The Ancient Roots of a Non-Anthropocentric Humanism

“The Ancient Roots of a Non-Anthropocentric Humanism: A Pythagorean Perspective.” Paper presented at the Mellon Symposium on Environmental Posthumanities in the Anthropocene on Friday, Dec. 2nd 2016 .

This paper presents part of my research on the ancient and early modern sources of a non-anthropocentric humanism that I prefer to define “more than human” rather than “posthuman.” After a brief introduction on the philosophy of Pythagoras I discussed a productive example of revival of the Pythagorean notion of metempsychosis in the recent movie by Michelangelo Frammartino’s,  Le Quattro volte (2010), and I reflected on its importance for contemporary environmental philosophy and the search for a sustainable human relationship to the environment. 

“The Letter to my Land” by Roberto Saviano

The Letter to my land by Roberto Saviano is in some respects an important model of contemporary environmental short story, articulated into multimedia forms and aware of the impact that the environmental issue has on the culture and ethics of a civil nation. In my presentation I  analyze the evolution of this letter-essay-short story from the written version to the television version entitled From Inferno to the Beauty that was a special of the television program Che tempo che fa, hosted by Saviano together with Fabio Fazio. Che tempo che fa is an ongoing television talk show hosted by the Italian television host Fabio Fazio since 2003. My thesis is that this development in the story gains in communication effectiveness, formal articulation and wise aesthetic elaboration, through the recovery of the essential forms and dynamics of popular oral narrative. The story is presented as Saviano’s report and witness to the devastating consequences of the degradation of the Mediterranean landscape around Castel Volturno, a town in the province of Caserta in the Campania region, about twenty miles northwest of Naples on the Volturno River. The presentation  concludes with some reflections on the ethics of the landscape and the role of ecocriticism in the context of rethinking humanism in a direction “more than human”, which in other words takes into account the interdependence of human life with all the living universe.

I emphasize two aspects that emerge from the story he recounts in the Letter to my land and in the expanded television version of it. On the one hand, the hellish intersection of violence against human beings and violence against the environment; so it becomes clear that any project of real restoration and redevelopment of the area that would safeguard the respect and the fundamental value of the landscape would produce a very significant added value, by contributing to reduce the violence of the Camorra that continues to dominate and pillage this land. The other important aspect that emerges in Saviano’s account is the substantial role of ecocriticism in rethinking humanism in a direction “more than human”, which takes into serious consideration the interdependence of human life with all of living universe. Saviano tells us that the construction of the first eco-monsters of the Villaggio Coppola destroyed the pine forest and then creating windows not facing the sea but within the village prevented the recognition of the face of the landscape and the authentic beauty of the sea, marking a further step in the degradation of the environment no longer perceived as an integral part of culture and civic life.

The critical reflections triggered by Saviano’s letter bring to mind the words of Piero Calamandrei in 1944 in the face of environmental and human destruction caused by the War World II. In his famous discourse L’Italia ha ancora qualcosa da dire he wrote:

«Quello che più ci ha offeso è stato l’assassinio premeditato delle nostre città, dei nostri villaggi, delle nostre campagne, perfino del nostro paesaggio. Voi lo sapete che in Italia… ogni borgo, ogni svolto di strada, ogni collina ha un volto come quello di una persona viva…”

“What hurt us most was the premeditated assassination of our cities, our villages, our countryside, even our landscape. You know that in Italy … every village, every turn in the road, every hill has a face like that of a living person … ”

and added

“Mai come in questi mesi in cui sui bollettini di guerra cominciavamo a leggere con un tremito i luoghi della Toscana, abbiamo sentito che questi paesi sono carne della nostra carne, e che per la sorte di un quadro o di una statua o di una cupola si può stare in pena come per la sorte del congiunto, o dell’amico più caro».

“Never before like in recent months in which on the war bulletins we began to read with a quake the places of Tuscany, we felt that these countries are flesh of our flesh, and that for the fate of a painting or a statue or a dome one may be worried as for the fate of a spouse, or friend most dear. ”

The invitation of Calamandrei to recognize the face of the landscape was then translated into the Article 9 of the Italian Constitution, which states that the Republic “protects the landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the nation.” In a different historical context, that nonetheless as the post-war period is characterized by the destruction of human beings, cultural heritage and environment, Roberto Saviano, as Piero Calamandrei 60 years before, invites the Italians to feel the landscape as flesh of their flesh and to continue to recognize the beauty of its radiant and marine face.

