In an interview he gave in 1967, the Czech phenomenologist Jan Patočka talked of the most promising philosophical trends that, according to him, were emerging in those years. On the one hand, in France, Maurice Merleau-Ponty had the merit of developing a thought which rejected any abstract understanding of subjectivity, and focused instead on corporeality and on the embodied subject. On the other hand, in Italy, Antonio Banfi and Enzo Paci were following a similar path by emphasizing mostly the historical character of contemporary Man, i.e. the importance of the context in which thoughts and personalities emerge, and the impact that human beings, in their capacity as active protagonists of the historical process, are capable of leaving.
Patočka’s brief remark implies the importance of Banfi and Paci to contemporary thought. These two thinkers had indeed the merit of acknowledging and reinterpreting some of the 20th Century’s most remarkable philosophical currents: most notably, Simmel’s vitalism, Popper’s rationalism, Husserl’s phenomenology, existential philosophy (e.g., with the Kierkegaard renaissance which Banfi initiated in the mid-1920s), Dewey’s pragmatism, and Marxist thought. In so doing, they managed to reignite philosophical debate in Italy during the harsh years of fascism as well as in its aftermath. The difficulty of situating these thinkers within the categories that usually characterize contemporary Italian philosophy (i.e. Neo-idealism, Historicism, Christian Thought) brings us to acknowledge the existence of a specific “Milan School” of philosophy. This school emerged in the early 20th Century, further developed throughout the following decades, overcoming even the year 1945 (which normally marks a fundamental divide in the Italian philosophical tradition), and eventually flourishing after the Second World War.
The primary aim of the present research project and blog will consist to clarify the characteristics of the Milan School line of thought, and particularly the “critical and problematic method” (in Banfi’s words) for which its representatives opted. Despite these attempts at clarification, the definition “Scuola di Milano” or Milan School must necessarily remain open, and has to be understood in a rather dynamic way, insofar as it emerged not on the initiative of its members, but only as an a posteriori definition by those scholars who inherited this tradition of thought. These interpreters (we need only mention, among others, Fulvio Papi, Gabriele Scaramuzza, Amedeo Vigorelli) emphasized how the most distinctive trait of the Milan School was the attempt to find a balance between the vitality of experience and the rationality of thinking – in particular in light of the importance that both these elements receive in the Italian and European cultural context. Because of the difficulty in univocally defining our field of research, we have decided to investigate the Milan School and its philosophers by taking a clearly delimited approach and opting for a number of easily identifiable topics. In this sense – and in line with the project of the Open Commons of Phenomenology with which this blog is linked – we think that phenomenology constitutes a privileged (even though not exclusive) gateway to the reflections of these authors.
In reason of this choice and in light of their work as mediators of Husserl’s thought in Italy, we have thus decided to focus our project essentially on Antonio Banfi and Enzo Paci, taking into account the differences and peculiarities between the two, which motivate the originality of their approaches to this theme. The personal relationship between Banfi and Husserl, Banfi’s attempt to introduce in Italy Husserl’s early works (from the Philosophy as a Rigorous Science to the first volume of the Ideas for a Pure Phenomenoloy and for a Phenomenological Philosophy), as well as Paci’s reinterpretation of some cornerstones of the phenomenological discourse (such as the idea of Lebenswelt, through an original reading of the Crisis of European Sciences) – all these are aspects that we intend to carefully analyze. Moreover, we consider of decisive importance the influence that these Italian reinterpretations of phenomenology had in the various social and cultural fields in which many of Banfi’s and Paci’s students happened to operate: for example, the poetry of Vittorio Sereni and Antonia Pozzi, and the various editorial initiatives that Banfi and his followers fostered in the post-war period, in collaboration with several Milanese publishers.
Besides the theme of phenomenology, another aspect emerges in the reflection of these philosophers, which we consider as particularly important for defining the originality of their thought. We refer to the civil commitment which went along with their philosophical research. Banfi’s stance against fascism – even though with some ambiguities that we will aim to explore – highlights a sort of political direction of the Milan School. The decision by many other members of the Milan School to embrace socialism and communism flowed from this political stance. Indeed, both Banfi and Paci showed, in different times and in various fashions, a keen interest in the socialist project, which was shared by other fellow scholars and students, like Giulio Preti and Remo Cantoni.
