Shortening distances to meet the invisible

 

[Greeting address on the occasion of the workshop]

1. I was thinking about the route that led our guests, Prof. Noa Naaman-Zauderer, Prof. Hagi Kenaan, Prof. Yaron Senderowicz, to be here. Obviously it is a geographical route, but it is full of highly symbolic value. Shortening distances, in fact, expresses well the vocation of this meeting. “Vocation”, this word coming from Latin, on the basis of its etymology, means being called by name. It is an absolutely individualizing and personal event that implies the recognition of the necessity of a personal contribution. Concretely, it means that what I can say, what I can think is important and can contribute to the progress of research.  And so scholars with different traditions, with different – albeit similar – perspectives of research decide to meet to discuss content, and also to talk about prospects of meeting for scholars themselves, and for students, for undergraduates.

2. We didn’t decide to organize a conference, but a workshop that in Italian could be made with “convegno”. It is a term with a precious etymology, which refers to going together to a place, united by the same drive. In a “convegno”, in a workshop, there is a sense of greater intimacy, of coming together as a community. In this regard, I cannot fail to recall my experience in the Tel Aviv University in 2009, during the months of my stay to take part in the LeLo Project, under the wise guidance of Marcelo Dascal. On March 16, 2020, this gratitude, this recognition will become an opportunity to meet with the first edition of the Marcelo Dascal Lectures, organised under the high patronage of the FISP. In this important event the presence of more than fifteen scholars (from France, Spain, Hungary, Israel, Romania, and Portugal, as well as Italy) is already announced. These last considerations lead me to introduce a last point about philosophy on the Web.

3. In the age of digitization, where anyone can access a series of almost infinite contents, what does it mean to do philosophy? What are the forms of the search for meaning?  How do we take them into account in our usual academic practices? We believe that the scenario in which we find ourselves operating is an extraordinary possibility and we can try to make the most of it.  Of course, we do not miss the risks involved in these scenarios.  Personally, for example, I am rather frightened by the risk of amateurism in which we find ourselves today as a direct consequence of the versatility sometimes required of the philosopher, who, constantly asked, cannot remain indifferent to the cry that rises from the contexts, hungry for meaning. The figure of the new scenario is given by the connections.  Existing connections, of course; but also possible connections, new, to be created together. For this reason, I would like this workshop, which starts this collaboration, to be felt by all of us not as a foreign body, but as an event to be taken care of, together.

4. During the last weeks, I wondered if there could be an image that could refer to the meaning I attribute to our initiative. I was reminded of the painting by Caravaggio Sette opere di Misericordia (Seven Works of Mercy). This painting was made between the end of 1606 and 1607. In the work, some of the characters give life in a synchronic way to different actions that together form the face of mercy. Looking at the canvas on the right, we see a deacon holding the feet of a deceased person. It is the action that brought about the first work of mercy: “burying the dead.” On the right, lower than the action just described, there are two figures: an old man in front of whom you can see a young woman, portrayed in the act of pulling out a breast. It is Cimone, sentenced to death by hunger in prison, who was secretly fed from the breast of his daughter Pero. With this second scene, the second work of mercy is realized: to visit the prisoners. In the central part of the painting, you can see a young knight, St. Martin, giving his cloak to a man, portrayed from behind. We have thus come to the third work, “Dressing the Naked.” The fourth work, “giving drink to the thirsty,” is represented by a man who drinks from a donkey’s jaw. It is Samson, which is mentioned in the Book of Judges of the Bible. Then there is the fifth work, “Hosting the pilgrims,” represented by two figures, which we can see on the left of the painting and which are represented by Caravaggio one in front of the other. One of them, the man on the right, wears a hat on which a shell is visible. It is the symbol of the pilgrims. The lefthanded man with the index finger indicates something that is placed towards the left frame of the painting, but outside the scene. It is presumable that he indicates the destination of the pilgrim and that destination is not on the order of the visible.

The painting, therefore, shows a series of different actions that, on the whole, give substance to the practice of mercy. The culminating point of these actions, however, is outside the painting, in the invisible. It is precisely the invisible, then, which becomes the pivot of the entire action. Mercy, therefore, is not only a question connected to the order of doing; but to be fully interpreted it requires the ability to go beyond the usual expectations. Looking beyond what is ordinary, feeling the need for it, finding ways to set out towards such a destination is, as I have tried to write, the matrix of interdisciplinary work itself. It is for this reason that, as if it were a good viaticum in the journey that awaits us, the index finger of the hand of the man depicted on the left and the shell on the hat of the pilgrim, represent two symbols that we do not want to give up, because they constantly remind us of the meaning of our search.

Probably that’s what keeps us together: we’re looking for a sense that’s outside the traditional framework of our actions. It is an invisible sense, not immediately given.

We resist the temptation to make this invisibility coincide with insignificance, according to the dictates of an approach uniquely crushed on the visible. We feel, instead, particularly motivated to join our efforts to try to approximate this invisibility because we are convinced that in it we can find the reasons for our own search.

5. Before we start our workshop, I would like to conclude this brief speech by expressing my thanks to professors Adriano Fabris and Pierluigi Barrotta, for having supported this initiative and this collaboration between our two institutions from the very first moment. And so, yes, of course, let’s set out, grateful for what we have been able to accomplish, but also hopeful for what we will achieve. And, therefore, in the certainty that the best is yet to come, I would like to invite you to join me in giving our warm welcome to Noa, Hagi and Yaron.

 

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