MAPPING THE JOURNEY
Academia is something complex. We often focus only on the material (books) and immaterial (philosophy) aspects of its professional part (research and teaching). Yet academia is also made of places, people, laughs, smells, desperation, and joy. This section of Potestas Essendi is dedicated to the latter set. Academia led me to beautiful places, fascinating people, bizarre experiences, and many good friends. Instead of keeping all this out of the spotlight (like if it were either a distraction or a mere accident), I decided to preserve the memories of all wild days of academia well aware that any one of them, in direct or obliquitous way, has uniquely contributed to my journey and to making me a better scholar and a better person. My gratitude to all friends and colleagues who, without knowing it, appear in this section.
I have spent a week in Cordoba to visit Pedro and Lourdes and teach my course for the MA in Religious Pluralism (a splendid programme: more info here). Cordoba is always a source of great joy: the people, the places, the food… everything is exceptional there! The last time I was in Spain was before the pandemic and I have to admit I was not aware of how much I was missing that country until I came back. After many years working far from the warm South, I suddenly realised how I miss the sight of olive trees and vineyards and how I long for sunny days and casual chats with strangers. Pedro and I also had an interview in a real recording studio (what a memorable experience!) and I have had the opportunity to discover a new part of Cordoba that I did not know. A sweet trip to Andalusia: exactly what I needed in this long and dark Autumn.
The SIEPM congress in Paris has been a huge success: sincerely, the best congress I have attended, ever! Perhaps, it was the town, Paris, which is always enchanting. Or maybe it was the opportunity to see so many friends and colleagues after the challenging years of the pandemic. Or it might have been the superb organisation of the congress let by Monica Brinzei. Anyway, I had not have so much fun (and intellectual stimulation) in years. The hylomorphism panels went tremendously well and the RBRS panels were incredible. As usual, I am adding a few photos from Paris, mostly of people – with these kinds of meetings, people are always the best part!
SPRING IN LEUVEN
With the pandemic finally fading away (let’s hope so), the academic migration for conferences and meetings is possible again! Thanks to it, I have been able to see many friends that I last saw before the tragic events of 2020. A few shots from a sweet spring in Leuven, looking forward to a normalisation of things, at least in the academy. And yes, I have grown a moustache!
Frozen trip to Sweden: I have been invited by Jenny Pelletier to give a paper at the Medieval Philosophy Seminar in Gothenburg. What a rewarding experience: Christina, Jenny, and the students were fantastic. And I had a lot of fun at dinner with the students, finding out about weird Swedish stuff.
After Gothenburg, I went to Stockholm to meet with Sylvain Roudaut and talk about the organisation of our conference on hylomorphism and corpuscularism in April. What a beautiful town! Yet meeting Sylvain in person after months of Zoom meetings has been the most remarkable experience. Will the pandemic ever end? It is weird how little things that once were so common and even banal, like meeting a friend abroad, have now become unique experiences to cherish and treasure.
BACK TO BERLIN
After a long year of semi-lockdown in Leuven, I have made it back to Berlin. Mattia and I had to work on the final manuscript of our volume, which Routledge is dearly expecting. A few days of intense work with remarkable results: the volume is going to be amazing!
I have had some time to meet with friends, too. And appreciate how Berlin has changed during this past year, yet it has not changed at all. Something has surely changed: the Humboldt Forum is now open, new U-Bahn stations are open as well (noticeably, “Unter den Linden”), the new airport is open, and a Bud Spencer Museum has appeared in Unter den Linden.
Yet beyond the surface, Berlin is still the one I left last year. Its relaxed avenues, its daringly open-minded approach, the constant renovations of streets and buildings (not Invalidenstrasse 110: not yet) are all still here, untouched, Berlin’s spirit being affected but not spoiled by the pandemic. And living in Leuven, that’s what I miss of this unique city – yet only sometimes (and definitely not the constant renovations!).
After so many socially distanced months, we all hope that 2021 will bring something different (and better) than this tormented 2020. Quite in line with the hopes of a brighter (or at least more social) future, there is some news I shall give here.
Christophe Geudens and I have started planning something new and very promising for 2021: the MeLO Seminar! The acronym stands for “Medieval Logic and Ontology” Seminar. The plan is to bring together people from all over the world to discuss papers, ideas, and new interpretations of medieval theories from these two disciplines.
