Another image figures in the mystery of The New Science (1744), Giambattista Vico's enigmatic account of the origins and development of human culture. This is the "impresa"or title-page image. Because of the motto engraved on the plinth at the figure's right, the image is called "Ignota Latebat,"or, "She Who Lay Hidden."
Who is this "she" and why did she "lay hidden"? Donald Phillip Verene, Mario Papini and others have written extensively on the meanings and role of this image.
Presuming that the allegorical figure is Metafisica (winged temples, surmounting a sphere), the issue focuses on the relationship among the objects she holds and occupies.Specifically, the Metafisica's eyes gaze into a mirror to seethe reflection of a triangle (also known as a builder's (mason's or carpenter's) "square" she holds in her right hand.
The mirror takes up the role played by the
jewel in the "dipintura" image, and Metafisica's own
eyes replace the divine eye. The plinth and globe are also shown
in the dipintura, but in a different spatial relationship. The
whole of The New Science is now contained in this female
personification, customary in the emblem traditions of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries. We must think through the relationship
of Metafisica's winged temples and the helmet of Hermes; the mirror
and the anamorphic jewel; the triangle/square and the acute-witty-angular
structure of human institutions and history. There are many issues
surrounding this image and its ideas. This review covers ONLY
those that relate to the presumed Möbius-band relationships
that seem to arise out of the gaze, the mirror, and the objects
in the view of Metafisica.
pre-bolagram annotation of Vico's(reversed) "impresa"
The impresa image, "Ignota Latebat,"is
organized like in a Möbius-strip fashion that demonstrates
several Lacanian ideas:
Vico gives the main clues to his discovery process in his Autobiography. In that work, he plants several deliberate lies (the dates of his birth and an inaugural address) that the astute reader may paste together to see Vico's self-reconstruction as a melancholy hero who vacillates between the humors of choler and melancholy the humors of the classical hero, Herakles, for whom madness and divinity were two sides of the same coin.The centrality of a "Hermetic" view for Vico and the readers of The New Science is evident by his placement of the helmet of Hermes in the dipintura. This is the only object in that image that is not paired with commentary. Its place as an empty signifier points to the generic function of wings on heads: to indicate the power of thought to transcend its immediate circumstances.
Jouissance is mentioned directly in The New Science as the object of the text. The reader is instructed to "narrate the New Science for himself," to take on the role of author, just as Vico has taken on the role of the traditionally divine author of the human world. The divine eye is the position of the reader, who inverts the metaphors of mythic and heroic mentality to read their reversed metonymical "messages."The reader will "feel a divine pleasure throughout his body"in the process of seeing the "necessity" of the ages of the gods, heroes, and men. This is because the reader is able to see the teleology that generated this structure as transparent,its necessity as one self-projected by the collective human subject in their "Promethean" desire for authenticity.
Vico's "code" to the "reader-insider"was couched in key terms and references that would have been generally recognizable in the eighteenth century a lore of philosophically interpreted humors, Stoicism, and Epicureanism enriched with classical erudition and broad reading in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The modern reader's reading is enriched, when it is, with psychologisms,scientisms, and terms of mechanical economics, but the results can be the same if the Möbius-band structure is intuited.These make the search for pleasure in the text and in theory very much the same from age to age, and allow the same "anamorphic"wry insight into cultural institutions now as then.
Battistini, Andrea. Teoria delle imprese e linguaggio iconico vichiano. Bollettino del centrodi studi vichiani 14-15 (1984-85): 149-77.
Papini, Mario, Il geroglifico della storia: Significato e funzione della dipintura nella 'Scineza Nuova' di G. B. Vico (Bologna: Capelli, 1984).
Papini, Mario. IGNOTA LATEBAT:L'impresa negletta della Scienza Nuova. Bollettino del centro studi vichiani 14-15 (1984-85): 179-214.
Verene, Donald Phillip. Vico's Ignota Latebat.' New Vico Studies 5 (1987): 77-98.
© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved