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Vico, Giambattista

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Vico, Giambattista


Vico and the Campo Marzio
1997.07.25

from: Patrick L. Gardiner, "Philosophy of history" in Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1969), vol. 11, p. 543.

Giambattista Vico's Scieza nuova (1744) was a work whose importance remained for a long time unrecognized, partly, no doubt, because of the obscure and scholasic manner in which the Italian philosopher expressed his ideas. Central to the book is the contention that the kind of knowledge which men can achieve of their own actions, creations, and institutions--the material of history--is of a radically different kind from the knowledge that is acquired by the observation and investigation of the nonhuman or "natural" world: indeed, knowledge of the former type is of a superior or "more certain" character. In order truly to know something it is necessary in some sense o have made it, and where as the reality which the physical scientist studies is the creation of God and therefore only properly known to him, "the world of nations" that forms the subject matter of history is the creation of men and is therefore something that men can "hope to know." Thus Vico was led to stress the differences rather that the analogies between historical and other forms of inquiry and laid emphasis upon the need for the historian to recreate imaginatively the spirit of the past ages and the outlook and attitudes of mind possessed by the men who lived in them, instead of trying to impose upon them inappropriate interpretive models--"Pseudomyths"--suggested by ways of thinking and feeling current in his own time. It is true that Vico pronounced a cyclical theory of human history, according to which "nations" or cultures pass through determinate stages: he employed it, however, in a manner that underlined man's nature as a historical being, whose powers and capacities do not conform to a fixed and static pattern but are subject to change and development in the course of time: it is not through a priori intuition ot through attention to the subjective findings of introspective self-consciousness that we can acquire the depest insight into what we are (as so many of his contemporaries assumed), but through a critical and sympathetic interpretation of the evidence provided by historical research.

This quote brings to mind Piranesi's Campo Marzio as an imaginative recreation of the spirit of past Roman ages. Relating it to Piranesi, however, is like being on a double-edged sword--a thin line between being too imaginative and going beyond contemporary modes of interpretation. Did Piranesi totally avoid the interpretive methods current in his time.

Is Aitken's thesis something along these lines?

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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