Saturday, August 17, 2013

Matter Thinks and Feels

Robert Pogue Harrison:

A profound contradiction, of which he was well aware, informs Leopardi’s philosophy. Although he saw in the will-to-truth the primary cause of the nihilism that he believed was drawing modern civilisation into its vortex, Leopardi fully embraced reason, logic, science and this will-to-truth. He followed the truth wherever it led him, refusing to shy away from its conclusions or to seek refuge in mystifications and self-deceiving consolations.

Leopardi’s open-eyed, disabused thinking led him ultimately to a monistic view of reality. All that exists is matter, he concluded, and whatever the tradition calls mind, soul or spirit is only in effect matter. Yet Leopardi’s concept of matter was so original, heterogeneous and self-expansive as to have little in common with the inert matter of the dualists who believe that mind is one thing, matter another. Late in the Zibaldone he declares that everything points to the conclusion “that matter can think, that matter thinks and feels”. Like many of the other thoughts that make the Zibaldone an ongoing conversation with the future, Leopardi’s inspirited concept of matter is one that calls on us to take it up and give it new life in our own time.

I'd never heard of Leopardi before reading this fascinating review, and while I hate to think of having missed out on something I might have enjoyed, there's also a childlike delight to be had in the continued existence of hidden surprises. How many similar intellectual companions do I have yet to encounter?