Vico's and Pico's Heroes

Last night at a small celebration, it was as if we were all calling each other back to the living, with similar observations; similar problems. Someone said they didn't like the new assumption that something is thought to be wrong with the person who finds something wrong. Another didn't understand all the obstacles people seem so talented at constructing to obstruct work. Few of us made it in the sense of living the artistic side of the bent. On my end, it remains to be proved whether writing a dissertation knocks the art out of one. As if by oracle, an email appeared in my inbox advising: make certain you write what you want to say. Write from the heart, if you know what I mean. That's what's missing from academic publishing.
It is hard to let feeling show through a work when you anticipate it being torn down; i.e., one might get a little too insistent on developing varied support for each view. All of that argument can weigh at a work. And what do you do when you want to give up despite understanding that there can be a price to be paid for the spontaneity of dialogue. But it is a fact that sometimes failure is the best teacher. It takes strength to stand up for the space for failure, which seems to run counter to so many social trends.
Maybe schools and universities may stand as the last resort for such things. "For this very reason, your university education has the following purpose ... you have come together here, ailing as you are in mind and soul, for the treatment, the healing, the perfecting of your better nature," writes Giambattista Vico in On the Heroic Mind. University as healing - I plan to inscribe that on my class notes as a leitmotif to help guide the direction of discussion.
I count Vico among one of the timeless critics of 'scientism,' which he saw in the application of Cartesianism to human affairs. He praised Descartes for his work in mathematics, but thought extending it beyond would infringe on the imagination. So I ask: to look at the poetic quality of his oration and to look at the average paper today, has not some imagination been lost? Vico also foresaw utilitarianism, and where it threatens the disinterested need of philosophy. Similarly, Pico writes: "Thus we have reached the point, it is painful to recognize, where the only persons accounted wise are those who can reduce the pursuit of wisdom to a profitable traffic; and chaste Pallas, who dwells among men only by the generosity of the gods, is rejected, hooted, whistled at in scorn, with no one to love or befriend her unless, by prostituting herself, she is able to pay back into the strongbox of her lover the ill-procured price of her deflowered virginity." (Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man)




I can only conclude that it has never been easy to do anything of merit. Thence the attraction behind the title and phrase, heroic mind. He writes, "nothing is of more worth than man’s well-being, to which single goal each and every single hero presses on, in singleness of heart" and I realise that skeptics today (and Vico points out that skeptics doubt much - but not their ability to think) might ask, how can we know what is good for man. But there are answers for that - answers to the endless relativisim Emerson foresaw in "Circles," that paean to the unstable flux of transition. "Yet this incessant movement and progression, which all things partake, could never become sensible to us, but by contrast to some principle of fixture or stability in the soul." (Emph. add.)
As a model for well-being Vico takes Quintillian's advice to teach only the best authors - as archetypes to be emulated: "Compared with these ideal types, men in everyday life will seem rather to be the unreal characters, for where men are not consistent their lives do not cohere." That is heroic. "Do not breed indolent wishes ... put to the test how much you are capable of," HM.
He advises students in HM to "pay close attention" to their university work, "because you will wish to be healed, restored, made perfect by wisdom. In all other gifts stemming from nature or good fortune, men are content with the semblance of their desires. Only in this one regard, namely, health, all cannot help desiring the very thing itself." Each subject performs its own healing: rhetoric so that the tongue doesn't "betray the mind"; poetics to calm the imagination; geometry "to check innate errors", logic to free the mind from false opinions, etc.
In fact, echoing Rilke in his Letters, where he tells the young poet to believe his instincts over arguments, Vico writes that, "philosophy has taught me to rely on my own convictions rather than on the judgements of others and to concern myself less with whether I am well thought of than whether what I do or say is evil." That thought is reminiscent of Epictetus.



Vico cites Empedocles' teaching of the dual nature of the soul which hearkens back to Socrates' allegory of the chariot where the pure horse allows man to see beauty, while the ambivalent one drags man away to have no trace of memory of the beautiful. No wings. And, "torn by strife and discord, like a madman, in flight from the gods, he is driven into the depths of the sea," Pico writes in OM.
Philosophy alone can compose and allay that strife. "Dialectic will compose the disorders of reason torn by anxiety and uncertainty amid the conflicting hordes of words and captious reasonings," OM. Moral philosophy and dialectic "as ... healing drugs" are prerequisites to mysteries.
Man becomes the promised microcosm, embodying the universe through the help of university, containing a divine body of different sciences that may be compared. It is not a model of systematic doubt, not detached but a composite whole, rather it heals his being, his context, his imagination. This as opposed to social Cartesianism, which leads to madness through reason.
It is heroic to try to tie the ends together, to try to make a whole. It is heroic to believe in education when not many do - wherever education transpires, which may happen on a blog. It is heroic to believe in a medicine for the whole of man in an age where such beliefs have been appropriated by the "weightlessness of existence" foreseen by Nietzsche where all things become valueless and the sublime of Vico has been effaced in and by the mind of some men.
It has been asked, how are we to find the way forwards? Vico writes, "In the teeming bosom of nature and the busy marketplace of the arts, great things are there, laid out for all to see, destined for the good of humanity and overlooked until now simply because the heroic mind had not turned its attention that way.... Prove yourselves to be heroes by enriching the human race with further giant benefits," HM. Who else above all is to know where to find these good things, if not artists, looking for models for their own inner survival, and those who work in education, whose exposure to books increases serendipitous discovery of medicine for the whole of man, including his art, and including, even if it sounds simplistic, his heart.
"If powers fail, there shall be praise for daring; and in great undertaking, to have willed is enough," OM



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