Federico Campagna | Gnosticismo

Episodio I 


Manuela Vasco: Salve a tutti. Benvenuti al nostro appuntamento mensile con Federico Campagna, attualmente filosofo in residenza nel nostro Museo per l’anno 2022. Con Federico Campagna stiamo ragionando sul tema della ‘immaginazione creatrice Mediterranea’ dall’antichità ai giorni nostri – con particolare attenzione al periodo tra la Tarda Antichità e l’inizio della Modernità. Immerso nei preziosi volumi e di fronte alle opere d’arte della Collezione di Francesco Federico Cerruti, Campagna si concentra sugli immaginari prodotti dai popoli Mediterranei (secondo una geografia espansa, che va dalla Valle dell’Indo alle coste Atlantiche dell’Europa) durante alcuni dei momenti più drammatici nella storia di questa area geografica. Sono Manuela Vasco dell’Ufficio Comunicazione del Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea – Collezione Cerruti e vi condurrò in questa nuova serie di podcast del Museo. Oggi a Federico Campagna, a cui diamo il benvenuto, vorremmo chiedere: cos’è lo Gnosticismo e perché dobbiamo saperlo?

Federico Campagna: Buongiorno. Siamo qui, Carolyn ed io, per introdurvi alla prima puntata di un nuovo podcast. Lo cominciamo in italiano ma lo continueremo in inglese e il motivo per cui cambiamo lingua, almeno nella prima puntata di questo podcast è perché iniziamo parlando dello Gnosticismo, di pensatori che vengono dalla fine della Tarda Antichità che avevano un rapporto particolare con l’idea di essere stranieri. Pensavano addirittura che l’unico modo giusto di vivere nel mondo fosse quello di essere stranieri dentro il mondo. Stranieri rispetto alla propria nazionalità, al proprio genere sessuale e alla propria lingua. Alcuni di loro addirittura si firmavano come “lo straniero” e quando parlavano di Dio dicevano “il Dio che non esiste, che è alieno”. Quindi iniziamo in italiano e poi, con accento straniero, continuiamo in inglese.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: Good evening. I’m here with Federico Campana to understand his research on Gnosticism and why he’s doing it, and to tell you that he’s currently our philosopher-in-residence at the Castello Di Rivoli. His office, his desk, his laptop, his pen are in Villa Cerruti, where we host the collection of Francesco Federico Cerruti, which contains artworks from the late Middle Ages, including many gold-leaf-background paintings with depictions of various scenes form the life of Christ, to the contemporary period. So we now have a philosopher in the Museum, and the Museum is alive with this performative moment of thinking out loud, or thinking quietly, thinking while being alive in a space where artworks seem to have been a way for Francesco Federico Cerruti to distance himself from downtown Turin and from the life of an industrialist and a bookbinder.

F.C.: Over the course of this coming year, 2022, which has just begun, but we can imagine is going to be an important and momentous year, for better or worse, I’m going to write a new book on the history of Mediterranean imagination. I’m going to map the moments in Mediterranean history when politics threatened to erase human life, enjoyment, and pleasure off the face of the earth. I will also discuss how people of the Mediterranean somehow managed to escape from the grip of history by moving to another place outside of it. I’m going to write this book, most of it at least, and to study for it, in Villa Cerruti. It’s a strange place, as I discovered when I moved there, and it was built by a strange man. My studio in the villa is in the tower. I’m writing and studying in an area that the owner of the house meant to be his death place, the place where he was going to abandon this earthly existence. And this is fitting for the book. The whole villa in this sense is perfect for the book. I remember a few years ago when I was younger, going to the Archaeological Museum in Turin, which is a wonderful place, by the way, where you can see incredible amounts of mummies and sarcophagi from Egypt. And looking inside the sarcophagi, you can see that many of them were painted with astral charts, with a number of instructions on how to navigate the night sky after death, to move from this dimension of reality to another dimension of reality. The inside of the sarcophagus was an astral chart, and the dead inside the sarcophagus used it as a navigational tool. Villa Cerruti reminds me a little bit of this sarcophagi. It is replete with paintings and artworks from all ages, but all of them seem to point to that desire, which I’m imagining or perhaps projecting onto Francesco Federico Cerruti, to escape the world where he was living, his own social condition, and the vicissitudes of history and time and geography and life, and to move elsewhere. In my studio, in the tower, near the room where he was supposed to die, to leave this dimension, to move to another dimension of reality, I am writing about the Mediterranean imagination at moments of greatest crisis. What I’m investigating is how in certain moments in history people refused to be destroyed by the wheels of history, to be sacrificed on the altar of history for the great and progressive destinies. And instead, they decided to migrate, as many people do today. But instead of migrating across boundaries, geographical and political, they migrated beyond metaphysical and temporal boundaries. They were trying to move from this world where time is calculated in days and weeks and months and years, where belongings are calculated in terms of citizenship or gender or familiar affiliation or ethnicity or allegiance, to another realm. But all the cards can be reshuffled, and destinies can be rewritten. I look at antiquity, starting from the time before time, the time of the gods, specifically Isis and Osiris, the brother and sister who were also husband and wife, father and mother of Horus, who began a certain type of race of humans. I continue through Hellenism, in particular that never quite existing character who was Alexander, known as the Great, Alexander who became Muslim at some point in his life. And then I move through late antiquity, the disintegration of the Roman Empire, the beginning of something very dark even to those who experienced it first, through the Renaissance, the great age of persecutions and the Crusades just before it. The age of great misunderstandings. I then move through the time of early modernity, the experiences of piracy, desertion, and faithfulness to one’s own flag, and then all the way to modernity, the age of revolutions, especially failed revolutions. I consider the role of exiled revolutionaries who moved in particular to the eastern part of the Mediterranean, all the way to today, to the experience of those who continued to imagine a place outside space and an era outside of time, such as the writer Roberto Calasso in Italy, and Georgia Connelly one of his teachers, who lived near the Castello in Turin. Today we’re going to discuss elements of Gnosticism. And to introduce it we’ll look at one image in particular, which is from the collection of Cerruti. It’s a fondo oro, and the author is Agnolo Gaddi, who is a 15th-century Italian painter. And in the collection, you can find this triptych – three elements presented together in a pictorial composition – with an angel, Jesus Christ, and the Virgin Mary. Jesus Christ, whom you see in the middle, holds a book – you often see in these mediaeval paintings that one of the characters holds a book – and a few words are written on the page. On this page in particular, is written something that is taken from the Gospel According to John, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This is a good starting point, I think, to enter this investigation into how people can escape history, because these words come from one of the four synoptic gospels, the Gospel According to John, that one gospel of which no film has been produced as yet. The Gospel According to John is interesting because it has to do with a certain sensibility in the time of late antiquity – in the time when the Roman Empire was collapsing, but also the Persian Empire, just on the other side, was about to start to collapse. Things were changing very rapidly, and they were going very badly. There was climate change, there were pandemics, civil wars, financial crisis, huge migrations and so on and so forth throughout the Mediterranean. In this atmosphere, a certain sensibility came about, which is well encapsulated by the movement known as Gnosticism. And the Gospel According to John, is the way in which the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, included the sensibility of Gnosticism within its own tradition. Gnostics means literally “those who know” the “ones in the know,” in the gnosis. Gnosis is a strange way of knowing. When we talk about understanding today, we often use Greek words; for example, “epistemology” is a way to discuss our discourse about knowledge, and it comes from the Greek word episteme that defines a certain type of more practical, empirical, clear, and rational knowledge. Gnosis is a different type of knowledge: it is an immediate, very deep intuitive knowledge. Maybe it’s the kind of knowledge that you have when you know you’ve fallen in love, or when you know you hate something, when you know disgust or you know attraction. It’s instinctive and it’s absolutely clear. The Gnostics believed that they knew something about reality that they could not fully articulate in a scientific treatise. What did they know? Well, they knew something that we also know very well. They knew first of all, that the world is full of evil. They ask themselves “From which place comes the evil there is in the world?” And the answer to this question, they said, is if the world is full of evil, is it not perhaps because the world is an evil place? And then they continued, if the world is an evil place and there is a God who created it, is it not perhaps because God is evil? And the answer, of course, is yes. They knew in a way that we will see in a moment that we indeed are trapped in an evil place, and we are governed by what they called the “authorities,” the “rulers.” That’s what they call the demonic forces that rule over this world. And they keep us in ignorance and trap us in this illusion, they keep us in this ignorance, because they want to continue governing us and to trap that small spark of light of life and enjoyment that makes us alive, to mine it to a certain extent, to extract energy from it. And the world is a trap in which we are kept by ignorance, but it is a trap that we can escape, because fundamentally we don’t belong to it. The Gnostics imagined that in fact, that thing in you that hears when you hear, that thing in you that thinks when you think, the thing in you that calls yourself “me”. Well, that thing is a spark of light that belongs to another dimension. And the spark of light needs to go back to that dimension. To do that, that spark in you, which truly fundamentally is you, is to disobey the authorities, is to not fall for any of the lies that govern this world, and in particular the lies of language. By sabotaging the world and by sabotaging anything that the world imposes on us, we can migrate out of this trap. We can break free of this trap and reunite with another layer of reality in which we discover that fundamentally we are androgynous rather than male and female, that we are fundamentally foreign to everything rather than belonging to anything. And where we discover that we are one with that God who is not God, is beyond God to the extent that it is known in Gnostic literature as the God who doesn’t exist. Precisely because this God does not exist, is beyond existence, it is the only truly living God. Gnosticism is a fascinating movement of thought that we almost lost entirely. It was cast out of the Orthodox Christian Church. We lost every piece of writing that they ever produced. We only knew bits in the writing of Christian writers who wrote against it, until in 1945, by a miracle, we discovered a few books. And on these books, we can now base our attempts to reinterpret and retrace their philosophies. In the room where Francesco Federico Cerruti was planning to migrate from this dimension of existence into the next, I’m currently reading these books and these texts, which are known today as the Nag Hammadi Library, because Nag Hammadi was the place in southern Egypt where these books were found. And I’m trying to extract from them, maybe not a lesson, but an example of how it is possible in an age of great distress, such as the age of late antiquity – as I was saying, an age of pandemics, of civil wars, of geopolitical shifts and bloodbaths, economic crisis, great poverty, huge inequalities, slavery and so on and so forth – how even in one of these ages, it is possible to imagine that when history has no place for us, outside of history, there is a place for us. And I look forward in the next brief episode of this podcast to continue this exploration. Perhaps we will move beyond late antiquity. Perhaps we will move backwards into earlier antiquity. We might move back to the histories that we find in folk tales in Persia, at the time of Hellenism, or the translation movements that you find in Spain and in Iraq at the time of the Crusades. But in any case, it will still be here, from Villa Cerruti in Rivoli. Thank you.

M.V.: Ringraziamo Federico Campagna, attualmente Filosofo in Residenza nel nostro Museo, con il quale stiamo ragionando sull’idea di ‘immaginazione creatrice Mediterranea’. Sono Manuela Vasco dell’Ufficio Comunicazione del Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea – Collezione Cerruti e vi ringrazio per essere stati con noi ad ascoltare questo podcast, ricordandovi che i programmi del Castello di Rivoli sono realizzati primariamente con il contributo della Regione Piemonte. Ringraziamo inoltre la Fondazione CRT, la Città di Torino, la Città di Rivoli e i nostri partner Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo, Intesa Sanpaolo/Gallerie d’Italia e la Fondazione CRC. I programmi digitali sono realizzati anche grazie alla Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo. Vi aspettiamo per la prossima puntata di questo avvincente podcast il mese prossimo con il filosofo Federico Campagna. Non vero l’ora!