Ioan P. Culianu: "game" and Magic in the Renaissance

Review of the recent Lindau issue containing notes on the Romanian philosopher and historian of religions on the Renaissance ars magica (Serious Iocari. Science and art in the thought of the Renaissance, Lindau, Turin, 2017).

di Thomas de Brabant

The initiative of the Lindau publishing house to publish a text by Ioan Petru Culianu hitherto unpublished in Italy: Serious Iocari. Science and art in the thought of the Renaissance. Operation carried out by lowering on the table four loads: la curatorship, la translation from Romanian and introduction to the Italian edition by Horia Corneliu Cicortaş, la presentation by Tereza Culianu-Petrescu (sister of the Author) e la afterword by Horia-Roman Patapievici.

Ioan Petru Culianu was an eminent historian of religions and ideas, a Romanian exiled to Italy, the Netherlands and finally the United States. Political dissident, he criticized both the CeauΘ™escu regime in his writings is his immediate successors, up tokilling in the bathrooms of the Divinity School in Chicago in May 1991 - a crime still unsolved. At forty-one she had already expressed very: very capable scholar, excellent researcher, bold and complex thinker, refined storyteller. Like Masaccio and Raffaello, you imaginewe are with regret what he would have created if his earthly transit had lasted longer.

Although he was very active in Italy (having studied with Ugo Bianchi at the Cattolica in Milan, as well as being a friend and guest of ElΓ©mire Zolla and Grazia MarchianΓ²), little of his production is available at the Italian publishing house: one of his magnificent collections of short stories has had two editions with two different titles (The collection of emeralds per Jaca Book, e The diaphanous scroll per Elliot), and his major work, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. The astrological conjunction of 1484 it has recently been re-proposed by Bollati Boringhieri.

Il according to (the first edition of which, written directly in French, is from 1984) is a magnificent text, of disturbing depth, an authentic masterpiece. Serious Iocari is the anticipation of it, but not only (and even if it were, it would still be the prodrome to a monument): it is the manifesto of an epistemological revolution, declared and above all realized with the wealth of notions, reflections and arguments that will become a baroque festival in themagnum opus of the most worthy pupil of Mircea Eliade. The form is still academic, but the content is epochal. Culianu reinterprets entire traditions and upsets multi-secular paradigms.

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La US drafting dates back to 1978 -79, when Culianu was teaching at the University of Groningen. Starting from the suggestion of Rooms by Giorgio Agamben (model later rejected with hostility in Eros and Magic), Culianu investigates the possibility of the magical subject with Kantian postulates: Renaissance science had as a paradigm the logic of magic, then denied, denied and thrown into oblivion by the cultural and scientific revolution of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries.

Culianu achieves this by investigating the game. Iocari serious and very serious to lude: one of the paradoxes so used by the learned hermeticists (several can be found in the image that Lindau reports on the cover: the Workshop / Oratory engraved by Hans Vredeman de Vries for theAmphitheater of Khunrath), referring to the mystery of creation and its gratuitousness. From fragment 52 of Heraclitus and from the myth of Dionysus as a child, torn apart by the Titans while he plays, Culianu sets out towards the proposal of a hermeneutic: first he presents the path of the ludus mundi in Western philosophy, after that describes the difference between the task of the philosopher, the historian of philosophy and that of the philosophy of religion - and religion covers for Culianu the realm of philosophy. He then sets out to explain how the theory of pneumofantasmalogy was crucial in Western culture, and how the change in attitude towards it went hand in hand with the cultural revolutions of various eras, from the Renaissance to the atomic one.

The discussion of Eros and Magic will be wider: not it will come, as in this volume, space is given to Leonardo da Vinci, and the Orphic myth of Zagreus; but the field of investigation will extend over Venice (for example dedicating ample space to Hypnerotomachia poliphili by Fra 'Colonna, an almost paradigmatic text for pneumofantasmalogia), recognizing the presence of at least two Renaissance centers (while Serious Iocari he mostly looks at Florentine humanism, and at its collection of the Platonic tradition - thus focusing on the even deplored Ficino). Eros and Magic, an essay on the history of ideas and history of religions of inestimable value, will deal with a vast panorama, from the history of witchcraft to eroticism at the gates of the XNUMXs; Serious Iocari will be contained in the (far from restricted) scope of the phantasmological perspective in Renaissance culture: but it must be considered that it is an incomplete book, without cui you would not have the monumental Eros and Magic.

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The difference in style is very clear: Serious Iocari anticipates in some points the elegant irony that will spread in Eros and Magic, but it is less mature, more conventionally written yet more aggressive.

When he portrays Marsilio Ficino, Culianu will be wittily disrespectful; in the previous volume he instead he deliberately demeans him, as he is more decisively aggressive with whom misunderstands Giordano Bruno's thought: who he considers a libertarian subversive who has instead been the most anti-democratic philosopher ever; attack that in his subsequent and major work Culianu will reiterate, but with a less peremptory tone and better constructed arguments.

Serious Iocari it may therefore seem naive when read afterwards Eros and Magic; but it is not (although the pedantic review of tragicomic Renaissance anecdotes, shortly after the opening of chapter II, is a performance as a nerd student: the mature essayist and narrator Culianu will still have some erudite ideas, but they will be more serious and less self-referential). AND, nevertheless, Serious Iocari remains the work of a genius. The elements of the emerald collector's grandeur are already unfolded.

In his sumptuous and profound afterword, the philosopher and physicist Patapievici clearly reveals the ramifications of the author's already very rich thought, cui attributes three important discoveries: "That the possibility of magic is linked to a specific ontology, and to a specific epistemological structure of the knowing subject"; the explanation of cultural change seventeenth century as a consequence of the censorship of the imaginary carried out by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation; the proposal of explain the compositional mechanism of culture by assuming that the products of the mind can be described through binary combinatorial games, arising from general statements about the world, included in a finite set of possible ontological postulates.

He rightly points out that Culianu was not the first scholar to investigate Renaissance magic and hermeticism academically: the road was opened by DP Walker e FA Yates, authors who in Eros and Magic will be honored but above all criticized (with the impudence of a pupil who will have no problem attacking his own favorite, Eliade; and with an arrogance that can sometimes hurt, but that Culianu could afford), and by Agamben, who in Serious Iocari receives respectful treatment, but elsewhere he will be abhorred (with particular bitterness in a 1980 review at Rooms, in which Culianu launches a ferocious attack on the Parisian cultural climate, with a cryptic reference to the structuralist school - more discreetly, Patapievici allows himself a modest criticism of Agamben for this point of reference).

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Patapievici notes that the historiography of ancient pneumatology is not due to Culianu but to Verbeke; to Klein the discovery of the connections between medical theories of pneuma, theory of imagination, Neoplatonic theory of the astral vehicle, Christian doctrine of salvation and magical Renaissance theories; to Agamben (goodness of him) to have understood that these doctrines are parts of the same theorya. However, he claims that Culianu was the scholar "who went deeper into understanding medieval pneumophantasmology, its functioning and the extent to which it was intended as an explanatory theory of the worldΒ».

THEexcursus of the path of the fragment 52 of Heraclitus and that of the phantasmatic synthesizer in the history of Western thought are not, as Culianu himself asserts, mere scholarly curiosities, how much rather keys for reading the world: yes a game, but very studious, very serious. Like a genius chess player, who anticipates all future combinations of the game, from a dato Culianu extrapolates a method of historiographic research. Not for nothing did he study the fourth dimension: like the chess player above, Culianu breaks down every barrier and connects the times. He theorises the general starting from the particular, analyzes the particular on the basis of the general, studies the past by observing the present and analyzes the present by comparing it with the past.

He repeatedly repeats that the contemporary era, rejecting Renaissance epistemology, has lost any relationship with the imagination, and with it an indispensable figure for reading the world. It is not a stereotypical complaint in memory of the good old days: it is a well-argued signal that should be treasured. Culianu proposes a game, but this game is of essential seriousness. The Italian edition of his text is to be welcomed with very serious joy, trusting that more of his emeralds will be offered to the public.

Ioan Petru Culianu (1950 - 1991)

7 comments on β€œIoan P. Culianu: "game" and Magic in the Renaissance"

  1. "The form is still academic".

    It is understood that it is a lack with respect to the disclosure form (or what other form?).
    I think I'm not sharing (but to be sure, not sharing, I should be sure I understand, and I'm not).

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