All posts by Carlo Cantaluppi

Pia Guldager and Jane Hjar Petersen (eds.), Meetings of cultures in the Black Sea region. Between conflict and coexistence, (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2008)

The cultures at issue are the native Scythian tribes, including Sarmatian ones, and the ancient Greek settlers in the Pontic Region, i.e. the vast steppe-land located in the northern and north-eastern regions of the Black Sea. This area was called Euxeinos Pontos for most part of the Graeco-Roman age, meaning literally ‘hospitable sea’, but it was really a euphemism replacing an earlier name introduced by Pindar, Pontos Axenios, i.e. ‘inhospitable sea’. The studies contained in the volume focus upon Pre-Roman Times, particularly from the 7th century BC, when the first Greek settlements were established, to 63 BC, i.e. the year of Mithridates the Great’s death, which marks as well the beginning of the Roman predominance. The disciplines involved in this survey are historiography, archaeology, numismatic, epigraphy and ceramography.

The book contains five chapters: “Setting the scene”, “Spaces of identity”, “Claiming the land”, “The dynamics of cultural exchange” and “Mind the gap”. The five chapters comprise nineteen articles written by eighteen different authors. Five of the published contributions were not presented at the conference: the article by P. G. Bilde in the first chapter and the articles by A. V. Karjaka, A. V. Gavrilov and T. N. Smekalova in the third chapter.

It is unavoidable for us studying something like the very concept of culture as a pragmatic category, i.e. as a truth that is such beacuse it produces practical results that satisfy us, and not vice versa, i.e. as a truth that is such before the production of any satisfying practical result. Thus, it is important to understand that the things we can say about other cultures – whether Greek or non-Greek, sedentary or nomadic – will necessary be a product of our culture, which establishes the criteria for practical satisfaction in the first place, that is to say, our own complex system of expectations. Hence we should note that, for instance, writing ‘settler’ instead of ‘colonist’ is a choice that is not inherent to those peoples that we write about, but to ourselves. These considerations certainly act on the background of the articles contained in the book, but they are not theoretically themed and discussed.

In the book, the contents develop around the main aspect stated in the title of the chapter in which they appear. The three articles that form the first chapter are written by J. A. Vinogradov, P. G. Bilde and V. Mordvintseva, and they describe the historical context. In particular, Bilde’s paper introduces and analyzes two very significant terms: diaspora and hybridization. The second chapter also includes three articles, the authors of which are P. Attema, A. Baralis, M. Vickers and A. Kakhidze, and it shows the way Greek and non-Greek groups established themselves in neighbouring areas. In Vickers’ and Kakhidze’s opinion this fact can be determined by the careful study of the collocation of burial sites. The five papers in the third chapter, written by J. M. Højte, A. V. Karjaka, A. V. Gavrilov and T. N. Smekalova, explain how to look at the ancient management of land division so as to identify how far the two different cultures had been able to collaborate. The four articles that constitute the fourth chapter, authored by J. H. Petersen, N. A. Gavriljuk, L. Summerer, N. G. Novi?enkova and E. Kakhidze, examine the way differences of status and power overcame and replaced differences of ethnicity. The fifth and last chapter is composed of three papers, written by R. Osborne, D. Braund and G. Hinge, and it explains how Self and Other are substantially the same, since: (a) everyone can see him/herself in the self of the other, and (b) the self needs the other’s recognition to be formed. On this theoretical matter, the authors refer here in particular to Herodotus’ fourth book of his Histories.

The topic of this book – i.e. the way in which the meeting of cultures took place in antiquity – is relevant not only to classical scholars, but also to us, who live in a historical contingency certainly no longer modern, but also no longer postmodern: the dichotomy between Us and Them, or between Other and Self. This dichotomy is today even more problematic than it was only few generations ago, because it is the very concept of dichotomy that is being questioned. In fact, if the truth is today considered to be becoming, i.e. walking with us, correlatively to the practices of knowing that are embodied in our life’s occasion, then every dichotomy is ‘only’ transiently true. In other words, thinking the difference between Them and Us becomes a practice that is theoretical, ethical, but also historical.

Meeting of cultures in the Black Sea region is recommended not only to those who just want to increase their knowledge about specific Greek communities settling in the Pontic region, but also to everyone interested in themes like the frontier, the periphery, the tension between wilderness and civility, and even in retrieving the material traces of the dynamic development of concepts like Self and Other, i.e. theoretical issues that are highly relevant in the age of globalization.

Eligio Resta, Diritto Vivente (Bari: Editori Laterza, 2008)

The book tackles these two aspects of the living law in seven chapters – entitled respectively “Life”, “Body”, “Technique”, “Archives”, “Truth”, “Trial” and “Time” – and through different paths of analysis, most of which relate to issues that are hotly debated today within academe as well as outside it, e.g. living wills, biological damage, life’s dignity.

The former aspect constitutes a fairly traditional way of thinking about the relationship between life and law. In it, the law is seen as an instrument through which someone’s life disciplines, in the Foucauldian sense, another’s. On the contrary, the latter aspect, i.e. speaking of law’s own life, represents Resta’s original attempt to consider the law as an evolving natural “corpus” – which in classic antiquity was understood as the experiences of a living organism shaped by many different forces – and not as a static “positive” body. This attempt rests upon an intellectual shift from exegesis to hermeneutics, which can only be achieved by a philosophy of praxis that has in the interpretation of the living text its focal point of acting.

Resta’s main references, cited more or less explicitly throughout his book, are some amongst the most important philosophers of the last two centuries: Michel Foucault, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida and Walter Benjamin. Yet these are not the only philosophers to be mentioned in the book.

In the first two chapters, for instance, there appear lengthy reviews of classic thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and of their definitions of soma, psychè, nomos, dìkaion, and much else. In this manner, the ancient roots of Western legal and philosophical culture are revealed and investigated.

In the third chapter, the relationship between technique and law is scrutinised as judicial nihilism. On the one hand, “technique” means the human ability to create new possibilities, thus even a post-human model of life. On the other hand, the law is the social request for normative limits that should be applied onto this human ability. In this context, the term “nihilism” means the technique’s potential and will to destroy the existing normative limits imposed by law, so as to extend the technique’s power as much as possible. This ambivalence between technique and law should not be opposed, however. Resta believes the law to benefit from keeping alive this ambivalence within its own corpus, for it spurs creativity and adaptability.

In the fourth chapter this comparison is scrutinised further, starting with the analysis of modern archive technologies, first of all information technologies. Even if they do enable life and law to express in new ways, information technologies also try to gain power to the detriment of life’s and law’s traditional expressions and regulatory functions. The ambivalence between technique and law thus persists.

The fifth chapter explains how the notion of truth is not the consequence of the principle of non-contradiction, but is a process-generated result bound to a specific context, that is to say, a truth that is conventional, conditional, and that implicates the passage from “truth” to “charity”: we do not agree when we find the truth, but we find the truth when we agree.

In the sixth and seventh chapters Resta writes about the history of modern legal life, e.g. the history of trials, and how life’s time and law’s time are continuously out of sync. Thus, the living law regulates time being regulated itself by life’s needs; whilst life’s exceptions, the most important of which being war, threaten to reduce the law to a particular form of conflict, thus turning it from being that which aims to preserve life into something that kills life. This way, the book closes with a warning about the “rectilinearity” of progress, which will not save humanity from violence, and with a call to take seriously Plato’s notion of law as phàrmakon, i.e. as poison and antidote at the same time.

I genuinely commend and recommend this book, as well as Resta’s work in general. Living Law deals with a very difficult subject, across diverse disciplines and technical jargons, and in so doing it links important authors from different ages and different areas of inquiry, offering infra alia highly original and insightful comments, also with regard to concrete contemporary issues.