The Individual and the Other—A Mirror Relation

According to a well-worn historiography of the Renaissance, selfreflexivity in modern times brings about the apotheosis of the individual, and Dante plays a crucial role as the “first modern European individual.” However, in pre-Renaissance times, self-reflexivity is first and foremost an apotheosis of language itself. Self-reflexivity is synonymous with universality and a bending back to transcendent origins. This is the deeper sense of Troubadour and Trouvère lyric. These manifestations of courtly culture are not just proto-Renaissance phenomena heralding the birth of the autonomous individual through reflexivity of subjective voice and consciousness. They enact a reflexive circularity of song expressing a universal being and love that reach back to and repeat cosmic harmonies. The lyric voice aims to reflect and repeat the cosmos’s timeless patterns rather than to disrupt them through individual originality. In the birth of

the new sense of the individual, most important is self-reflection’s relating the finite structure of a particular person to the abyss of the non-identity from which reflection emerges and in which it remains grounded. As such, rather than foregrounding individual or subjective identity, selfreflexivity effects an opening to the infinite and nameless—to no-thing.[1]

The new age of individualism can be interpreted as either gain or loss. Surely it is both: it demands consideration under its different aspects and with regard to a variety of different problematics. Dante pioneers a dawning age of individual self-expression. However, reflexivity in his poetry belongs on both sides of any historical watershed marking the emergence of individual self-expression and self-assertion. Dante’s selfreflectiveness carries with it still a primary relation to transcendence and divinity. This relation to an infinitely Other—the Altrui that asserts itself peremptorily in saving Dante (Purgatorio 1.133) but not Ulysses (Inferno XXVI.141)—is the fundamental structure that discriminates productive or virtuous forms of individualism from its vicious deformations. The same phrase “as pleased another” (“com altrui piacque”) is used in both passages and emphasizes the close proximity of the two epic heroes even in diametrically opposing them. This comparison between two types of self-reflection and their manner of being conditioned by an Other likewise demarcates metaphysics that are stifling from those that open toward unlimited new and creative conceptions of self and world.

There is a reductive reflectiveness that posits the self, taken just for itself, as foundation and as unaware of its intrinsic nullity. But there is also a reflectiveness that opens concepts of self and God alike to endless mediation and open-ended exploration. Even before the modern subject, a certain ambiguity hovers over self-reflexivity. It can lead to transcendent reference acknowledging God and the world, but it can also lead to the hell of impenetrable self-enclosure. Subjectivity, in this inherent ambiguity, is made the object of profound philosophical reflection in the German tradition by Meister Eckhart, who parallels Dante as the outstanding pioneer of a cultured and creative use of vulgar speech.

Vernacular speculative prose, like the lyric tradition of self-reflexivity (especially from Petrarch), is marked by this same ambiguity along a genealogical line that can be traced through Vico to Hegel and Heidegger. The poetic modes of self-reflection first disclose the field of possibilities that are then analyzed in philosophy. Poets in the wake of Dante, furthermore, counterpoint philosophy with a trajectory of self-reflection rooted

Language in Modern Lyric Tradition 199 in medieval tradition. This path of humanist reflection continues among a certain line of modern poets.[2] They stand in continuity with Dante’s endeavor to actualize truth through reflection of beauty.11 The aesthetic comes into its own, yet not as abandon of the metaphysical quest, but rather as a new dimension for the latter’s realization—now in a subjectively self-reflective mode. The background in Provençal poetry and the new lyric subject remain seminal still for the development of modernist poetics by Ezra Pound and his circle. These further developments provide illuminating lenses for viewing the emergence in the Middle Ages of a theory of poetic language as self-reflective of its own event or “taking-place.”

  • [1] Daniel Heller-Roazen, No One’s Ways: An Essay on Infinite Naming (New York: Zone Books, 2017) focuses linguistic modalities of reflexivity relating to infinity. 2 Rubina Giorgi, Dante e Meister Eckhart: Letture per tempo della fine (Salerno: Ripostes, 1987) and Karl-Otto Apel, Die Idee der Sprache in der Tradition des Humanismus von Dante bis Vico, 79f, 98f and passim develop this parallel. 3 Rocco Rubini, The Other Renaissance: Italian Humanism between Hegel and Heidegger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 34-38, 346-55, 360-61.
  • [2] Marion Montgomery, The Reflective Journey Toward Order: Essays on Dante, Wordsworth, Eliot, and Others (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008). 2 Maurizio Malaguti, “In trasparenza: La bellezza come via alia verita. Percorsi nel Paradiso di Dante” (Filosofi d’oggi per Dante), Letture classensi 32-34 (Ravenna: Longo, 2005), 109—29. Mira Mocan, La transparenza e il riflesso: Sull’alta fantasia in Dante e nel pensiero ntedievale (Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 2007). 3 Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance (London: J.M. Dent, 1910).
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