Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Burning of Giordano Bruno

Following on from the post about Robert Anton Wilson here's another synchronicity. Last month, on the way to visit the Wake locations in the Phoenix Park and Chapelizod, I went to see the Leonora Carrington exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art. 

I wasn't expecting to find anything related to Finnegans Wake here. But in Room 7, I came across this painting, 'The Burning of Giordano Bruno'. 

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was the Robert Anton Wilson of his day, a man who thought so far outside the standard 'reality tunnels' of the time that he was burned at the stake as a heretic. His ideas were seen as so dangerous that he was gagged at his execution, to stop him talking to the crowd.

Carrington's painting is full of occult symbols, reflecting Bruno's interest in hermeticism.

His main heresy was the idea that the universe is infinite, and our earth is just one of countless inhabited worlds:
The universe is infinite
Bruno's statue in the Campo de Fiori
with matter as we know it extending throughout;
the universe has no borders nor limits;
the sun is just another star;
the stars are other suns,
infinite in number and in extent
with an infinity of worlds (like our own) circling them.
In the universe
there is neither up, nor down, nor right, nor left
but all is relative to where we are
there is no centre;
all is turning and in motion,
for vicissitude and motion is the principle of life;
earth turns around its own axis even as it turns around the sun
the sun turns too around its own axis

Julia Jones,  A Primer to Giordano Bruno: New Age Prophet, Mystic and Heretic

He was also very rude about the Catholic Breviary (book of rites):

The person who compiled the breviary is an ugly dog-fucked cuckold, shameless and the breviary is like an out-of tune lute, and in it there are many things that are profane and irrelevant, and therefore it is not worth reading by serious men, but ought to be burned.

Testimony of Fra Celestino, a fellow prisoner of the Inquisition, quoted by Ingrid D. Rowland, Giordano Bruno: Philosopher Heretic

You may be more afraid to bring that sentence against me than I am to accept it.
                                                                                                Bruno to the inquisitors 

Bruno's statue now stands in Rome's Campo De Fiori, where he was executed. An inscription on the base says, 'To Bruno - the century predicted by him - here where the fire burned.'

James Joyce discovered Bruno when he was studying Italian at University College, Dublin. 
In A Portrait, Stephen Dedalus discusses Bruno with his Italian tutor, Father Charles Ghezzi:

Other wrangle with little round head rogue’s eye Ghezzi. This time about Bruno the Nolan.…He said Bruno was a terrible heretic. I said he was terribly burned. He agreed to this with some sorrow. 

According to his brother, Stanislaus, Joyce was so impressed by Bruno's writing that when he considered becoming an actor, he chose the stage name Gordon Brown! 

Bruno is named in Finnegans Wake more than any other philosopher. The main idea that Joyce took from him was the 'coincidence of contraries':

His philosophy is a kind of dualism - every power in nature must evolve an opposite in order to realise itself and opposition brings reunion.

Joyce, Letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 27 January 1925, Selected Letters, p 305

Bruno, born in Nola, called himself 'il Nolano' (the Nolan). This reminded Joyce of Dublin's leading bookseller and stationer, Browne and Nolan's of 24-5 Nassau Street. So in Finnegans Wake, Joyce illustrates the coincidence of contraries by splitting Bruno the Nolan into the two booksellers:
— Dearly beloved brethren: Bruno and Nola, leymon bogholders and stationary lifepartners off orangey Saint Nessau Street, were explaining it avicendas all round each other ere yesterweek out of Ibn Sen and Ipanzussch. When himupon Nola Bruno monopolises his egobruno most unwillingly seses by the mortal powers alionola equal and opposite brunoipso, id est, eternally provoking alio opposite equally as provoked as Bruno at being eternally opposed by Nola. 488.04-11  

Fweet lists around fifty appearances of this Browne/Nolan motif.

The coincidence of contraries is also described on page 92, at the climax of the shaggy dog story of the trial of an Irish peasant accused of taking an unlicensed pig to a fair.  The accused, Pegger Festy (Shem) has just made a clumsy defence speech which causes everyone in court to burst out laughing, apart from the chief witness, the Wet Pinter (Shaun):

The hilariohoot of Pegger's Windup cumjustled as neatly with the tristitone of the Wet Pinter's as were they isce et ille equals of opposites, evolved by a onesame power of nature or of spirit, iste, as the sole condition and means of its himundher manifestation and polarised for reunion by the symphysis of their antipathies. 92.07-11

The hilarity/hooting laughter evoked by Pegger Festy's winding up of his speech contrasted with the sad tone of the Wet Pinter. The pair were opposites 'polarised for reunion' by synthesis.

Joyce is using Bruno's motto 'In tristitia hilaris hilaritate tristis' ('In sadness cheerful, in cheerfulness sad'), which appears on the title page of his play The Candlemaker.

Bruno is paired with another Italian philosopher, Giambattista Vico, in a Latin passage on page 287 (Joyce uses Vico's cyclical theory of history in the Wake). Here's the translation from McHugh's Annotations to Finnegans Wake:

Come without delay, ye men of old, while a small piece of second-grade imperial papyrus, concerning those to be born later, is exhibited with more propriety in the Roman tongue of the dead. Let us, seated joyfully on jars of fleshpots and beholding in fact the site of Paris whence such great human progeny is to arise, turn over in our minds the most ancient wisdom of both the priests Giordano and Giambattista: the fact that the whole of the river flows safely, with a clear stream, and that those things which were to have been on the bank would later be in the bed; finally, that everything recognises itself through something opposite and that the stream is embraced by rival banks. 287.20

Finding the philosopher of Finnegans Wake in the Museum of Modern Art might not be enough to count as a synchronicity. But in a glass case directly underneath Leonora Carrington's painting, without any explanation1, there was a copy of James Stephens' novel of Irish folklore, The Crock of Gold.

In 1927, James Joyce, despairing of his ability to finish the Wake, asked James Stephens to do it for him.  

His reason for choosing Stephens was synchronicity!

How Joyce made this discovery I don't know, but he revealed to me that his name was James and mine was James, that my name was Stephens, and the name he had taken for himself in his best book was Stephen: that he and I were born in the same country, in the same city, in the same year, in the same month, on the same day, at the same hour, six o'clock in the morning of the second of February. He held, with a certain contained passion, that the second of February, his day and my day, was the day of the bear, the badger and the boar. On the second of February the squirrel lifts his nose out of his tail and surmises lovingly of nuts, the bee blinks and thinks again of the Sleeping Beauty, his queen, the wasp rasps and rustles and thinks he is Napoleon Bonaparte, the robin twitters and thinks of love and worms. I learned that on that day of days Joyce and I, Adam and Eve, Dublin and the devil all shake a leg and come a-popping and a-hopping, yelling here we are again, we and the world and the moon are new, up the poets, up the rabbits and the spiders and the rats.

James Stephens, 'The James Joyce I Knew', The Listener, Oct 24 1940 (quoted in Ellmann's biography)

1 It was probably there to reinforce the exhibition's claim that Carrington, who was English but had an Irish mother, was a Celtic artist.

1 comment:

  1. That "Burning of Giordano Bruno" painting is fantastic.