Self-Identity and Alterity in Renaissance Humanism between Elite and Popular Discourses
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There are two parallel discourses on humanism nowadays. One conceives of humanism as a worldview and a philosophical position. The other takes it to be a cultural phenomenon typical of the European Renaissance. The critics interested in considering humanism conceptually, as a rule, are not Renaissance scholars. Operating from either a postmodern or a postcolonial perspective, they often speak of humanism as the backbone of Western thought or the mainstay of European modernity and, in any case, as a bankrupt ideology of the West. Conversely, the Renaissance scholars are more concerned with the task of making sense of the idea of humanism in its original historical context than with considering it in relation to its other, later developments and remain, for the most part, unwilling to address the broader questions posed by humanism. This dissertation purports to bring the philosophical and the historical discourses on humanism together. I focus specifically on Renaissance humanism and ground my reflection firmly in textual analyses of late XV and XVI century sources. More concretely, I put forward a reading of two groups of texts. The first group includes three works exploring the arch-theme of the Renaissance, dignitas hominis, from the perspective of a relational concept of identity formation. These are: Pico della Mirandola's Oratio (1486), Bovelles's De sapiente (1511) and Vives's Fabula de homine (1518). The second group of texts contains three works which fall into the category of Renaissance Americanist literature: Cabeza de Vaca's Naufragios (1542), Galeotto Cei's Viaggio e relazione delle Indie (written after 1553) and Jean de Léry's Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil (1578). The bridge between these two bodies of texts is the idea, found in Pico, Bovelles and Vives, that arriving at a sense of self always involves a detour through otherness, as experienced in one's community, Nature and God. The encounter narratives, in illustrating the impact of America on the Renaissance European traveler, bring to life what philosophers theorized in the peace and quiet of their studies - the essential indefiniteness of the self unless inhabited by meanings drawn from without.