The 18c. Neapolitan philosopher of culture, Giambattista Vico, was remarkably "Lacanian" in his account of the birth of space. Consistent with Lacan's notion of a "topography"enabling the exteriorization of the psyche, Vico's main work,The New Science, displays a dipintura or image of this topography that, with the help of a diagrammatic interpretation of Lacan, offers a strikingly post-modern conception of space,culture, and thought.

Using Slavoj Zizek's technique of anachronism("It is clear that Shakespeare had read Lacan") I, too,shall commit this fallacy to claim that Vico had read, if not Lacan, then at least Zizek on the subject of Alfred Hitchcock.To prove the case, I will show how the use of boundaries in Vico's dipintura is fundamental not just to his philosophy of culture but to art, history, and the development of space in general.

The reason for including this "difficult"philosopher in an architecture- and art-based project lies in his use of imagery to summarize his theory of culture. The "dipintura"(left) was hastily engraved and inserted into pages left blank by the withdrawal of a controversial text just before publication,but Vico wittily gave it prominence as a "memory image"that restated all of his ideas in visual form. Strikingly, the dipintura, a frontispiece to The New Science, is already a "bolagram." Its toroid structure is a condensation of Vico's theory of "three ages of mankind," shown in the form of the clearing made by early cultures to set up altars to worship the sky. The divine oculos radiates to a jewel on the breast of Metafisica (Metaphysics) who stands atop a sphere representing the visible universe. The ray is reflected ("authority is based on representation through metaphor") to a statue of Homer, cracked at the base to indicate that the true nature of this "first poet" has not been well understood. Around the altar and at the bottom of the engraving are arrayed objects that stand for the development of human institutions: religion,the alphabet, a tiller for navigation, fasces for government,scales for commerce. MOST significantly, the signs that Homer gestures directly towards are the helmet of Hermes and a caduceus sporting the figure-8 serpents, which are as much as an image can say to invoke the validity of a self-replicating topographical structure of human thought and experience.

1 / bolagram of Vico's system of"three ages"


The position of authority and the immobility of the subject construct the main line of Vico's reading of the network of symbolic relationships that form a history of three ages. Against that structure of cultural institutions, the scholar/reader is able, like nations


2 / bolagram of Vico's theory "à la dipintura"

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved