Philosophy and hypertext: for a more than human humanism

Petrarch renewed the ancient meaning of philosophy as a way of living with practical implications that was neglected by medieval Scholasticism (Hadot; Domanski). He incarnated the humanist dream of a profound transformation of human kind in every aspect of life based on an ethical and esthetic regeneration made possible by the rediscovery of the ancient philosophers, from Plato to Cicero and Seneca, and poets, from Virgil to Horace and Catullus (Rico 12-24; Fenzi 80-83). He kept alive the genuine philosophical search in his idea of “exile,” which may be considered a Christian adaptation of Plato’s definition of the philosopher as atopos (Thaetetus 172c-177c; Symposium 214e-222b), someone unclassifiable, out of place, who neglects material possessions and superficial knowledge and lives a virtuous life in search of a loftier wisdom. Indeed, Petrarch thinks of himself as peregrinus ubique, a “stranger everywhere,” because Fortune forces him to travel from one country to another without a land in which to rest: “Nullaque iam tellus, nullus michi permanet aer; incola ceu nusquam, sic sum peregrinus ubique” (Epystole III, 19, 15-16). He found this idea of exile and foreignness especially in Paul (2 Corinthians 5:6) and Augustine (De vita beata, I 1-3). In this perspective Petrarch acknowledges his Socratic and Christian “ignorance,” stressing human “imperfection” and becoming aware of the inquietude of the human condition and the limits of human knowledge (De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia 65-66).

Petrarch may help us to think of a humanism that is more than human, in the sense that it takes into consideration the relational nature of human action. His humanitas was inclusive of a profound dialogue with nature and the animals (Cherchi, “La simpatia della natura nel Canzoniere petrarchesco”; Schiesari 32-43). The OPOB hypertext valorizes the attention to human and poetic relationship to nature, which has been a source of meaning for centuries, as the Rvf and other great classics of world literature testify. Hence the need for reading our classics anew, paying attention not just to a dialogue among authors and texts but also to more than human sources of meaning, thereby becoming able once again to be drawn into intense connection with the wonder and beauty of the natural world (Kelly-Dreyfus).

The inclusion of the incunabulum Queriniano of Petrarch editio princeps inaugurates the most innovative phase of the OPOB and provides the opportunity to validate its original approach to hypertext Web publishing. The incunabulum in its structure constitutes a still suggestive and inspiring model for the hypertext that we are building, one in which different textualities and intersemiotic transpositions– with particular emphasis on the hermeneutic value of images –provide the opportunity for an elevating interpretation of the Rvf. Our hypertext is becoming a collection of textualities, broadly conceived to include intersemiotic transpositions, which show the evolution of Petrarch’s work from manuscript to print and digital culture.

The OPOB is a living archive in which discrete units, entities, and systems are codependent and make sense only in relation to one another. Like Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, the hypertext we are working on is a map that must be produced, not a given product. We are inserting traces and witnesses of the past on a map that connects any text to any other text and brings into play different regimes of signs (23). More importantly, these textual and iconographic traces, are becoming in our hypertext fragments and witnesses not only to the differences they represent or to a intertextual dialogue but also to a way of inhabiting the world, of finding meaning and becoming human in relation to a more than the human environment. 


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