Infinity and Perspective
Much postmodern rhetoric, suggests Karsten Harries, can be understood as a symptom of our civilization's discontent, born of regret that we are no longer able to experience our world as a cosmos that assigns us our place. But dissatisfaction with the modern world may also spring from a conviction that modernism has failed to confront the challenge of an inevitably open future. Such conviction has frequently led to a critique of modernity's founding heroes. Challenging that critique, Harries insists that modernity is supported by nothing other than human freedom. But more important to Harries is to show how modernist self-assertion is shadowed by nihilism and what it might mean to step out of that shadow. Looking at a small number of medieval and Renaissance texts, as well as some paintings, he uncovers the threshold that separates the modern from the premodern world. At the same time, he illuminates that other, more questionable threshold, between the modern and the postmodern.
Two spirits preside over the book: Alberti, the Renaissance author on art and architecture, whose passionate interest in perspective and point of view offers a key to modernity; and Nicolaus Cusanus, the fifteenth-century cardinal, whose work shows that such interest cannot be divorced from speculations on the infinity of God. The title Infinity and Perspective connects the two to each other and to the shape of modernity.
About the Author
Karsten Harries is Professor of Philosophy at Yale University.
“Harries’s well-positioned and clearly presented history of ideas will generate a great deal of controversy...”—Publishers Weekly
“Infinity and Perspective is a profound, lucid meditation on the Renaissance-theological roots of modernity and on philosophy's endless odyssey. The book moves gracefully from Alberti and the Cusan through the rise of science and Kant to the threshold of the third Copernican revolution, finally landing us back home on earth. This is a remarkable, Socratic, and Vichian book.”
—Giuseppe Mazzotta, Author of The New Map of the World: The Poetic Philosophy of Giambattista V. Vico and Cosmopoiesis: The Renaissance Experiment
“Drawing on his vast knowledge of German philosophy and theology, art history, architectural theory, and the history of modern science, Harries presents a radical and challenging account of modernity and its discontents. Infinity and Perspective is a profound, erudite, extraordinarily insightful, challenging, yet beautifully written, inquiry into the modern condition, which will be read with profit both by professional philosophers, art historians and by all of us seeking to understand how we got to where we are. A real masterpiece.”
—Dermot Moran, Department of Philosophy, University College Dublin, Editor of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies and author of several studies on medieval mysticism and contemporary phenomenology
“This beautiful book by Karsten Harries is crucial reading for all architects and philosophers suspicious of cynical attitudes and interested in construing and building a truly poetic home for mankind. Harries weaves a story of hope and possibility for our time out of a careful study of early modern thinkers from Cusanus to Galileo. He discloses previously hidden possibilities for modernity, establishing a critical position upon the important work of well-known philosophers of science such as Hans Blumenberg and Alexander Koyré. Engaging the crucial problem of perspective vision and its epistemological roots, this book is a true ‘philosophy of architecture’—a most appropriate 'mode of philosophizing' capable of addressing the crucial questions for humanity in the wake of modernity.”
—Alberto Pérez-Goméz, Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture, McGill University
Bronze Award Winner for Philosophy in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards.