Expanding the Liberty Canon: John Fortescue on the Laws and Government of England

My latest post at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

John Forescue (who was knighted and so is also known as Sir John Fortescue) lived from approximately from 1394  to 1480,  and so endured the Wars of the Roses, the highly destructive struggle of two families in the late Middle Ages for possession of the English crown. These wars were fictionalised and mythologised in the Shakespeare plays on Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, and Richard III, so there is a perfect literary way of obtaining an introduction to the political struggles of that time, though of course that is not the same as reliable scholarly history of that period.

Fortescue was from the gentry, as the lower level of the English aristocracy are known, of southwestern England. He was therefore in a good position to follow a career as a lawyer and Member of Parliament (which in Britain refers to someone elected to the House of Commons…

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Philosophy of the Novel VIII: Philosophy in the Twentieth Century Development of the Novel

(Summary of a research project unlikely to be realised in the form articulated, but which is guiding current projects. For earlier posts in this series, see posts of October 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th,  3rd and  27th August)

The story of Vico’s presence in twentieth century aesthetic and interpretative philosophy, literary criticism and critical theory overlaps with the story of Vico’s presence in twentieth century literature, largely through Joyce. The point of the discussion that flows out of this point is not to reduce everything about the twentieth century novel to Vico, but to provide a strong unifying perspective for looking at the twentieth century novel, with regard to repetitions and variations of the kinds of patterns explored by Vico.

Joyce who might seem a suitable object for Bahtkin’s Menippian origin claim was deeply interested in the Homeric model, as he showed in the most direct way in giving one novel the Latinate form of Odysseus, ‘Ulysses’ and first publishing that novel in a literary magazine with Homeric episodes as chapter headings. This chapter will start with the Viconian presence in Joyce, with some reference to Beckett’s role in discussing the relationship in ‘Dante…Bruno. Vico…Joyce’, and how that informs his own fiction. The nature of Joyce’s own fiction, particularly in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, is a major influence on thinking about what the novel is, what literature is, with a transformative affect on both literary creation and thought about the novel as a genre.

Topics of discussion will include the ways that Ulysses’ appropriation of Homer relates to Vico’s interpretation, such as the contrast of supposed Greek and Jewish perspectives, the relation between narrative progress and circularity, the possibilities of literary communication in the different forms of language, the appearance of ‘Viconian’ ‘thunder words’ in Finnegans Wake, the role of repetition and recurrence, the contrasts between different aesthetic-historical perspectives,  all with regard to other twentieth century perspectives. Philosophical thought about literature, and related issues in language, has focused on Joyce in the case of both Derrida and Davidson, and literary critical work on Joyce is very great in its extent, so there will be some exploration of how we can understand the novel as a genre through these philosophical and literary critical reactions, and the currents of twentieth century literary philosophy and aesthetics with which they connect.

This part will explore all these issues with some thought about the legacy for the novel after Joyce. The Joycean approach to Vico is not just referencing of a philosophical perspective, it is an attempted continuation of the ways in which Vico brings human self-consciousness, historical consciousness, and literary imagination together. The direct references to Vico in Joyce, will be discussed along with the partially explicit and indirect ways in which Vico is present in both of Joyce’s major novels.  Both novels in some sense bring the end novel as a genre to an end, by going back to the beginnings in Vico, with regard to his philosophy of Homeric epic and of history. Joyce does not just make reference to Vico in his dealings with philosophy.

Kierkegaard is very apparent in Finnegans Wake, so that will be discussed along with the other ways in which Joyce is reacting to philosophical and literary concerns previous chapters have included. The Kierkegaard references certainly invite discussion of how Joyce’s novels may deal with the Romantic Irony model, and the various reactions to that model.  The end of this chapter and the book will be to establish how, in large degree with reference to Vico, we can see in Joyce that the novel has developed as the non-heroic ironic version of the epic, as the triumph of the plebeian ‘human’ over the aristocratic ‘heroic’, and as incorporator of other literary genres, and as a way of understanding the historical nature of human communities and institutions.

It will equally be necessary to explore in the spirt of Vico how far the novel contains traces of the ‘divine’  and ‘heroic’ past’ and stands outside reductive historical categorisation in the accumulation of historical anomalies. That will be tested against the examples of other major literary works of the twentieth century; and against various philosophical understandings of the novel, and of literary aesthetics. The theoretical and philosophical aspects will include including figures such as Girard using an anthropological-ethical perspective, Jameson on Marxism, Moretti using sociology of literature, and Alan H Goldman as an example of analytic aesthetic of the novel. The importance of the Viconian model and subsequent philosophical reflections on narrative, history, and fiction can then be assessed for a fully developed philosophy of the genre of the novel.

Philosophy of the Novel VII: Auerbach and the Novel in Literary Criticism

(Summary of a research project unlikely to be realised in the form articulated, but which is guiding current projects. For earlier posts in this series, see posts of October 8th, 7th, 6th,  3rd and  27th August)

Vico had a decisive presence in twentieth century thought on the novel through Eric Auerbach, who translated the New Science in to German early in his career, also writing a paper on Vico’s influence on Herder. Auerbach’s book Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature marks Auerbach’s presence as a thinker about the nature of narrative as imitative fiction, referring to epic and novelistic aspects from Homer and the Hebrew Bible to the twentieth century.

That comparison is itself quite true to Vico, since the New Science  has at its heart a differentiation between the gentile ancient world largely explored with reference to Homer and the history of the ancient Jews. The Biblical Jews were directly guided by God through history, and Greek history, like all gentile history moved through a mixture of natural forces and divine providence. The comparison Auerbach makes between Homer and the Hebrew Bible implicitly follows that distinction.

Explicit comments about Vico are very limited in Mimesis. The chapter will explain the implicit presence of Vico and expand on Auerbach’s direct remarks, such as his suggestion of  tension in Vico between a decorous conformist surface and a more disruptive inner nature of his thought focusing on the role of force. In this way we can see now Vico can both be located in a conservative Enlightenment and a proto-Nietzschean concern with violence in history, which informs Auerbach’s view of the tensions within mimetic fiction.  This will include discussion of Auerbach’s direct remarks on Vico elsewhere with regard to Herder and with regard to Dante, and the general way in which Auerbach transforms and preserves Vico’s ideas in twentieth century literary criticism and theory.

The argument will then move onto a consideration of the continuation of that transmission, and transformation, through Edward Said’s comments on Vico and on Auerbach, particularly in Beginnings. Said’s comments emphasise a continuous reflection on the limits of human consciousness and knowledge in Vico, which is necessarily a self-critical way in which Vico creates his ow view of human history and literature.

In doing so Said, suggests the relevance of Vico to both twentieth century literature and literary criticism, with regard to the self-reflective nature of interpretation of the constructs of  human history, and the ways that may enter into literary creation, particularly for the novel, which is the modern form most relevant to Vico’s historical scope and his focus on Homer.  This will be compared with the kind of historical thinking about literature influence by Vico, to be found in Hyden White.

The more philosophical aspects of Vico’s thoughts on philology, rhetoric, history, and interpretation will be explored with reference to Gadamer’s discussion of Vico in Truth and Method, concentrating on the connections with Gadamer’s aesthetics and the consequences for understanding the novel as a hermeneutic form and as an object of hermeneutics. Brief but significant remarks of Foucault and Derrida on Vico will also be taken up in this consideration of the philosophical status of the novel. Their remarks can partly be found in Discipline and Punish and Of Grammatology, texts with a very big influence on literary studies The comparison of Foucault and Derrida with Gadamer itself sets up a contrast between interpretation as concerned with force and conflict, and interpretation as concerned with a more consensualist  harmonising view of interpretative possibilities.

Given that Vico reflects on Homer and on the status of interpretative sciences in this way, with reference to a  divinely ordained order and with regard to force and inconsistency, all of this adds to the way that Vico continues to influence understanding of the novel, through a tendency of his New Science to be very literary in form as well as in preoccupations. The discussion of Vico’s direct and indirect influence serves as a unifying point for discussion of twentieth centıry literary criticism and literary aesthetics. The ways in which is influential will be fully discussed, but as a starting point for the discussion of the differing ways Auerbach, Said, Gadamer, Foucault, and Derrida, contribute to understanding of the novel. Exploration of these figures will allow a full investigation of the status of hermeneutics, deconstruction, genealogy, and historicism in thinking about literature and the genre of the novel.

Philosophy of the Novel VI: Ethics of the Novel in Bakhtin

(Summary of a research project unlikely to be realised in the form articulated, but which is guiding current projects. For earlier posts in this series, see posts of October 7th, 6th,  3rd and  27th August)

A view of the ethical and interpersonal aspects of the novel can be found in Bakhtin’s essays on Rabelais, Dostoevsky and so on, which focus on the novel as a genre containing a variety of contending voices and a carnivalesque concern with pushing boundaries, destruction, and inversion.

