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An Interview with Carlo Sini

Giovanni Battista Armenio and Rocco Monti

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Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti – Who is Carlo Sini?

Carlo Sini – As Giovanni Gentile would say, we die to others. Hence, I will answer this question by recalling a sentence by Charles Sanders Peirce: we cannot say who we are, who we have been, what we have done, what the meaning of our life has been. It is others who will outline our identity posthumously, as long as it will remain in personal and public memory. And after all, what would I be without the memory of Peirce, of his life and writings? It’s been my task and duty to contribute to the definition, as little as I could, of his legacy and the sense of his thought, without which I could not imagine my own.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti While talking about your youth, you have sometimes called yourself a “young phenomenologist.” However, you started from Hegel’s phenomenology. Is this just a biographical contingency or are there theoretical reasons for such a change?

Carlo Sini – Yes, it primarily was a biographical contingency. I started studying Hegel with Professors Giovanni Emanuele Barié and Leo Lugarini at the Milan State University. Enzo Paci, who had come to the Milan State University after Barié’s death, accepted to supervise my dissertation on the dialectic in Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes, I knew very little about Husserl, but it was Paci who taught me. So, little by little, I discovered the links that, in my opinion, there were between Hegel and Husserl. First of all, they both paid attention to the phenomena of experience, in the way in which these phenomena are given and within the limits in which they present themselves; that is, they paid attention to the “how” of their dialectic relation, with no resort to alleged and imaginary “things in themselves” or absolute events, or mysterious “whys.” Second of all, I found in both their phenomenological philosophies a deep and active understanding of the relationship between the part (the determinate experiences that we, first and foremost, always make) and the totality (the infinity implicitly dwelling in them). This infinity is what Hegel calls “Spirit,” i.e., the “Geist,” so often misunderstood by those who consider it to be a dogmatic, absolute, and transcendent totality. No, the Hegelian Spirit simply is, as Hegel himself says, “the doing of each and all.” Thus, it is what Husserl (but also Merleau-Ponty, or even Paci or Sartre, even if each of them in their own different ways) would call the living intersubjectivity operating on the pre-categorical level of the Lebenswelt. Through the decades, these have been the foundations of my thought, which I have continuously deepened and revised, while never forgetting these origins.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti – Both the foundational and methodological aspects of phenomenology can be considered to be essential. But another aspect is just as important: phenomenology as “theoretical praxis,” in accordance with Husserl’s Krisis. What kind of relevance did this conception of phenomenology have to the development of your thought?

Carlo Sini - I would say that it was crucial, much more crucial than the method of transcendental phenomenological description, about which I have always had considerable doubts. Doubts, first and foremost, motivated by the fact that the “phenomenological voice” providing the description (which enunciates the universal correlation between the noetic and the noematic) should itself be subject to “suspension,” or epoché. Such a description, or its verbal expression, is “something,” and is already caught into its own “logic” and into its own “intentionality” and “operativity.” In turn, all these things should be suspended under epoché. Their intentional action surely belongs to what Husserl, especially in the Krisis, clearly understood as being “theoretical praxis.” The theory is also a praxis, that is, it belongs to the foundational and constitutive operations, the work of which, however, is regularly overlooked and ignored in a direct and naïve kind of philosophy. This is a lesson I have always tried to elaborate and disseminate.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti – You were one the firsts to approach American pragmatism in Italy. Your interest in pragmatist philosophy led you to write one of the first exhaustive books – entitled Il pragmatismo americano – about this philosophical movement. It was 1972. What kind of attention did pragmatism receive in Italy at that time? What was its reception and how did it influence your thought?

