Giorgio Buccellati

Philosophy

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Education
Impact on research

Hermeneutics
Phenomenology

Structural analysis
Semiotic analysis
Perceptual analysis

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Photo-anagram 2009
by Svetlana Ivanova


Education

     After a substantial and intensive exposure to the broader historical framework of western philosophy first at the Liceo Classico Gonzaga in Milan (1952-54) and then at the Catholic University also in Milan (with Gustavo Bontadini and Sofia Vanni Rovighi, 1954-58), I spent two years (1958-1960) doing graduate work in two Departments of Philosophy, first at the University of Innsbruck (especially in metaphysics with Emerich Coreth) and then at Fordham University. Here I completed my M.A. under the supervision of Robert Pollock, with a thesis on The Concept of Person in St. Augustine; I also took courses with Dietrich von Hildebrand, during what turned out to be his last year at Fordham, and with Balduin Schwarz, who went on a few years later to the University of Salzburg.
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Impact on research

     Beyond the formal training of my earlier years, my interest in philosophy remained active as an underlying guiding force in my work. To this I attribute in particular my strong interest in theory, which was never for me an epiphenomenon, in the sense of a scaffolding serving as a mere support for a different reality, and even less an intellectual fashion. It has always been, instead, a philosophical necessity. "Philosophical," because it permeated the search for meaning. For, behind the study of specific theories that might be applicable to given cultural areas (for this I refer to the pertinent sections under languages, archaeology and history), there was always the foundational importance of theory as such. Hence the "necessity." A conscious theoretical framework is indeed necessary if we want to keep our bearings straight as we navigate the waters of a universe of data in the constant effort at making sense of it.
     More specific areas of philosophy have been present in my research, even though I have not dealt with them other than indirectly, as a conceptual framework within which to situate my work on the data. The areas that have especially influenced me, and to which I refer briefly below, are hermeneutics and phenomenology.
     In every case, theory translated concretely in method, and methodology was the overriding concern. Thus I will deal here briefly with the three major methodologies that I have applied to the data when seeking to implement those approaches, namely structural, semiotic and perceptual analysis.
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Hermeneutics

     Attribution of meaning has been a central concern of my research throughout.
     On the one hand, I have been aiming to bridge the hermeneutic gulf resulting from the absence of carriers of the ancient culture, those who would have the competence to convey the sense of their culture in answer to our probing questions, as a living speaker would to a linguist. This I have done in the areas of language, literature, archaeology and history.
     On the other hand, I have addressed the other gulf, that between the scholar and the public. Building on the assumption that there exists a shared (if hidden) platform of interest, I seek to elicit the commonality of understanding between the two (the scholar and the layman). This is the maieutic side of hermeneutics. I search then for the tuning fork that allows me to modulate the results of research for the ear of the "visitor," the one who physically comes to my excavations and the one who is an intellectual visitor of my writings. It is especially in the former area that I have developed a rich approach to the concept of "presentation." It is like a transfer of organic, not inorganic, matter, i. e., of something that grows of its own accord, and that is adopted, like a child, not appropriated, like a thing.
     The hermeneutic dimension of such approach was in the insight it gave me into the dynamics of structural methods understood as means to identify live patterns of meaning. Taking a clue from the powerful metaphor of a "secret kinship," I developed a system of analysis that aimed at identifying the explosion of freedom behind the constraints of regularity, life behind method. As with grammar, the effort was all the more productive as it aimed at seeing life in extinctness.
     Thus my theoretical interest in hermeneutics rested in the reflection on the interpretive effort. With regard to communication, it was the effort of seeing it as the attempt at overcoming singularity and alienation, going beyond the immediate transfer of content. Communication is then seen as constitutive of the relation among beings - how does it happen? and how does it happen across the gulf of a broken tradition?
 ↓ref.      ↓full text
1973 "Concerns"
1990 "On Poetry"
1993 "Darkly"
1995 "Ethics"
1996 "Magic"
1999 UCLA Lecture 2000 "Poetry"
2003 "Cimento"
2006 "-emic"
2006 "Mars"
2010 "Perception"
2010 "Semiotics"
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Phenomenology