Bakhtin’s thought on Dostoevsky’s novels continues the interests in the the ‘carnivalesque’ that he brings to his study of Rabelais. Carnival laughter appears in Dostoevsky in a reduced form, where the laughter is contained in the confrontation of voices not as direct laughter explored in the work on Rabelais.  Anyway, in Dostoevsky, the world is open and free, everything is still in the future and will always be in the future.

In Dostoevsky the fates of people, their experiences and ideas are pushed to their limits, everything is passing over into its opposite in fusion of opposites, laughter and de-crowning, thresholds to appear as places of crisis. Narrative and experiential time are explore as crisis time in which a moment is equal to vast amounts of time. Dostoevsky relativises everything that disunifies people and gives a false seriousness to life.

Carnival time appears in Dostoevsky as the time of a day, which is not the time of tragic unity but is close. It is even further from biographical and historical time, it is a time of an unlimited number of radical shifts and metamorphoses. All that is lacking in unity and distant is brought together at a single spatial and temporal point.

Bakhtin thought the novel could be traced back to Menippean satire, that is the literary form associated with the the third century BCE Greek writer Menippus. Bakhtin did so because he thought of the novel as a multi-voiced and scandalous form. It is  form concerned with parody and breaking down the distance of earlier genres. Scandal breaks out as conventions are defied. Tragic dismemberment followed by celebration suggests some elements of Nietzsche, a transformation of the tragic, and a recurrence of the Dionysian at the heart of the novel.

An epic time of continuity and flow, where the passing of time is not much of an issue is dissolved, and the novel appears to combine elements of comedy as well as tragedy in its universalist concerns. The kinds of dramatic disruptions that Bakhtin focuses on in Bakhtin and Dostoevsky provide ways of understanding those novels where the disruptions are not extreme, so that we can understand the form of the novel as a way of containing and channelling issues of extreme conflict, extreme disturbance of consciousness, and extreme transformations.

The extreme situations structuring Bakhtin’s analysis do not suggest for him a brea down in human communication and ethical consensus, but rather a deeper understanding. The novel is inherently polyphonic, containing many voices with no obvious hierarchy, and that is an ethical situation, the situation in which there can be ethics because different voices express themselves and interact. The ethics is to some degree in tension with dangers that Bakhtin sees in parody and the carnivalesque, which might turn entirely destructive, but the kinds of unity to be found in the novel around discourse and around time, resist such possibilities.

There must be two voices at least for there to be life and therefore there cannot be complete destruction of all points of views except one, except as an act of self-destruction. One character does not just have one voice, the polyphony is not just in the interaction between characters, but in the voice of any one character. That multiplicity of voice though depends on interaction between characters, so all the time it is a question  of many individuals who in the richness of interaction develop multiple voices. It is this which enables ideas to appear and the novel should not be analysed as the ideas of a single authorial voice.

The novel cannot exist as the expression of  a single set of ideas and a single voice supposedly expressing the views of the author, but in the capacity of the author to withdraw before the multiplicity of voices or divide between that multiplicity. Bakhtin provides in some degree a corrective to the more rigid Idealist aspects of the view of the novel in Lukács and Benjamin.

Philosophy of the Novel V: Lukács and the Theory of the Novel from Nietzsche to Benjamin

(Summary of a research project unlikely to be realised in the form articulated, but which is guiding current projects. For earlier posts in this series, see posts of October 6th,  3rd and  27th August)

Nietzsche does not write in detail about novels and he does offer a theory of the genre of the novel. However, the novel is important for Nietzsche. Like Kierkegaard, he wrote as a philosophical novelist himself, though it is only Thus Spoke Zarathustra that can be placed in this category. It is a very strange novel, but a lot of novels are and the ones most discussed in defining the genre are often very strange examples (Rabelais, Cervantes, Defoe, Sterne). In addition, novelists are referred to at important moments in Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky as a psychologist, Stendhal as a the source of a theory of aesthetic pleasure. The reference to Stendhal in On the Genealogy of Morality is with regard to On Love, rather than a novel, but it is difficult to keep an absolute distinction between this essay and Stendhal’s novelistic output.

