Renaissance or Reconnaissance

Posted by Edward Willatt on Wednesday, May 13, 2009 Under: Literature and History


I am reading The Age of Reconnaissance by J. H. Parry (Cardinal, 1973) and this has led me to think about the ways in which different historical ages are named.  I recently heard a historian point out that the Middle Ages were in fact the final or end days for those who lived in them.  They saw so many things we seek to understand in naturalistic terms as signs of God's work and of the impending end of the world.  This refers us to very concrete details of an age, to what was seen to be at work in everyday life thanks the mediation of saints.  It concerns how objects were related in the experience of an age, how they related in order to form experience as such. 

?

 

J. H. Parry refers to a period that is often referred to as the Renaissance as The Age of Reconnaissance.  For him it is the clash of geographies that operates in this age.  The practical geographies of explorers clashed with the theoretical geographies of the scholastics (with Ptolemy being the dominant influence on their theories).  The object of study was not really the same in each case.  For the scholastic it was the wealth of human knowledge that counted.  This is what they explored.  Renaissance humanism is represented in their attempts to turn not towards the technologies of travel in space or extension but to the depth and wealth of human knowledge.  It was the classical age that they considered the pinnacle of human achievement and so its texts were the source of journeys in intensity rather than extensity.  Scholars sought to delve deeper into the greatest age of human achievement through more careful study of its surviving texts.  As Parry points out, the Age of Reconnaissance did start out with less knowledge than the ancients.  Going back to the greatest age of humanity was just as exciting as setting forth on the high seas.  There were ancient writers to be re-discovered and well known ones whose real depths had yet to be discovered. 

 

Parry’s presentation of this Age of Reconnaissance reminds me of Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation where the contrast is between images and words.  Just as for Parry the practical and the theoretical are disjointed, so for Foucault we get different presentations of the same object (madness) in words and in images in the Renaissance.  For Foucault we find the ‘historical a priori’ in this way.  He presents  knowledge as a concrete synthesis, one that relates concrete details, very different statements and visibilities, in order to account for the experience of an age.  This is how we find it’s historical a priori.  There is a reciprocal determination of two things that are very different, allowing us to account for an age through this encounter rather than assuming that its identity is simply given and thus unaccounted for.  Parry places immense importance in geographical exploration, arguing that it was almost the only field of inquiry prior to the mid-seventeenth century where science and technology met (with the exception of military arts, military engineering and, to a smaller extent, medicine) (p. 15).  It was where the two poles of experience for the Age of Reconnaissance were able to meet.  It was the clearing where an encounter could take place that would change experience itself.    

 

For Parry the change was brought about by exploration when it established the idea of ‘continually expanding knowledge’ (p. 30).  For him a priori thought is something that was overcome by the adventurous technologies associated with reconnaissance (p. 13).  However, for Foucault we must seek to account for the experience of different ages by historicising the a priori.  The continual expansion of knowledge was something that geographic exploration introduced, making it the horizon of a new age and its experience.  However, this is to be explained only in the context of wider and concrete synthesis Foucault calls knowledge.  It is accounted for by the clash between different concrete details, of things that were intimately involved in ways of life and forms of experience.

 

In : Literature and History 



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Renaissance or Reconnaissance

Posted by Edward Willatt on Wednesday, May 13, 2009 Under: Literature and History


I am reading The Age of Reconnaissance by J. H. Parry (Cardinal, 1973) and this has led me to think about the ways in which different historical ages are named.  I recently heard a historian point out that the Middle Ages were in fact the final or end days for those who lived in them.  They saw so many things we seek to understand in naturalistic terms as signs of God's work and of the impending end of the world.  This refers us to very concrete details of an age, to what was seen to be at work in everyday life thanks the mediation of saints.  It concerns how objects were related in the experience of an age, how they related in order to form experience as such. 

?

 

J. H. Parry refers to a period that is often referred to as the Renaissance as The Age of Reconnaissance.  For him it is the clash of geographies that operates in this age.  The practical geographies of explorers clashed with the theoretical geographies of the scholastics (with Ptolemy being the dominant influence on their theories).  The object of study was not really the same in each case.  For the scholastic it was the wealth of human knowledge that counted.  This is what they explored.  Renaissance humanism is represented in their attempts to turn not towards the technologies of travel in space or extension but to the depth and wealth of human knowledge.  It was the classical age that they considered the pinnacle of human achievement and so its texts were the source of journeys in intensity rather than extensity.  Scholars sought to delve deeper into the greatest age of human achievement through more careful study of its surviving texts.  As Parry points out, the Age of Reconnaissance did start out with less knowledge than the ancients.  Going back to the greatest age of humanity was just as exciting as setting forth on the high seas.  There were ancient writers to be re-discovered and well known ones whose real depths had yet to be discovered. 

 

Parry’s presentation of this Age of Reconnaissance reminds me of Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation where the contrast is between images and words.  Just as for Parry the practical and the theoretical are disjointed, so for Foucault we get different presentations of the same object (madness) in words and in images in the Renaissance.  For Foucault we find the ‘historical a priori’ in this way.  He presents  knowledge as a concrete synthesis, one that relates concrete details, very different statements and visibilities, in order to account for the experience of an age.  This is how we find it’s historical a priori.  There is a reciprocal determination of two things that are very different, allowing us to account for an age through this encounter rather than assuming that its identity is simply given and thus unaccounted for.  Parry places immense importance in geographical exploration, arguing that it was almost the only field of inquiry prior to the mid-seventeenth century where science and technology met (with the exception of military arts, military engineering and, to a smaller extent, medicine) (p. 15).  It was where the two poles of experience for the Age of Reconnaissance were able to meet.  It was the clearing where an encounter could take place that would change experience itself.    

 

For Parry the change was brought about by exploration when it established the idea of ‘continually expanding knowledge’ (p. 30).  For him a priori thought is something that was overcome by the adventurous technologies associated with reconnaissance (p. 13).  However, for Foucault we must seek to account for the experience of different ages by historicising the a priori.  The continual expansion of knowledge was something that geographic exploration introduced, making it the horizon of a new age and its experience.  However, this is to be explained only in the context of wider and concrete synthesis Foucault calls knowledge.  It is accounted for by the clash between different concrete details, of things that were intimately involved in ways of life and forms of experience.

 

In : Literature and History 



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