Elena Pulcini. The Time to Think of the Good
From Firenze University Press Journal: Rivista Italiana di Filosofia Politica
Debora Spini, New York University in Florence
The pandemic snatched away Elena Pulcini when her ideas and her work were becoming more and more visible in the public sphere. Books like Care of the World, or even more, her last work Tra cura e giustizia, were read and discussed beyond the usual academic circles. Although she was profoundly alien from spectacularisation of any kind, in the last years her profile had become that of a public intellectual whose philosophical work was a point of reference for a wide variety of groups and networks, from feminists to environmentalists. The wide diffusion of her ideas did not imply any slackening of scholarly rigour; her works appealed to a wider public because they reflected her authentic, deep commitment. Pulcini wrote about care because she genuinely did care. She cared about the future of the planet, about humanity’s chances of survival, about the very possibility of sharing a world in common.
Pulcini did not only comprehend or articulate, but felt how our world was threatened by an impending catastrophe. She was profoundly convinced that doing any-thing that was in her power to avert it was her personal responsibility, or even more her compelling duty. This conviction led her to take up very concrete political commitments; however, she saw her philosophical work, which she conceived as a Beruf, in the richer meaning of the word, essentially as a form of engagement.“Saving the world” was for Pulcini an imperative dictated by healthy realism rather than wishful thinking. Whilst her approach was firmly rooted in the tradition of critical theory, and even more in that of social philosophy meant as the critique of social pathologies, she became more and more aware that, in the present circumstances, think-ing of alternatives was a challenge that should not be declined.
In one of her last public appearances, she declared that, after decades spent exploring contradictions and pathologies, she had come to the conclusion that “è tempo di pensare al bene”; the time had come for her to think about what could be “the Good”, even about what a “good life” could be like. These words were uttered with a smile, and were meant to be a sort of intellectual provocation; yet, they fit quite well with her most basic philosophical perspective, which moved from the critical genealogy of the present to open up towards a normative horizon. She herself defined this approach as heretic normativism (normativismo eretico or normativismo debole).
Her production pursued throughout the years a consistent philosophical program, centred around the theme of the Self, its pathologies as well as its chances and resources. Her quest became all the more relevant when the processes of globalization, already at work for a long time, began to advance at an ever faster pace. The acceleration of the environmental crisis gave her reflection an unprecedented character of urgency. The focus of her work thus broadened from the critique of the modern individual to the search for emotional and cognitive resources which could motivate individuals and collectives to mobilise for the care of the world, and moved on to explore the potential of reflexively and critically cultivated passions. The analysis of passions has indeed been the fil rouge of her scholarly production for at least the last two decades; its roots can be found even in earlier works, such as Amour passion e amore coniugale.
Although this line of research may seem to lead her outside the field of politics and into that of ethics, Pulcini’s identity remains that of a social, but even more specifically of a political philosopher. The philosophical quest for the individual, the self, and the passional universe was not an escape from politics, as much as a way to approach the very core of political agency, that of the cognitive and emotional motivations. Her philosophical itinerary thus evolved in between the two poles of critical engagement with the social, political and anthropological morphology of the present and that of the exploration of the microcosm of individuality. In this journey Pulcini conversed with an extremely wide range of interlocutors and vocabularies, often going beyond the boundaries of academic disciplines; her writ-ing thus acquired a rare, not to say unique, capacity of resonating with its reader at a much deeper level than argumentative reasoning. This contribution does not have any claim of giving justice to the richness and complexity of Pulcini’s thought. In fact it will be limited to singling out a few characteristic themes, in view of stressing her identity as a political philosopher.
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