In addition, Nietzsche has a theory in The Birth of Tragedy of the birth of the novel from the death of Attic Tragedy, which should be seen in the light of Hegel’s reservations about the genre of the novel. The Socratic death of tragedy provides two sources of new philosophical-literary inspiration: the philosopher who plays music; the dialectician who writes dialogues.  Socrates returns to the Dionysian, Plato creates a new unity from the genres of Greek literature. On one side the Euripidean tragedy forms the basis of the novel, through the low characters such as the Graeculus, the cunning servant who is a debased form of Odysseus ; on the other side the Dionysian returns underground in a tradition of rites and excesses.  Plato’s dialogues form their own basis for the novel, which seems to be an ambiguous legacy.  The dialogue rises above the Aesopian fable where it begins, and which was the only literary form Socrates admired, through bringing in all other forms.

It is possible to formulate a Nietzschean goal of philosophical literature after the death of tragedy.  A literature which emphasises the plurality of styles within one style, the impossibility of natural forms, the contradictory nature of any naïve approach, the conflict between particularity and universality, the ideal of the hero caught between particularity and universality in necessary crime, the struggle with the empirical self, the struggle with the death and nothingness necessary to rise above mere sensibility and given laws, an individuality torn between itself and community, a representation exploring its unrepresentable origin.  Philosophical writing in Nietzsche is dialectic and music, dialogue and poetry, law and intoxication.  The Socratic combination of rational criticism and the daemonic is the model and counter model of Nietszcheanism. Nietzsche’s discussion of the birth and death, and return of tragedy, gives many pointers to philosophical aesthetics and the study of literary genres.

Through The Birth of Tragedy, it is possible to look back to Vico’s interpretation of law and history through Homer in The New Science (Vico, 1984); and forward to Lukács on Epic and Novel, the appropriation of Homer in Joyce and the philosophical reflection on the novel and genre in Ulysses (Joyce, 1968) and Finnegans Wake (Joyce, 1975). Nietzsche himself contributed to the writing of novels, even in a marginal form in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which will be discussed with regard to how it fits with what Nietzsche says about literature.

Particularly in the early work of Georg Lukács and Walter Benjamin, in the tradition of German Idealism and Romanticism, literature appears as forms which contain the essential contradictions of consciousness in general, and through stages of history. Lukács and Benjamin, literature is embedded in historical consciousness, reflecting or expressing the essential capacities of language in the consciousness of an era.  The German Idealists and Romantics are all interested in, or are troubled, by how literary-aesthetic consciousness is subjective and inward, so expressing essential aspects of individual consciousness, but also supporting the differentiation of subjectivity from objective world.

The connection of aesthetic-subjectivity with world may require the world to be seen as determined not only by the rational ideas of reason, but by its subjective inner self-reflection.  This may allow a metaphysical realism in which individual consciousness is determined by an objective, it might also only allow an internal realism in which the reference of our conscious constructs to an outer world is uncertain. The tensions round these questions have developed to the point where it is no longer plausible to conceive of literary history and aesthetic theory as joined in the Idealist enterprise of reducing literary texts to the categories of historical concepts which reflect the inner structure of consciousness.

These tensions were already at issue in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. This is reflected in a style of writing, continued in Benjamin and Lukács, which is daunting but is a literary achievement in itself, an achievement of dialectic, in which the connections between ideas are established through the power of writing, with a sensitivity of style which also allows for precision in the use of concepts.  The limit for both is world and consciousness are chaotic.  They can only be grasped in terms of contingency, accident, forces, conflict, perspectives, changing experience.

Lukács and Benjamin in the end are maybe more Idealist and Romantic than Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, so while exploring their contribution to the understanding of the genre of the novel, it will be necessary to discuss how far they fall back to the Idealist position which failed to recognise the importance of the novel as a literary genre. The key texts here are Lukács’ Theory of the Novel and The Historical Novel. The key texts by Benjamin are his essays on Proust and Kafka, along with other essays dealing with poetry and the short story, and his study of German Tragic Drama.

Philosophy of the Novel IV: Romantic Irony and Kierkegaard

(Summary of a research project unlikely to be realised in the form articulated, but which is guiding current projects. For earlier posts in this series, see posts of October 3rd and  27th August)

In Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard considered irony in the Jena Romantic/Romantic Ironist group which gathered briefly in 1798 and 99, and which published some of their work in the Atheneum journal.Kierkegaard analyses their literary and philosophical production as the outcome of Fichte’s philosophy in the first two editions of the Science of Knowledge (1794), leading us back to the aesthetic significance of German Idealism. Kierkegaard looks at the way that the Fichean ego appears in Irony, in endless reflections and shifts of perspective.