*Excepts from “Roberto Saviano’s Letter to My Land” a paper presented by Massimo Lollini at the  Annual Conference of the PAMLA, Portland, Oregon, November 7, 2015.


Sicilian Ruins

Massimo Lollini presented a paper entitled “Sicilian Ruins from Vittorio De Seta’s Documentaries to Vincenzo Consolo’s Citiscapes” at the  Common Knowledges Symposium 2014, Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Culture, the Environment and Labor on Wednesday May 14, 2014 at the University of California in San Diego.

 De Seta shows how both the peasants of the land cultivating wheat and the fishermen – whom he calls “contadini del mare” (peasants of the sea) fishing for tuna or swordfish in the open sea – had found meaning and purpose in their life and sought their realization by means of manual labor. Their relationship to the sea and the land, partially mediated by rudimentary tools, was at the same time intensified by a corporeal and physical immersion in the natural element. Lollini complemented  the brief analysis of three of these documentaries – Lu tempu di li pisci spada (Time of the Swordfish, 1954), I contadini del mare (Peasants of the Sea, 1955) and Parabola d’oro (Gold Parable, 1955) – with a reading of “Tuna fishing,” an essay by great Sicilian writer Vincenzo Consolo who recently died. In the second part of his talk Lollini discussed De Seta’s new documentary filmed for Italian Television in 1980, La Sicilia rivisitata (Sicily revisited). This documentary bears witness to the dramatic ecological and cultural consequences of the ruins of the peasants’ material culture. Lollini paralleled the filmic analysis with a reading of “The ruins of Siracusa,” an essay by Consolo, another great witness to contemporary Sicily in our globalized world. Finally, in his conclusion Lollini considered how De Seta’s documentaries and Consolo’s essays are relevant to contemporary environmental debates on humanism and the search for a sustainable human relationship to the environment.

Natura parens

Prof. Massimo Lollini presented a paper entitled “Natura parens from Bernardus Silvestris’ Cosmographia to Petrarch’s Canzoniere” at the conference of the Renaissance Society of America in New York City on March 29, 2014, in a panel in honor of Prof. Giuseppe Mazzotta.

The paper was well received and triggered a lively discussion on how early humanist philosophy and poetry was pervaded by the idea of creative power of Nature as complement of human and divine creation.  Lollini showed in particular how Bernardus’s idea of natura parens becomes generative of elevating thoughts in Petrarch’s Canzoniere and instrumental in developing what Petrarch calls “more than human method.”

Lollini complemented the analysis of Petrarch’s poems with a reading of Petrarch’s letters and the analysis of some of the miniatures that illustrate the first printed version of Petrarch’s masterpiece published in Venice in 1470 (Inc. Queriniano G V 15). These miniatures are now available in the digital edition published by Lollini within the hypertext project Oregon Petrarch Open Book. In Lollini’s interpretation the miniatures suggest an uplifting reading of the Canzoniere that captures the fundamental role that nature plays in Petrarch’s masterpiece.


Miniature that illustrates Canzoniere 239

This paper is part of a broader research on the notion of a “more-than-human-humanism” that Lollini has been developing in recent years.

Il mondo visto da Sud e “La prima volta.” Una conversazione con Franco Cassano

Il 13 aprile 2013 presso l’Università dell’ Oregon in Eugene si è svolto il trentatresimo convegno annuale dell’American Association of Italian Studies. Franco Cassano era in quell’occasione uno degli oratori delle sessioni plenarie ed è stato al centro di una tavola rotonda attorno al suo pensiero che ha avuto come protagonisti alcuni studiosi particolarmente impegnati nelle problematiche storiche, filosofiche e politiche del pensiero Mediterraneo: gli italianisti Norma Bouchard, Alessandro Carrera, Roberto Dainotto, Valerio Ferme, Claudio Fogu e il filosofo latino-americano Alejandro Vallega. I due eventi, considerati insieme, costituiscono un’interessante e produttiva conversazione con Franco Cassano, un’efficace messa a punto della sua visione del Sud d’Italia e dei Sud del mondo, in rapporto ai temi e valori fondamentali della cultura Mediterranea.

La tavola è stata filmata, trascritta e pubblicata su California Italian Studies, 4(2) a cura di Massimo Lollini che nella sua breve introduzione presenta i protagonisti di questo dialogo e i principali temi emersi nel dibattito, sottolineando al tempo stesso quello che  a suo giudizio costituisce l’elemento più proficuo e passibile di auspicabili sviluppi positivi del pensiero meridiano sul piano culturale e politico. Si tratta dell’idea che il metro di valutazione del grado di sviluppo delle forme di civiltà non può essere determinato semplicemente dal grado di espansione economica e delle forze produttive; per questa ragione il pensiero mediterraneo di Franco Cassano consente e incoraggia la considerazione di altri elementi, come l’incidenza del clima e dei fattori naturali, che solitamente rimangono esclusi dall’attenzione delle scienze sociali e soprattutto dell’intervento politico-economico. È all’altezza di queste riflessioni che il pensiero meridiano si pone oggi come punto di riferimento essenziale per un approccio interdisciplinare volto a recuperare e sviluppare un nuovo umanesimo che abbia al suo centro non l’onnipotenza del soggetto sovrano, ma la relazione e il dialogo con la natura, non più considerata con oggetto di sfruttamento e trasformazione illimitata, ma come un organismo vivente capace non solo di rispondere alle sollecitazioni umane, ma anche di indirizzarle e condizionarle.

L’introduzione di Lollini, i video dei vari interventi e la loro trascrizione sono disponibili al seguente link:

Questa pubblicazione include un inedito di Franco Cassano intitolato “La prima volta” da cui è presa questa epigrafe:

“Ogni tanto, molto spesso solo per caso, ci accade di ricordarci che al mondo non ci siamo
solo noi. E allora, per un attimo, riusciamo a guardarci attorno e rimaniamo storditi e
sommersi dallo spettacolo del fiume infinito delle prime volte, dalla loro immensa
successione, a partire dalla prima di tutte, dal venire al mondo del mondo. Nessuno del
resto può sottrarsi alla prima volta: atomo, molecola, pianeta o stella, albero, cavallo o

Franco Cassano, La prima volta (2013).

Sardinia: the “Greatest Poem” and its Maritime Face

Poetic geography and more than human humanism

In my recent research I have introduced the ideas of poetic geography and “more than human” humanism as they emerge in the philosophy of Giambattista Vico. I have insisted on a new understanding of Vico’s humanism in contrast with the exclusive and reductive attention given by most scholars, including Erich Auerbach and Edward Said, to Vico’s synthetic epistemology, the verum ipsum factum principle, that leads them to neglect important analytical and genealogical dimensions of Vico’s philology, losing the productive interplay between philology and philosophy so characteristic of Vico’s thought. In their interpretation, Vico’s philosophy is reduced to a pervasive historicism and perspectivism. They maintain that Vico identifies history and human nature and conceives human nature as a function of history. Auerbach even suggests that the word natura in some crucial paragraphs of Vico’s Scienza nuova, such as 346 and 347, should be translated as “historical development” (“Vico and Aesthetic Historicism” 118).

While I concede that Vico’s philosophy tends to blur the distinction between “original nature” and “human institutions,” I nevertheless disagree with Auerbach when he states that such distinction is “meaningless” for Vico (“Vico and Aesthetic Historicism” 116). Auerbach’s and Said’s readings pay attention exclusively to the creation of human institutions, whereas Vico considers how the relation to nature also plays a role in the formation of human beings and human culture, as part of the complexity and interconnectivity of life, resisting acritical historicization and reduction to purely human paradigms. The theoretical implications of my approach to Vico’s humanism and making of history lead to a new understanding of Auerbach’s idea that “our philological home is the earth” (“Philology and Weltliteratur” 17), one in which philology and philosophy in a genuinely Vichian fashion return to interrogate not only the historical institutions but also their relationships to earth, sea, and the natural environment as a significant part in the formation of humanity. Thus, in my essay, I use Vico’s idea of “places of humanity” as the driving force of a new humanism, one that is “more than human,” and has larger implications for the study of literature and the ways in which we read texts that are usually centered on the human subject conceived as the only driving force of literary production.

The expression “more than human,” in ecocritical and eco-philosophical studies, was introduced by David Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous (1996) where he argues that “we are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human” (The Spell ix). The notion of a “more than human” humanism has been also developed by Serenella Iovino in her volume Ecologia letteraria (67-70) and in an essay entitled “Ecocriticism and a Non-Anthropocentric Humanism” (47-50). In this article she makes the case for a new humanism, an “ecological humanism,” one that rejects the dualism of humanity and nature conveyed by traditional and historical notions of humanism. In the same perspective, Louise Westling speaks of a “green humanism” as a new form of intersubjective humanism (3). Drawing on my previous essay on “Vico’s more than human humanism” (2011), the present article enters into a productive dialogue with Abram’s and Iovino’s theorizations by showing how Vico’s idea of poetic geography may nurture and reinforce a relational idea of humanism that is so important in environmental philosophy and ecocriticism. Vico’s philology is not limited to the culture of the book or to the world of nations but starts literally in the forests and includes an obscure time, the fabulous beginnings, in which humanity is not completely formed and is exposed to and deeply conditioned by the natural environment that encompasses all living forms (Vico, New Science 202, 361).

