Monday, March 28, 2011

excerpts on Bruno's art of memory

Bruno in Gatti

Now contemplate the first and bestprinciple which is all it is possible to be, and would not be all if it was notpossible for it to be all: in it, then, act and possibility are the same thing.But this is not true of other things which, although they are what it ispossible for them to be, could perhaps also not be so, and certainly could beother, or otherwise, than they are. [vestiges of Cusa’s Not-Other?] 186

Plato did not contemplate the ideas of singlethings, but only of species of things. That was both because the ideas relateonly to the production of forms, and not to matter, and also because cognitiveintention is concerned only with forms and not with the genus or individuals.The Theologians propose ideas of single things, because they assert that God isthe cause of all, both what is proper to form and what is proper to matter. Asfar as this subject is concerned, we too desire ideas of single things becausewe conceive of everything in terms of its idea according to the universalappearance of that which can be figured and apprehended: whether thatappearance is before the thing, or in the thing, or is the thing, or is afterthe thing, and also whether it appears at the level of sense-experience or atthe level of intellect, either practical or speculative.

(Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science p.186 from DeUmbris Idearum 29th concept, see Bruno 1991a)

190 the expulsion of infinite space from the systemgenerates a form of aggregation of the finites, and it is precisely by means ofthis autonomous aggregation of them at their various levels, followed by thestarting up of a process of reciprocal combination, that it becomes almostpossible to re-establish, through the finite and the multiple, the infinity andthe homogeneity of the “common ground” –Maddama

Bruno points out in the passage in question that when hetalks about the mnemotechnical “atom,” he does not mean atom in thenormal sense of the word but in the context of the art of memory. In attemptingto explain this remark, it is important to note that Bruno is, once again,adopting some motives taken from Aristotle and some from Plato. From the Deanima and the Parva naturalia Bruno took the motive of the primacyof the imagination; Aristotle had insisten in both works that “without an imagethinking is impossible.” But Bruno would not have agreed with Aristotle thatmemory belongs only incidentally to the faculty of thought and essentially tothe primary faculty of sense perception. The passage from the chaos of Anaxagorousto the ordered structure of the physical universe (191) is constituted forBruno by the activity of the mind in the act of constructing ordered series ofrelationships with which to perceive and measure the order within the apparentchaos of the external world.

This thenis the method of discerning things, that the units (I might even say the manyunits, to concede something to the censors of words) which are being consideredsingularly become, by its efforts, disposed within an order. It is like thecase in which, having marked a hundred sheep, each one with a differentnumerical symbol such as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, and so on, those same sheep appearto us immediately afterwards as if confused in a disordered group, mixed up onewith the other: so that then the shepherd with his stick separates the sheep,putting one next to the other: in the same way our cogitative faculty, with nohesitation, all other things being equal, chooses what has been determined inthe proper order of succession according to its powers of discernment….Discernment then is a kind of number with which the cogitative facultyapproaches in its way the images it has retained, dividing, dispersing,gathering, connecting, modifying, forming, ordering, relating them within theorganization of the unitary form, all in proportion to its own capacity.

Luciana de Bernart…

191-2 also critical of Ramus and his chains of reasoningwhich ignored the visual image, and equally, of the modern mathematicians whomBruno though were engaged in mental juggling. On the other hand, if the mind isto be slipped like a glove over the ordered forms of being for knowledge to bevalid at all, the dilemma of self-referentiality is already present in the wayBruno formulates its action. For the forms (numbers or any other orderedrelationships) which the mind applies to comprehend the chaos of unformed beinghave already been supplied by the mind itself. What the mind “finds” in naturewthus will be largely determined by the mental axioms and parameters it bringsto its research. “And lo! The footprint is our own.” Bruno’s awareness of thisproblem is expressed eloquently in The Ash Wednesday Supper, where hecomplains that the painter of the universal picture (that is, the human mind)is unable to take a step back to contemplate the universe from a distance, aspainters normally do to verify the perfections or imperfections of theircomposition, but to contemplate it from within the picture itself: that is,within the coordinates of space and time.

I wish to emphasize the definition Bruno proposed of themental parameters most appropriate for the search for natural truths as what hecalls a “semimathematics.” In the early memory and Lullian works Bruno usesmathematical figures, sometimes taken from Lull himself but sometimes invented,to define a mental geometry of association, rather than a geometry of pureforms in space. At this stage he is not so much interested in Euclideangeometry as in a geometry of the mind which defines the spaces and the movementsof thought as it proceeds from subject to object, combining words, letters,numbers, or any other related images or signs into ever more subtle and refinedpatterns with which to trace the order dimly perceptible in the infinite chaoseof the impressions derived from the senses. What the mind attempts to constructin time, using the images of an ordered process of memory, is a picture of theuniversal whole: a picture which, as Bruno repeatedly underlines, will benecessarily compressed, fragmentary, and incomplete. By constant attention tothe behavior of the things dimly perceived, to the patterns of their lifecycles, and to the necessities betrayed by their movements, the picture will begradually refined and its accuracy improved. [change in cosmology… not becausethey comply to mathematical proofs but because the new picture takes into morecomplete and faithful 193 account the necessity for all the worlds to revolvearound central sunce…]

193 In Bruno’s early memory and Lullian works, patterns ofnumbers, patterns of words, patterns of various and often traditional images(the signs of the zodiac, the tarot cards) are all essential components of thepatterning activity of the mind. He can thus use to equal effect the apparentlycold and formal symbols of the mathematicians and the apparently magicallyendowed images of traditional astrology or alchemy: the traditional use of bothare subsumed in their intergration into the status of “linguistic” tools, orthe formation of grids or ordered series of “events” through which to approachand trace the patterns within things themselves. Moreover, such languages arenot uncommensurable. As different examples of the pattern-forming activity ofthe mind, they can be translated one into the other: images can dissolve intowords, words become numbers, numbers be replaced by letters or symbols.

This search for images of total compression which containedall being within them had magical and theurgical origins and can best be seenin England in the work of John Dee, with his alchemical emblem, or monashieroglyphica, and later in the cosmic images of Robert Fludd. Bruno’sformulation of the problem, however, seems to me essentially different fromboth Dee’s and Fludd’s, because he sees the compressed images, such as thetetractys or the mathematical temples, as the dialectical opposites of imagesof an infinite universe, such as the infinite circle whose center is nowhereand whose circumference is everywhere. Both sets of images acquire theirsignificance as pictorial “tools” with which to attempt to visualize the thingsin an infinite universe composed of atomic matter, rather than as magicaltalismans or icons containing within themselves some mysterious occult power.194 these [magic connotations] led Bruno to abandon?

195 These works, which culminate with the De imaginum, maybe seen as an attempt to offer a scientific treatment of the mental image interms of the complex functioning of the mind in time and space. In this theyare quite different from the renaissance emblem books, which supply dictionarydefinitions of the various images and their traditional meanings. Bruno usedthese definitions, but they were not the principal substance of his own texts.

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