2015-2017: Self-Constitution and Discursive Mediation in Late Neoplatonism

Project development

Talk: Marilena Vlad: “Parler de Dieu et parler à Dieu: Damascius et Denys l’Aréopagite sur le rôle de la discursivité”, Université de Fribourg, Suisse, 21 March 2016.

In this conference, I discuss an issue that equally concerns Damascius and Dionysius the Areopagite, but that the two thinkers address in a different way. The first principle is inexpressible in itself. However, we are to address it in some way, if only to describe it as inaccessible. In this regard, in my conference, I show that there is a common theme linking the perspectives of the two authors, namely the idea that the first principle (God) is “marvelous” (thaumastos), just because he cannot accept any name and cannot be caught in any discursive description. However, I show that, if for Damascius this means we should refrain from using any name, however, for Dionysius, the absence of the name is itself already a name, which makes us able to call God through all possible divine names, despite the fact that he remains essentially indescribable. I expanded this conference and later turned it into a journal article that I submitted for publication in the journal Revue philosophique et théologique de Fribourg (BDI).

Talk: Marilena Vlad: : “L’être premier chez Proclus et Denys l’Aréopagite”, Les Eléments de théologie et le Livre des causes du Ve au XVIIe siècle, le 14-15-16 avril, à Paris (en Sorbonne).

I exposed the difficulties inherent in trying to capture being first through discourse in Proclus’ perspective. I discussed the problem of the first being, as it appears in Proclus’ treatise Elements of Theology and in Dionysius’ Divine Names. The aim was to identify the common doctrinal points, as well as the radical difference between the two perspectives. I have shown that Proclus explains being by referring to the non-being of the One, who remains unparticipated, above the henads and above being. Instead, Dionysius explains being without passing through successive levels of causality. In this regard, for him, the cause of being is precisely the One who says being, and who, by saying it, gives being. This is what Dionysius paradoxically calls “the being above being”. In the next period of the project, I will develop this conference into a scientific paper that will be submitted for publication in a collective volume.

Journal Article: Marilena Vlad, “Stepping into the Void: Proclus and Damascius on Approaching the First Principle”, in: International Journal of the Platonic Tradition, 2017 (ISI, accepted for publication)

In this article, I analyze how the attempt to grasp the first principle affects our discourse. More precisely, I concentrate on a phenomenon that Proclus and Damascius call “stepping into the void” but that the two philosophers understand differently. The idea of “stepping into the void” (κενεμβατεῖν), which can be traced back to Plotinus, radically differentiates the philosophical perspectives of Damascius and Proclus. Thus, Proclus warns that, talking about the first principle, taking him as an object of thought, is actually a negative way of “stepping into the void”, which should be avoided. On the contrary, Damascius begins his approach from this warning of Proclus, and tries to show that the only appropriate manner to uncover the absolute principle is precisely through this “stepping into the void”, this time, in a positive sense, namely through a constant attempt to understand that the first principle is precisely that which overturns our speech.

Journal Article: Marilena Vlad, “Defying words: Damascius and the travail of the unsayable”, in: Chôra – Revue d’Études Anciennes et Médiévales: Discursive Mediation in Neoplatonism, 2017 (BDI, accepted for publication);

I focused on the theme of the first principle in Damascius’ perspective. The problem is to know to what extent discursiveness – the fact of speaking about this principle – affects the problem itself and our manner of access to it. Any attempt to refine our view on the principle only leads us further away from it. What is Damascius’ solution? What is the role of the discourse in our attempt to grasp the principle? I analyzed the manner in which Damascius understands his own discourse and how he turns this inevitably inadequate discourse into a manner of producing the consciousness of the principle. The principle is not described, but rather made manifest through an intellective “birth labor” (ὠδίς). I have demonstrated that this “labor” is not the sign of an inability to grasp the principle. On the contrary, it represents an indirect, non-descriptive, but very rigorous manner of grasping the presence of the principle in the discourse and through the discourse.

Journal Article: Andrei Timotin, “Langage discursif et non discursif chez Plotin. A propos d’Enn. IV, 3 [27], 18”, in: Marilena Vlad (ed.), Chôra – Revue d’Études Anciennes et Médiévales: Discursive Mediation in Neoplatonism, 2017 (BDI, accepted for publication);

In this study, A. Timotin showed that, in the first instance, the standard Plotinian position is that both discursive λογισμός and discursive language are inappropriate to the intelligible realm; they characterize precisely that part of the soul that does not remain within the intelligible and is turned toward the sensible world. The study shows that Plotinus considers, however, that a non-discursive λογισμός is not incompatible with the condition of the soul remained within intelligible. Starting from an analysis of Ennead V 8 [31] and V, 1 [10], the study demonstrates that Plotinus considers the existence of a kind of non-discursive language, on the one hand, with reference to the Egyptian symbolic writing, and, on the other hand, in relation to the topic of prayer. A. Timotin also shows that a similar approach is already attested in Plutarch‘s works, especially in De Genio Socratis, in an exegetical context providing different explanations for the manner in which Socrates could communicate with his daimôn, a traditional Middle-Platonic theme.