Carlo Sini – In early 1970s, there were very few people in Italy who dealt with American pragmatism: Nynfa Bosco in Turin, Umberto Eco in Bologna and very few others. In general, a very superficial and erroneous idea was widespread: that pragmatism was an “America-style” philosophy, governed by the practical aspects of existence, by common things and “business,” and, essentially, very naïve and primitive. This impression rose from a second-hand knowledge of the theses of William James and by an almost total ignorance of Peirce, Dewey and Mead. Enzo Paci advised me to study George Herbert Mead when I was investigating the issue of the origin of self-consciousness and, in particular, Alfred North Whitehead. Mead opened up a great path for me and prompted me to study all of the American pragmatists, as I proposed a book to Vito Laterza publisher – luckily, they accepted. While studying all this, I got to know Peirce’s thought, which left a mark on me forever. The 1972 book on American pragmatism aroused the interest of both “theoreticians” and “historians”: I remember a very flattering letter from Eugenio Garin. That book helped me get the professorship four years later and succeed to my teacher, Enzo Paci, in Milan.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti – In a book dedicated to your teacher Enzo Paci, you say that the discovery of Mead’s philosophy played a crucial role in your philosophical career. How did this enable you to reconfigure your research?

Carlo Sini – When it comes to public fame, Mead, who was Dewey’s friend and colleague in Chicago, has suffered a little from the closeness with the latter. Charles W. Morris wrote: “Philosophically Mead was a pragmatist; scientifically, he was a social psychologist […]. Neither [Mead or Dewey] stands to the other in the exclusive relation of teacher to student; both, in my opinion, were of equal though different intellectual stature […]. If Dewey is at once the rolling rim and many of the radiating spokes of the contemporary pragmatic wheel, Mead is the hub. And though in mileage the rim of the wheel travels farthest, it can go no farther as the crow flies than its hub can go” (Morris 1934: IX-XI). It is worth remembering that Mead’s thought is founded on Chauncey Wright’s, who collaborated with Charles Darwin and was Peirce’s and James’s teacher. It was Wright who opened the way toward the solution to the problem of the birth of self-consciousness, through the function of vocal articulation (as Darwin had brilliantly suggested to him). All over the world, Wright enjoys a fame far below his merits (for example he is neglected by Darwin scholarship): I am very happy to have contributed in Italy to make Wright, and especially Mead, known. Mead explained how the internalization of the responses to the instinctive articulations of the vocal act was the necessary condition to be able to speak to oneself and to others. This meant being able to conceive oneself as the Self of others as well as to conceive others as relational Selves within the general living intersubjectivity. This was Mead’s intuition of the birth of the conscious Self and it was the starting point for the complete solution of the traditional enigma of the birth of human self-consciousness, a structure that no longer holds any “mystery” in my eyes. Mead nevertheless remains little known. In La voix et le phénomène, Jacques Derrida grasps in his own way the reflexive and subjectifying function of the voice, but he ignores Mead’s thought and is very far from matching it.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti – At the time, combining Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology and Peirce’s thought was something unusual. In addition, you tried to use and merge their perspectives through the concept of “event.” How important is this issue today in your eyes?

Carlo Sini – In a review of my work at the time, Sergio Moravia wrote: “Philosophical papers in the air!” Merging continental philosophy with overseas “empiricism” seemed heresy or perhaps extravagance, although it is undeniable that in the formation of Heidegger’s and Peirce’s education there is a common, initial, profound, and decisive reference to the medieval tradition of Duns Scotus in opposition to Ockham, with all the consequences that have followed. But the actual point was another. In short, their link lies in the indefinite, undelimited and unlimited nature of their interpretation of the phenomena of experience: interpretation always requires to have already interpreted (knowledge is remembering, Plato said), without a solution to continuity. Knowing is re-knowing. Infinite circle of interpretation or infinite semiosis. This problem undeniably lies at the heart of both Heideggerian hermeneutics and Peircean semiotics. It is a threshold which inspired parallel expressions in the two thinkers: “Ausleger” and “Interpretant”; and the common problem of the event: “Ereignis” and “Firstness.” Thus, what happens throughout experience is the “play” of references that mark the nature of the presence according to the past (to the fact of having already interpreted) and the nature of the past according to the circumstances of the presence (to the actual process of interpretation). This “happening” is not, however, a figure of presence, nor a figure of the past: it rather is the emerging of the figure. By giving the figure (the presence), at the same time it retracts itself (in the absence): Er-eignis, Ent-eignis; in other words, the elusive Firtsness of the sign (of the sign relation or Secondness) in the sign (in the Thirdness of meaning). The development of these theses took me a long time, until my recent decision to “bid farewell to the event” with the 2016 book Inizio. Every intelligent action assumes present experience as a sign pointing at something else, as a relationship; the light of dawn announces that the sun is coming: here it is again! (Whitehead said). It “again” is the “same” (it still is the same, but also not). The event of truth in its figures of “earlier” and “later” can never be distinguished from its continuous terms, but rather, all meanings are true in relation to their interpretative practices: they are true and transient with respect to these relations themselves. Hermeneutic practices produce “truth effects” in the world. At this point, however, stressing and resorting to the notion of “event” becomes suspect, as does the Heideggerian stress on notions like the “gift” of presence, which, however, is hidden in absence, and others: how many things this alleged “giver” does (cross it out immediately like you do with the “being”!). Whether we like it or not, holding firm the event as the other side of the meaning leads to a sort of vacuous negative theology, which moreover does not “give” us anything. It is the concrete and always partial act of signifying, of interpreting (of taking as true) that ipso facto assigns itself a modality of a “that” (that we happened to interpret in some way, in the ways in which and in relation to which we preliminarily were taking part and “prepared”), and this is all. Similarly, I have also underlined: there is no knowledge of “the whole,” of the whole and “all” its parts. The whole is a dream of the part, an imagine posed by the partial and transient interpretation of the part.

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Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti – While considering Peirce’s semiotics, you showed a particular interest in the iconic and diagrammatic logic of the Existential Graphs. At the same time, your philosophical writing is entangled with a drawing practice that you call “cartiglio.”1 It is quite unusual for a philosopher to draw. What are these cartigli? What do they illustrate?

Carlo Sini – The question of writing has been a great story for me. It takes roots in Vico and in Peirce. The essential topic in Peirce’s semiotics is not the sign (as in Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida) but the sign relation. For example: Sign, Object, Interpretant, taken in an inextricable correlation (each one is for the other two). Therefore, this perspective doesn’t show that there are things and among these things there are signs (road signs, military trumpet signals, etc., as described by De Saussure). It rather shows that, as a result of sign relations, there are things, defined by the concrete interpretative habit (semiosis and hermeneutics are one: it follows that any “ontology” becomes mere superstition). Now, the relationship with Derrida helps me to clarify what I am saying. Derrida borrows the notion of sign from De Saussure, not from Peirce (even less from Vico: he himself once acknowledged it, in a meaningful dialogue in Naples, in my opinion). Hence, he doesn’t consider the triadic sign relation, but the dyadic relation between signifier and signified instead: source of every irresolvable paradox. You need a signified to delimit the signifier, but you also need a signifier to embody a signified, to make it existent and perceptible. Thus, De Saussure speaks of indeterminate “psychic” wholes which are presupposed to the signified (obviously presupposed by the signifier determination: the whole is the dream of the part). Much more suggestively and ingeniously, Derrida instead plays with difference-différance, getting into the dark intricacies of the infinite deconstruction. Of course, the difference itself cannot be said, but only deferred, etc. etc. In my perspective, one does nothing but saying it, etc. etc. The issue that emerges here is precisely the question of writing; probably, it first appeared in our culture through the paradoxes of Zeno of Elea. If you imagine an indeterminate, infinite space, and, drawing a line, you divide it into two parts (“on this side Achilles, on the other side the tortoise”), the continuum of the space that you imaginatively “geometrized,” “transcribed,” reappears continuously within each trace, within each line, and Achilles will never reach the tortoise (the indeterminate psychism will never give rise to a meaning). The resulting paradox, however, is nothing more than an effect of the practice of writing (nothing “really” mysterious). As if Achilles went on step by step, foot by foot. On the contrary his movement is an entire and integrated organic praxis, in which what we call “space” is an internal effect of the praxis. Achilles has his own moving space, and so does the tortoise (and finally, so do we who stand by, imagining a race). Writing produces knowledge and is the basis of “science”; it does so by transcribing “in error” (through a generalizing “approximation”) the living reality of experience. Doing so is advantageous (it allows calculations, predictions, reconstructions, substitutions, etc.); transforming it into a truth in itself of the supposes things in themselves, of “reality” as it would be in itself, its mere “scientistic” (and not scientific) superstition. In his turn, Peirce, with his “Existential Graphs” (Peirce’s collection of posthumous papers dedicated to them is very large), had imagined a reconstructive writing that he called “world-sheet” (foglio-mondo). He aimed to show all the infinite mediations that are at the basis of the logical calculus: not its operative synthetic efficiency, as in Peano, but the analytical-genealogical stop (a sort of epoché applied to the phenomenon, to the phanerón); every inference, even the simplest one, in fact, Peirce says, implies an implicit philosophy of the universe. In a way, the world-sheet is the attempt to transcribe, to map the whole world on a sheet, thus gaining analytical knowledge of it; obviously an impossible project (if only because the hand that traces the sheet is not in the sheet, but in a subsequent one, and so on). Hence, it seemed right to write that the world-sheet is the missed act of philosophy: it represents the difference between philosophy and science. I call what is actually written each time, with a certain freedom, cartiglio; not the name of the Pharaoh, but the autobiographical act of the writer. On this basis, I investigated the alphabetical writing in terms of a fundamental framework for the birth of the Western logical mind and, in general, of every scientific practice: born from a specific context of life and practices, with influences from other worlds, such as the Indian or the Muslim, the scientific writing of truth and its extraordinary practical applications have gradually become universal, with very complex consequences, often misunderstood and, in any case, problematical for human life on the planet.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti How did the “thought of practices” originate? What is it and how is it structured?

