by Claudio Kulesko
The collective memory recalls Giacomo Leopardi as a crippled writer, languid and suffering. Only those who ventured their own initiative in the meanderings of Leopardi’s work managed to meet, at the heart of the labyrinth, a personage that was affable, elegant, witty and tormented; a complex and constantly changing figure, very different from the depressed hermit’s figure that winds through school desks. The iniquitous treatment suffered by the poet has relegated to the background, compared to the literary production, a vast and troubled philosophical reflection. A reflection returned to the center of the debate along with the whole pessimistic pantheon , awakened from the sleep of death by a (not so) recent essay by Thomas Ligotti .
The urgency to recover the philosophical speculation of Giacomo Leopardi becomes evident when we realize the mysterious and seductive affinity that exists between numerous Leopardi elaborations and the most recent themes of contemporary philosophy. What I will try to do will be to reactivate some of these theoretical nodes, taking advantage of this advantageous community of intentions and passions. However, dealing with what Leopardi calls his “system” means going into one of the most impressive posthumous works in the history of literature, the Zibaldone of Thoughts , a collection derived from what was literally a trunk of notebooks and annotation sheets – a real and its jungle of “annotations of various sizes and inspiration”.
Fortunately for us “Zibaldone” means minestrone, chaos, disorder, fragmentary jumble – a title that is immediately auspicious. This is a work of meticulous accumulation, bordering on intellectual bulimia: there is no logical order, nor any kind of internal coherence; both the arguments and the conclusions, always provisional, fight each other, contradicting themselves, duplicating themselves, projecting the thought into a cyclonic vortex in constant metamorphosis. As we proceed through the pages of annotations, considerations, thoughts and diary sheets, probing every possible path, experimenting with every perspective, we are overwhelmed by the unlimited wealth of Leopardi’s thought.
This swirling analytical discipline finds its definition, necessarily partial and unstable, in a note of 8 September 1821: “My system introduces not only a reasoned and demonstrated skepticism, but such that, according to my system, human reason for any possible progress, it will never be able to strip off this skepticism; indeed it contains the true […] but the true consists essentially in doubt, and who doubts, knows, and knows the most we can know ». If theclassical theory (for example those philosophies of Socratic or Cartesian inspiration), sees in the suspension of the judgment a practice or, better, a method of doubt, the Leopardi survey pushes the thinking to crazy speeds, up to the threshold in which the knowledge it crumbles and doubt manifests itself as the absolute unknowability of reality.
This limit that overlooks the boundless, like a sudden falling into the ocean, is the tangible material product of a coherent path of rational research; an increasingly desperate, increasingly melancholy pace , in clear opposition to a hypocritical programmatic scepsis (where knowledge is set aside, then to be dogmatically recovered soon after, perhaps with God as the guarantor of truth).Quoting one of the fathers of accelerationism, Nick Land : “Suspension of judgment must be uncovered, not performed”. It would not therefore be a question of a human limitation or a finitude of knowledge, but of the discovery of an abyss on which existence itself would be founded. In this sense, Leopardi’s work does not arise only, as has often been noted, as a continuation of Enlightenment rationalism, but also as its zenith. Leopardi’s adhesion to contemporary materialism will lead him, in fact, to at least peculiar conclusions.
Let’s start from a given. Being the exercise of reason an activity of an analytical type, that is, decomposing the complex into simple parts, the result of a rational analysis of the natural world will be that of “solving and destroying nature”, obtaining that “Nature, as analyzed , do not differ from a dead body ». As we can note also only observing the procedures of the medical and anatomical sciences, the absolute simplicity reached by the analysis coincides with the rigidity of the dissected cadaver , since the latter is the necessary requirement for an objective knowledge of the body. Nature, vivisected by the scalpel of scientific rationality, passes from a state of dynamic vitality – a constant succession of subjectivities and vegetal and animal sensations – to a condition of inorganic objectivity: the living manifests itself as a gathering of members, components of inanimate self. In fact, one of the most obvious results of the modern sciences is that, although they stubbornly probed every cleft of the body, we have not been able to identify any trace of a soul, a spirit or a subject that governs somatic matter.
With scientific modernity, words, previously understood as the expression of the human soul, become a bridge between the ideas of the mind and the things of the world: material objects (of a sonic-vibrational type), able to make understandable what otherwise the sensations would remain empty and indistinct. It is in the name of enlightenment materialism that Leopardi writes: “Everything is material in our mind and faculty. The intellect could not do without the speech, since the word is almost the body of the idea the most abstract “, and then add, a few days away:” The heart can well imagine […] to feel something immaterial: but absolutely s’inganna ». The illusion of the immaterial, that is, of the “Self” and its chains of thought, is a recurring theme in Leopardi’s notes, as well as the reason why his philosophical research would represent the culmination and, at the same time, the overcoming of the illuminist project. Indeed, modern scientific knowledge is based on the clarity of ideas and perceptions of a given observer, as well as on the total self-possession of this same observer. To doubt even the presence of a subject capable of doubting means to deprive the scientific method of every cardinal reference – and the paradoxical aspect of the question lies precisely in carrying out this subtraction according to a rational procedure.
