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MLN 119.1 Supplement (2004) S47-S55
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Garin, Camporeale, and the Recovery of Renaissance Rhetoric
Johns Hopkins University
My first point is a very simple one; the contemporary Italian historiographical context has shaped a very strong notion of the Italian Renaissance. First, of course, there is the very general investigative moment Vico/Croce/Collingwood, which, by its assumption that "philosophy is historical thinking," forms the deep background of this notion: its peculiarity is that it uses the genre of autobiography to announce its program; it uses life experience as the space for the evaluation of its research initiative. And, just so, Camporeale's mentor, Eugenio Garin, entitles his memoir "Philosophy as Historical Thinking"; here he invokes his Italian masters, Crocean and Marxist, Gentile and Spaventa, and others, as well as German exemplars—Dilthey, Weber, Troeltsch—all engage phenomenological accounts of life experience as the domain of historical insight. 1 This memoir relates Garin's essential shift in problematic: having begun his graduate study with 18th century English philosophy, Garin takes up Descartes' Passions de l'âme, an "extraordinary" text, that motivates him to search for the thought behind it, and then to focus on 15th and 16th century Italian moments. In 1947, Ernesto Grassi, a student of Heidegger, raised the historiographical stakes by his double commission—of Heidegger's Letter on Humanism—a version of a letter to Beaufret, which was a reply to Sartrean existentialism—and [End Page S47] Garin's Italian Humanism. Here is in nuce, the Italian program: in contrast to Heidegger's exclusive Hellenism, and his indictment of the Italian Renaissance as a rebirth of a derivative Romanitas, we find Italian inclusivism: a strong interest in the recovery of Hellenistic and late Antique thought, and an interest in what Rorty calls a John Deweyan program—a history of philosophy, not as an internalist account of philosophy as a group of disciplines—logic, metaphysics, epistemology—, but as response to a broad range of cultural events: in short, an externalist account of Italian Humanism as inclusive, responsively innovatory, influential. 2
And just so, in Garin's student, Camporeale, we find an externalist account, a grasp of intellectual history as inclusive of more than the history of philosophy, indeed, as narrative of responses to cultural events, a focus on the pragmatic, on the effect of ideas, in particular on rhetorical, discursive effects; it becomes an interest, in short, not simply in the nature of response to crisis, but how the response was delivered; it becomes, therefore, an interest in Renaissance Humanists as "public intellectuals". The generosity of Garin's concept becomes a program of the development of a double sense of rhetoric as not simply a range of techniques, strategies of delivery, but as a hermeneutic, a research mode focussing on pragmatic effect that shapes the premises and values of Humanist intellectualism.
Here, of course, Lorenzo Valla is Camporeale's archetypical rhetorician as public intellectual, and, the perfect exemplar for Camporeale of the double presence of rhetoric as inquiry mode and public intervention is the Oratio de falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione; when Camporeale cites Valla's claim about it—"Nihil magis oratorium scripsi", he asserts Valla's self-consciousness about the importance of this public text that explicates a public text that changed the shape of Christian political and ecclesiological programs in the fourth century. 3 Valla, he argues, pursues a peculiar circular argument: he first confronts the "real" late antique context with the "false" text; he uses rhetorical analysis of the surrounding literary domain to document the morphological and semantic anachronism in the DC, proving it false. Second, he confronts the "false" text, which exhibits none of [End Page S48] the Latinitas of its supposed period, with the now real, but falsely Christian context of the more radical inauthenticity (223-4, 232) of the medieval "Constantinian" church, a church that betrays the early evangelical church of the New Testament, a community of Christian liberty, with its caesarism, imperialism; it is a church defended in the Middle Ages by both canonists and scholastics alike...