- Do you know how to twist?
Well it goes like this…
The buffoon and the ass keep turning up together, as though the deck of achetypes that lies, face down, under my electric prestidigitator’s fingers were a crooked pack.According to Frances Yates’ Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradion, Apuleius, the author of the Golden Ass (that book of transmutations through which the transcendentally ludicrous is finally given shape and form by Psyche’s quest for Cupid) was, by the fourth century A.D., credited with the translation of the corpus of Hermes Trismegistus. These were the books that were supposedly written before Moses was a pup, and they were wildly popular in the Renaissance. Cosimo de Medici hired Ficino to translate the Greek Corpus Hermeticum in 1462, as the manuscript containing it had turned up by way of a traveling monk, Leonardo da Pistoia - instructing him to interrupt the Plato translation project, as the Corpus Hermeticum was urgent. Cosimo wanted to read the thing before he died. Such was its prestige, such is the greed for ‘secret’ knowledge. By the time of Bruno, a century later, the C.H. had lost something of its allure, vis a vis the regular scholarly world, but had continued to be central to the system of Renaissance magic, which operated in the hidey holes, intersecting, as secret knowledge always seems to, with intelligence agencies and diplomacy.
Bruno, of course, was interested in magic, as were members of Raleigh’s School of Night that he made the acquaintance of in his London sojourn. In the group picture of the founding fathers of the modern era, all lined up like Dutch masters, we usually have Bacon, Galileo and Descartes – Bruno is left out. And the reason that he is left out is that he was just too damned interested in that f-fuckin magic. Yet in reality – that promiscuous bitch, my darling - Bruno can’t be left out. He interests us in this post because, unlike that grave company, Bruno was a buffoon – a necessary joker, the philosopher-buffoon who keeps returning, in some dark orbit according to some dark cycle of its own, to put into disarray the white magic of Bacon, Galileo and Descartes. To throw a few boomerangs around, liven the joint up, and raise, if possible, everybody’s level of anxiety and hope, the two intricately counter-weighted against each other.
Dorothy Waley Singer’s life of Bruno has been put up in its entirety by the good folks at positive atheism – and let’s end this post with an anecdote about Bruno’s childhood from Singer:
Bruno gives in his greatest Latin work, the De immenso,  a description of an episode in childhood, which made a deep impression on him. His home was in a hamlet just outside Nola, on the lower slopes of Cicada, a foot-hill of the Appenines some twenty miles east of Naples.  He tells with affectionate detail of the beauty and fertility of the land around, overlooked from afar by the seemingly stern bare steeps of Vesuvius. One day a suspicion of the deceptiveness of appearances dawned on the boy. Mount Cicada, he tells us, assured him that "brother Vesuvius" was no less beautiful and fertile. So, girding his loins, he climbed the opposite mountain. "Look now," said Brother Vesuvius, "look at Brother Cicada, dark and drear against the sky." The boy assured Vesuvius that such also was his appearance viewed from Cicada. "Thus did his parents [the two mountains] first teach the lad to doubt, and revealed to him how distance changes the face of things." So in after-life he interprets the experience and continues: "In whatever region of the globe I may be, I shall realize that both time and place are similarly distant from me."