There is a significant convergence between Vico’s idea on the origin of language and that of the French phenomenological philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous suggested, in passing, the originality of Vico’s idea of language as an anticipation of Merleau-Ponty’s (76). Like Vico, Merleau-Ponty radically distinguishes his ideas from those of Descartes. For both Vico and Merleau-Ponty Descartes’s philosophy—as summarized in the famous “Je pense, donc je suis” (IV)—has detached the conscious subject from the world that is given in experience, and created the illusion that humans completely make the nature that is given to them (Merleau-Ponty, Phénoménologie x). By refusing what he calls the “conceit of scholars” (New Science 124; 126) and pointing to an originary, pre-cultural, and unspoken element about the relation of humans to nature, Vico anticipated Merleau-Ponty’s idea of the intercorporeality originating human relations with nature (Merleau-Ponty, Nature 216-26). Vico’s poetic language and Merleau-Ponty’s idea of perception do not refer to a process by which human consciousness knows nature and the “external world” as neutral, separated, or as “objects” essentially distinct from a “subject.” Poetic language and perception, on the contrary, are behaviors affected by the body, not as an observer but as a living and active corporeal entity, participating in the life of nature. In this way, humanity emerges not as a substance, and essence, “an imposition of a for-itself on a body in-itself,” but as an interbeing, as an event in which the body is interposed in the circuit of the world (208-09).

Angus Fletcher in his A New Theory for American Poetry: Democracy, the Environment, and the Future of Imagination recognizes the importance of Vico’s idea of poetic creation of the human world as a continuous dialogue and confrontation with the natural environment. While Vico speaks of “poetic geography,” Fletcher introduces the idea of the “environment-poem” that “bridges the gap between the opaque thingness of nature lying ‘out-there,’ and the philosophical and scientific access we gain by developing terms, formulas, explanations, and theories of the order and meaning hidden within that opaque nature” (12). Fletcher even suggests that we can understand what Whitman means when he writes that “The United States are the greatest poem” only if we know Vico (97). Whitman seems to share Vico’s idea of a general poetics by which civilization comes into being. Whitman follows the new idea of truth implied in Vico’s verum factum principle, that we know only what we have made (150, 172), in a way that is inclusive of and gives voice to the natural environment. “This verum factum principle governs the making and exfoliating of Leaves of Grass as an evolving body of accumulating text” (172) that functions only as (and in) process, precisely because it expresses the complex network of natural and social relationships of a porous poetic voice.

Vico’s “poetic geography” can be fruitfully associated with contemporary ideas such as Fletcher’s “environment-poem” and Barry Lopez’s fundamental statement of the relation of mind and place; a relationship where the interior landscape of the human mind is influenced if not shaped by the exterior landscape constituted by the specific region inhabited (Lopez 64-65). Moreover, Abram’s idea of language as not exclusively human product articulated in his recent Becoming Animal (2010) finds an exemplar antecedent in Vico’s philosophy and philology. Abram’s ask, “What if the very language we now speak arose first in response to an animate, expressive world—as shuttering reply not just to other of our species but to an enigmatic cosmos that already spoke to us in a myriad of tongues?” (Becoming 4). Vico develops a similar argument in his New Science. For him the language of the first human beings was neither self-contained and original nor self-determined but it emerged out of imaginative reactions to external stimuli triggered by the natural environment which is given to humans and in which humans participate (444). Finally, in Vico’s philosophy there is no trace of that epistemological hubris that according to Bateson is at the origin of the ecological crisis of our time, one in which human beings rule as autocrats over the environment neglecting the mutual dependence of mind and nature and leading to the degradation of the entire supreme cybernetic system (Steps to an Ecology of Mind 478-487).

The  essay “Sardinia: the “Greatest Poem” and its Maritime Face” that I have published in Ecozon@ (Vol.4, No2) shows how Vico’s important and neglected notion of a relational, non-exclusively human humanism based on a deep listening of and response to the natural environment is still alive in the works of Grazia Deledda and Salvatore Satta, the founding writers of Sardinian poetic geography. In his essay I focus on how these writers perceive Sardinia and the Mediterranean as constitutive of a sense of identity in which land and sea, history and nature intersect in inextricable circles. The Sardinian writers of younger generations, such as Alberto Capitta, Giulia Clarkson, Marcello Fois, and Giulio Angioni, are also considered in “Sardinia: the “Greatest Poem” and its Maritime Face” as a further level of Sardinian poetic geography, one that faces the flattening, homogenizing forces of contemporary capitalist globalization.