Carlo Sini – Its basis certainly is to be found in various references that have influenced me over time in different ways. One the oldest is the Husserlian questions of the philosophizing Self. What is the real and concrete philosophical self, assumed in the concrete exercise of its own philosophizing, made of? Isn’t it obvious that every possible answer presupposes it, puts it obscurely into practice, without considering its own “how” and its own “why”? Its own “where” and its own “from where”? It is curious, but this simple question has hardly aroused adequate attention, and remains unanswered. In the Krisis Husserl stresses, in a crucial way for me, the topics of the Lebenswelt and the doxa. Scientists, he says, despise doxa, the subjective opinion; they aim for the practical effectiveness and the exactness of episteme, i.e. for scientific “objectivity.” Despite this, however, they can never dispose of the doxa: they bring it with them to the laboratory, they use it to observe the results on the instruments, comment on them and discuss them with each other, and so on. In order to talk about the life-world and the pre-categorical, a “completely different sort of scientific discipline” is clearly necessary, modelled precisely on knowledge based on doxa; knowledge welcoming the relative and the subjective as levels that are in their own way preliminary and foundational. Husserl speaks of a “new way” aiming to devote “an exclusive, consistently theoretical interest to the life-world as the general ground of world-life.” So, the much-despised doxa now acquires “the dignity of a foundation for science.” It is precisely the reference to the doxa that provides the most appropriate understanding of the famous expression “life-world” (Lebenswelt): a world characterized, as Husserl would say, by every vital activity, by every human praxis, by every pre-scientific life, with its “regularities,” its efficiencies, its everyday and actual practical knowledge; an immense and anonymous world. A “new beginning,” as Husserl said on his deathbed; a philosophy as a “new kind of praxis,” which has learnt to account for this “relativity,” of those transient and oscillating truths and validities, of the “Heraclitean flux” which accompanies the depths of daily experience and the construction of knowledge. On this basis, the famous Appendix III of the Krisis shows in an exemplary way the historical-operational foundation that lies at the heart of geometrical writing, that is, the pre-categorical land surveying practice, entangled with the dual and mutually depended action of the living body (Leib) and of its “material” objectification in the environment as passive corporeal object (Körper). If such are Husserl’s premises, to focus on the topic of practices I must at least recall Foucault’s “discursive practices” and Wittgenstein “forms of life.” Indeed, we are constantly caught up in predetermined life practices, through which we are given to ourselves, to others and to the world. Practices are “emotions” (ex motu) of presence, in presence, thrusting us to respond; this is how we are led to action, this is how we “are,” insofar as we are made by the action calling us, before any signification or categorical theory. Each practice thus brings into existence a world of meaning, with its specific objects and, correlatively, with its subjects. Hence, each practice represents the world in a specific way. In Ethics of Writing (1992) I used the example of an orchestra performing a Haydn symphony. Every element, every “thing” in it (the instruments, the scores, the microphones, the stage, the musicians, the conductor, the audience, etc. etc.) comes from a plural history of practices, of knowledge, of endless discourses and exercises; every practice is intertwined with countless, variously operating other practices. This is also true for the philosophical practice, as well as for this very practice I am practicing right now. Its truth stems from the fact that it takes part to a destiny of reality, that is, from its origin, embodied and specified here in the specificity of this body which writes, reflects, remembers, and acknowledges itself as the effect of an adventure without precise boundaries and with unpredictable outcomes. The thought of practices reminds us that everyone actually puts the knowledge they have into practice, scientific and non-scientific, based on their belonging to the world (to their world), as everyone is a movable origin and limit. The knowledge of praxis, of common, everyday operations, thus constitutes that life of truth (as Enzo Paci used to say) which walks and transits in error due to the fact that it exhibits the specific part we, specific human figures, play into the life-world, in an infinite connection with countless other figures on the planet. We carry out, so to speak, our “philosophical” destiny in the world, whether we are aware of it, or oblivious to the exercise, object, aims and instruments of the practices related to us in actuality. Whatever the future may hold, it is bestowed to the incalculable and ungovernable complexity of an infinite power dwelling in the things and relations of all possible worlds.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti – Phenomenology, Pragmatism, Genealogy. However, another topic recurs in your thought: the problem of ethics. Is it so?

Carlo Sini – In the beginning was the action, said Husserl quoting Goethe (that is something similar to what Nietzsche wrote in the second of his Untimely Meditations). In the same way a philosophy of practices can be no less than this. It must acknowledge itself as something necessarily and essentially practical, first and foremost, because the theoretical exercise is a kind of praxis (theoretical praxis as Husserl used to say). No one can ever stay out of it. To do so, you should remain as static and insensitive as a stone – as the ancient skeptics used to say – to avoid providing any judgment: judgements are constantly implicit in everything you say, in everything you think, in everything you do; even in the smallest act, they involve – whether you like it or not – a philosophy of the universe. We are inexorably thrown into the fact that we have to be our “there” (Da-sein), as Heidegger would say, that is, into the fact that we are here in the way we are, never definitively determined, but always in a deciding movement. Therefore, the truth of theory is founded in ethics. For example, the theoretical “logic” results from the alphabetical writing practice: tell me how you write, and I will tell you what kind of knowledge you have. Now, ethics is a habit in the making. Here I clearly see my pragmaticistic background. The meaning is to be found in the habits of response it can elicit. Truth corresponds to its practical effects, with what you are ready to do collectively. Adherence to a habit is for everyone their primordial involvement in a world that gave birth to the habit and that supports its actions: some are successful, as they embody a shared truth, others are not. It is commonly said that regular experience reveals us the responses of the world and thus shows how the world is in truth, but we never know the world “out there” (that is a dumb expression) as an object of experience; we are in the world, we are part of it, we come from it. It is always through the habits we are provided with by our origin, by our “history,” that the being of the world and our being in the world reveal themselves to us. This relationship is inseparable and insurmountable. In its positive manifestation, it shows at the same time its constitutive partiality: our habits can always be inadequate with respect to the role they play in the world and to the consequences that they themselves imply. It follows that the figures of truth that shape our conduct require a constant exercise of self-aware reflection. I suggest constantly tracing the philosophical practice and its truth back to this exercising practice. Let’s say I am asked to define what knowledge is from a philosophical point of view: the first thing I would think to do would not be to accept the question without comments and then rush to answer it (maybe with historiographical references): Plato in the Theaetetus says that science or knowledge etc. etc. Certainly, I could do this, but without thematizing the philosophizing Self (me-doing-philosophy) and the practices unconsciously exercised as being obvious. That is, without paying attention to the prejudices that the question already secretly suggests; for example, that the word “truth” should correspond to a “thing” (the truth, oh goodness!) to be shown by the answer in its totality. But what answer? How? Whose? To what end? And why? Of course, here, as far as I am concerned, we can also find the Theaetetus, but taken in connection with a personal history of memories, practices, exercises, institutions, places, personal and professional intentions, public and private existential emotions (Paci talking about the Theaetetus…), a manual of the History of Philosophy written in my youth and so on. It is all of these things that answer and provide the apparent alleged sense content (e.g. “professional”) of the answer, which in this way disposes of the pretense of exhibiting an object of universal and absolute consensus (corresponding to the supposed and imaginary thing in itself “truth”); no, the thing rather is a process that has already begun (to interpret it you must have already interpreted), a personal and intersubjective work performing its own origin, its own intentions and relying on a fate that belongs to the path of other people’s answers – answers which will necessarily embody their intentions and are bound to change in the long run. The life of truth as a human adventure, in particular of certain humans, in the boundless revelation and with no foreseeable end of the reality from which they were obscurely born and in which they transitorily participate.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti In the last few years, you have more and more referred to the topic of autobiography. How does this relate to the theory and practice of the world-sheet?

