections. Some were at first jutted down as diary entries, others became articles of various length, and several of them became full length essays (such as the very first one or the 14th on the Janus-like face of Europe), still others were originally lectures delivered at various institutions of European Studies and Congresses on the EU in the United States or abroad (Florida University at Gainesville, January 2002, University of Miami, 24-25 April 2002; University of Nebraska at Omaha, 14-16 October 2002; First and Second International Conference on the Transatlantic Dialogue, Miami, 24-25 April 2002; April 26-30, 2004; Rollins College, Orlando, 4-6 March 2004), a couple were even translated and delivered in Italy. All were written in the four years spanning the advent of the third millennium and the second half of the year 2004. They all issued out of a passionate, ongoing interest in the development of Western Civilization with its deepest roots in European culture; to wit my doctoral dissertation at Yale University, related to a problematic aspect (that of the concept of Providence) of the philosophy of history and civilizations in Giambattista Vico’s New Science (1725).

Vico is considered by many scholars the culmination of Italian and European Humanism (see illustration 3 in the book). This interest led me eventually to the writing of a book on the hermeneutics of Vico’s speculation on the interface of language, history and literature. Likewise, literary theory and criticism, and their nexus to cultural anthropology are prominently featured in this book’s ruminations, with a further stimulus arising from the emergence of the European Union’s Constitution in 2002. In as much as a constitution is analogous to the vital signs of a body politics and reflects its value system, its analysis is essential for determining that body’s moral and social health as well as suggesting an appropriate diagnosis and prognosis. A whole section of the book (Part 3 titled: On the European Union’s Constitution containing four lengthy essays) is dedicated to the EU constitution and the intriguing events that have led to its drafting, the comparisons with the US constitution, its signing in Rome in October 2004 (see illustration 6), the attempts to ratify it, not yet fully accomplished, the changing of the name from Constitution to Treaty, the perplexities it has engendered on both sides of the Atlantic.

But to return to the above mentioned existential philosophical aspects, these reflections, more than with the being of Man, are concerned with the ongoing journey of Man. A spiritual or intellectual journey may imaginatively originate at any point on the hermeneutical circle, to eventually return full circle to its place of origin. This paradigm which believes that in the beginning there is the end and in the end there is the beginning, may at first appear cyclical and closed upon itself, merely immanent, a sort of Nietzschean eternal return, but in fact it is more like a forward, or even upward moving spiral (see illustration 2). To be sure, on a spiral one can also move downward, as Dante’s descent into hell amply suggests (see illustration 4), but even there it eventually leads to the other side of the earth and then upward, via the mountain of Purgatory, to the final destination in heaven, God’s vision. Indeed, for Dante the way up is the way down. This Vichian structure of the narration of Man’s journey is not always linear narration and may at times make the essays appear contradictory. But such is the story of Man, as imaginatively remembered and as narrated to oneself, beginning at any place of the hermeneutical circle.

Contrary to what one may think when entering the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s narration does not begin with the creation of Light by God but with the drunkenness of Noah. It is via narration, rather than via logical clear and distinct ideas standing behind words, that Man discovers that he is his own history and that while the cycles of the “story” may recur, they also move spiral-like toward a providential final purpose or “telos.” We may then be surprised to discover that transcendence and immanence are not mutually and logically exclusive but complementary to each other. The mind’s restless cognitive operations reflect at least that much. The same inventor of the essay, Michel de Montaigne, some five centuries ago, jotted down this acute insight into the nature of his essays as they related to his own self: (see illustration 4): “If my soul could only find a footing I would not be essaying myself but resolving myself” (from essay “On Repentance”).

It is through the attempt to know the workings of our mind, that we may hope to arrive at self-knowledge and begin to realize that in the final analysis, the way to a recovery of transcendence and humanistic modes of thought in Western culture cannot possibly be an Hegelian-Marxian historical paradigm of inevitable progress, or its corollary, manifest destiny, allowing colonizers of various stripes to ride rough shod over native cultures, but rather a new humanistic Vichian-Joycean paradigm intimating “back to the future;” the awareness, that is, that paradoxically the emerging new Europe is neither old nor young, but novantiqua; that old stale unimaginative cultural paradigms rooted in a Machiavellian “real-politik mind-set” need to give way to a more Vichian poetic approach.

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