I close this brief synthesis introducing the notion of “face” included in the title of this essay. I do not consider the “face” only in “humanist” or intrahuman terms as it happens in Levinas’ idea of “face-to-face” encounter with the Other. On the one hand, I have in mind Vico’s metaphysical idea of conatus that sees the presence of a divine drive toward infinity not only on the face of the other and/or in human institutions but also on the “face” of the sky, and more in general the places of humanity and the natural environment. On the other hand, I utilize the immanentist notions of “visage” (face) and “visagéité” (faciality) developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as correlative of “paysage” (landscape) and paysageté (landscapity) (A Thousand Plateaus 167-192).

The complete essay can be read at the following link:

Vico more than human humanism

 This essay considers how in Vico the alterity of nature plays an important role in the formation of humanity, as part of the complexity and interconnectivity of life, resisting acritical historicization and reduction to purely human paradigms. Unlike Machiavelli’s, Vico’s idea of humanity and human institutions is not based simply on Roman history. He perceived the need to consider and investigate the “empty spaces” of history to understand the deepest layers deposited by history in the human mind, including the pre-alphabetic culture.

The theoretical implications of this  approach to Vico’s humanism and making of history lead to a new understanding of Auerbach’s idea that “our philological home is the earth,” one in which philology and philosophy in a genuinely Vichian fashion return to interrogate not only the historical institutions but also their relationships to earth and the natural environment as a significant part in the formation of humanity. Thus, this essay proposes Vico’s idea of “places of humanity” as the driving force of a new humanism, one that is “more than human,” and finally pays attention to what has been excluded or not valorized from purely historicist interpretations of his philosophy. 

The essay was publish in the Annali d’Italianistica in 2011 with the title

 Giambattista Vico’s more than human humanism


Petrarch early manuscripts and incunabula in the OPOB

Prof. Massimo Lollini and his collaborators completed the project “Petrarch Early Manuscripts and Incunabula in the Oregon Petrarch Open Book” in September 2013.

In 2012 Lollini received an ACLS Digital innovation grant for the project “Petrarch’s Early Manuscripts and  Incunabula in the Oregon Petrarch Open Book,” an open source, open access initiative designed  for students, scholars, teachers, and translators to read and investigate selected manuscripts and  early printed editions of Petrarch’s magnum opus that have been instrumental to its interpretation  from its first release in 1362 until today.

Working from transcriptions generated using T-PEN a  web-based tool for working with images of manuscripts developed at Saint Louis University, the  collaborators of the project have digitized and encoded in TEI P5  three key copies of Petrarch’s  Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Canzoniere): the late 14th-century manuscript copy from the Queriniana Library in Brescia, D II 21; the  Queriniana Library’s copy of the first printed edition (editio princeps) of the Rvf published in  Venice in 1470 (Inc. Queriniano G V 15), and Alessandro Vellutello’s Renaissance commentary  of the Rvf, which helped to foster the birth of French Petrarchism. During the ACLS grant, the  images in the Incunabulum were also described in basic format and TEI encoding, providing the  foundation for exploring visual and textual relationships that Lollini plans to further develop in next grant proposal.

The dissemination of this project started in Spring 2012 when it was still in the very early stages.  Lollini announced the project in a paper entitled “Oregon Petrarch Open Book Project” at the Symposium on Textualities in the Digital Age held at the University of Oregon on April  14, 2012. In Spring 2013 Lollini published an article entitled “Petrarch’s Early Manuscripts and  Incunabula in the Oregon Petrarch Open Book” in Humanist Studies & the Digital Age, a peer- reviewed e-journal devoted to the reformulation of received philological and philosophical  ideas of writing and reading literary works, motivated by the advent of electronic texts.

Lollini presented this project in a paper entitled “Petrarch’s Open Book from  the  Editio  Princeps  (Inc.  Queriniano G V 15) to Digital Culture” at the International  Conference on Petrarch and His Legacies held at the University of Wisconsin, March 4-5,  2013; and in a paper entitled “Encoding Text and Images in the Oregon  Petrarch Open  Book” presented at the American Association of Italian Studies conference held in Eugene,  Oregon, April 11-13, 2013.  Jelena Todorovic and Ernesto Livorni will publish Lollini’s paper in  the proceedings of the International Conference on  Petrarch and His Legacies forthcoming in  2014 in the ACMRS (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies). Lastly, Lollini  refers to this project in two papers: the first one entitled  “Philology and Sensemaking in the OPOB” presented at the Symposium on Digital French  and Italian held on October 31 at Dartmouth College; he will present the second one  entitled “Natura parens from Bernardus Silvestris’ Cosmographia to Petrarch’s Canzoniere” at  the 60th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America,  New York Hilton  Midtown, 27–29 March 2014.

Since the publication of these new digital assets, the Oregon Petrarch Open Book being developed in the last ten years at the University of Oregon, allows scholars and students from all over the world to appreciate both the importance of the material support and the evolution of the text of this masterpiece of Italian and world literature, as well as its metamorphoses moving from manuscript culture to early print and digital culture.

This achievement represent the best incarnation of Lollini’s passion for literature and the central idea of his research and teaching: the classics from the past, like Petrarch, are contemporary to the future, they help us understand not only the present age, but also and above all, the difference that they represent, the appreciation of their not yet fully developed and understood meaning.

Humanism in the Digital Age

There has never been a time in which the human was not a work in progress (Sheehan). Humanism today must address not only the plurality of stages on the road towards the formation of ideas of humanity but also the unfinished nature of the human project. While this is not solely the result of a technological revolution, it has nonetheless become obvious that technology is playing a crucial role in the new perspectives opened to humanism. The process that has led to contemporary understanding of technology in relation to the question of humanity is very long and complex. Scholars suggest a division of the evolution of the support and transmission of knowledge into four main revolutionary changes: 1) from orality to writing; 2) from volumen to codex, including the beginning of the book form; 3) from early book form to printed books; 4) from late print forms to digital forms (Roncaglia x-xi). Writing, reading, and their different supports were and still are at the core of the human idea.

Resistance to change, denial, and sense of estrangement have accompanied the turning points in the development of the “technologizing of the word” in relation to human self-awareness and consciousness (Ong). It is still revealing to re-read in Plato’s Phaedrus the critical comments of Socrates on the gift of writing from the Egyptian god Theuth to King Thamus:

[T]his discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality(emphasis added) (Phaedrus 274-75).

One can detect here the disquiet and disconcerted perception of the detachment from the notion of “truth” as living knowledge that took place in ancient Greece in the passage from the world of orality to the world of literacy. One can even argue that this perception alludes already to an idea of “virtual” reality and culture that is dismissed in the moment in which it is recognized because it goes against pre-alphabetic notions of literacy and culture. Nonetheless, the revolution introduced by alphabetic writing in Western culture could not stop because of these perturbed perceptions. Moreover, by writing the philosophy of Socrates, Plato contributed immensely to this radical cultural transformation.

An equally radical change took place in the reading ethos of twelfth-century Europe, as the idea emerged that writing is not related only to Latin andlectio divina but can be used also to transcribe vernacular literature. While the use of paper in place of parchment accompanied the emergence of vernacular literatures, the technological revolution of alphabetic writing and reading was enhanced and reinforced by the logic and structural organization of the early book form. As Ivan Illich has shown, the sacred dimension of the divine lectio described by Hugh of Saint Victor’s Didascalicon, a work written in the first half of the twelfth century, was lost along with the practice of monastic group and vocal reading. Hugh wrote his Didascalicon de studio legendito praise with the monks the inspired richness and fruitfulness of this practice in the moment in which it was going to be substituted by a new technology of the book and scholastic reading as a predominantly silent activity performed by individuals. Hugh still considers reading a physical activity, one in which all the body and the senses are involved. Reading for him means to literally incorporate and embody the pages and the letters, triggering a fertility of sensory drives that would disappear in modern European languages (Hugh of Saint Victor III 1-12; Illich 54).

“Page” in Latin meant originally “vineyard”; hence the idea of reading as “harvesting grapes,” a motor and sensory activity related to spiritual elevation (57). The illuminated manuscript is like a medieval cathedral with all its colors and decorations. These elements progressively disappear in the page of the new book format following the new indexing elements that create an abstract, bi-dimensional and disincarnate space for reading. The visible page ceases to be the record of speech and a series of commentaries freely available to the reader, to become a page laid out by an author responsible for choosing the subject and the ordinatio. Illich has rightly emphasized a distinct correspondence between the newly laid-out page and the new setting for reading—within the nascent universities that substitute monastic rituals with academic ones based on thought-through arguments. Even more significant for a discourse on humanism is the match between the emergence of selfhood understood as person and the emergence of the text from the pages of a book. In this transition the studium legendi ceases to be a way of living to become an activity increasingly devoted to the acquisition of knowledge (Illich 25, 65, 99).