Eliminativism (the term with which a current of philosophers and scientists have been baptized who do not believe in the actual existence of a conscious ego) is the foul foot that plunges us into the abyss: if the sensory perceptions alone are judged to be real, it must be concluded that even the perception of the Self, that is the self-consciousness, is nothing more than a second-level perception – the perception of perceptions – without this global perception necessarily corresponding to a real state of affairs. In this sense Leopardi notes: “Appearance is not only enough, but it is the only thing that suffices […] Perrocché substance without appearance does not effect anything and nothing gets, and appearance with substance does not nothing more than without it: so that the substance can be seen to be useless and the whole thing be in appearance only ».
The spectrum of an informal and chaotic world, illusively ordered by the mind, goes by the name of ” blind brain theory “, an elaboration that goes in the opposite direction to the so-called naive realism (that set of doctrines according to which the world perceived would be identical to the real world). According to the theory of the blind brain, the real world would be immensely richer and more multifaceted than the one represented in our minds, which, in turn, would be representations of representations, pseudo-objects physically non-existent. To put it with the neuro-philosopher Thomas Metzinger , one of the major proponents of eliminationism, the crux of the question lies in the fact that: “We do not experience the contents of our self-awareness as the contents of a representational process, but simply as ourselves, that we live in the world at this precise moment “.
In The conspiracy against the human race , Thomas Ligotti deepens this disturbing prospect: “In Metzinger’s scheme, a human being is not a person but a mechanical model of the self that simulates a person […] the naive realism becomes therefore a prophylactic, necessary to protect oneself from the concomitant terror of the destruction of intuitions concerning ourselves and our status in the world, “finally coming to affirm that:” There are aspects of the scientific vision of the world that could be harmful to our mental health “.
Sinking, as Leopardi does, the sensitive knowledge – and the reason itself – in a limbo of illusions, the way of scientific optimism is annihilated, catapulting the real world into a timeless darkness, meaningless and without purpose . One of the most frequent themes in Zibaldone is precisely that of the damage done to human life by truth and scientific objectivity; a problem that (as we shall see), Leopardi deals in a very similar way to one of his best known admirers, HP Lovecraft, who, in his Call of Cthulhu, wrote that: “The sciences, which so far have continued each for his they have not caused too much damage: but the recomposition of the whole picture will open us, one day, visions so terrifying of the reality and the place we occupy in it, that either we will go crazy for revelation or flee from the mortal light, peace and security of a new Middle Ages “.
The senselessness of the cosmos stripped of human significances, hopes and goals soon becomes claustrophobic. In one of the most intense and touching moments of Zibaldone Leopardi brings back the memory of what could be a dream, or a panic attack: “I was afraid to find myself in the middle of nowhere, a nothing myself. I felt like I was suffocating considering and feeling that everything is nothing, solid nothing […] It seems absurd, and yet it is exactly true that all the real being a nothing, there is nothing real or other substance in the world that illusions. “
At the close of his Nihil Unbound , the philosopher Ray Brassier (a student of Land at the time of the CCRU ) affirms that, having accepted the illusory conscience and the inevitable extinction over time of all individuals and all species, including human “The subject of philosophy [or the philosopher] must also recognize that he is already dead, and that philosophy is neither a means of affirmation nor a source of justification, but rather the organon of extinction.” It would be to say that the content of truth of a scientific or philosophical theory is in no way related to the appreciation and pleasure that a subject could derive from it, tending rather to increase the discomfort of the human position in the cosmos and make existence disgusting.
By dissipating the realm of illusions, knowledge destroys every possibility of joy, intense as a natural tendency to pleasure and sensation; a state of total ignorance of cruelty and senselessness of life.
This fever of reason, propagated as an epidemic by the rapid spread of scientific thought, pervades the work of Leopardi, sometimes leaking in the form of bizarre euphoria, sometimes in the form of a somber apocalyptic hood. The negative aspect, however, is preponderant in leopardian speculation, resulting in macabre predictions on the self-destruction of our species as a consequence of the technical and scientific advancement (a present topic, from the first moments, even in the thought of Nick Land): «The society it now contains more than ever before, seeds of destruction and qualities incompatible with its preservation and existence, and of this it is mainly due to the knowledge of truth and philosophy “; and again: “Philosophy which frees from human life a thousand natural errors that society had created […] is harmful and destructive of society, because those errors can be, and indeed are, necessary for the subsistence and preservation of society. ».
If the child and the ignorant spend their lives to act and perceive, that is to build a common world, lulled by illusions, the adult and the learned spend their time calculating and reasoning, in a condition similar to death. it even anticipates and accelerates the arrival of death. By dissipating the realm of illusions, knowledge destroys every possibility of joy, intense as a natural tendency to pleasure and sensation; a state of total ignorance of cruelty and senselessness of life. In Leopardi’s reflection, nature plays precisely this dual role of lady of illusions and of terrible mother, leading us to the central point of the question.
In addition to revealing the insignificance and precariousness of human existence, the study of nature reveals different perturbing aspects, able to put a strain on any argument on the goodness and perfection of our universe. In the collection of articles When the Horses Had the Fingers , the biologist Stephen Jay Gould describes the revulsion with which the nineteenth century theologians welcomed the results of studies on the icneumonids (hymenoptera similar to wasps): these animals spend their larval stage feeding on the meat lives of a host, usually a caterpillar in which the female spawned immediately after paralyzing it with a toxin. The larva of the ichneumonid first devours the fat deposits and the digestive organs, leaving intact the heart and the central nervous system of the victim, which therefore remains alive, agonizing, until the last moment. As Gould writes, the question that arises spontaneously before such a horror is: “If God is benevolent […] because we are surrounded by pain, suffering and an apparently meaningless cruelty?”.
It is well known that the immorality of Nature is one of the main themes of Leopardi’s reflection; to those who accuse him of misanthropy Giacomo replies, in fact: «My philosophy makes nature of all things a reality, and by completely absolving men, it addresses hatred […] to a higher principle, the true origin of the ills de ‘living’. Exactly ten years before Operette (and the famous Dialogue of Nature and an Icelandic ) Leopardi noted, answering Gould’s question ahead of time : “The whole nature, and the eternal order of things, is in no way directed to the happiness of beings. sensitive or animal. On the contrary, it is contrary to it “.
The conscience or, better, the excess of consciousness given to human beings by the natural sciences, manifests the natural horror, tormenting us, moreover, with the threat of a possible illusory of all the knowledge painfully collected so far – making us doubt even of our own reality. This is perhaps the first symptom of a madness pandemic that will envelop or that is already enveloping the planet.Giacomo writes: «Once religion and radically illusions are removed, every man, or rather every child at the first faculty of reasoning […] would infallibly kill himself with his own hand […] But illusion still lasts despite reason and knowledge. It is to be hoped that they will also last in progress “.
In Zibaldone , there are two perspectives that seem to suggest a possible escape from the abyss of madness. The first solution, derived from a purely rational calculation, would consist of individual suicide and the progressive and voluntary extinction of the human species: “It is absolute best for the living being not to be that being […] that being to the most beneficent man. not suffering that suffering, and not being able to live without suffering, is mathematically true and certain that the absolute is not beneficial and suits man more than being. And that being harms precisely to man “; a hypothesis recently revived by Ligotti and by the vegan philosopher and activist David Benatar , under the name of antinatalism .
The second solution is represented by the foundation of a new discipline: “Our regeneration depends on one, so to speak, ultrafilosofia, that knowing the whole and the intimate of things, bring us closer to nature. And this should be the fruit of the extraordinary lights of this century ». This second speculative solution is designed as opposed to traditional philosophical knowledge, in which vanity and worldliness are persecuted and opposed. Rather than in a radically pessimistic direction – an orientation that would only reduce and trivialize Leopardi’s reflection – a potential Leopardi renaissance would orbit around this reconciliation of nature and reason. The task of an ultrafilosofia would be to consider any scientific, theological and philosophical elaboration as an arbitrary determination, it would be an invention (a theoretical perspective surprisingly close to the work of Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari , as well as to the non-philosophy by François Laruelle ); the evaluation of the value of each of these inventions, be they concepts, works of art or axioms, would be based on its positivity, that is on the ability to promote and empower human life.
Finally we see how the ambiguity inherent in the Leopardi reflection is painfully acute, suspended between the nightmare of resignation and an art of deception.This is the task that belongs to us as posterity: to overcome in turn the dual obstacle represented by pessimism and optimism, creating new solutions, building new roads, as Giacomo himself tried to do by imagining an ultrafilosofia of the future. Confronting Leopardi’s work, and in particular with Zibaldone , means engaging a dangerous body to body with the most ancient and profound terrors of the human being, with the aberrations of future techno-sciences and the violent mediocrity of the state of things present. At midday of a new flowering of rationalism, represented in particular by the enthusiastic works of Ray Brassier, Quentin Meillassoux , Reza Negarestani , Peter Wolfendale and the collective Laboria Cuboniks , it was necessary to turn the gaze to darkness, plumbed to the end by the gaze of this philosopher poet, suffering and at the same time bravely smiling.
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