Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category


Are Blogs the Salons of the 21st Century?

Written on November 13, 2007 by Arantza de Areilza in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Literature, Philosophy

Arantza de Areilza

Click here to read this post in Spanish


From the 16th century until the 20th century, salons and tertulias had been characterized by their exclusivity.  They were attended by strict invitation, and only by those who had previously demonstrated their erudition and mastery of the art of discourse, sharpness and the agility of commentary.  The salon was reserved "aux hommes et femmes d’esprit". 

During the 16th, 17th, and 18th century, it was the aristocratic women who gave soul to these forums of influence and intellectual creativity. The Duchess of Retz, in the court of Henry III of France, was the only woman admitted in l’Académie du Palais, and received, in her salon, the majority of the Pléiade poets. 

During the Préciosité (preciousness) movement of the 17th century, the Countess of Lafayette, author of the Princess of Cléves, quintessence of French letters, was hostess of one of the most famous salons in history, frequented by important figures from the heights of La Rochefoucald, Louis of Bourbon-Condé, or the Marquess of Sévigné. 

It was the Enlightenment which produced the major blossoming of these tertulias which converted into discreet forums such the salon of Mme D’Epinay, under whose roof Rousseau wrote his treatise on education “Emile,” and in which Chateau de Chevrette, the Encyclopedists, D’Almbert, Diderot, Saint Lambert or the Baron of Holbach gathered. 

All of these women are characterized by their profound knowledge of Classical languages and of history. They knew how to create spaces of dialogue and reflection which were, oftentimes, the origin of many great philosophical and political ideas of their time. The Enlightened women of those centuries found a subtle way to influence thought and politics from the top, from the world of ideas, behind closed doors, in the privacy of their homes.  From the private sphere they knew how to weave the fabric of the art of the word which gave them voices in the public sphere. 

Salons have persevered until our time but never before have they had the possibility of exhibiting their collective reflections before an unlimited public.  This is what the internet allows for today, specifically blogs, an exclusive salon open to reading and to commentary from interested strangers.  I suspect that Mme de Sévigné or the Duchess of Retz would not have been interested in spreading the art of their oratory and their ideas in an unknown sphere.  However, in our democratic and participative societies of the 21st century, a general desire for opinion exists.  Today, thanks to the web 2.0, there is no longer a need to ask or win the right to have a voice because all of us can express or publish our thoughts with a click.  What an incredibly important advance!

For this reason, and in light of received petitions, the Sapiens Tribune has decided to create an Open Tribune with the objective of inviting our readers to express their opinion in our modest salon, beyond the traditional commentaries to specific posts, by means of sending articles, which, following an editorial revision, will be published in this blog. 



Written on November 5, 2007 by Arantza de Areilza in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Literature

Faust Arantza de Areilza

(Click here for this post in Spanish)

I have always been fascinated by Faust‘s legend which has its roots in the Middle Ages and to which successive generations have added their interpretations.  It is, perhaps, the idea of individual duality which underlies this Faustian legend: the complex relationships between good and evil, the man who is simultaneously good and evil, the fight between demons and gods in the heart of critical reason, the idea of the "elective affinities," as Goethe said, of ethics as a personal choice between conflicting values.

This Faustian myth underlines the Goethian idea that the study of humanity is man.  Faust speaks of the anxiety of wisdom and of its limits.  Faust longs for another soul, a limitless wisdom and search for the infinite saying "Remember that the devil is old, grow old, to understand him".

As Jose Maria González García described in his great work "Las Huellas de Fausto" (The Footprints of Faust), the laws of elective affinity determine the relationships between men and impregnate the whole creation of the human spirit.  Elective affinities are these "forces of attraction and repulsion that move human sympathies, the contraposition between liberty and passion and the destruction of stable bonds by the interruption of a new element".  Elective affinities are, by definition, the fight between duty and disposition.