Criticism of literacy and specifically of technological advancement as agent of change took place at the beginning of early modern Europe as well, when the printing revolution emerged. Dominican friar Fillippo di Strata expressed one of the most famous and vibrant instances of resistance to the technological advance represented by Gutenberg’s movable type. Notoriously, he attempted to convince the Doge to ban the nascent printing industry from Venice, by stating that “Est virgo hec penna, meretrix est stampificata” (“The pen is a virgin; the printing press, a whore” Lowry 45). Filippo di Strata’s complaint about the negative influence of print joins the voices of Socrates and Hugh of Saint Victor in pointing out a qualitative change in human knowledge and culture introduced by different technological advances. The technology of the word, be it expressed by writing or reading, in the form of codex or printed book, is seen as impoverishing human culture and experience of the world by neglecting the quality of human cultural endeavors in favor of quantitative, neutral, impersonal, and commercial criteria.

Similar concerns have been expressed in regard to the fourth major revolution in the technology of the word, the one we are living today, the digital revolution. Jaron Lanier, former Internet enthusiast, has recently condemned Web 2.0, the digital design concept conceived as open culture, for degrading individual human values in favor of impersonality, anonymity, and crowd identity. Lanier laments the formation of a collectivist ethos through Google searches and Wikipedia uncontrolled use. This new reading ethos is accused of eliminating the importance and uniqueness of the individual voice and of filling the minds of the users with increasing amounts of uncontrolled sources and ultimately leading to mob rule. Lanier’s actual criticism adds to those expressed more than a decade ago by Sven Birkerts’s The Gutenberg Elegies, which postulated a decline in the quantity and quality of reading in our time due to the overwhelming advances of the Internet and other technologies of the “electronic culture.”

Notwithstanding the harsh criticism, the early modern print revolution has continued to exert its pervasive influence in Western culture and society. Book technology still deeply conditions our actual ways of approaching culture, society, and the world. The emergence of a distinct humanist philology is principally linked to the inception of book technology in the thirteenth century. Since its origins, be they the Padua of Lovato Lovati (1240-1309) or earlier (Witt), humanism had its focal point in the awareness of the historical contingency of texts and human experience of time, to the point that even postmodern scholars who want to abandon rigidly conceived Enlightenment and Renaissance paradigms “are carrying forward, in a radical way, a project that began anew with the humanists: being skeptical about texts” (Witt 29). As for the emerging digital revolution and related “cognitive surplus” aided by new technologies (Shirky), one can only conclude that it will continue in the future in directions that are not completely predictable. Writing and reading are surely still at the core of the human enterprise, but in the new technological and social context they acquire unprecedented forms even when they recover usages of orality and sensory experiences. From this comes the deep need of thoroughly studying the new practices of textuality and their impact on the idea of humanism and the translation studi, the transferring our cultural legacy from earlier forms into digital technology.

Our own journal is contributing to this inquiry, devoting the first issue to the study of the evolution of Francis Petrarch’s Rerum vulgarium fragmentafrom manuscript culture to print and digital culture. The next issue will continue this study with essays and interventions that will present and discuss existing digital projects in the area of digital humanism and philology. On the one hand, we expect from the essays the delineation of new theoretical and practical perspectives; on the other hand, the interventions should present a “militant” character and comment on some specific elements of broader topics and projects. Moreover, Humanist Studies & the Digital Age will include a section of “projects” that will showcase ongoing innovative research projects related to the construction and reception of hypertexts.

As Paul Eggert suggests, the digital revolution still needs to be philologically aware: “I am not certain that we are securely in ‘post-philological days,’ even though literary theorists tell their students this with great confidence. Indeed, I suspect that the ailing body has been needlessly medicalised and the death certificate prematurely signed” (82). The need for a renewed interest in philology in humanist studies comes from the emphasis that the digital revolution puts on fluid textuality. As John Bryant holds, “a fluid text is any literary work that exists in more than one version.” The fluidity is due to the fact that “versions flow from one another.” All works “are fluid texts” because of the nature of the writing and creative process. The material text is never fixed in one single form and “revision, publication, and reception urge us to recognize that the only ‘definitive text’ is a multiplicity of texts” (1-2). The notion of textual fluidity and variation is further enhanced considering the transformation that one text undergoes from manuscript to print culture and from print to digital culture. Moreover, the text’s material presence changes with the reader and with translations and adaptations. Bryant follows Derrida’s disregard of “nostalgia for origins” and of the idea of a truth free from “free-play.” Bryant goes on to point out the need of new ways of reading, interpreting, and teaching, favoring a mode of interpretation that de-centers meaning and is happy with given and existing fragments of signification (10).

