Guido D. Neri – Images of what is “after”. Natural World, Europe, Cosmopolitanism

[Materiali di Estetica, N. 3,1, 2016, p. 119-122. Republished by gracious permission of the Author]

1. I take this title from an essay by Guido Davide Neri, the contents and take of which I decided to further develop by taking a more personal stance towards it. This decision to refer back to Guido’s pages comes from the great debt of gratitude that I owe to him since our first meeting more than 50 years ago.
The essay in question was written in 1982, and the ‘after’ of the title referred to the situation in Eastern Europe following the repression and normalization that took place over the 1960s and 70s. In this regard, Neri particularly focused on the condition of Poland, by referring to Solidarność and the attempt to build a “stratified socialism” (as Neri defined it in another article from 1974).
Neri would later recall, however, also another “after” – namely the one that follows Gorbachev’s failed attempt to renew the Soviet Union, which ends up dissolving along with the very idea of a “realized” socialism.
In order to better understand this point, it is helpful to take into account Neri’s last paper, which consists of a series of notes for a lecture on phenomenology that he never managed to deliver (see on this Neri, Il sensibile la storia l’arte. Scritti 1957-2001, Verona: ombre corte, 2003, 171-183. See also L. Fausti, Guido Davide Neri tra scepsi e storia. Un percorso filosofico, Milano: Unicopli, 2010, 122-124).

2. The peculiarity of this last paper by Neri is that it has different endings. Although Neri did not like to end his works in a dogmatic and apodictic way, in this case the presence of two distinct conclusions causes a sort of dilemma to the reader.
Neri starts by recollecting the work of his two masters, Banfi and Paci. He does this by sketching a brief portrait that tends to highlight the contrasts between the two, recalling the chromatic contrasts of the Venetian school.
What is more important, though, is that this description leads to a conclusion that eventually splits in two. To summarize, we have on one hand a pessimistic end, and on the other a more optimistic one.
10 years “after” this paper was written (and also 10 years after 9/11, and 3 years after the Utoya massacre), I would like to reinterpret this duplicity as follows:

a. sciences and technology not only reside in the natural world, that is in a condition which is prior to any epoché, but they even extend this natural attitude by means of prostheses, geometrical figures and mathematical formulae that end up being a sort of “mask” over reality, thus concealing any historical project, the most surprising trait of which should consist of questioning the sense of things, the meaning of history.

b. “second version of the conclusion” (Neri, Il sensibile la storia l’arte, 182. See also Materiali di Estetica, N. 3,1 (2016): 121): it is necessary, after the debate that stemmed from the events of 1989, to go back to Europe. It is necessary to recover the best of Europe’s heritage, namely the capacity to live in the natural attitude while at the same time being able to depart from it. That is to say, we need to recover that kind of “epoché that allows us to loosen for a time the business-like bond that ties us to the world, and that opens us to the dimension of truth”.

3. I lean towards the second version. Towards a philosophical culture that applies the epoché to the various natural worlds that emerged after 1989, until 2008-10 and today. After the re-emerging nihilism that arose in the wake of the grand metaphysical projects of the past, after the monetarist ideology, after the illusory contraction of space and time due to globalization. That kind of globalization, of which today’s financial capitalism constitutes both the epic and the damnation, resembles the mythical figure of Antaeus, who seemed to draw his energy from his same falling down to earth. This same globalization is also responsible for the creation of new fears, (xeno)phobias, and local closed attitudes, which cause apprehension and dismay in the people, and in their mutual relations within their communities.
What we need is a philosophical culture that is capable of re-reading and reintroducing a philosophical idea of the person, that is a person “in flesh and bone”, whose field of action is Europe. And here Europe does not mean exclusively what is physically within Europe’s borders, or just outside of them, in the form of an inherited European technical knowledge.
I rather refer to those extra-European people who live in Europe, namely to the European intercultural aspect, its capacity of intermingling East and West. Intercultural exchanges do not imply only multiculturalism, but also the cultural pluralities of a humanity that remains unique. This aspect is of particular importance with reference to the immigration dynamic that is dramatically characterizing today’s world.
We have learnt that philosophers are functionaries of mankind. They are therefore citizens of a world that belongs to everybody. Each human being is a citizen in every polis of the world, and every polis is a world, i.e. a cosmos.
This image of the “after” (after what is our current situation), which Guido suggested, must correspond to “cosmopolitanism”. This term has a long history; today, it takes the form of a “circulation of differences” (see F. Papi, Voci dal tempo difficile, Como-Pavia: Ibis, 2008, 58).
This is not an easy task. Not just because of the many external obstacles, but also because it implies learning to “live in problematicity” (Patočka, quoted by Neri, Il sensibile la storia l’arte. Scritti 1957-2001, 183).

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