Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sherry Roush on Tommaso Campanella's Philosophical Poems

My colleague, Sherry Roush, Associate Professor of Italian at Pennsylvania State University, specializes in Medieval and Renaissance Italian literature and culture. She is the author of Hermes’ Lyre: Italian Poetic Self-Commentary from Dante to Tommaso Campanella (University of Toronto Press, 2002) and co-editor of The Medieval Marriage Scene: Prudence, Passion, Policy (Arizona State University Press, 2005). 

She has just published a superb translation and study of some of the more important work of the vastly under appreciated Italian philosopher and poet Tommaso Campanella, Sherry Roush, Selected Philosophical Poems of Tommaso Campanella:  A Bilingual Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). Professor Roush's translation is magnificent.  These infuse the poems with new life, especially for non-Italian readers. That alone is worth reading through the philosophical poetry.  Professor Roush is masterful in conveying Campanella's "poetic voice, which modulated from gratingly raw to almost transcendentally polished, at times rustic in its Calabrian allusions and at times urbanely finished in legalistic Latin."  (Roush, supra, at 26). 

Beyond its poetics, the volume is worth a careful read by students of law, and philosophy. Roush reminds us of the immense influence of Campanella. Campanella spent most of his life proceeding from one prison to the next. He started life in Calabria, one of the poorest parts of South Italy and ended up in Paris. He is most well known in the English speaking world for his utopian text, The City of the Sun, and for the writing of a defense of Galileo, one that the object of which appears that Galileo rebuffed.  (Roush, supra 1, n. 2). 

Scholars have cited Campanella's influence in religious and political realms. . . . For instance, Giorgio Spini has traced the promulgation of Campanella's religious ideals, not only to France and Germany, but even to American colonies, particularly to the Labadists of Northern Maryland and the to the Appalachian Shakers.  Like the political thought of Noccolò Machiavelli--whom Campanella bitterly denounced--Campanella's work would come to be read and understood in ways that he could never have foreseen.  Most notoriously, Campanella's writings purportedly inspired Vladimir Lenin's "Plan of Monumental Propaganda" (May 27, 1918).  (Roush, supra, 2).
Campanella, thus, was among those influential theorists of what in later centuries would be the intimate connection between law and culture--between the signs of social behavior and the legal constraints that describe the structures of the management of individual and collective behavior (and the construction of the reality under which they operate). Lenin's "Plan of Monumental Propaganda" merely described a tendency as old as the destruction of pagan temples upon the ascendancy of Christianity as the state religion of Rome, of the destruction of religious images by Byzantines during the Iconoclast controversy, and later by Protestants in the early Reformation, to the destruction of the monuments to the glory of the Tsar, the destruction of artifacts during the Chinese Cultural Revolution,  to the toppling of the statues of Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the American invasion of the Iraq.

Campanella lived in the aftermath of a particularly energetic period of iconoclasm in which reality, symbol, signifier and signified all were dynamically intertwined.  Iconoclasm has been described as "a means of proving the “falsehood” of Roman Catholicism, and of desacralizing its symbolic structure. In a positive sense, iconoclasm was also a means of affirming change and of calling for a thorough reform of religion and society."  (From "The Meaning of Iconoclasm," The Encyclopedia of Protestantism, Vol. 2).   But it is much more complicated--for Iconoclasm substitutes as much as it removes.  To focus on the destruction of the representations of the past is to miss the manner of the construction of their substitute.  That is an insight Lenin understood better than most, at least since the days of the Christianification of the Roman world.  Roush suggests both the semiotic turn and its contextualization within the frameworks of then contemporary notions of philosophy and religion. 

The summary materials from the University of Chicago Press describe the book this way:
A contemporary of Giordano Bruno and Galileo, Tommaso Campanella (1568–1639) was a controversial philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet who was persecuted during the Inquisition and spent much of his adult life imprisoned because of his heterodox views. He is best known today for two works: The City of the Sun, a dialogue inspired by Plato’s Republic, in which he prophesies a vision of a unified, peaceful world governed by a theocratic monarchy; and his well-meaning Defense of Galileo, which may have done Galileo more harm than good because of Campanella’s previous conviction for heresy.
But Campanella’s philosophical poems are where his most forceful and undiluted ideas reside. His poetry is where his faith in observable and experimental sciences, his astrological and occult wisdom, his ideas about deism, his anti-Aristotelianism, and his calls for religious and secular reform most put him at odds with both civil and church authorities. For this volume, Sherry Roush has selected Campanella’s best and most idiosyncratic poems, which are masterpieces of sixteenth-century Italian lyrics, displaying a questing mind of great, if unorthodox, brilliance, and showing Campanella’s passionate belief in the intrinsic harmony between the sacred and secular. (Roush, supra, book jacket).

