This essay offers a reconsideration of Giambattista Vico’s work for scholars interested in history, sound, and aurality. It takes as its point of departure the chronological table that stands at the opening of The New Science, homing in on its blind spots, raw absences, and tangled claims to objectivity. Vico’s understanding of history relies—this essay goes on to argue—on a lively world of aural metaphors involved in the act of its writing: imaginary sounds, meaningless speech, false listenings, along with invented onomatopoeic etymologies. Such unruly sounds lead us to a crucial paradox of Viconian history, one that must confront all historians invested in retrieving and rewriting the stories of those who are lost, erased, and unrepresented: what role does imagination play in the writing of history? Can human invention, imagination, and even falsehood lead us toward new historical findings? The essay closes with a gloss of Vico’s nascent theory of the physical and aural phenomenon of laughter, presented in the Vici vindiciae as a complex pathway between humanity and animality and, what’s more, as a historical interface between incommensurable stages of creaturely life.
Vico Signifying Nothing
Delia Casadei is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of California, Berkeley. She has published work on the intersection of voice, ideologies of language and intelligibility, and politics in twentieth-century Italian music. At the moment, she is working on a project on the vocal and political phenomenon of laughter—particularly recorded laughter—in the twentieth century.
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Delia Casadei; Vico Signifying Nothing. Representations 1 May 2021; 154 (1): 129–142. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2021.154.10.129
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