Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Collingwood, R. G.


Collingwood, R. G.

Redrawing the Campo Marzio

After rereading some of Tafuri's text on the Campo Marzio, for some reason it occurred to me that my redrawing of the Campo Marzio is an attempt to "walk in Piranesi's footsteps," meaning, I am trying to learn how Piranesi's imagination operated by doing the same thing he did--literally (re)drawing the plan. I am trying to get as close to Piranesi's own drawing/designing procedure as possible.

I then thought of what Collingwood said about not being able to truly learn from history because we are not able to actually experience history. In this sense, I am trying to re-experience a specific historic occurrence, albeit over 200 years later and with a different drawing technology. Besides the use of CAD, which is actually related to engraving in that it is a type of "drawing" that is readily reproducible, the major difference between what Piranesi did and what I am doing is that Piranesi was designing the plan(s) as he was drawing them, he was producing with his imagination and with his graphic dexterity. Whereas I am only measuring his work and then digitally inputting the data. I am learning through osmosis, however.

"Redrawing History: G.B.Piranesi's Campo Marzio in the Present"
...the opportunity to delve into the virtual realm and how reality and the virtual very much cross paths in the Campo Marzio.

Redrawing History - outline


from: R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

p. 282:
How, or on what conditions, can the historian know the past? In considering this question, the first point to notice is that the past is never a given fact which he can apprehend empirically by perception. Ex Hypothesi, the historian is not an eyewitness of the facts he desires to know. Nor does the historian fancy that he is; he knows quite well that his only possible knowledge of the past is mediate or inferential or indirect, never empirical. The second point is that this mediation cannot be effected by testimony. The historian does not know the past by simply believing a witness who saw the events in question and has left his evidence on record. That kind of mediation would give at most not knowledge but belief, and very ill-founded and improbable belief. And the historian, once more, knows very well that this is not the way in which he proceeds; he is aware that what he does to his so-called authorities is not to believe them but to criticize them. If then the historian has no direct or empirical knowledge of them, what kind of knowledge has he: in other words, what must the historian do in order that he may know them?

p. 282-3:
In a general way, the meaning of the conception is easily understood. When a man thinks historically, he has before him certain documents or relics of the past. His business is to discover what the past was which has left these relics behind it. For example, the relics are certain written words; and in that case he has to discover what the person who wrote those words meant by them. This means discovering the thought which he expressed by them. To discover what his thought was, the historian must think it again for himself.

p. 283:
Suppose, for example, he is reading the Theodosian Code, and has before him a certain edict of an emperor. Merely reading the words and being able to translate them does not amount to knowing their historical significance. In order to do that he must envision the situation with which the emperor was trying to deal, and he must envision it as that emperor envisioned it. Then he must see for himself, just as if the emperor's situation was his own, how such a situation might be dealt with; he must see the possible alternatives, and the reasons for choosing one rather than another; and thus he must go through the process which the emperor went through in deciding on this particular course. Thus he is re-enacting in his own mind the experience of the emperor; and only in so far as he does this has he any historical knowledge, as distinct from a merely philosophical knowledge, of the meaning of the edict.

p: 283: [the steps of the reŽnactment process]
Or again, suppose he is reading a passage of an ancient philosopher. Once more, he must know the language in a philosophical sense and be able to construe; but by doing that he has not yet understood the passage as an historian of philosophy must understand it. In order to do that, he must see what the philosophical problem was, of which his author is here stating his solution. He must think that problem out for himself, see what possible solutions of it might be offered, and see why this particular philosopher chose that solution instead of another. This means re-thinking for himself the thought of his author, and nothing short of that will make him the historian of that author's philosophy.

p. 283:
Such as objector might begin by saying that the whole conception is ambiguous. It implies either too little or too much. To re-enact an experience or re-think a thought, he might argue, may mean either of two things. Either it means enacting an experience or performing an act of thought resembling the first, or it means enacting an experience or performing an act of thought literally identical with the first. But no one experience can be literally identical with another, therefore presumably the relation intended is one of resemblance only. But in that case the doctrine that we know the past by re-enacting it is only a version of the familiar and discredited copy-theory of knowledge, which vainly professes to explain how a thing (in this case an experience or act of thought) is known by saying that the knower has a copy of it in his mind. And in the second place, suppose it granted that an experience could be identically repeated, the result would only be an immediate identity between the historian and the person he was trying to understand, so far as that experience was concerned. The object (in this case the past) would be simply incorporated in the subject (in this case the present, the historian's own thought); and instead of answering the question how the past is known we should be maintaining that the past is not known, but only the present. And, it may be asked, has not Croce himself admitted this with his doctrine of the contemporaneity of history?

p. 289:
We now pass to the second objection. It will be said: "Has not this argument proved too much? It has shown that an act of thought can be not only performed at an instant but sustained over a lapse of time; not only sustained, but revived; not only revived in the experience of the same mind but (on pain of solipsism) re-enacted in another's. But this does not prove the possibility of history. For that, we must be able not only to re-enact another's thought but also to know that the thought we are enacting is his. But so far as we re-enact it, it becomes our own; it is merely as our own as we perform it and are aware of it in the performance; it has become subjective, but for that very reason it has ceased to be objective; become present and ceased to be past. This indeed is just what Oakeshott has explicitly maintained in his doctrine that the historian only arranges sub specie praeteritorum what is in reality his own present experience, and what Croce in effect admits when he says that all history is contemporary history.

p. 300:
To disengage ourselves from these two complementary errors, we must attack the false dilemma from which they both spring. That dilemma rests on the disjunction that thought is either pure immediacy, in which case it is inextricably involved in the flow of consciousness, or pure mediation, in which case it is utterly detached from that flow. Actually it is both immediacy and mediation. Every act of thought, as it actually happens, happens in a context out of which it arises and in which it lives, like any other experience, as an organic part of the thinker's life. Its relations with its context are not those of an item in a collection, but those of a special function in the total activity of an organism. So far, not only is the doctrine of the so-called idealist correct, but even that of the pragmatists who have developed that side of it to an extreme. But an act of thought, in addition to actually happening, is capable of sustaining itself and being revived or repeated without loss of its identity. So far, those who have opposed the 'idealists' are in the right, when they maintain that what we think is not altered by alterations of the context in which we think it. But it cannot repeat itself in vacuo, as the disembodied ghost of a past experience. However often it happens, it must always happen in some context, and the new context must be just as appropriate to it as the old. Thus, the mere fact that someone has expressed his thoughts in writing, and that we possess his works, does not enable us to understand his thoughts. In order that we may be able to do so, we must come to the reading of them prepared with an experience sufficiently like his own to make those thoughts organic to it.

not Tampa, Florida anymore
2002.01.10 00:40

I'm glad you found some useful information, and I hope it helps toward some resolution to how you see that reenactment (potentially) relates to predestination and psychology. I haven't been coming to reenactment from that angle, so I don't even understand exactly what you're seeing. (But that doesn't at all mean that I think what you're seeing is somehow wrong or misinterpreting.)

I'll try to briefly outline (reenact) how I came to see a strong relationship between reenactment and (some but certainly not all aspects of) design.

I began redrawing Piranesi's Campo Marzio plan with CAD in 1987. I've been fascinated with this plan since the late 1970's, and I saw the opportunity to utilize the automated drawing/drafting capabilities of CAD in (re)drawing all the complicated individual plans of the Campo Marzio, which comprise many repetitive units, and manipulating repetitive units is precisely one of the things CAD is very good at facilitating.

In the early 1990s I begin an intensive redrawing of the plan, and at the same time I became reacquainted with Susan Dixon, a friend from my college days who went on to get a Ph.D. in Art History, and her dissertation was on Piranesi's archaeological publications, of which the Il Campo Marzio is one. Together (via phone conversations) Susan and I begin speculating as to what the meaning of the Campo Marzio plan might be. Many theories were speculatively put forth, but reenactment was never one of them.

The second week of August 1997 I split my energies between doing research on the Campo Marzio and research on the philosophy of history as it might relate to my theory of chronosomatics. In Encyclopedia Britannica (edition 1969) under "Philosophy of History" there is a passage explaining Vico which, while reading it, made me think of Piranesi's Campo Marzio. There is also a list of 20th century philosophers of history and the titles of the works. Collingwood's The Idea of History is among these. I go to Barnes and Nobles that same day and buy Vico's New Science and Collingwood's The Idea of History. I read the passages in The Idea of History that deal with reenactment. It dawns on me that I've been doing a kind of reenactment by redrawing Piranesi's plan.

Thursday, September 4, 1997 (coincidentally the day architect Aldo Rossi died) I find Plattus's "Passages to the City: The Interpretive Function of the Roman Triumph" in Ritual (1983). I finish reading the essay Friday night. Saturday morning I watch Diana's funeral, and it quickly hits me that I am watching exactly what I just spent the last two nights reading about. Since Piranesi himself delineated the path of the Triumphal Way through his plan of the Campo Marzio, I begin to wonder whether Piranesi too was playing some kind of reenactment game in his redrawing of the large urban plan.

It is after this point that much of the prior ten year's work begins tightly piecing together, and the notion of reenactment also aids in better understanding what information I collected further in research.

For me, reenactment was a learning tool, albeit for the most part a tool I didn't even know I was using. For Piranesi, however, (and this is what I've come to understand) reenactment was a design tool, specifically an urban design tool, whereby he generated an entirely new rendition of Rome. A Rome, moreover, that is essentially a conglomeration of many specifically themed environments, i.e., themed environments that relate exactly the history of the very places where Piranesi positioned his new designs. This is why I say Piranesi's Campo Marzio is not a reconstruction, rather a reenactment. By all indications, Piranesi was very conscious of the play of degrees of separation that reenactments involve.

Piranesi also (re)designed the city of Rome as a double (history) theater, namely the double theater of Rome's Pagan and Christian existence.



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