Yet there is more to Campanella's philosophical poetry than this. "By 'philosophical poetry,' Campanella understood a particular kind of verse that is not merely beautiful but also useful, instructional or 'architectonic.'According to what he writes in his Poetics (particularly in chapter 4 of the Latin version), poetry offers a unique medium for knowledge, capable of allowing readers to retain more of what they read than prose can because arduous concepts are presented in a more lovely manner in poetry, and this rhythmic form can be a mnemonic device."  (Roush, supra, at 191). (Annotations). Interestingly, Campanella published this collection of philosophical poetry under a pseudonym (Roush, supra, 13). Roush has hypothesized "that Campanella's own explanations of his pseudonym and consideration of his prophetic mission suggest that he may have wanted to cast his poetic voice in the role of the seventh apocalyptic angel."  (Roush, supra, 14).

And this brings me back to the intimation, earlier above, of a rough semiotics to Campanella's philosophy--one that resonates in law.  But this is semiotics in which the signification process becomes organic--not an external but an internal relation among sign, signifier and signified.  Roush quotes John Headley for the connection between Campanella's philosophy to pansensism, the doctrine that posits that all things in nature are endowed with sense.  "'In the pansensist universe language operates differently:  words have a conjunctive power, identifying signifier and signified, being and thought, nature and perception; they operate as charms, possessing an incantational capacity when properly charged.'" (Roush, supra, at 21, citing John M. Headley, Campanella and the Transformation, 162).  This comes close to an understanding of the power of the language of law, where words become both incantation and shape the ability of people to frame reality. Consider for example the fetish quality of the invocations necessary to commence an action to disregard the legal personality of a corporation and reach the assets of shareholders under U.S. law--See Franklin A. Gervurtz, "Piercing Piercing:  An Attempt to Lift the Veil of Confusion Surrounding the Doctrine of Piercing the Corporate Veil," 76 Oregon Law Review 853, 854-58 (1997). A better, and perhaps more powerful example, was a recent NBC Newscast (March 20, 2011) in which Lester Holt talks with NBC News military analyst retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey about the then recent set of substantial U.S. military strikes against Libyan military targets under authority of a U.N. Security Council resolution permitting the establishment of a "no-fly" zone within Libyan airspace to "protect civilians."  Mr. Holt asked retired General McCaffrey whether the United States was effectively at war with the Libyan government in the wake of these substantial air strikes.  The General did not pause before explaining that the United States could not be at war--not because of the events on the ground in Libya, but because we couldn't be at war with Libya otherwise the War Powers Act of 1973 would have been invoked!  Because the law had not been invoked, the United States was not at war.  Incantation, words, law symbol now constrain the reality of events that though they occur before our eyes do not exist.  This is the magic invoked by Campanella. 

Campanella's life is itself a symbolic representation of the incantational semiotics that form the foundation of his philosophy, though not of course, its politics.  See, Joseph Scalzo, "Campanella, Foucault and Madness in Sixteenth Century Italy," The Sixteenth Century Journal 21(3):359-372 (1990). Professor Roush describes the culminating months in 1600 when, with condemnation likely after a torture induced confession,
Campanella set fire to the straw mattress in his prison cell and pursued a plan to simulate a raving delirium. . . . Campanella spent one month raving, muttering or otherwise outwardly demonstrating an utter loss of reason to any official who saw him.  Meanwhile he conversed rationally with a prisoner friend. . . .  For months Campanella somehow managed his posture of simulated madness through tortures, surprise visits and surreptitious observations. . . .   On June 4 and 5, Campanella underwent the veglia (wake).  By Campanella's time, the wake was a relatively rare form of torture, deemed sufficiently cruel that it was universally recognized as intolerable enough to provoke confession even from the most recalcitrant of subjects. . . .  After thirty-six continuous hours of torture without sleep, the exactors of punishment cut loose his ropes and declared him insane.  As soon as Campanella heard these words, he was said to have turned to one of his torturers, Giacomo Ferraro, and hissed in his ear: "Che si pensavano che io era coglione, che volvera parlare? (What did you think, that I was a dumbass, that I wanted to talk?).  (Roush, supra, 6-8, link added).
Scalzo describes this in his abstract:  " Campanella's heresy case suggests that both the concept of the "discourse of madness" and that of the "animality of madness" were evident in the Inquisition's judicial procedure. However, the issue of animality seems to have played a greater role in the outcome of Campanella's case, since such a definition was incorporated in the judicial torture which the Inquisition commonly used in cases in which the mental state of the accused was uncertain. In Campanella's case, in particular, such judicial torture was embodied in the Inquisition's veglia torture, meant to act as a final legal test for insanity. Campanella seems to have exploited this legally-defined view of insanity to his advantage, thereby saving himself from almost certain death. "(Scalzo, supra).

Roush reminds us that "'The true poet,' Campanella summarized in the tenth chapter of his Poetics, 'is the one who teaches and says very great and prophetic things for the good of the readers.'".  (Roush, supra, at 15). What are these great and prophetic things?  Campanella means to instruct in religion, philosophy, magic, and politics, all aspects of the same reality, its invocation and articulation.  Campanella understood words in their semiotic sense and with a sensibility that would be developed later by Foucault and Nietzsche.  What he calls the magic of words, their power on utterance, reflects a view of representational reality in which the representation becomes more powerful than the thing itself in ordering the perception of those affected by them.  Thus in Poem 44 On the Same [Against Sophists, Hypocrites, Heretics, and False Miracle Workers] Campanella sings: "Nessun ti verrà a dire: 'Io son sofista'; ma di perfidie la scuola più fina larve e bugie sottil dà per dottrina, e vuol esser tenuta evangelista. . . . onde serran le bocche altrui, e si spolglia ognor il libro, e veste di menzogna, citato in tesatimon contro lo voglia." (Roush, supra, at 120-123 ("No one will come to you saying: 'I am a sphist"; but the finest school of treachery passes shadows and subtle lies for doctrine and wants to be esteemed an evangelist. . . .whence they seal the mouths of others, yet spoil the book by wrapping it in a veil of lies cited in testimony against their will."")).

I will end by focusing very briefly here on Campanella's politics, in their semiotic and incantational sense to suggest that the power of the pronouncement (the verse) is meant to activate the conception and give rise to the reality to be conveyed, and by that conveyance, planted into the mind of the recipient.

True to the spirit of the times. Campanella both sought to liberate himself and in the process managed to replicate, dominant forms and patterns of thinking.  That is the substance of Poem No. 3, which mimics the "Credo" and which Roush describes as both fundamental to the understanding of the philosophy and tedious (supra at 19).    The Campanella credo is Platonic and grounded in a hierarchy of reality in which value and position are intertwined. It suggests the perverseness of existence--where the power to sin is the  signature of the lack of power, of impotence ("poter pecare è impotenza vera", supra, 46) and power is derivative, grounded in the framing element of reality (Vero potrere eminenza è dell'ente, id.). Yet it also suggests that belief and personal action, rather than allegiance to an institutional structure overseen by a priestly (or other sort of managerial) class are the measure of conformity to "right" ("Talché, barbare genti [ed idolatre], se operaste giustizia naturale, non siete esenti dalle sanrte squandre," id., 48 lines 58-60). But also present is the connection with the forms of institutional power that have shaped Campanella's reality--in this case the late medieval Church just then dealing with the realities of the substantial loss of spiritual and temporal power through Reformation. Consider the supplication:  Deh, Signor, io vaneggio; aita, aita! pria che del senno il tempio divenga di stoltizia una meschita" (Poem 73 Madrigal 1 "Orazioni tre in salmondia mertafisicale congiunte insieme", supra, 140 ("Oh Lord, I rave deliriously.  Help, Help! before the temple of my intellect becomes a mosque of foolishness.") the entire Madrigal is worth reading for its irony and depth).

Thus, the institution is acknowledged, and the objectives becomes, as in every institutional framework since (whether temporal, ecclesiastical or otherwise), the fight against "sofisti, ipocriti e tiranni" (id., line 67). but the system survives (id., lines 94-96). Nietzsche hovers in the background, though centuries off. Thus, for example, Poem No. 6 ("The Way to Philosophize") speaks to go back to the original to avoid the error of what centuries later would become  Nietzsche's "priestly type."  Thus the admonition at the end of Poem 20 ("To Christ Our Lord", supra 70-73): "If you return to earth, comer armed, Lord, because enemies are preparing other crosses--not Turks, not Jews--but those of your own kingdom. (Id., lines 12-14 "Se torna in terra, armato vien', Signore, ch'altre croci apparécchianti i nemici, non Turchi, non Giudei: que' del tuo regno.").

I leave you with Poem 35 to ponder (Roush, supra, 110-113):

Che 'l principe tristo non è mente della Repubblica sua

 Mentola al comun corpo è quel, non mente,
che da noi, membra, a sé tutte raccoglie
sostanze e guadi, e non fatiche e doglie:
ch'esausti n'ha, come cicale spente.

Almen, come Cupido, dolcemente
ci burlasse, che 'n grembo della moglie
getta il sangue e 'l vigor,vche da noi toglie,
struggendo noi, per far novella gente.

Ma, con inganno spiacevole, in vaso
li sparge o in terra, onde non puoi sperare
alcuna ricompensa al mortal caso.

Corpo meschin, cui mente ha da guidare
piccola in capo piccolin, ch'ha naso,
ma non occhi, né orecchie, né parlare.
This poem suggests inversion--of the mind and body, of the head and the tail,  of gesture and action of pleasure and profit, of cause and effect. The binaries build on the foundation of the physical and political body, and of the pleasures of onanism and the obligations of fecundity.  Nietzsche again hovers in the background, though many centuries off.  That inversion goes to the heart of the philosophy of Campanella.  Roush's translation is superb; so is her analysis.  For her commentary on the translation see Roush, supra 29-34).


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