The Nature that Comes, or the Return of Pan

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The Nature that Comes, or the Return of Pan

Lecture and Seminar Series, May-June 2020

Studium Generale, Universität der Künste Berlin


(Addendum April 2020:

The ‘pre-pandemic’ planning of my seminar included as its last topic the figurative analysis of an enigmatic Renaissance painting, a painting that only persists as a ghostly presence today: Luca Signorelli’s fascinating The School of Pan (c. 1490), which was lost in a fire in Berlin precisely 75 years ago, in May 1945.

Strangely, under the conditions that our lecture series will take place, this proposal acquires a highly symbolic value. Beyond the ancient folk-etymological equation of Pan’s name [Πάν] with the Greek word for ‘all’ [πᾶς, παντός] – a root we meet in many common words, such as pandemic, this work has a deeper connection to what we experience today. Pan, the Great God of Nature – nature itself, impels us to reflect on our present condition beyond its ordinary measure. We have to imagine new concepts of nature in order to face nature anew: not only as the universal object of thought, but also as subject of ‘our’ thought: not as what we think, not even as what makes us think, but also as what is thinking us.

We need to reopen the School of Pan).

Our starting questions: Is there freedom in nature? Is freedom the origin of nature? Or is it its future?

The experimental task of the lecture and seminar series is to test the hypothesis that the philosophy of nature, in order to catch up with the frenetic rhythm of science and nature itself, requires a turn towards the fantastic. In order to face up to the future of nature, philosophy must venture on a fantastic journey and become a philosophy of the fantastic, and even more: a philosophical fantastic. The oblivion of art is as much pernicious to the philosophy of nature, as the lack of sensibility to nature is fatal to the philosophy of art.

The four sections of the lecture and seminar series will correspond to its four conceptual phases.

In the first phase, I will make an overview of the concept of nature, from its origins in Greek philosophy until Modern times, laying special emphasis on the Aristotelean notion of poiesis (creation, material production, fabrication), through which I will establish the connection to the philosophy of art. I will focus on several Renaissance ideas of the poietic nature in Cusanus, Ficino, Bruno, but also in Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci, showing that Renaissance ideas of art are deeply rooted in this concept.

The second phase will be dealing with the emergence of the modern scientific notion of nature and the gradual marginalisation of the concept of poiesis, being replaced by the new ideas of universal natural laws from Bacon, Boyle and Newton to Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. I will tackle the internal ambiguity of the modern scientific paradigm, revealing within it the persistence of quasi-magic and poetic ideas (from the alchemical writings of Newton to the Helmontian or even Kabbalistic origin of the Leibnizian concept of the monad).    

In the third block, I will focus on David Hume’s and Immanuel Kant’s crucial contribution to the philosophical universalisation of the idea of nature, as well as on the antinomic instrumentalisation of their respective positions in the contemporary debate on nature. While major trends of contemporary philosophy and anthropology proudly assume an anti-Kantian turn, I embrace a ‘super-Kantian’ position. We need to move beyond the critical Kantian opposition between nature and freedom, and imagine freedom as immanence of nature itself. If we must persist alongside Kant beyond Kant, we must then persist alongside the fundamental question of critical philosophy, the question of philosophy itself: the question of freedom.

The planned fourth section, dealing with Luca Signorelli’s School of Pan (the painting’s title is uncertain), will provide common horizon and experimental frame for the lecture series, as well as focal point for their conclusion.