venerdì, novembre 19, 2010

The true dimensions of saint's project in Ireland

Questa è la recensione del mio libro apparsa la scorsa settimana su The Irish Catholic. Peter Costello, l'autore della recensione, è uno storico della cultura che ha pubblicato una ventina di volumi.

The true dimensions of saint's project in Ireland

The Philosophical Habit of Mind: Rhetoric and Person in John Henry Newman's Dublin Writings
By Angelo Bottone (Zeta Books, €22.00 pb; also available to individuals as an eBook, €9.00;

The beatification of John Henry Newman has seen the appearance of a host of books, of all kinds, to mark the occasion. But few of them will have the lasting qualities of this study of Newman's Dublin writings and their philosophical background, which makes a permanent and valuable contribution from Ireland to the development of our understanding of Newman's mind and outlook. This may well be the most important book published this year on Newman.
Angelo Bottone is an academic now resident in Ireland where he has taught at University College Dublin and elsewhere. His focus is on Newman's years in Ireland attempting to establish the Catholic University of Ireland - the institution which would later change into the UCD of today.
Newman's great work of this period, The Idea of a University, is universally acknowledged as one of the major intellectual landmarks of the 19th Century. But Dr Bottone demonstrates that the book, while very familiar, has been, in fact, little explored.
He analyses what went into its making, through the incorporation of various addresses and papers. But, in addition, reveals that behind it lies a wide range of other writings, which are connected with it and bear upon Newman's project.
He hugely enlarges just what was the true nature of Newman's Dublin enterprise, both practically and intellectually.
He then turns to a totally new and unexplored topic: just what were the philosophical sources for Newman's thoughts?
The whole scheme rests on the foundation of Aristotle's thought, but so thoroughly that the foundation on which the idea was raised is almost hidden from view.
Another spur was to be found in John Locke, not surprisingly, for he is the source of the utilitarian notions of the university that prevail today, and which Newman wished to counter.
Of even greater importance, and totally over-looked, is the figure of Cicero. Cicero domesticated Greek philosophy for the more practical and administration-minded Romans. Indeed, De Senectute and Pro lege Manilia were still a part of the Latin curriculum studies in Ireland through to the 1970s.
Rhetoric for the older scheme of education was the final stage of a course of study based on the use of language. Rhetoric today has a bad name, but, for Cicero and the Romans, it was an essential qualification of the educated person, the ability to order thought, to expound it, and to persuade.
Rhetoric thus serves as a way of completing, not just the civil person, but for Newman, the moral person as well.
From this, Dr Bottone goes on to consider just those aspects of Newman's Dublin writings, the formation of that whole person, the contrast between ''the gentleman'' and the truly ''educated man''.
For many readers, especially those concerned with the place and purpose of the university in the modern world, Dr Bottone's last chapter and conclusion may perhaps be the most vital and the most thought-provoking part of the book.
He suggests that, though Newman's project failed in a practical way, the idea of the university which he created remains as a touchstone of what a true education, of both the citizen and the moral person, ought to be. I found this a richly rewarding and a thought-provoking idea: Newman's notion of the metropolis as a true university seems to me a most exciting notion, one which connects with Walter Benjamin's arcades project.
The reader is left with notions arising from it that require further exploration.
Doubtless this is only the first of other explorations of Newman and his thought which we can look forward to from Dr Bottone.

Peter Costello