The Archetype of Wisdom: An interview with Roberto Malvezzi

A short Interview with the author of the book The Archetype of Wisdom. A Phenomenological Research on the Greek Temple (2018).

architecture-malvezzi-archetype-wisdom

 

What is the main focus of your book?

Despite the title and the story narrated, this book is about our contemporary times. I believe this is a time that urgently needs new frameworks and cultural references in order to deal with the uncertainties of our future. I believe that our current necessity for new insights and projections for the future, first requires to get a different awareness about our past, with particular regard to the Ancient Greek period.Husserl’s main concern was related to the renovation of the field of sciences, and there’s no doubt that this specific field arose around 2.500 years ago in Greece. Husserl himself focused a lot on the Platonic experience, but there is still a very small number of phenomenologists that challenged the historical periods prior to this.

Thus, the core idea behind The Archetype of Wisdom is not only to go back to the pre-Platonic period, but even to trace a pre-philosophical time. This is the reason why I have identified the temples as the main testimony of the very ground from which science later arouse. Thus, this might see at first just a book on temples – but the temple as such should be interpreted as a figure through which I have tried to talk about our contemporary time.

As I wrote in the preface, the aim of the book is finally that of bridging the gap between contemporary times and our ancient past, as a need to recover intentions and experiences that are still crucial to our own ability of sense-making.

 

Through a phenomenological approach, your book investigates the close connection between experience of the divine, archetype and sacred architecture during the period of archaic Greece. How are these notions related to the appearance of the first temples in the Mediterranean?

The concept of sophia, wisdom, is what ties the book together. I refer to it as a ‘cross-concept’ that encompasses many expressions of cultural life in Archaic Greece – even before the rise of sacred architecture. Perhaps, wisdom could be defined as that ‘small’ part of the divine that exists within each person, but which only very few people seem to be able to get in touch with. The common thread of the book is that of letting emerge exactly this wisdom, that is indeed the recognizable presence of a divine background across all the different manifestations of the human in that period. Chapter after chapter, the book weaves the fabric of a complex cultural landscape enlightened by wisdom: that of Ancient Greece. Such premises allow to consider the following rise of the temples as somehow a linear phenomenon, and the temple itself as the visual archetype of wisdom. According to this, the temple appears like a place conceived to embed all the structural features of the divine side of the human, and able to make them available to a larger multitude, simply through the experience that we make of it.

 

What methodologies did you primarily use to conduct your research – which is also based on case studies?

As stated in the introduction of the book, I mostly referred to scholars who focus on the notion of ‘experience’ to conduct their research on the ancient Greek culture. If we claim that experience alone is ‘nothing’, as it always needs a ‘something’ that is experienced, then we cannot limit our investigation to concepts alone, or jut to a few pre-determined fields.  So, I decided to also take into account those relevant fields of ancient Greece that are more familiar to my personal culture. The process implied a long survey, drawing from the fields of history, archaeology, art (from vase painting to sculpture), literature (from epics to theatre), philosophy (from pre- to post-Socratic) and clearly, architecture.

At the beginning of the project, what had a great impact to the methodology was the visit to the Greek temples of Sicily, particularly those in Selinus. During the visit I remember to have a very precise sensation, followed by the intuition that was exactly this particular feeling what temple builders wanted their visitors to experience. I then decided to use it during the survey process in order to filter, interpret and reconnect the material I had from different research fields, to finally build the narrative of the book. This kind of approach was remarkably synthesized by Giovanni Piana in his preface, suggesting the ambition of the first-person perspective –  a crucial aspect of the phenomenological approach – as a way to build up a “phenomenological history” related to the rise of the temples.

 

Do you think it is still possible to experience a ‘divine’ or ‘spiritual’ dimension through contemporary architecture?

It depends on how we address the concept of “spirituality”. Is there anything more spiritual than the evidence of being alive? To be more specific, being alive right now, in this very moment. I personally think there is no greater mystery, no more terrific revelation nor deeper secret than being conscious of such a fact. What would we need to know, or experience, more than the fact that we are living? The claim of phenomenology is to be able to explore the kind of secret that is really life, by producing breakthroughs for a possible “science of life”, or “living science”, well rooted into personal experiences. In this regard, I suppose that all the broad as well as controversial debate about the idea of “transcendental” – as it was inflected by Husserl – might be re-oriented towards the elaboration of a specific and phenomenologically inspired sense of “transcendence”. On my side, I am delving into this assumption through my current research, that is devoted to the phenomenology of space, intended as a “science of living spaces”; within this particular perspective, I believe there is still the possibility of pursuing transcendent experiences through contemporary architecture. This is also the reason why the final aim of my research is to fully unfold the potential of a phenomenological interpretation of the architectural world.