Thursday, September 07, 2006

Yowzah Yowzah Yowzah

Ernesto Grassi (The Primordial Metaphor, p.10, footnotes omitted) muses:

Is there a tradition which offers a foundation for a conception of knowledge rooted in the historicity of ontological experience? Does the humanist tradition offer us such a possibility? A correct understanding of Humanism has been hindered by the pre-eminence of German idealism, which denied it any philosophical value precisely because it is grounded on rhetorical and metaphorical thought; by Heidegger's antihumanistic thesis; and by the interpetation of Humanism as essentially a Christian reflection on Platonism.

With regard to the concept of knowledge, Western philosophy rejected, from the very beginning, the speculative function of rhetorical language for its being anchored to the here and now of existence; consequently, it expressed a negative judgement on metaphor, since metaphor transfers and transforms the meaning of a word and, in so doing, destroys its rational precision.

We would like to propose a different thesis: That which is–namely, individual beings, participants in and participles of being, for only as such do they exist–manifests itself in reality exclusively in a concrete historical situation, defined by the here and now of existence. All beings, in their openness to being, are expressions of a call, an appeal that must be answered in the urgency of every moment. The appeals, in whose realm we exist, are everchanging and new, and the meaning of beings is transformed according to the modality of our responses to the appeals.

We shall reformulate our question: Is there a tradition which allows us to identify a nonrational foundation of knowledge, by virtue of which metaphor and rhetorical language acquire a philosophical function? I have tried elsewhere to reconstruct this tradition and here I shall summarize it with references to De Laboribus Herculis by Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406).

Although Salutati holds that knowledge is enabled by the activity of the Muses, not just one, but all nine, Grassi considers only six of them, excluding Urania, Terpsichore, and, if I'm not mistaken, Calliope (the passage in question seems to describe Thalia, though she is not named).

So what's it to me if Grassi neglects to mention Terpsichore? So she doesn't appeal to him, so what? Does a defense of erudition–for that's what Grassi offers, its urgency unmistakable if you travel in certain circles–require anything like a Terpsichore?

Terpsichore, in any event, never seems to get any respect. If you live in the Bay Area of California, you can see a painting of Terpsichore hanging in the Fine Arts Museum of San Fransisco (which, incidentally, has claimed for itself the domain ""). The painting, by Jean-Marc Nattier, shows Terpsichore with one breast exposed. Her cheeks appear a little rosy. her eyes glazed over. She's a little tipsy. But this isn't precisely what I mean by no respect, not the all of it. The very idea of a museum is an offense to the Muses, especially Terpsichore. Who dances in a museum? It might as well be a mausoleum for the narrowness of the inspirations it permits. And I say this as one who loves graphic arts, one who loves the feeling that comes after being in a good art museum.

I know that many fine art museums have made attempts to cultivate an appreciation of performance art, hosting poetry readings, jazz recitals (ahem) and the like. It's just not the same as permitting people to dance. The seediest discothèque provides a more fitting tribute to Terpsichore than any museum ever will. Is this perhaps at the heart of the reason why Terpsichore gets no respect? Is the company she keeps just a little too democratic for modern sensibilities?

The promise of human order, or culture, concieved without room for dance is revolting. Always, in every historical epoch, the people will revolt with their feet. Kwassa Kwassa is but one example, the greatly maligned and misunderstood Chic another. The denigration of Terpsichore is unacceptable to the masses of humanity, yet every political movement that claims to speak for the masses or to represent a perfection of humanity begins and ends with the denigration of Terpsichore. What's up with that? It doesn't speak well for intellectuals, to say the least.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:15 AM.


Anonymous antonia said...

i do enjoy your Grassi-ruminations....but in this book he only does an abbreviated account of the Salutati-muses thing... in "Vorrang des Wortes" signore grassi is more detailed (& better) on this and states that this third group of muses stans for the consolidation of knowledge and Terpsichore has a rational function here, so as to to judge the similarities that had been found by way of metaphor and to draw conclusions from those similarities. i guess she's just not so important to him for she represents "ratio" and mysterious Erato is so much more intriguing for his theory.....

January 06, 2009 3:53 AM  

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