Thanks to the enthusiastic replies from many friends and colleagues, the programme looks amazing (you can read it here). We are going to meet fortnightly – lots of fun ahead! If you want to participate, just drop us a line.
It is our hope that the MeLO Seminar will help to soften the loneliness of the next few months, which are going to be quite demanding, as we wait for this pandemic to end.
29 KM AWAY
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!!
LOADS OF GOOD NEWS!
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.
Finally, the first copy of my book has arrived!
BERLIN MATTER CONFERENCE
It has been exhausting, but so rewarding! The first Prime Matter Workshop has been an incredible success. Splendid talks, awesome speakers, brilliant discussions, and a lot of people attending.
Below, some photos taken throughout the day.
Can’t wait for the second Prime Matter Workshop, on 14 May 2020!
EXTENSIONS PROJECT RESEARCH MEETING
Rosie, Tom, and I had a splendid research meeting today in Oxford. A great deal of new ideas and planning for the next months. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, you will see…
INDULGENCE, SELF-INDULGENCE, AND DUTY
DIRTY, STINKY, OLD MANUSCRIPTS
I will be based in Oxford for some time, visiting the Faculty of Philosophy and working with Cecilia Trifogli on theories of matter in the thirteenth century. This is going to be such a great time!!
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!
HSS 2019 UTRECHT
2019 AVH MEETING
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.
A unique conference for a unique subject, fascinating and intriguing. More info at https://www.worldlang.txstate.edu/toledo/
As always, some photos of the conference and its awesome venue.
AAIWG IN PISA
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.
LOOKING FOR GROSSETESTE
PHYSICS IN ROME
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?
CORFU AND GREECE
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!
BACK TO DURHAM
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).
ALL GOOD THINGS…
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.
Different approaches to truth. There is no need to refer to Hans Georg Gadamer to see that there’s something in art which is irreducible to our standard comprehension of verbal assertions or mathematical equations. Aesthetic experiences offer a different access to something that we might call truth. A truth of the event which is in front of us. An access to a different comprehension of that event—that thing, that happening, that thought represented and therefore uncovered by the artistic creation. A non-apophantic assertion of something that is differently processed by our minds. An un-covering of a reality hidden beneath a surface of rational consideration.
There is a philosophical dimension within art that goes well beyond aesthetics. But can we talk of an artistic dimension within philosophy? Can art help us grasp something philosophically relevant from our consideration of a doctrine or maybe even in our attempts at resolving thorny interpretative problems? And what kind of knowledge would that be, if we assume that an artistic access to philosophy is indeed feasible?
Similar considerations, of course, can be made about contemporary science. Can science contribute to the solution of historically determined theoretical problems not directly related to practices and concrete realisations of something? Can scientific knowledge and an utterly scientific approach help us understanding doctrinal problems and aspects, for instance, of Premodern metaphysics? At a first glance, access, methods, and basic assumptions of contemporary science appear to impede similar applications. Which, in the best case, would result into an extemporaneous anachronistic interpretation of historically determined problems.
Not necessarily, though, and not always…
Let matter enter the scene, then! As I was saying, a daring project is looming, getting closer and closer. After two intense days of intriguing discussions, Rosie and I were exhausted yet replenished with new brilliant ideas and plans. It will be a matter of unhinging—figuratively, and perhaps also literally—some basic assumptions and linchpins. But it is always like this, isn’t it?
AVH MEETING IN BONN
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!
FROM DURHAM TO BERLIN
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.
FROM MONTREAL TO KALAMAZOO (AND CHICAGO)
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.
Kalamazoo. The place, the Zoo. Amazing, but too short. I wasn’t able to meet with all the people I wanted to meet. Nevertheless, new friendships have begun, old friends have been met, new collaborations have been established, no disease from the dorms has been contracted, and knowledge has been shared: that’s the spirit of Kalamazoo! The two panels on medieval science organised by OU were terrific and we got some very positive feedbacks. I have understood that blue margaritas are not my cup of tea and I had a splendid stimulating time there. I definitely look forward to going back to Kalamazoo next year.
Before flying back to Europe, I had two days in Chicago. I love that town. Architecturally speaking, no other city is like Chicago, not even New York can compete with such an outstanding aesthetic exquisiteness. I slept my nights there laying literally in front of five huge lightened letters (they were T-R-U-M-P and, believe me, it was a sort of Mordor-like experience: next time, I will think it twice before booking my hotel).
