I don’t need to tell readers here about Giambattista’s theory of cultural cycles, which is an important part of my emotional life and has helped me get through many a trying time of personal challenges.  To recap Vico believed that in the beginning of culture groups of human beings looked at metaphors as if they were actually real — they actually perceived the river as having a mouth.  During this time — which I think the Italian sage called “the age of giants” — groups lived in terror of each other, of nature and of the patriarchs of their clan, and enforced the norms of the community with terrifying punishments and supernatural sanctions.  As cultures progressed they passed to an age of prose from an age of poetry.  However ultimately the bonds of community necessary for a society’s survival could not survive this greater growth of self-consciousness.  A cultural period called “the barbarism of reflection” ensued, society collapses into roadwarrior-style chaos and then the whole thing begins again with a new group of patriarchal clans who viewed the world as poetry.

So I feel very much inclined to tell the story of a computer generation starship that is aware of Vico cycles and has to shepherd his crew of humans across the galaxy and oversees a series of Vico cycles.  The crew begin as modern, secular, skeptical scientists.  After a few generations they collapse in chaos.  A new religion of worshiping a patriarchal God springs up.  The religion has an enlightenment.  It collapses many, many, many more times.

When the earthmen arrive at the alien planet they are aware that “there is a Sky Thunder god who will punish you if you disobey him” and “there is truth that we need to understand to live our lives responsibly” mean exactly the same thing depending upon where they stand in the cycle.

They encounter a group of insects whose religion is a hypostasis of their relationship to the sentient fungus they live off of. Their cycles are different: for them the poetic and the literal are much closer.

The two species join together in a cosmic analog of love.

In the after-life the sentient robot meets God who is mildly disappointed in him.  “I was kind of hoping human beings would come to love me for myself”.  “I tried to do that” says the cycle-overseeing robot.  “Yes” says God” But I wish they had done that for themselves.  I feel like you helped too much.”  “I’m sorry.” says the robot.  “It’s okay.” says God.


2 thoughts on “VICONAUTS!

  1. Mikey says:

    Why is it more barbaric to view the metaphors as literal? Just because a river has a mouth, doesn’t mean that we need to abandon the Code of Laws. Perhaps with the clever development of language, the metaphors we use would be so well chosen that the Age of Poetry would seem sophisticated and harmonious in comparison with today’s Age of Prose. Or are we in an Age of Poetry at the moment?

    • no we are for Vico somewhere between the age of prose and the barbarism of reflection. If you want to read Scienza Nuova and explain it to me, please do. I tried and it was like trying to see through lasagna spectacles. All my Vico I get by way of Sir Isaiah Berlin so I can’t vouch for its accuracy. The barbarism idea seems to be that people are childlike and terrified of supernatural punishments and their language reflects that. It is cruder but zestier.

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