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Gay Science as Immediacy of Self-Reflective Knowing

The transcendence discovered through reflection is not a remote abstraction (the “God” often erroneously attributed to negative theology8) but rather immediacy itself. Phenomenologically, reflection proves capable of perceiving itself in its own act as immediate (sections 24, 31). Reflection then sees itself immediately in all that it sees. This engenders, in one telling instance, the giddy spirit of joy expressed in Troubadour song lyrically celebrating what is seen immediately all around one in springtime. Bertran del Born renders this universal topos as framed by the lyric “I”:

Be.m platz lo gais temps de pascor,

Que fai fuolhas e hors venir ;

E plaatz mi, quan auch la baudor

Dels ausels, que fan retentir

Lor chan per lo boschatge ... .’

(I love the joyful time of Easter,

That makes the leaves and flowers come forth,

And it pleases me to hear the mirth

Of the birds, who make their song

Resound through the woods ... .)

Bertran expresses this outbreak of immediate joy in life in the self-reflective artistic medium of the chant, in which the outer world reflects and expresses the poet’s inner self in its intrinsic mood. He then extends

If, hypnotized by their spatio-temporal form, humans experience themselves only as ephemeral bodies and identities, they are lost in eternal night and desire; if, following Christ, they turn their mind or awareness back on itself [italics added], surrendering all worldly attachment and greed (cupidigia), they can come to experience themselves as (one with) the reality that spawns all possible experience, immune to birth and death.

  • (The Metaphysics of Dante’s “Comedy,” 6)
  • 8 Denys Turner, Mystery and Mystification (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2019) critiques this misunderstanding.
  • 9 Goldin, Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères, 242.

this joy in nature to his own shocking jubilation in the destructiveness of war in a paeon that is worthy of Nietzschean gay science, itself calqued on medieval gaya scienza (bel sabor) and enfolding also an affirmation of war. Regardless of its contents, Bertran’s poem expresses an immediacy reached through self-reflection. Not the content but the form of perception by reflection enacts the immediacy of revelation. Self-reflection itself becomes the content, the immediate object of its own perception. Self-reflection constitutes itself as immediate contact with an absolute reality—or as intellectual knowledge, a knowledge of knowing itself (section 36).

Such knowing does not pertain fundamentally to differentiated contents but rather to the enactment of knowing itself as a unitary act in which alone all differentiated reality comes to light. Poetry in Dante is a means of realizing this level of consciousness, not by abstraction from historical and sensorial contents, but by their subsumption and sublation into unifying cognition and cognizance of all in all. The mind experiences its own light in all that it experiences, and this experience of pure consciousness itself is the experience of God. Moevs has read Dante’s mystical metaphysic in this key and has documented its derivation especially from Aristotelian speculative traditions as reconfigured in Neoplatonic medieval terms. Dante discovers poetry as the privileged medium for this type of contemplation, which is boundless. Such self-reflection of the mind on itself contemplates all of reality in its truth and essence—because in its source.

Poetic contemplation as a form of speculation through self-reflection proves to be a prophetic revelation of the entire cosmos and historical world, in which all things are seen together in their oneness and are disclosed in their ultimate truth and beauty. This self-reflective speculation of the real in the mirror of the mind ignited by love crystalizes the original impulses of lyric poetry. They are then disclosed in their furthest purport by Dante’s theological transposition and apotheosis of the original creative act of lyric self-reflection performed by the Troubadours. Theology itself is broken open by this appropriation. Especially in Paradiso, theology emerges as no longer a dogmatic code confining sense perception so much as an imaginative resource deployed for envisioning absolute reality in its multifarious forms of expression.

By contemplating its own act of mirroring the natural world in its immediacy, self-reflection can reflect the unity of phenomena, since they are united in the mind, and this grants them also to be apprehended in their wholeness. The gay science of poetry, since its lyric inception, has promised and even sometimes delivered such wisdom. This point of view transcends all particular, content-bound and object-oriented perceptions, yet it can be represented only on their basis. The


This paradox and problematic is finely dissected in a post-Hegelian horizon in De/ Constituting Wholes: Towards Partiality Without Parts, ed. Manuele Gragnolati and Christoph F. E. Holzhey (Vienna/Berlim Turia + Kant, 2017).

Paradiso's speculative self-reflection belongs in a tradition stretching from ancient pre-Socratic sources through medieval Scholasticism and continuing with Renaissance humanism and German idealism down to our own post-secular times."

11 Barry Sandywell’s three-volume Logological Investigations (London: Routledge, 1996), beginning with Reflexivity and the Crisis of Western Reason (vol. 1), treats the broad sweep of reflexivity in lyric since the Greeks. Volume 2, The Beginnings of European Theorizing: Reflexivity in the Archaic Age, considers epic and lyric reflexivities in Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, and archaic Orphism, while volume 3 examines Pre-socratic Reflexivity. This monumental project, however, leaves reflexivity in the turn to modern Romance literature largely unexamined.

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