I met with a fantastic friend who gave me a tour of the University of Chicago, I walked a lot, and I finally tried a Chicago deep-dish pizza!! Yes, I did so! It was since 2015, when I was at Notre Dame, that I wanted to try one. Problem is that I went to a restaurant (Labriola: gorgeous!) two hours before taking my taxi to the airport, and I couldn’t imagine that a Chicago deep-dish pizza was that… large! After two slices, I felt I was going to die. With six more in front of me, I decided to do what an American would do: ask for boxes. That’s how I had got a real Chicago deep-dish pizza in Europe.
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.
It was my first time in Montreal, Quebec. Sincerely, I couldn’t imagine what I was going to experience there (terrific food, more terrific food, beautiful people, awesome architecture, decadent landscapes, and much more). As always, companionship was amazing. Ordered Universe symposia and meetings are not only brilliant moments of theoretical discussion, but also great gathering of new and old friends. We always have such a good time together, and the Montreal symposium wasn’t different. We had days of incredibly fascinating and stimulating discussions on Grosseteste’s De motu supercelestium and De motu corporali et luce, the latter being one of my favourite works authored by Grosseteste. Hosted by Faith Wallis at McGill University, the workshop was ultimately fantastic, undoubtedly a success. Not to mention the extraordinary food we had there at a series of astounding restaurants!
Quebec cuisine has quite a reputation…. and it deserves it! I also had a chance to try again the famous poutine. After my Toronto experience, I had no expectations, as that very first poutine I ate was horrible. Nonetheless, the real Quebec poutine I had in Montreal was like an inspiring and overwhelming dream made of gravy, cheese, French fries, and smoked meat. Fantastic!
Aesthetically, Montreal is such a beautiful city. Relaxed, European, and safe. A fusion of contemporary architecture and old (at least for that continent) buildings. Walking my way down to the St Lawrence river has been quite an experience. But it wasn’t enough. Between the end of the symposium and the beginning of another brilliant meeting (the McGill-Durham graduate conference to which some of the best graduate students of both universities participated—with a lovely intruder from Oxford), I did what I usually do when I’m in those huge American conglomerates of people and buildings we call metropolises: I walked. And I went to Little Italy (sorry, “la petite Italie”), Mile End, walking my way down through the Plateau down to the river. A tremendous experience, in which I also discovered that bagels are actually made in dedicated bakeries (maybe “bageleries”?) by real people. I also tried a fresh-made one: it was superb. (As always, I have also taken a lot of pictures and I now realise that I need to enrol on some sort of photography social platform. Otherwise, no one will ever see the actual results of my long walks through Europe and America!)
At Casa árabe, in Cordoba, during the awesome colloquium Crossing Lands. Spreading knowledge in the Near East and the Mediterranean from Late Antiquity to Middle Ages, March 14th 2018.
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!).
BOSTON, TORONTO, AND TEXAS
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.
Second destination: Toronto. My first time in Canada, too, my first time participating in a HSS meeting: curiosity, eagerness, anxiety were the traits depicting my mood when the aircraft landed at Pearson. Toronto is just so different from what I was expecting: I thought I would have been landing in a kind of Switzerland of America, with Toronto as a sort of Zurich or Bern. To the contrary, Toronto is like New York, as if they were twin sisters separated at birth and raised in two different, but not far-away, villages. Beauty and contradictions, luxury and poverty, all condensed in one big and freezing city: outstanding aesthetical instantiation of human existence, with tall buildings and British shades all over the place. The History of Science Society meeting was hosted right at the centre of the city centre – nothing more central! – at the Sheraton. Hundreds of historians of science presenting their research, approach, problems, and doubts on that long history of scientific reflection which mostly corresponds to the history of human progress. A fascinating, formative, brilliant experience, which was crowned by our panel on the limits of science (Late Antiquity to Early Modernity). That was the exquisite fruit of such beautiful minds (Steven, Katja, Yehuda, and Vincenzo) filling a ‘medieval gap’ with incredibly interesting contributions. Perhaps, the best academic moment of my trip to America, a trip which was loaded of outstanding academic moments. And yes, I did find time to quickly go to Niagara Falls (there are no words to describe that!).
No time to rest, and I was on my way to the third destination of my trip: Dallas. Another first time, here: Texas, the wild land with lots of guns, and its ‘come and take it!’ echoing far away. I was totally ready to see those landscapes I imagined to be filled with oil extraction plants, people with Stetson cowboy hats, and money flowing all over the way… As often happens, though, I soon realised that my expectations were the outcome of unsound mental constructions (let’s just call them prejudices). Coming from Toronto (1 C°) to Dallas (28 C°), the first days were marked by a real and enveloping thermal shock. Moreover, Dallas is a rather peculiar city, very different from New York or Chicago, and far away from European Boston. There is no actual ‘downtown’, or better, for sure there is one, but it is not a real place to walk down (apart from Thanksgiving Square). It reminded me a lot of Indianapolis, which is not a bad place, but is ‘different’. I was very lucky, though, for in Dallas I met with two of my best adventuring companions, my very good friends Therese and David. As a consequence, Texas has been simply and utterly amazing! The ACPA meeting was superb: shifting from the history of science to philosophy (in a very strict sense) has been like coming back home (from a short trip, though), and the ACPA people are so friendly, interesting, and brilliant scholars! I was very happy to participate in the Dallas meeting, and I have to admit that I learnt many things and discovered new valuable approaches. A remarkable experience mingled with jalapeño margaritas, the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted (brisket, what a discovery! If you have the occasion to do so, go to Pecan Lodge in Dallas!), the rodeo in Fort Worth (unbelievable!), corn-and-pineapple-covered-with-paprika lollypops (yes, they exist to demonstrate that Hegel was wrong: what is irrational is real, too!), the G.W.B. Presidential Library, and many other splendid things. But time runs fast, and the final destination of my trip was looming up already. As soon as the meeting was over, Therese, David, and I rent a car to San Antonio, passing through Austin (outstanding museum of Texas there!) while listening to Johnny Cash.
The few days I spent in San Antonio were like a dream. I still happen to think on those days wondering whether they were real or not. San Antonio is such an oneiric, relaxing, awesome place, with its River Walk, the Alamo, the Missions, wildlife for free, and delicious restaurants. I went to Southern Texas to meet with two amazing colleagues from Texas State University, Yasmine and David. Medieval Iberia in Texas! We decided to start collaborating on new projects and, you will see, this is going to be terrific, for impressive things have been planned (no spoilers, though, although I can’t wait for them).
Another walk through downtown San Antonio, and it was time already (?!) to go back to Europe, academically and personally enriched by this magnificent trip, with so many plans and even more things to do. And a beautiful surprise, too: I’ve been awarded a Humboldt Fellowship in Berlin, starting on September 2018!
It has been fantastic – just perfect!
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.
Columbia is just as I imagined the capital of South Carolina following the sweet descriptions my friends gave me last year: a calm, tidy, green town, with an effervescent atmosphere. The real surprise has been the USC campus: it’s not a campus, it’s like a huge and vast garden, or possibly an open museum surrounded by trees and flowers. I can’t imagine a better place for a student to spend his/her years at the university! The buildings, with their colonial style outside joined to a high-tech modern style on the inside, well, they were just astoundingly beautiful. The crowded streets, with hundreds of students, don’t spoil the sense of friendly order you can perceive throughout the whole campus; and the Horseshoe, with its benches and historical buildings – with their columns, windows, flags, and porches – gives you the rare sense to breathe the very history of that marvellous country.
Just this experience would have been enough. The best part of the week I spent in Columbia, though, has been the people with whom I stayed: Jerry and Lilla Hackett. It’s extremely difficult to summarise in just a few words how beautiful, exciting, stimulating, and unique those days have been for me. Jerry and Lilla are wonderful people, with such a kindness and fondness – so rare in these times – that I truly felt like home since the very first moment. And besides chatting and working on Gundissalinus and Bacon, we had a memorable week marked by unforgettable moments. Let me mention two of them, just to give you a taste of that week: the presidential election of Donald J. Trump and the concert of Bob Dylan, to which Jerry and Lilla invited me. Two moments I won’t ever forget, for different and contrasting reasons…
And then my talks. I had the occasion to briefly present to the USC Philosophy Department Grosseteste and the work the Ordered Universe Project is pursuing. Trying to explain to the colleagues the running of the project is so difficult: it’s a strange alchemy of people and skills, philosophy and science, laws of refraction and Aristotle’s physics… a joining of perspectives that works just perfectly. And it is always a pleasure to see how interested the people are regarding this pioneering project that, beside of producing so many crucial contributions to our understanding of Grosseteste, is also providing an example of how an interdisciplinary approach to humanities can and should be developed.