Goethe’s Faust sold his soul to the devil in return for learning and experimentation in his insatiable and unsatisfied search for freedom, in a historic context, in which man stopped being a man of culture, and chose to be a man of specialization, in an economy which, for the first time, divided work.  From the renunciation of the Faustian universality of the man indebted to work specialization, the Universal Man embodied by Goethe, died, immersed in destiny.

Like him, I believe that destiny is not a divine imposition, but rather a product of the daemon, "this interior demon which moves the thread of his own life and whose power is impossible to steal", in the words of García González.

But: How does our society present men and women who aspire to be Men of Culture?  What has been lost with the disappearance of the Universal Man?  Should we reclaim the Kulturmensch?


Private Vices, Public Virtues

Written on October 29, 2007 by Arantza de Areilza in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Literature, Philosophy

(Click here for this post in Spanish)

Arantza de Areilza


In these shadowy days of national and international politics, the memory comes to me of the figure Bernard de Mandeville, doctor and philosopher, of Dutch origins and his great work “The Fable of the Bees” situated in the England at the beginning of the 18th century. 

This context of historic upheaval, marked by the dethroning of James II of England by William of Orange-Nasseau in the revolution of 1688, the stir caused by the death of Ann Stuart, daughter of James II, the ascension to the throne of the House of Hanover in 1714, the continuing strength acquired by the Jacobites which seemed to threaten the stability of England, and the bankruptcy of religious legitimacies since the 17th century, the insistence of conservative and moralistic strength of the age, in which the importance of virtue and the civic spirit to conserve the cohesion of society was renewed.  A society in the midst of drastic change, with accelerated growth of the urban centers and precarious living conditions of the humble classes.  In this instability, political as well as economic, he considered the public necessity to morally instruct to the society taking steps to what was called Civic Humanism, based in the belief of the public necessity to control private immorality. 

Mandeville resisted this course and, and therefore, the idea of necessity to repress private vice to the benefit of the well being of the Nation.  He rejected the moral interpretation of public life, attributing it to those who did not understand Man, and that the true force which controls is nothing other than personal interest or selfishness.  He expanded on a theory of progress and of the functioning of society based upon acts of individual interest in which virtue and civility are substituted for selfishness and commercial wealth.  For Mandeville, the things that the moralists of the 18th century considered vices were precisely the passions which contributed material prosperity.  Therefore, man should accept his natural selfishness and make adequate use of it converting vice into virtue.  The social cohesion was based in a mutual necessity and not in religious virtue.  The social progress arose from the passions and vices of men, and their passions, were compensated by the interest, allowing them to live in peace. 

This remind us that the demands of moral reform are often aroused by selfishness, hypocrisy or pride and insist that, in every complex society, vice mixes with virtue, which is never a nexus for social unity. 

“The Fable of the Bees” speaks about the complex relations between good and evil, or between virtues and vices, or of the certainty of the difficult transformation of personal interests in economic life in the function of a collective well being.  The formula, “private vices, public virtues” is this “force that wants to create evil and always creates good” as Goethe’s Mephistopheles would say.  It is the idea of Kantian “unsociable sociability” or Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.”  It is the liberal idea, according to which, the common good or the collective interest, is only possible through the individual search of their own interest or benefit.  It is the desire of all men by obtaining more and the eternal feeling of dissatisfaction which leads them to do whatever they can to obtain the desired.  It is, as Max Weber said, the step of the search of the daemon to the pact with the Devil: my next theme. 


The Fall

Written on October 26, 2007 by Felicia Appenteng in Literature, Philosophy

Paradise Felicia Appenteng

In light of recent posts about Lost Paradises, I thought that it might be interesting to listen to a discussion about the original loss of Paradise and the fall of mankind.  An examination of the nature of sin is necessary to understand lost Paradises because perfect places and imperfect beings are inextricably bound to each other. 

In this line of thought, I found this idea to be a perfect introduction to one of my favorite programmes, the BBC Radio show, In Our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg.  On April 8th, 2004, he held a discussion called "The Fall"

How would you characterize man’s relationship to Paradise throughout history?  Could you frame history as an attempt to achieve the impossible Paradise?

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