I couldn’t resist. After all, it was my first time ever. And it is so close to here. Notwithstanding the bad weather and the pandemic, guided by two brave historians of philosophy (Jenny Pelletier and Nicolas Zeks), I have finally (yet shortly) visited Brussels! Further explorations are needed in the (hopefully near) future.
During this horrible pandemic, getting onto a train for a 29km ride to Brussels seemed like a real trip! Especially thinking that this year, for the first time in 36 years, I won’t be able to spend Christmas with my family in Tuscany.
At least, 2020 will be over in a few weeks.
This makes me think back to last December, when Alexander, Pedro, and I were writing the introduction to the new issue of Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval. And I – foreseeing a bright and sweet new year – suggested to joyfully wish “a special 2020 to everyone!”
As I have recently said to Alexander and Pedro, this year I won’t write a single word of the introduction to the December 2020 issue of Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval!!
Finally, 2020 is almost finished. It felt like a decade. Just thinking that January, when I was moving to Oxford for my research stay, was only eleven months ago, well, it just doesn’t seem right. In the months following the beginning of the pandemic many things have happened. Many more were supposed to happen (from the second Berlin workshop on matter to my trip to Asia), but they didn’t. And between the first lockdown and lockdown 2.0, I didn’t feel like it was the right time to give any updates. Needless to say, now I have to give many news at once – lots of good news, actually. I will do my best to be as concise as possible.
Alexander von Humboldt
Sometimes, one has to take life with a bit of Aristotle and admit that “totum et completum est quod habet principium et finem”. Started two years ago, my experience as Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow is complete and the fellowship over. In my life, I have never felt like this before. The Berlin years have given me so much in terms of research, creativity, friendship, and much more. Thinking of how my approach was when I moved there from Durham and how it is now, well, the comparison is impressive, at least to me. I will be forever grateful to Dominik Perler for his gorgeous guidance and remarkable patience during these past two years. And I will keep with me for the rest of my life a sweet and thankful memory of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
It is true what they say, that “once a Humboldtian, always a Humboldtian” – the Associazione Italiana Alexander von Humboldt will be my new home now. The spirit and example of Alexander von Humboldt will continue to inspire me and so many others in the world. Yet, something will be missed. It is the unparalleled sense of belonging to something truthfully unique and good in the widest meaning of this term. It is the memory of days spent between Bonn and Berlin with my Humboldtian friends, plans to explore Germany that never were concretised, chats with professors, researchers, and MPs while sharing some canapés in beautiful building in Mitte. Proudly and gratefully, I will keep these sweet memories with me for the rest of my life and taste them every now and then to counter the usual bitterness of academia.
A new adventure has started. I have left Berlin and moved to Leuven, where I am FWO Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy of KU Leuven. Amazing, isn’t it? And in fact I am excited, delighted, and still struggling to believe that I am really here (also because the pandemic is having me working from home). Lots of new ideas and plans are currently been shaped – you will see. New promising collaborations shall be mingled with old ones into a boiling cauldron the likes of which have never been seen since Hermann of Carinthia’s. Above all, I am thrilled at the opportunity to work with scholars like Russell Friedman, Andrea Robiglio, Pieter d’Hoine, and Jan Opsomer – the best of the best!
The new project, The Shadow Within Nature: Epistemology and Ontology of Prime Matter in the Late Middle Ages (1250-1430), follows the outcomes of my Berlin project but with a different perspective. Ontology comes back at the centre of the stage. And with it, the trickiest of all hylomorphic problems: how can hylomorphism be applied to the study of nature and explain a plurality of natural phenomena and theoretical assumptions that seem to contradict it? Moving within the coordinates set by Pasnau and Maier – but sometimes daring to break them – I will try to disentangle matter from matter and element from element of this long history of ontological controversies.
The last big piece of information of this Autumn is very good news, too. Working in academia is often weird, especially during this pandemic. You do your research, write your articles, give your talks on Zoom. But you are so very often alone – even when you are not. I guess another specificity of non-tenured scholars is to wonder whether other scholars truly appreciate your work beside the good feedbacks one receives. This is why it has been unusually delightful for me to have been habilitated for associate professorship in history of philosophy by the Italian Ministry of Education! Terrific news, I know, and it means so much to me. Most importantly, I now feel like I do belong. Many will think that such formalities are not important, that it is the work we do that define us both as people and academics. And that being habilitated doesn’t give you a tenure. Both points are true, but they do not have any impact on the unique moment of being finally habilitated. It is a matter of recognition and acknowledgement, something of which I am deeply grateful and honoured.