To what extent are we ready to immerse ourselves in the continuous creativity of the fluid text? Why should the free-play of the fluid text lead to a transcendence beyond “man and humanism,” as Derrida and Bryant suggest? Is humanism buried once and for all by deconstructive philology? Is this a necessary and unavoidable process? To what extent are we ready to abandon the “culture creature comforts” produced by “definitive texts” and the ideology of authority, singularity, and authenticity (Bryant 10)? Bryant argues that even scholarly editions are subject to textual fluidity and that a critical authoritative edition of a particular text is never definitive. Is this enough to neglect the very notion of scholarly and critical editions? What kind of philology would be adequate to address the “fluid text”? George Landow has emphasized the convergence of critical theory with the practice of hypertextuality in the digital age. How are existing literary hypertext projects, constructed around major classics of world literature, addressing the issue of “authority”?

Hypertext theory and practice tend to blur the boundaries between reader and author. Landow speaks of hypertext readers as “wreaders” being at the same time writers and readers of the hypertext (Landow, Hyper/Text/Theory 14). Peter Shillingsburg has articulated this issue in the theory of “Write Acts” by which he means “the complex, never closed, serial event encompassing the creations, productions, and receptions at any and all places and times in which a written work is created, produced, and received” (81). In Shillingsburg’s approach the emphasis is on the literary critic and philologist as responsible for envisioning the literary works in terms of “writing acts” more than on the user of a hypertext who is responsible for choosing different paths of reading available within the hypertext. Nonetheless, contemporary humanist philology should not stop posing the complex questions of readership of the digital projects. Is the emphasis on active reading as a special component of Web 2.0 justified by actual practices of reading hypertexts? How are these practices motivated and implemented?

The evolution of the support and transmission of knowledge has meant a continuous enlargement of audience from medieval court and city to modern nations. An international audience has always existed and in the past was favored by the presence of Latin as lingua franca for the intellectuals. However, the digital revolution is enhancing the international and global process of literary exchange in an unprecedented manner. The notion of world literature is controversial and problematic. The process of globalization has developed a double contradictory movement, one toward the global and the other toward a local idea of literature. The emergence of local philologies is mostly related to the defense and protection of minority languages and cultures within national environments. I need only mention here the Sardinian case in Italy (Maninchedda). These tensions suggest the possibility of a critical process of globalization, one that does not pursue the reductio ad unum but remains aware of local, regional, and national identities (Antonelli).

In what ways is digital textuality addressing the question of an increasingly global readership and audience? Will hypertextuality become an important, even privileged, form of world literature as a central and necessary reading and interpretative tool of literary phenomena involving broad geopolitical unities? In what ways and forms? What is the role of translation in the humanist philology associated with hypertextuality? These questions and the others introduced in the previous paragraphs will be at the center of the next issue of Humanist Studies & the Digital Age. It is important to address these questions, to tackle with new perspectives the idea of European literature as “the story of the protracted attempts to synthesize rivalries and struggles into imagined unities” (Dainotto). Also, hypertext theory may help literary criticism to move away from the overwhelming feeling provoked by the idea of world literature as “the sum total of everything ever written” having “to deal not only with an endless array of texts but also with a plethora of local histories and competing literary cultures, which may not have anything resembling an overall history even if such a mass of material could be mastered and presented” (Darmosch 483).

Hypertext theory associated with the “paradigm of translation” brings to the center of the philological operation the question of the diversity of languages and calls for a continuous process of re-translation of the great works of world literature, one in which the reader is always involved. Is this the road map to the translation studi, the transferring of our cultural heritage into digital form that we are currently experiencing? One important starting point in the discussion ahead is the idea that the translation paradigm may favor a “hospitality of languages” much needed in our time, one in which the different languages nurture each other without collapsing into a neutral and aseptic meta-language driven by political and technological forces. This idea may be reinforced if it interacts with the hypertext paradigm and is mindful of the following formula for translation: “constructing comparables” aiming at a philological and historical synthesis ready to admit not only the non-existence of the perfect and total text but also the irreducible difference between the “peculiar” and the “foreign” within the “linguistic hospitality” opened by the “impassable status of the dialogicality of the act of translating” (Ricoeur 10).

Massimo Lollini                                                                                     University of Oregon

Works Cited

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