Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Gianni Vattimo and the (Political) Challenge of Thought

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Gianni Vattimo and the (Political) Challenge of Thought

Article excerpt

Translated by Stephan Strunz1

Overcoming and twisting the rifts of ambiguity appears to be the essential constant in Gianni Vattimo's career-no matter whether as a politician, philosopher or committed intellectual. Seeking fundamental social and cultural change, the founding father of weak thought is openly gay and an avowed Catholic. Describing himself as a rediscovered communist who remains Catholic (a so called "catho-communist"), Vattimo is member of the European Parliament and unclassifiable: a Heideggerian sui generis, coming from Aristotle and classical philosophy, he ventured into so-called postmodern thought which he pioneered in Italian philosophy. He was the first to translate Gadamer into Italian and wrote, among others, about Nietzsche and Heidegger. Like Umberto Eco, he was a student of Luigi Pareyson (who, aside Vico, Croce, and Gentile counts as one of the most outstanding philosophers of Italian modernity), as well as friend and assistant of Derrida and Rorty. Having received multiple awards (among others, the Max-Planck Research Award for Humanities in 1992, the Hannah Arendt Award for Political Thought in 2002, and numerous honorary degrees worldwide), the Turin-based thinker clearly is well studied and renown abroad.

All this renders Vattimo an elusive figure that cannot easily be ascribed a clear-cut category. Keeping in mind his academic works as well as his newspaper articles, it is however possible to discern a recurring theme from the early 60s onward until today: emancipation, understood both from authoritarian power, and as liberation and multiplication of differences and the manifold forms of life, culture, politics and expression. We may well call this freedom and rebellion of the weak and diverse. And it is also valid to call this awareness-building and positioning, directed against the violence (both physical and socio-politicalcultural) of the "powerful" who possess the "monopoly of truth."

But how do we understand the expression "monopoly of truth"? And how is it contextualized in Vattimo's political thinking? To answer this question and to assess his role in current political and academic debates it is necessary to take a brief look at the author's career and to become aware of the sources of his aesthetic philosophy.


Already in his early writings about twentieth-century avant-garde artists, assembled in Poesia e Ontologia (1967, republished in 1985), Vattimo diagnoses a peculiar form of violence: the violence of the system that claims to be the sole true model-i.e., an authoritarian model, a ruthless and merciless totalitarianism that eradicates any kind of minority and difference. Concerning the work of art, this violence emanates from those aesthetics that presume to be the exclusive custodians of artistic imperatives and thus the only arbitrators to decide about what is beautiful and what is ugly. According to Vattimo, it was the twentiethcentury avant-garde artists who broke the absolutism of art in its classical sense: they drew geometrically shaped persons, colored in melting, chaotic, intense and unrecognizable tones; they made use of unconventional places for their performances and presentations or provocatively resisted conventional places by articulating themselves in an unintelligible and deformed language; after all, they boldly paved the way for multiple styles, levels, art trends and languages.

This prompted Vattimo to ponder more general questions: what was the meaning of all this, at the time? Did it perhaps mean that one could no longer distinguish between what was art and what was not, or between what was beautiful and what was not? Did it not run the risk of turning into a kind of relativism- which itself is absolute as soon as one gives free rein to it? These merely aesthetic considerations led Vattimo to think more profoundly about philosophical-cultural implications and made him formulate his original expression of weak thought- grounded in the fields of ethics, politics, and contemporary research into globalization, postcolonialism and media. …

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