I said above that I had two pieces of information. And I do. I have also been certified as assistant professor of philosophy by the Spanish Ministry of Education! Such a fantastic news, I am proud and flattered. Another demonstration that sacrifice and work are never in vain. I look forward to collaborating even more with my Iberian colleagues in the near future. And duly celebrate with them this good news and the others!
There would be much more to say: more news, ideas, and updates. There will be time for that, as I will try to update this section more often.
Everything is proceeding very well in Oxford. Lot of work to do, lots of things to see (mostly manuscripts and people), lot of ancient dust, and many diverse perceptual experiences (not necessarily pleasant). With some aesthetic addition, sometimes…
The Winter Semester 2019 has just started. And with it, a fresh new reading group, this time dedicated to exploring Nicholas of Autrecourt’s Universal Treatise (more here). Also the Medieval Gatherings have started again with Elena Baltuta’s talk on Kilwardby’s intentionality of pain (you can watch the video here). The semester couldn’t have started in a better way!
Terrific artistic time with Rosie Reed Gold at Tate Modern! Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition has been the most beautiful, captivating, metaphysical exhibit I have ever seen in my life. It is just unique!
My immense gratitude to Rosie for this splendid experience and her unparalleled artistic guidance! A lot of inspiration for new explorations of precarious ontologies with Rosie and the Extensions Project Group (https://extensionsofreality.com/) – more soon!
This Autumn could not have started in a better way! I have invited to give a lecture at the Center for the History of Philosophy and Science of Radboud University in Nijmegen. And from there, I have flown to Oxford (well, London and then train to Oxford) for a fantastic conference on the Summa Halensis organised by the marvellous and unique Lydia Schumacher.
A multiplicity of perspectives on a very special subject – medieval Toledo. The former capital of the Visigoths. One of the most prominent cities in al-Andalus and one of the most relevant reinos de taifa. For centuries, the most important town in Castile.
Organised by Yasmine Beale-Rivaya (Texas State University) and María José Lop Otín (Universidad de Castilla La Mancha), the conference “The Multi-Cultural Borderlands of Medieval Toledo” has been a unique occasion to discuss many aspects related to the uniqueness of medieval Toledo and its borderlands. Borders – political, cultural, and religious borders – that are superseded and rediscovered within a town that was perilous and illuminated, shelter and prison, heavenly and infernal at the same time.
Amazing conference in Pisa. It was the Spring conference of the AAIWG—but bigger, juicer, and more impressive, if that’s possible. For four days, we have explored the intricacies of the philosophical tradition in its intertwining of languages and problems, shifts and ideas.
So many inputs in such a short time—something unique. I have reencountered many old friends (some for the first time in person after years of emails and Skype-calls) and made many more. New ideas have arisen and I will scrupulously nurture them. And new collaborations have started or are about to start—and you will see their outcomes hopefully soon.
For now, some photos of smart people (and I) having fun in different ways.
A impressively fantastic conference on Aristotle’s Physics in the Middle Ages, with superb scholars (and I). I really had some great fun and amazing time in Rome! Looking forward to meeting again Irene, Anna, and “the Cecilias” very soon — maybe in Berlin?
I have been invited to give a talk to an intriguing conference in a most beautiful place: Corfu, Greece. This has given me the special opportunity to get in touch with Greek colleagues and be enriched by their perspectives on ancient and medieval science and one feature in particular: how rhetoric impacted on the scientific discourse. The organisers, Kostas Stefou and Athanasios Efstathiou, have been the perfect hosts. I have indulged in the many culinary, artistic, and historical pleasures of this unique island. And something more…
Indeed, if you have to go to Greece, well, why not staying a bit longer and go looking for Aristotle? That’s what I thought. So, I flew from Berlin to Thessaloniki and went to Stagira. Then, having to go to Corfu from Thessaloniki, the Meteora were so close that it would have been a pity not to visit them. In the end, it has been a splendid Aristotelian trip that I shall never forget!
I have been invited to give a lecture on medieval theories of prime matter at Durham University. It has been so good to go back to the North East for this fantastic occasion to discuss many intricate points of premodern epistemology of matter! And see again my friends and the many beauties of the best region of England (sorry, London and the South, but that’s absolutely true).
The reading group on Calcidius and Ibn Gabirol is coming to an end—our last meeting is going to be on Feb 15th. We had some great fun trying to understand many intricate doctrinal points on ontology and cosmology. It has been wild. But also incredibly pleasurable. My most sincere gratitude goes to all the brave participants, each one of whom has added very valuable insights and interpretative perspectives.
Here’s a photo from the last session of the reading group.
Looking forward to seeing you all next semester, with a new reading group on an equally peculiar medieval thinker: Roger Bacon.
My friend Rosie Reed Gold visited me this weekend. It has been a special visit. Rosie is a fantastic artist based in London (you can find here some of her impressive creations and here some of the amazing photos she takes). We met in Oxford last year and since the very beginning we knew that there was something fast growing from our conversations on philosophy, art, and medieval science. A strange idea. A collaboration was looming. And it is a very special collaboration, I would say.
I just came back from the very first event organised by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation I participated in. Three days of meetings, discussions, brain-storming, and good time shared with so many colleagues from all over the world, all together in Bonn. That was fantastic! It just feels so good to be part of a network so huge and diverse, made of so many brilliant minds and sponsored by such a generous institution. Can’t wait to attend the next one!
Marvellous (and sunny) Dublin! It is my first time here and it looks amazing! As always, I feel very excited for the Ordered Universe Symposium – another full immersion on Grosseteste’s science and its philosophical foundation. Lots of fun, as usual!
After two years, it’s time for me to leave lovely Durham and move to the big city, Berlin. This is going to change so many things. I feel proud and honoured to become a Humboldtian and am so grateful for this opportunity. I have just started my German course at the Goethe Institute and, so far, it’s quite weird to be back to the other side of the desk. Can’t wait for the proper thing (i.e., my new job) to start in a few weeks. But I am also having much fun with my fellow Humboldtians at school – all together in this linguistic and cultural adventure. Wish me good luck, or better, viel Glück!
Il primo di giugno abbiamo presentato presso la SISMEL di Firenze il volume Vedere nell’ombra. Studi su natura, spiritualità e scienze operative offerti a Michela Pereira. Dopo mesi di pianificazione, siamo riusciti a mantenere il ‘segreto’ e fare una bella sorpresa a Michela, che non si aspettava nulla. Una festa con amici e colleghi e un gran momento per ritrovarsi insieme e festeggiare una persona che ha dato così tanto a tutti noi.
A seguire, alcuni scatti presi durante il pomeriggio fiorentino.
Montreal was fantastic. However, the spectre of Kalamazoo was looming. Kalamazoo was not a problem, it was the 14-hour-long drive from Montreal! A group of seven people from Durham (well, actually six, as there still was the lovely intruder from Oxford, but it was like as she was from Durham) locked into a car, even if a good one, for such a long time and without smoking? It’s not a joke: it happened! And I can proudly say that I survived it! Maybe, for the sake of this blog, I should say that it was a great fun and we had an amazing time while we were trapped in there. It would be a lie: it was so boring, notwithstanding many attempts at having fun. We made it to Kalamazoo, though, and that’s what’s important.
One of the best things of this line of work is the oneiric dimension of travel. It is not the travel in itself to be oneiric—even though, when one travels to the US or Canada, there’s always a sleepy state that goes on for days: nothing poetic, though, just jet-lag. The oneiric dimension happens when you fly away to attend a conference or a meeting and, suddenly, you are in a completely different academic environment. There, for just a few days, you can dream of living a different life working at a different university. From this point of view, America is unparalleled and the Ordered Universe project a sort of “Traumfabrik”! It was the OU that marked May 2018 with a long trip to Montreal and Kalamazoo, and a Chicago-ending.
I’ve just come back from a brilliant workshop in Pamplona! After months collaborating together on our project , the members of the research group ‘Hermenéutica patrística y medieval (LOGOS)’ (based at the Instituto de Estudios Medievales of the University of Navarra) finally met! What can I say? It’s been a marvellous day of study led by María Jesús Soto-Bruna: so many interesting talks, new tempting ideas, projects, collaborations… Just brilliant! So many good people there, can’t wait to the next meeting (and go back to Pamplona, hopefully!).
Another research trip to America. Such a long trip (more than three weeks!) would require, perhaps, a long and detailed report. Luckily for you, though, I really don’t have time to do so, and I’ll limit myself to some quick notes on a superb dissemination-and-research trip.