     I have sought to assess the philosophical basis of Mesopotamian polytheism, seen in terms of the spiritual inspiration that motivated it and served as the basis for religious institutionalization. In so doing, I was naturally drawn to phenomenology of religion as a conceptual tool for going beyond philology and seeking to recognize the role of perception and experience. This evolved in two directions.
     On the one hand, I developed a systematic approach to Mesopotamian spirituality: in this light, we can gain a philosophical view of polytheism, whereby the configuration of the divine world derives from a committed and intelligent effort at fragmenting and thereby controlling the impersonal element of the divine. This I have discussed in 1981, 1995, 1996, 2012 and then especially in the volume "Quando in alto i cieli..."
     In the process, I revisited the monotheistic tradition as encased in the Bible, and focused on the organic and structural contrasts between the two systems, to shed more light on each. This gave me in turn an opportunity to reflect further on the relationship with our modern mindset, especially with regard to the impact that polythesim, seen as a philosophical system of thought, still has on modernity (1995, 2007, 2009, 2012 and in press).
     From this I was further led to develop certain "theological overtures" into Christian thought (1996, 1998, 2003, 2006, in press).
 ↓ref.      ↓full text
1973 "Concerns"
1981 "Wisdom"
1995 "Ethics"
1995 "Christic"
1996 "Magic"
1996 "Vows"
1998 "Ascension"
2003 "Sacramentality"
2006 "Joseph"
2007 "Yahweh" I & II
2009 "Money"
2012 "Coerenza"
in press "Spermatiké"
in press "Quando in alto"
in press "Trinità"
in press "Holiness"
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Structural analysis

     Tò genómenon aeì gégonen hólon.Thus does the Eleatic stranger in Plato's Sophist (245d) (a dialog that centers on the role of binary conceptual subdivision) refer to the importance of the fact that everything that comes to be, comes to be whole.
     And in Phaedrus (277b) Socrates declares himself erastés ...tôn diairéseon kaì sunagogôn, “lover of split fragments and of reassembled wholes.”
     It is this blending of parts into wholeness that defines a structural approach as a method with which to achieve a more thorough understanding of the object of study.
     In practice, distributional analysis has been my guiding rule in linguistic analysis. The major result was my 1995 Grammar, but several other articles paved the way (in particular 1968, 1976, 1988). The goal was to go behind the rules to identify the organic dimension of the linguistic phenomenon, particularly as attested through the fixed medium of writing, without the benefit of living informants. In this respect, the work on digital analysis served the specific purpose of widening to the outer limits the scope of the documentary universe and the range of accessibility to it, in such a way as to offer the best virtual equivalent to the competence of a living speaker.
     Digital analysis rested in every case on a grammatical definition of syntactic and syntagmatic relationships that firmly held together the parts within the whole: categorization of data would always go well beyond the extrinsic function of tagging, and point in each case to the position of the individual element within a complex web of links.
 ↓ref.      ↓full text
1968 Stative
1976 Similes
1981 Principles
1988 Stative
1990 On Poetry
1995 Grammar
2000 Poetry
2003 Cimento
forthc. Theodicy
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Semiotic analysis

     The symbolic dimension of a broken tradition is perhaps the one that is most deeply hidden. We can easily recognize a world of signs, but what was the signified to which they served as pointers? An arguable answer cannot be based on incidental and isolated correlations, it has to be built instead on a structural understanding as complete as possible, one that shows how the filaments hold together. It is the overall connectivity of the parts that will support proposals about the deeper ligaments. A proposed signified will be credible to the extent that it accounts for wide ranging clusters of signs.
     I have applied this approach to two special areas. The first is that of ethnicity (2010), where I have begun to look for cluster of traits that may point to a self-understanding wherein a social group discovers bonds of solidarity that transcend organizational mechanisms (specifically in the case of the Hurrians). The second is in the area of religion (in press), where I have developed the notion of iconicity in Mesopotamian polytheism: the various deities are then seen as pointers ("icons") to a fragmented understanding of an absolute that conditions us beyond our control.
 ↓ref.      ↓full text
2010 "Semiotics"
in press "Quando in alto"
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Perceptual analysis

     Much like symbols, perception, too, is elusive when we seek to identify it within the parameters of a broken tradition. If it is not wholly beyond reach, it is because, as with semiotics, we can argue for a unifying point towards which different strands converge. The apt metaphor is that of the vanishing point in perspective: it is not concretely present in a picture, but it is the unavoidable point of reference for all the lines on a given prospective plane.
     The concept is especially useful with respect to archaeological excavations: here, I have sought to identify the ancient perception of a given built environment, i.e., the way in which different structures, which coexisted in time, formed a unified architectural whole that leant itself to specific points of view. I have argued this point particularly in relationship to the monumental urban complex at Urkesh. This aspect aquires a particular operational function when it conditions strategic choices in teh conduct of the excavation (2010).
     I have also begun to develop this approach with regard to political (2005) and religious (in press) institutions.
 ↓ref.      ↓full text
2005 "Perception"
2010 "Temple Terrace"
in press "Quando in alto"
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This page's image

     Svetlana Ivanova refers to her images as "anagrams" – a suggestive term that implies continuity and transformation at the same time. It is thus in keeping with the linguistic dimension of hermeneutics, as a way of communicating that transcends mere transfer. It is also in keeping with her husband's semiotic research, Vyacheslav Ivanov.
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