Carlo Sini – I essentially think that I already have indirectly answered or started to answer, but also not; for example, I have not answered the question: “What do the cartigli illustrate?” Now, autobiography, i.e. the life that, while living, writes itself and leaves traces of itself for possible future interpretations, is an essential threshold, it is what is at stake in all our responses, that is, in all that we are ready to do, to say, to judge. It is always us who are speaking, and in us, in our discourses (a topic that has become increasingly crucial for me), it is our history and background that speaks and responds, that acts, judges, ensures, and the like. Of course, this is not at all a common form of “biography.” “You do not matter,” as Zarathustra would say to himself. It is not a matter of telling one’s own private and non-private affairs. Even when I am sure that I can say that “things are or have been like this and like that, and I can also give proof of it,” the fact remains that this is how things are for me, that is, for that portion of the world embodied in the thrownness of this body, with its story and its discourses. Concerning such a body, I personally know very little or almost nothing, but I nevertheless say that I know (as you see) that this story and discourses are there and that this body exists. Well, read the whole thing again and check your reactions. Biographies, in the “material” and “historical” sense (in the sense of archaeological history, of Foucault’s historical a priori, for example), assess themselves, and therefore, by considering the other from which they come, they actually show themselves in this relation: living and working autobiographies, constantly in exercise, whether I say “it’s cold today” or “it’s 5 degrees,” by consulting my body in the first case or a thermometer in the second. Countless embodied stories, instruments of the world history, somatically and exosomatically (the thermometer) exposed to their destiny. Now, how can this be explicitly expressed by the philosophical exercise and its discourses? How to exhibit the infinite, anonymous autobiography always dwelling in us when we act, always belonging to us, driving us? How to show that it is what first and foremost answers (and asks), producing in us the constant firm illusion: “I have my own ideas on the matter, I’ll tell you what I think, for example on religion…” Pitiful, narcissistic philosophizing Self that takes itself too seriously, ignoring its own bottomless pits and abysses, its presumptions, and errors. This is precisely what the idea of the world-sheet, and its conscious material actualisation in the cartiglio, aims to propose (as I have already mentioned) as an “exercise.” That is, philosophical practice in exercise of the philosophizing Self, as it is put into action, as it becomes profitable. Hence, I realise, as I have already said, that I have not answered the question yet: “What do these cartigli illustrate? It is quite unusual for a philosopher to draw…” And indeed (I think) we were born from the words, acts and life of a man who wrote nothing, but whose “biography” became a “literary” character, a “body of writing,” given to the universal virtue of the alphabetical reader. This operation, this alphabetical practice, which after the childhood has become so obvious that it constantly acts in us imperceptibly, reduces the original verbal message to the mere linearisation of an anonymous, silent and infinite voice. Such a voice is caught in the conventional body of about twenty little signs, arranged on a purely abstract, supersensible support. This conventional body is transferred onto the “analogon” of an ideal, infinite, immaterial sheet of paper (we see it well today in its electronic replica in the “liquid” screen of computers). This sheet had no constitutive dimension, and its boundaries are set by mere practical reasons by the paper factory. This extraordinary operation, the strong point of our history and our destiny, achieved the total desomatisation of the message (a model for many other subsequent desomatisations, today in bloom at the technological level). What used to be an embodied voice, a complex, irreducible living organic act, actualised in specific circumstances and in the fortuitous, unrepeatable and concrete situation of its own time, space, passionate and transient biographical experience, has been erased. This vibrant edge of world within the world has been erased, made totally aseptic, deprived of a vital soul and passionate body. It is forced into the transmission of mere syntactic-semantic meanings of the pure “logical,” universal and anonymous voice. This is an “economic” operation, said Husserl: I keep the message alphabetically reduced, alphabetically “frozen,” in order to be able to bring it back to life and revive it whenever I want in