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Cosmopoiesis. The Renaissance Experiment, by Giuseppe Mazzotta; xvi & 106 pp. Toronto Italian Studies/Goggio Publication Series. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2001; $35.00 cloth, $16.95 paper.
There is a sense in which this (most recent) book by Giuseppe Mazzotta might be seen as having been born out of his previous book The New Map of the World: The Poetic Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (Princeton University Press, 2000). For there is something unmistakably Vichian in Mazzotta's "reading" of the Renaissance as it has been revealed in his Cosmopoiesis. As a matter of fact, it is in the "Preface" to his book that Mazzotta explicitly gives a number of reason why Giambattista Vico's philosophy of history could be taken as a valuable and quite promising starting point for a better understanding of "the Renaissance experiment": "The first is that he theorized art as poiesis or making and as the work of the imagination. The second reason is that he lucidly understood the Renaissance as the ambiguous time of both extraordinary achievements and inexorable decadence. The third reason is that Vico obliquely suggests how we can move beyond the limits in our current understanding of the Renaissance" (pp. xv-xvi). Mazzotta is deeply sympathetic with this cluster of Vichian insights, which insights will constitute, so to speak, the primum movens behind his own interpretative approach to the Renaissance world, and he takes as his major task in Cosmopoiesis to creatively develop and boldly expand them.
The book is actually a collection of four ample essays (resulting—largely—from the Goggio Lectures the author delivered at the University of Toronto in the fall of 1999): "Poliziano's Orfeo: The World as Fable"; "Ariosto and Machiavelli: Real Worlds/Imaginary Worlds"; "Adventures of Utopia: Campanella, Bacon, and The Tempest"; and "The Ludic Perspective: Don Quixote and the Italian Renaissance." All of these essays are "variations on the same theme," attempts at putting under a careful scrutiny one of the most fascinating aspects of the European Renaissance: the topic of "the invention of the world and the notion of making through utopias, magic, science, art, and the theatre. These are the imaginative elements that characterize the paradigm shift from the Middle Ages to the modern ages ushered in by the Renaissance" (p. xiii). [End Page 471]
As such, the Renaissance marks, in Mazzotta's view, the spectacular emergence of the myth of world-making (cosmopoiesis), a myth with a tremendously wide success, a myth that was eventually to become one of the very foundations on which our own world is built. When Dr. Faust, in his quite unorthodox work as a translator, was looking for an "appropriate" equivalent of Logos, as it appears in St. John's Gospel, he unreservedly dismissed the Word (das Wort), only to embrace the deed: Am Anfang war die Tat ("In the beginning there was the deed"). Making, in the most general sense of the word (and along with the numerous symbols, representations, and values associated with it), is not for the modern man a cultural trait among others, but it is, so to say, a matter of life and death, a question of self-definition andultimate identity. For making is not only about the world one lives in (world-making), about conferring upon it a new content, or a new meaning, appearance, etc., but—maybe more importantly—making is also about the very identity of the one who lives in that world (self-making), about her or his most intimate constitution. Mazzotta considers that in order for a historian to understand exactly man's position in the world at a given moment in history s/he has to take seriously into account the deeper, sometimes obscure, theological and metaphysical presuppositions hidden behind—and, actually, making possible—the current, immediately visible cultural representations: "The modern world is no longer, as it was in the Middle Ages, a book that pre-exists us and whose signs we seek to decipher in the light of precepts drawn from biblical hermeneutics. The modern world [. . .] is made by human...