LI lept, in our last post, upon Vico’s passage concerning the material transmission of the masterpieces. As I pointed out, it is an odder passage than it might at first appear. Consider – it sounds themes – notably, the warning that mechanization works against authenticity – which are distinctly post-revolutionary. Furthermore, the man writing this is the son of a bookstore owner, who – one can say, literally – owes his bodily being to the printing press. Furthermore, the chance to study came to him from a chance conversation in a bookstore with a Bishop, carefully recorded and placed in the autobiography.
The ancients versus the moderns was a battle of the books, as Swift puts it (at about the same time as Vico), but it is the making of books as well as their content that concern our man. While it may seem that the analysis of mechanization is far removed from Vico’s protest against the geometric method, in fact, it is part of the same problem of exteriority. Just as the deductive method, in philosophy and physics, is nothing more than a baroque ornament, expressing no intrinsic truth about philosophy or physics, the printing press is the extrinsic mechanism that gives us no information about the quality of the rhetoric and themes of the books it produces, as it deviates from the track of the word – the special art of Hermes. To put oneself, by copying, in the track of the writer is a form of ‘magical’ materialism, one that is hard – and perhaps impossible? – to entirely give up. LI, ever your man for tracks and paths, backwards and forwards, would link Vico’s words about copying with a more famous Viconian theme that is given to us a year later in his essay, “The wisdom of the ancient Italians. This is a passage translated from Michelet’s French translation:
The words verum and facturm, the true and the fact, are put in a relation one for the other by the Latins as inter-convertible, as the schoolmen say. For the latins, intelligere, understand, is the same thing as to read clearly and to know with evidence. They call cogitare what, in Italian, is called pensare et andar raccogliendo (ratio reason) designating among them a collection of numeric elements, and this gift proper to the human, distinguishing him from the beasts and constituting his superiority, which is why they call man an animal who participates in reason - rationis particeps – and who, consequently, doesn’t possess it entirely. Just as words are the signs of ideas, ideas are the signs and representations of things. Thus, as to read, legere, is to gather together the elements of writing out of which words are formed, intelligence, intelligere, consists in assembling all the elements of a thing from out of which emerges the perfect idea.
One is able thus to conjecture that the ancient Italians admitted the following doctrine on the true: the true is the fact (the made) itself, and by consequence God is the first truth because he is the first maker (factor), the infinite truth because he made all things and the absolute truth because he represents all the elements of things, external as well as internal, for he contains them. To know is to assemble the elements of things, from which it follows that the thought cogitatio is proper to the human spirit and intelligence to the divine spirit, for God unites all the elements of things, external as well as internal, since he contains them, and he disposes of them, while the human spirit is limited as it is, and outside of all of what is not of it can relate to the external points, but can never unite everything in such a way that it can think about things, but not understand them – this is why he participates in reason, but does not possess it.”
In the background, outside of the window of a bookstore in Naples, on the branch of a figtree, two birds have settled from the Rg Veda, “one of the twain eats the sweet Figtree’s fruitage; the other eating not regardeth only.”