Nevertheless, the most amazing and intriguing event has been the workshop on Gundissalinus and Ibn Daud organised by Jerry. Only the warm air of South Carolina and the genius of Jerry could have thought on a meeting of this kind in America: and the outcomes have been astounding!! Four scholars – Jerry Hackett, Katja Vehlow, Caleb Colley, and I – talking about the role played by Gundissalinus and Ibn Daud in the history of medieval philosophy. And so many ideas, perspectives, new data and sources, Aquinas and Bacon, Peckham and Gundissalinus: simply amazing, extremely useful, just perfect! I won’t spoil anything (the proceedings are likely to be published soon, for the very high level of the discussion): just wait and see!
With the colloquium, the American part of the tour came to an end, and I had to fly back to Europe, with the usual sadness I feel when I have to leave the US. Next destination: Barcelona, where the VII congress of the Sociedad de Filosofía Medieval (i.e., SOFIME) was about to begin. Barcelona, or better, Cerdanyola del Vallés, the small town where the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona is located, and where I spent some fruitful months working on my dissertation during my PhD. It’s always like coming home: the streets, the concrete buildings, tapas y cañas. And my magister, the person who gave me method, knowledge, and perspective: Alexander Fidora.
The congress went perfectly well: many people, old friends and new ones, a lot of fun as only the Spanish academia is able to provide. My talk on the authorship of the De immortalitate animae received many interesting questions, and I have to say that some of them, as well as the overall acceptance of my hypothesis, were quite unexpected. Also regarding this point there will be some surprises, since it’s not just the De immortalitate animae but also another anonymous writing that is going to be hopefully attributed to Gundissalinus (a point that I clarified thanks to the ‘World Tour’ and the many discussions I had in the US). But no spoilers: just give me a couple of months and I’ll tell you exactly what I mean.
There’s no need to underline how interesting were many of the talks and lectures delivered in Barcelona: possibly, that’s normal (but not obvious) in such a prestigious gathering. What I should mention here is that the SOFIME assembly asked me to become Editor Assistant of the Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval and, also, person in charge of the digital communication of the society. It will be a honour and a great pleasure for me to contribute to the society with my skills, accompanied by a lot of humility. It has been such a great surprise, and I can’t describe how astounded I was in that moment (and even now). Let me just thank again my Spanish colleagues for their trust in me.
There would be many other things to say and write, new collaborations and projects, the agreement for a new introductory monograph on Gundissalinus’s thought (to be published next Spring), and the many interesting people I’ve met here. But I have to admit to myself (and to you) that I’m beginning to be quite tired, after almost a whole month travelling from a place to another every few days. On Monday, I will finally fly back to Durham: the ‘Gundissalinus World Tour’ is over, but the many outcomes of this trip will have a long-lasting effect on my work and my research. And beside that, this month has been just amazing.
Gutta cavat lapidem.
NOTRE DAME, MILWAUKEE, AND DC
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.
Notre Dame is a strange place. A golden campus in the middle of nowhere, a peculiar geographical position thanks to which the Winter is so cold that once, when I tried to visit the campus (and even heading downtown: how foolish of me), I had to run home very fast since I couldn’t feel my feet and hands anymore. And all that after just 15 minutes at -23! It was February 2015, and I was there for my SIEPM fellowship, a crucial moment, I can see that now, looking backwards to my PhD. In those months spent in South Bend, Indiana, I had the occasion to make friends with the squirrels and learn from prestigious scholars; I tasted my first pineapple pizza and my first grapples; I saw the contradictions of the American welfare state and the astonishing wonders of the American dream. I loved it, and sometimes I hated it: but going back to South Bend has been like going home and meet with old good friends (and I do not mean the squirrels).
The return to Notre Dame could have been just great, but spending those day with Therese and David Cory has been more than brilliant. They had arranged a true American experience for me, from the typical eggs-bacon-jam breakfast to pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating, yummi dinners, excursions to multi-coloured farmer’s markets, and… football! What an astounding experience, being there, the crowded stadium, the golden helmets, an exciting game whose outcomes were uncertain till the very end. And a good one for the Fighting Irish!
Then, the day of my lecture finally came. I was a bit concerned, for the topic (epistemology) and the authors I had to deal with (Augustine, Isidore, Hugh of St Victor, and Gundissalinus): in such a prestigious university, considering the extremely high level of both faculty and students of the MI, what could I expect to be asked about? And again, the magic of Notre Dame – fondly required, especially with a paper on alchemy and necromancy – converted the very substance of that lecture in one of the best moments of discussion and debate ever, comparable only to what came a few days later (spoiler!). We spent a lot of time discussing the implications that astrology has on the human free will, the ‘political problem’ arising from alchemy as aurifiction rather than aurifaction (but in both cases it was a huge problem), the overall epistemological problems of Gundissalinus’s classification of sciences, and how these border-line disciplines survived the condemnations by the Church.
After Notre Dame, I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, right on the other side of Lake Michigan. Marquette University, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in America for medieval philosophy (and beyond). A bit anxious for the ‘big happening’, I was so eager to know what the people at Marquette think about the first reception of Avicenna in the Latin West. And the two days I spent in Milwaukee have been, by this viewpoint, definitely astonishing! Indeed, it’s always a pleasure to discuss your research with scholars dealing with topics related to yours, especially when they are so great scholars as Richard Taylor. But the discussion after my talk had something else, something difficult to define or describe (so Plotinian). A two-hours discussion, talking with Richard Taylor, David Tweteen, and the other members of the Mid-West seminar on the sources of Gundissalinus’s epistemological system, its peculiar merging of al-Farabi and Avicenna, the cosmological derivation of the universe and the influence of Abraham ibn Daud on this peculiar aspect of Gundissalinus’s reflection. But we also had the chance to discuss the intriguing treatise On the Peregrinations of the Soul in the Afterlife, a curious writing describing the ascent and descent of the soul after its separation from the body. One of the most precious moments of discussion, in general, and whose outcomes could be crucial under many respects for our understanding of the dynamics by which Avicenna and ‘the Arabs’ became part of the Latin philosophical tradition.
The days I spent in Milwaukee were then crowned by two further events. The first one is my attendance at Richard Taylor’s graduate course, where I met Marquette’s graduate students. They are so prepared and working on many interesting issues, and it is awesome to see how philosophy and research perpetuate themselves into the new generations – and the spirit of Avicenna appeared. Philosophy and knowledge in general have a development similar to what the Persian philosopher stated (following another friend of us) on the individuals who perpetuate the species through their offspring. But we often forget that when we give to anyone even just a glimpse of reflection (a lecture, a lesson, or just a few words), we are performing a maieutic operation, so important and so precious. The second event in Milwaukee is quite unrelated to academia or medieval philosophy, but not less historical: the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and that’s a sort of ‘huge happening’ that I am so proud to have witnessed, even if just watching it on TV. Baseball is such a mental game – I’d even say, the ‘perfect’ game – and its discovery has been one of the best gifts I received by the period I spent in Notre Dame last year. As a chess game with a different ‘spirit’, baseball is like a medieval disputatio: you have to possess a vast knowledge of the authorities, reflect carefully, perform efficiently… and also have a bit of luck!
From Milwaukee I flew to Washington DC (with another flight cancelled and rebooked!), where I am now, revising my paper for the Colloquium at the University of South Carolina. Tomorrow afternoon, a long train trip (10:30h) will take me to Columbia, SC: I am sure I will have many things to add to this short update very, very soon. And in three days: presidential election!
MEANWHILE, IN MILWAUKEE…
Going through my paper for tomorrow’s lecture at Marquette University while the World Series is on TV: what a terrible twosome, Gundissalinus and the Cubs!
A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS
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…
After a very long discussion in three languages (Italian, English, and Spanish), it’s done! I have defended my thesis. And now, transformed, I have become Dr Polloni!
UPDATES FROM NOTRE DAME #2
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.
CHITOWN, FROZEN AND UNFROZEN
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 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.
UPDATES FROM NOTRE DAME
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.