the future. This is the universal knowledge and the illusion of eternity. After dying, it is good to live again, said the Renaissance writers (to live like an alphabetical mummy). Thus, as far as it can, the writing of the cartiglio questions the desomatized linearization of the message – as it itself a final adventure of the alphabetical writing, and if it did not acknowledge itself as such, it would fall into the same superstitious blindness. The cartiglio provides the writing support with a perceptible body, as the writing itself is partially de-linearised in it, because it doesn’t endlessly flow point by point (as already said by the Greek atomists, who used the letters of the alphabet to represent atoms), line by line (where the sentence is cut, this mostly is a mere material necessity of the conventional paper edges). On the contrary, the writing of the cartiglio is localised, spatialised and assumes “topological” dimensions, by proceeding in blocks, through writing events, here and there, in the middle and at the edges, on the top and at the bottom, on the right and on the left. This deeply changes the reader’s attitude: the cartiglio cannot be properly read in a linear way. It must rather be admired, consulted, examined, and explored with overarching or targeted glances, with different zooms and focuses. One does not know where the centre is, nor whether it exists. One does not know the direction, whether there is one, many or none. The reader is actually sucked into a vortex of written intricacies, connected by lines, arrows, non-alphabetical graphs, or by occasional similarities and contents. The expressive parts evoke and refer to each other, they join each other and separate, as the reading proceeds, thus experiencing a bottomless background. The letters themselves have different colours: black, green, red. The meaning of these colours is gradually understood. Letters have different sizes (large, small, thick, thin, etc.), are written in italics or block. Drawn, water coloured, realistic, abstract figures appear here and there. Their function is ambiguous. On the one hand, they mostly have a mnemonic function: like the miniatures in ancient manuscripts, which from the beginning suggested the reader the place and content that can be found in that particular parchment. On the other hand, the figure evokes a contextual experience of “literary” reduction, by playing in really creative ways with the deep, non-alphabetical, visionary background of the message. Each cartiglio is an experience whose bottom is bottomless, which can be infinitely widened, repeated, translated into other cartigli, it can be modified in corpore vili, in the very spaces of the support that are left open, free for possible new irruptions. With the cartigli, one practices and “plays”: without reverence. There is really no absolute rule to this exercise: everyone can recreate it by themselves. But there is one more important thing to say. The exercise of the cartiglio or world-sheet is not meant to replace the common and traditional philosophical practice: reading texts, writing them, commenting on them, making historical-philological research, lecturing, practicing, holding and following seminars. It is the exact opposite. The practice of the cartiglio exhibits and shows what the philosopher actually does (usually without knowing it) every time he reads, writes, imagines, teaches, etc., going through different but connected practices and active somatisations. The practice of the cartiglio shows the unseen autobiography in action, that is, the authentically philosophical feature of the practice that claims to be philosophical, awakening it from self-forgetfulness. The cartiglio exhibits the philosophical Self and do so like a theatre scene, like the philosophical theatre, which was born with the writing of Plato, tragic poet (fortunately unsuccessful) and creator of the “theatrical” and dialogical body of philosophy, of its millenary mimicry. This is what I always urge young people to do, thus diverting them from the barbarity of slides: leave those to the scientists, to the specific nature of their practices of knowledge. When we teach, we are always a repetition in action of Socrates’s body, reproduced by Plato’s gaze and voice, if we really teach by embodying the philosophical practice and its habit. On the teacher’s desk, there could be a “score-cartiglio” containing the lectio’s structure, a score to be translated into the actions of our “teaching body,” automaton of the search for truth. Do not listen to the idle talkers of didactics. First and foremost, the lectio ex cathedra: the most fruitful and intelligent “in itself” and “for itself” (as Hegel would say). However, one must learn to do it, by imitating their teachers, and learning to listen. The beginning of everything, or at least of quite a lot.

