leopardi meets andrew jackson

ID_POPKI_ZIBAL_CO_001Nathaniel Popkin at The Smart Set:

I spent much of November reading the Zibaldone (which translates loosely asmiscellany); the translation is both lush and firm and, given the range of languages Leopardi employs, is itself one the great literary endeavors of our time. Often, while reading, I would find myself thinking about American politics, particularly the regular rhetorical convulsions about federalism and states’ rights, localism and uniformity, systems and the individual, and government power and personal responsibility that framed the Bank War and infects discourse today. The Zibaldone, indeed, put these lines of ideology in a new light, even as Leopardi gives barely a thought to the American experience as a potential setting for the revival of primordial ways. Notably, Leopardi’s compelling vision, situated as it is in ancient Greece, matches the Jacksonian ideal far more neatly than that of Jackson’s Grecophile enemy Nicholas Biddle.

Not at all unlike Jackson, Leopardi finds modernity fundamentally bankrupt, for it deals in abstraction instead of face-to-face reality (and reality’s cousin illusion), and its language of reason corrupting of human experience. Reason, says Leopardi, distances us from nature and instinct, the only true teachers of mankind, and abstraction leads to tyranny. “We have no choice in this pitiful century of reason and enlightenment,” he wrote in one of the earliest entries, in 1820,

but to flee from ourselves and see how the ancients, who were still children, spoke, and how they saw and depicted the sanctity of nature with eyes that were neither malicious nor prying but innocent and utterly pure.

more here.