First destination: Boston. My very good friend, Katja Krause, had organised an outstanding workshop at Harvard on a fascinating theme: science and religion. It was my first time in Massachusetts, and it has been such a splendid experience. Boston is incredibly European: so much history, everything is clean-and-polished, public transportation is perfect, no Walmart on sight (with my profound disappointment). It was like not being in America at all! The workshop went marvellously well (and how could have not been so, with such a brilliant host, Katja): different perspectives and approaches (theology, history of science, philosophy) on a delicate matter such as the relation between religion and scientific knowledge from the Late Antiquity to the Early Modernity. From Byzantine alchemy to Galileo’s astronomical observations, passing through the Arabic and Latin traditions, the workshop has been incredibly interesting, opening new lines (and collaborations) to be carefully explored.
The conference Translating Experience: Medieval Encounters with Nature, Self, and God that Katja Krause and I have organised went perfectly well. You can see both programme and videos here. In this post, I limit myself to including some photos of the two splendid days we have spent in Durham with so many brilliant minds, discussing of medieval philosophy and science.
Also the Facebook streaming went very well and allowed a lot of people to participate from all over the world, asking questions and interacting with the convenors in a stimulating way. This is the future – an equitable, more open and accessible future for academia!
My first time at Georgetown University has been quite remarkable – what a fantastic campus! I have attended a conference organised by Neil Lewis: “Aspectus and Affectus: Robert Grosseteste, Understanding and Feeling.” The conference has been amazing. And DC was as charming as always… definitely, one of my favorite cities in the US, with Chicago. And I have been honoured to guide Cecilia through monuments, museums, and cherry trees!
Finally, the ‘Gundissalinus World Tour’ comes to an end. After the awesome days in Milwaukee, I flew to DC, where I enjoyed the wonderful weather and the restored Capitol dome (amazing!) for a couple of days, working on the next meetings. Then, a 10h30-long train trip to Columbia, SC: in a dream-like atmosphere, I drifted along brown-and-yellow woods, tiny lakes, small towns, chatting with nameless people for just the time of a coffee while the train passes the border between Virginia and North Carolina.
The first ten days in the US have passed: two lectures and many precious moments of enrichment, reflection, discussion and (often quite underestimated) fun. It all began in a very bad way: the journey Durham – South Bend lasted 45 (you’re not misreading: forty-five) hours, a time during which I had the occasion to cultivate a crucial and painful virtue: patience (a vast amount of it). But once the plane did land in Chicago, and I entered the train to South Bend, all the stress and the fatigue of the long trip suddenly disappeared.
I just moved to Durham, United Kingdom for my Junior Research Fellowship! The timing could not be worse (i.e., Brexit), but I am so excited! And my first impression of this tiny medieval town could not be more outstanding!
I am sure the next two years are going to be fascinating! More soon, as I explore the area and start my new job here…
The semester is over and it is time for me to go back to Europe. This months in Notre Dame has given me so much in terms of both personal and scientific growth. I will keep Notre Dame forever in my heart as a most special place, with gratitude and warmth. I shall miss my friends (my human friends, too, but I will miss my squirrel companions of smokes very much indeed). I shall miss the library, its books and fantastic staff. I shall miss the weird food, the incredibly warm Midwestern people, the big cars, the long walks, and much more. But I am also happy to head back to Europe after so long. And finally get my PhD!
Here’s a short visual recap of the past couple of months spent in Notre Dame and its surroundings.
During my stay, I fell in love. And I fell in love with Chicago. Its streets, its buildings, its people, its food. The rapturing feeling while walking throughout the Loop and the smell of the lake. I decided to share some photos taken throughout winter and spring, storms and sunshine, and always too much wind.
Let me also quote Carl Sandburg (I know, it’s a bit snobbish to quote some poetry, but it’s worth it):
“Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth, Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs, Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle, Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people, Laughing!”
Laughing I explored Chicago, looking for its hidden essence. After a while I realised that its essence was not hidden, but right there in front of me, in its people and its streets, waiting to be appreciated in its exceeding wholeness.
A few weeks have passed since I moved to Notre Dame. I have seen things that I have struggled to believe were possible: odd temperature (-25 C!!), weird food (grapples!), fantastic animals (squirrels, squirrels, and also squirrels), and so on. I have met splendid people and made many new friends. I have spent hours in the most beautiful and richest library I have ever seen in my life. And I am happy. Some pictures may speak better than words. More updates soon.