Giovanni Battista Armenio & Rocco Monti – Quoting a sentence from Husserl that is dear to you: do you consider yourself to be today at a “small beginning”?

Carlo Sini – At the beginning, we took our chance between Plato and Aristotle, between the Academy and the Lyceum (with their “historical” and “mythological” memories): the birth of the philosopher, of his human and historical figure, or rather the birth of philosophical knowledge, of its epistemic-scientific foundation. An intertwined tradition that has crossed the centuries and countless, troubled non-philosophical and non-Greek events, on the stage of the history of the world and its adventures. But, after launching this kind of scientific knowledge, philosophy has stopped being a science a long time ago and now it must find this knowledge again as life, as philosophical life in action, if it wants to survive its destiny. In this way, precisely, now philosophy perhaps has the possibility of a “small beginning.” All the most significant philosophies of the twentieth century have appeared on this threshold, from Husserl to Heidegger, from Sartre and Paci to Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein, from Foucault and Derrida to Deleuze, to mention only a few among many others: our immense legacy. The organization of the philosophical work in today’s “Americanized” international universities may have forgotten this, or maybe it is just me who can’t see or understand things correctly, which is of course highly possible. At least I have learned, however, that my “worldwide” fantasies, like those of others (what philosophy is today, where philosophy is going today, what philosophy will be like tomorrow) are nothing more than very humble world-sheets, or rather very provisional cartigli; they essentially tell a story, for example, about me, about my fortuitous situation, about my specific glances, about a story that is about to pass away. Then there are the millions, billions of implicit and explicit cartigli of the “others,” none of which possesses the truth, but all of which are in their own way understood and summoned to it: figures in movement, whose complexity can never be reduced to a single discourse. Nevertheless, this story bewilderingly appears, I believe, in all the discourses that are now made, morning and evening, on this planet: truths blooming from dawn to dusk and speaking even at night in dreams. This truth you are reading is just a dim voice in the night, like millions of others. It performs, willingly or unwillingly, its function, as it supports its figure of truth. This truth waits to be welcomed by a reality infinitely greater than herself, incommensurable, so that this reality can make it disappear in the figures to come. And in their implicit, endless cartigli and missed world-sheets.

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Derrida Jacques, (1967), La voix et le phénomène, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.

Husserl Edmund, (1970), The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, Evanston, Northwestern University Press.

Morris Charles W., (1934), “George H. Mead as Social Psychologist and Social Philosopher,” Introduction to Mead G. H., Mind, Self and Society, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

Sini Carlo, (1972), Il pragmatismo americano, Bari, Laterza.

Sini Carlo, (1992), Etica della scrittura, Milano, Il saggiatore; translated by Silvia Benso, with Brian Schroeder, Ethics of Writing, Albany, State University of New York Press, 2009.

Sini Carlo, (2016), Inizio, Milano, Jaca Book.

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1 The English term struggles to fully account for the Italian term. For this reason, it was deemed appropriate to preserve the Italian word, tending to provide, in this note, the closest translation of the term. Philosophically speaking, the cartiglio is intended to thematize and highlight the autobiographical gesture of each and all that is always underlying the practices of thought. In this sense, the cartiglio has to be understood as its own practice in the making, and not as a mere product or a general object: the cartiglio is at once the practice of the cartiglio and the cartiglio itself. We suggest the reader going and seeing the cartigli in the website dedicated to Carlo Sini’s works ( and in the website of the cultural Association Mechrí / Laboratorio di filosofia e cultura, of which Carlo Sini is the scientific director (

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Electronic reference

Giovanni Battista Armenio and Rocco Monti, “An Interview with Carlo Sini”European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy [Online], XIV-2 | 2022, Online since 17 October 2022, connection on 27 March 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Giovanni Battista Armenio

independent scholar

Rocco Monti

Roma Tre University

By this author

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