This political commitment, which despite many difficulties developed during the years of the post-war reconstruction, combined with an active interest in the Italian and European cultural debate, which resulted in several initiatives that the Milanese philosophers inspired and encouraged. Two of these, which are bound respectively to Banfi’s and Paci’s work, are worth recalling. Firstly, the constitution, on 16th March 1946, of the Casa della Cultura (House of Culture), which Banfi fostered, in collaboration with a large group of antifascist intellectuals (among the others, Elio Vittorini, Alberto Mondadori, Giulio Einaudi), and which Banfi’s students contributed to animate from then on.
Secondly, the creation in 1951, on the initiative of Paci, other friends and intellectuals, of the journal aut aut, whose phenomenological core has always gone hand in hand with a keen interest in social, political, and literary themes.
We think therefore that whilst phenomenology represents, on one hand, the thread which links the philosophical reflections of these thinkers, their public and political commitment constitutes a tight historical bond between them on the other hand. This public commitment demonstrates however the necessity of widening our investigation beyond the thought of Banfi or Paci, in order to better understand the historical and cultural context in which they operated. Although we aim to keep these two philosophers at the core of our project, we intend thus to proceed by drawing ever-widening concentric circles, including in our analysis the forerunners of this philosophical school, as well as its latter representatives. The figure of Giulio Preti represents, in this sense, a fundamental addition, insofar as he was a key interlocutor of both his master Banfi and his fellow student Paci. However, it should be also recalled how, even though both master and students shared a keen interest in phenomenology, they ended up developing very different points of view. Whilst Paci, in fact, interpreted Husserl’s philosophy from an existentialist perspective, Preti did it instead from a logical one, with the aim of validating and verifying science’s cognitive value. The many interactions and discussions between these authors, which especially originated in the aftermath of the Second World War, constitute a significant milestone in the development of the Milan School, and as such they will be properly thematized in this blog.
Another thinker that we cannot ignore in this reconstruction is Piero Martinetti, who was Banfi’s master and a forerunner of the Scuola di Milano. Even though Martinetti preceded the reception of phenomenology in the Italian philosophical context, he can be considered as an important precursor of the Milanese phenomenological school, because of the European dimension of his thinking – in an epoch in which the Italian philosophical debate was narrowed to rather insormountable ideological and nationalist stances – as well as for the ethical and political commitment which he maintained throughout his whole life. Martinetti’s influence on the later development of the Scuola di Milano will therefore be one of the topics which we aim to investigate.
Moving in the opposite direction, leaning namely towards the most recent outcomes of the Scuola di Milano, we also believe that a major importance must be attributed to the figure of Guido Davide Neri, who was a student of both Banfi and Paci and a careful reader of their works. In Neri’s thought, which constitutes one of the most original reintepretations of the philosophy of his masters, we see how the above-mentioned cornerstones of the Milan school clearly resurface: on one hand, the attempt to understand phenomenological philosophy not as a simple methodology, but rather as an immersion into those phenomena which dramatically mark today’s world; on the other hand, the resulting interest in the meaning and outcomes of twentieth-century most remarkable historical and political events: from Marxism and its aporetical realization, to the political dissidence in Central and Eastern Europe, to the idea and project of Europe, its construction and its possible future.
The goal of this blog consists in spreading the knowledge of and nurturing researches on all the thinkers we have mentioned. In order to facilitate as much as possible the access to the blog’s contents, we intend to publish texts and comments in both Italian and English. The blog will be made of two fundamental parts, one static and one dynamic. On one hand, the bio-bibliographical profiles of Martinetti, Banfi, Paci, Preti, and Neri will provide fundamental information to anyone who approaches for the first time these authors and their works. All the bibliographical information will be regularly uploaded and will be linked to the repository of the Open Commons of Phenomenology. On the other hand, users will see thematic posts published on regular basis. These will consist of original documents related to the above-mentioned authors, with comments and interpretations by the blog’s editors.
All the material is published in Creative Commons 4.0. Its distribution is free and very welcome. The community that we aim to create by means of this project is open. Everybody interested in participating, be it by writing new posts or comments, or by simply giving us their feedback, is highly encouraged to get in touch with us!