Monday, January 11, 2010
Update on my Master's Thesis
I will be finishing the writing by February for a defense in March. I have posted a ton of my notes and quotes, including a hundred pages or so of material that got cut from last year's attempt at finishing. Long story about why I didn't finish, but the good news is that I've had another year to catch up on all the latest research on Pico and reconsider my project from the ground up. What started as my ASE conference paper on "Pseudo-Dionysius and the Christian Cabala" has become a heavy metaphysical study on Pico's angelology and the global influence of Dionysius in Pico's angelological texts. My narrow focus is now on the originality of Pico's "Angelic Mind" as a development of the Christian Neoplatonic tradition. I have largely abandoned my project of interpreting Pico's views on magic in terms of neoplatonic theurgy. Theurgy now plays a limited role as an example of the kind of neoplatonic theme that gets the Dionysian treatment. Theurgy is still important for the interpretation of Pico, especially considering the explosion of Dionysius+Theurgy studies recently, but I don't think we should call Pico a theurgist. I'll defer to the wisdom of Brian Copenhaver and Michael Allen and describe what Pico is doing as a mystical theology along Dionysian lines, and side with scholarship that downplays the magical element in Pico's thought. I think that Frances Yates mischaracterized Pico as exalting magic to the theological/metaphysical level and tapping supercelestial powers. Also what's not going into my paper is a ton of work I've done on the influence of Pseudo-Dionysius on later Christian Cabalists Reuchlin, Agrippa, and John Dee, as well as figures I know less about like Lazarelli and LeFevre. I've already got several ideas for future Pico papers in the works, on his initiation and transmission of Christian Cabala, on his Theology of Numbers, and on his views on Kabbalist Magic (following the excellent studies of Moshe Idel). This week I'm trying to finish the literature review section of my introductory chapter but I've been spending a lot of time fooling around with all the material that will be going into the chapters. My structural plan is to do mostly Pico quotes referencing Dionysius as a figure and the specific neoplatonic themes associated with his Dionysian angelology. Throughout the paper I will refer to scholarship on Dionysius and neoplatonism that ought to be considered in order to better understand the influence of Dionysius. Each chapter deals with one of the three key texts of Pico's angelology: the Oration, Heptaplus, and On Being and Unity. In the first two chapters I will deal with the neoplatonic metaphysics behind Pico's Angelology, which is rooted in Dionysius but looks for confirmation to the late neoplatonists, chiefly Iamblichus, Proclus, and Syrianus. In the third chapter I will look more deeply into the Thomistic background to Pico's metaphysical treatise, summarizing recent scholarship on the influence of Dionysius on Aquinas in order to better understand the influence of Aquinas' Dionysius on Pico. I will conclude by arguing that like Aquinas Pico's originality can best be understood in terms of the profound influence of Dionysius, who is arguably more important than even Plato or Aristotle as a source both metaphysical and theological.