Sunday, March 27, 2011

Farinella on Proclan elements in Bruno's Art of Memory

Giordano Bruno: Neoplatonism and the Wheel of Memory in the De Umbris Idearum. by Alessandro G. Farinella

From Bruno's language it is impossible to infer his rejection or acceptance of any philosophical system, whether it be Platonism, Aristotelianism or Hermeticism, Thomism or Lullism, since none seems to satisfy the universalizing exigency of his thought. Bruno's aim, in fact, was to discern in all teachings that unifying root of thought capable of expressing itself in the dual direction of God and of nature. This is the position his doctrine can be said to take as its starting point and it is expressed very clearly in one of his earliest works, De umbris idearum: whenever the terms used by the Platonists turn out to be useful and their way of proceeding turns out to be useful, we shall accept them without fear of incurring any just accusation of contradiction. We shall also faithfully follow the Peripatetic way of proceeding should this prove advantageous for clear expression of the subject matter. Similarly, we may also turn to other philosophical lines of enquiry. (4)

Nevertheless, as regards Bruno's doctrine of knowledge, the terms and references he employs draw mostly on specifically Neoplatonic language. The world is considered as a whole divided into a series of grades, which the Neoplatonic tradition encapsulated in the image of the schala
naturae, (5) grades which are present in cognitive processes and functions. (6) Bruno stresses that such functions are spontaneously awakened in the soul when the subject's attention is freed of the weight and corporeality characteristic of sensory knowledge, (7) even though it is precisely in sense perception that we get the first stimulus for the progression of knowledge in the beauty and variety of orders that nature presents. (8) But sensibility provides no guarantee of cognitive stability; sense perception is too rich and deviant for the limited capacities of human beings. In several places Bruno expresses perplexity regarding knowledge through the senses. The first and perhaps the most obvious is in the Candelaio (1582), where he states that the way of the senses leads to the loss of reason. (9) In the following mnemotechnical works, in particular De umbris idearum, the two gnoseological modalities, Aristotelian empiricism and Platonic idealism, are put on the same level and Aristotelian doctrines are appealed to only for their usefulness in investigation and not on the basis of authority. However, Aristotelianism is not completely rejected; after all, the training Bruno received at the college of San Domenico Maggiore (Naples, 1567-76) did influence him. (10)

One aspect of Aristotelian gnoseology which Bruno retains is the principle that there can be no knowledge unless a trace of a perception, a sensory image, has been left in our memory (nihil est in intellectu quin prius non erit in sensu). The sign of the instance of perception is called a phantasma. (11) This concept played a particularly important role in the treatise of the ars reminiscendi, since it provided a reference sign to which the artist of the memory had to apply in order to recall certain contents. Examples of this use of the products of the imagination the "visible alphabets" (12) of the Phoenix seu artificiosae memoriae of Pietro da Ravenna (1491) and the Congestorius artificiosae memoriae of Johannes Romberch (1520) (13) which, however, had the defect of being static systems and, as we shall see, were of little use in Bruno's perspective.

Following the teaching of Proclus, Bruno utilizes these products of the imagination, releasing them from their static character. In the mnemonic mechanisms of the Lullian wheel in De umbris idearum, the adiecta, which in the classical rhetorical tradition ascribed to Cicero were called imagines agentes, become the expression of a dynamism which...
Neoplatonism and the Wheel of Memory in the de Umbris Idearum

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