Edition of the Journal Chora on “Discursive Mediation in Neoplatonism” (coordinated by Marilena Vlad)

I collected the material for a special volume dedicated to the theme of our project: the problem of discursive mediation in neoplatonism. I conducted the editorial work of this volume and submitted it for publication in a special issue of Chora. Revue d’études anciennes et médiévales dedicated to this theme. Contents: Marilena Vlad, Présentation du dossier; Dominic O’Meara (Université de Fribourg), Souls and Cities in late ancient Platonic Philosophy; Pauliina Remes (Uppsala University), Plotinus on Starting Points of Reasoning; Anca Vasiliu (Centre Léon Robin de recherche sur la pensée antique, CNRS / Université Paris-Sorbonne), La pensée de l’Un ou la limite de la médiation selon Plotin; David Ellis (Boston College), Living a Double Life: Intellect, Soul, and Language in Plotinus; Francis Lacroix (Université de Laval), Logismos et dianoia chez Plotin; Andrei Timotin (Institut de Philosophie “Alexandru Dragomir”, Bucarest), Langage discursif et non-discursif chez Plotin. A propos d’Enn. IV, 3 [27], 18; Alain Lernould (CNRS/Univ. de Lille), La dianoia chez Proclus : pensée et discursivité; David Vachon (Université de Montréal), Contemplation et théurgie : les modalités au-delà de la pensée discursive chez Proclus; Lela Alexidze (Institut de philosophie, Tbilissi), Dianoia in Ioane Petritsi’s Commentary on Proclus’ Elements of Theology; Carolle Metry-Tresson (Université de Fribourg), Le « dépassement de l’apophasis » chez Damascius; Marilena Vlad (Institut de Philosophie “Alexandru Dragomir”, Bucarest), Defying words: Damascius and the travail of the unsayable.

Journal Article: Daniela Tarba, “Plotinus: Self-awareness and The Ascension on The Ladder of Truth” (submitted)

This article details the role of the individual soul in Plotinian hierarchy, as well as the possibility of self-awareness in this chain-like hypostatic procession. The analysis begins with the detailed exposure of the three Plotinian hypostases, emphasizing the two inherent movements of this system: the downward movement, by with the Divine Mind generates the whole reality, and the upward movement through which each level of existence participates in the good (first principle). Finally, Daniela Tarbǎ investigates the possibility of self-awakening of the individual soul considering this complementary movements, highlighting the double structure of the individual soul and how each of these two parts of the soul is caught up in this motion.

Translation: Simplicius’ Corollary on Time (tr. Gheorghe Pascalau).

Gheorghe Pascalau main activity was the translation of Simplicius’ Corollary on Time. This work, which is part of a vast commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, summarises the entire Neoplatonic philosophy of time. Time is for the Neoplatonists not merely the “number of motion”, but an intermediate hypostasis between eternity and the world of generation, between ideas and nature. Gheorghe Pascalau also translated Julian’s Hymn to the King Helios, in which the emperor exposes the principles of a solar henotheism. Helios, the god of the sun, is for Julian an intermediate being, which assures the communication of the intelligible to the sensible. The two translations will possibly appear at Humanitas, Bucharest.

Talk: Andrei Timotin, “Câteva remarci despre natura limbajului la Plotin”, Workshop: Medierea discursivă în neoplatonism, 17 decembrie 2016 (Bucharest)

Talk: Daniela Tarbă, “Condiționarea discursivă a sensibilității în Timaios”, Workshop: Medierea discursivă în neoplatonism, 17 decembrie 2016 (Bucharest)

Talk: Gheorghe Pașcalău, “Sensibilitate si intelect ca mediere a adevarului teologic in gandirea imparatului Iulian”, Workshop: Medierea discursivă în neoplatonism, 17 decembrie 2016 (Bucharest)

Talk: Marilena Vlad, “Damascius și travaliile gândirii”, Workshop: Medierea discursivă în neoplatonism, 17 decembrie 2016 (Bucharest)