Romanticism marks an elevation of the aesthetic. The emergence of art an autonomous realm culminates in its elevation into the realm of autonomy where the freedom of imagination enables an act of pure creation. The rise of Romantic aesthetics coincides with the elevation of ethics in philosophical legislation, where the laws of ethics reveal the essence of philosophy as legislation.  Aesthetics becomes the absolute expression of freedom, legislating for itself; ethics became the absolute expression law legislating for freedom.

In the Romantic urge for aesthetic absolutism, there is the urge to find the absolute source of law; in the law’s urge for the ethical absolute, there is the urge to establish a realm of freedom where individuals have autonomy and can legislate for themselves. There is a strong complicity between these positions, which Kierkegaard gives form to in his remarks on Fichte in The Concept of Irony, which demonstrate how Romantic aestheticism arises This is the way that Kierkegaard writes in Either/Or and his life of writing is of using different styles and perspectives, even in his more ‘direct’ Christian discourses.

In The Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard criticises the ironists for destroying the strength of the self, which is the subjective origin of irony. In Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard also expresses some support for Hegel on the question of irony.  Kierkegaard’s positive account of Hegel in Concept of Irony is in contrast with his later tendency to take Hegel as the main object of criticism. Kierkegaard both depends on Hegel’s analyses and moves on from them, and we can this in The Concept of Irony as Kierkegaard develops a position, which accepts to some degree Hegel claim that Roman Irony tends to dissolve reality, including the reality of the subject that ironises, but maintains a position in which Romantic Irony has some continuity with the philosophical achievements of Socrates who was the first great hero of irony.

There is wish to avoid the absolute ‘historicism’ in Hegel, so absolute that the absolute take over from the historicism, and allow for a tension between subjectivity and the collective forms of spirit which Hegel with all his awareness of conflict and paradox, sees as able to absorb subjectivity, so that anything left over is negative, even ‘evil’. Kierkegaard’s own more aesthetic texts, particularly his narratives, Either/Or, Repetition and Stages on Life’s Way, themselves serve to show and alternative to Hegel and to show the philosophical and religious possibilities of the novel. He puts into practice more successfully than the Romantic Ironists argued for with regard to the fusion of poetry and philosophy in the novel, while exploring the problems he found in an idea of absolute romanticism, an idea that there can be a self-producing imagination without limit, unrestrained by anything external. There are forms of absolute we encounter in our subjectivity and in the foundations of that subjectivity for Kierkegaard, and the exploration of that brings him into exercises in novelistic form, which illuminate the nature of the genre.

Style of Living versus Juridification in Foucault (my latest post at the group blog New APPS)

I’m making a brief exploration of one of the most significant oppositions in Foucaut’s thought, which has not been discussed that much in my experience, but I may well have overlooked some vast bibliography. In any case, there is a major polarity in Foucault between the style of living in antiquity, related to care of the self, and in which ‘style’ can be replaced by ‘aesthetics’ or ‘techne’, while ‘living’ can be replaced by ‘existence’, in ways I do not think make much difference to the current discussion. There is also a relation with the discussions of the government of the self and the use of pleasure.  I am not getting into references and precise context, but outlining the general field.

The most obvious opposition to ‘style of living’ is the emergence of ‘subjectivty’ in the sense of some deep subject behind speech and action. Foucault’s understanding of this refers in large part to the development of the confessional in Christianity, with the standard Catholic confession in private to a priest taken as the end point. There is a suggestion in this historical discussion of a historical preparation for the development of assumptions about the sıbject that come to inform Descartes, and what follows Descartes with regard to consciousness and subjectivity.

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Expanding the Liberty Canon: Marsilius of Padua on the Defence of civic Peace

Me at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

There is a leap of more than a millenium from  my last post on Seneca to Marsilius (originally Marsiglio) of Padua (c. 1275 to c. 1342). I am not saying that no one wrote any texts advancing liberty during that time, but the major texts of late antiquity and the Middle Ages up to the thirteenth century concerning political ideas lean towards the desirability, or at least unavoidability, of law making and governmental powers centralised in a monarchical figure, rather than constraints on power,  or a positive vision of individual autonomy.

One might argue that the spread of Christian monotheism enhanced the value placed on individuality, and that the codification of Roman law in Constantinople in the sixth century CE (commanded by the Emperor Justinian) advanced the idea of liberty under law. Even if we take a very positive view of those developments, and they are certainly deeply important, they…

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