La Sala

Metaphysical trilogy. In inglese, qualche notizia sul prof. Federico La Sala

domenica 14 maggio 2006.

Metaphysical trilogy

Riccardo Pozzo reviews an Italian philosopher’s attempt to write a radical criticism of metaphysics *

      • Della terra, il brillante colore. Note sul "Poema" rinascimentale di un ignoto Parmenide Carmelitano (ritrovato a Contursi Terme nel 1989) [Of the Earth, its Brilliant Colour. Notes on the Renaissance "Poem" of an unknown Carmelite Parmenides (Found at Contursi Terme in 1989)] by Federico La Sala. Published 1996 by Ripostes, Rome-Salerno, 152 pages, €15.

Federico La Sala was born in Contursi Terme near Salerno in 1948 and has taught philosophy and education for over three decades at the Istituto Magistrale “Gaetana Agnesi” in Milan, where he continues to provide an indispensable source of enlightenment to his students and colleagues. La Sala’s thought, which is deeply rooted in the Italian phenomenological tradition initiated by Enzo Paci [1911-1976], reveals itself to be strikingly original. In addition to the present trilogy, La Sala has published a series of insightful articles in some of Italy’s most distinguished journals including Alfabeta, Aquinas, Belfagor and La critica sociologica.

In the first part of the trilogy, La mente accogliente, La Sala sides with Parmenides and Nietzsche in holding that “nothing else exists or will exist outside of being”. In other words, the cosmos becomes the indestructible and untranscendable field of contention within which, and for which, an endless line of contenders of every kind and from every era have confronted and will continue to confront one another in the vain attempt to end the conflict once and for all by pronouncing the final word on this whole, which is metaphysics. Thus, La Sala holds that his newly introduced accommodating epistemology has as its objective precisely the same “female” reality which “has always inexorably nourished and dashed the inextinguishable will to define and at the same time the paradisiacal dream of every metaphysician according to which philosophy can approach the formula of science, the fulfilled objective that is able to lay down the name of the love of knowledge in order to be true knowledge, and shows the true path of research, namely that of persuasion” (pages 125-126).

Parmenides is again at the centre of La Sala’s reflections in Della terra, il brillante colore, a work whose title is rich in reminiscences of Giordano Bruno. Here a cycle of twelve frescoes depicting the Sybils’ announcing of the birth of Christianity to the pagan world is interpreted in terms of a late Renaissance revival of the Parmenidean “Poema”. In Della terra, as elsewhere in his trilogy, La Sala’s aim is to highlight the fact that without the female component any religion, especially Christianity, is unthinkable.

Finally, in l’Enigma della sfinge, La Sala puts forward a manifesto on having “the courage to use one’s own intelligence today in order to become free men and women, sovereign male and female citizens, and not male or female entrepreneurs or exploiters of the labour and energy of others” (page 7).

The three books of La Sala’s trilogy together offer a chiastic ontology “marked by a relation illuminated by know-how and potential for love, human and political, of oneself, of the male and of the female” (ibid., page 7) and therefore a “chiastic path to knowledge”. This ontology takes a form akin to a historical materialism “liberated from its blindness and capable not only of effecting an anamnesis of genesis and resolving the Greek miracle by passing through money”, but also, and especially, “of dreaming in a better way what so many generations have dreamt and what we too continue to dream” (ibid., page 12). Above all, La Sala invites us to consider the ontological step that is present in the nascent adventure of human life, that is the birth of a child, where “we pass from the inside to the outside and from the sensible (material-mother) to the intelligible (equally physical, material-paternal)” (ibid., page 16).

La Sala notes the confusion and strife that have always stood out on the Western anthropological horizon, which has never gone any further than the cosmos conceived by the ancient Greeks, where “woman and femininity and child and infancy alike have never had the right to citizenship and have always been domesticated and confined within the bounds of weakness and minority” (ibid., page 18). The very exclusion of femininity and infancy from the language of philosophy and politics is what has caused us to forget that “outside everything there is no nothingness (at the most, the will to deny being), but life and the path of life: we come from life, we are born into life and we die in life. It is life which comprehends and illuminates the world, not the contrary” (ibid., page 22).

La Sala poses the following choice which admits of no solutions: either we remain within the ancient project of moderation and the modern project of freedom or else we proceed with our eyes open and our feet on the ground along the same path of research opened up by Rousseau when he elaborated on a social contract that says: “Act in such a way that your desire does not turn out to be antagonistic to that of someone else, in order that it does not end up by rebounding back upon you” (ibid., page 34).

It should be noted that this kind of human ontology which La Sala has resolved to reconstruct is not new. Dante, as La Sala observes (ibid., page 62), identified the conceptual nucleus in the following nine words: “God, heaven, love, sea, earth, is, lives, dies, loves” (De vulgari eloquentia, I, 8). Nevertheless, the originality of La Sala’s contribution is evident in his reflection on the possibilities and limits of a philosophical anthropology capable of expressing itself on themes that define the twenty-first century and, I think, particularly on issues connected with life, the family and citizenship. One only has to observe how fruitful his approach is when one adopts it as the basis of a discussion, for example on the subjects of freedom in human reproduction, cloning, abortion, in loco and distance adoption, civil liberties and children’s rights.

La Sala’s books are not learned books (unlike many books on so-called philosophy of sex and love that are currently being taught on courses at many US universities). Rather, they are books that spring from serious intellectual effort (in the vein of Max Weber) and from a labour that aims at making an impact on the political life of a nation.

-  Riccardo Pozzo has been professor of the history of philosophy at the University of Verona since 2002. He was previously associate professor of German philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and is currently writing a book on the theory of subjectivity from the Renaissance to Kant.


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