Ernesto Grassi in Munich. Aspects of his Work and Influence
International Symposium at the Center for Advanced Studies of LMU Munich
17 - 19 September 2014
For more than a decade between 1956 and 1968, the building Seestraße 13, which now houses the Center for Advanced Studies of the LMU Munich, was the private residence of the philosopher Ernesto Grassi (1902-1991). After the Second World War, Grassi was among the most well known and influential professors of the university in Munich, where he taught up to 1973 even after receiving his emeritus status. In light of this fact, we have decided to hold an international conference to investigate Grassi's work in more detail and to examine his intellectual biography. The focus is to be on his work at the university in Munich, his dealings with German philosophy, his attempts to reconstitute a civic public sphere in Germany following the Second World War, and finally his international radiance.
Grassi's background seemed to predestine a liaising role between Italian and German culture: of German heritage through his mother, he grew up in Milan, where he received his PhD in philosophy in 1925. In order to familiarize himself with the newest developments in German philosophy, he visited several German university cities in 1928, and stayed in Freiburg for the next ten years, where he studied the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. In 1938, most probably due to the promise of improved professional perspectives, he transferred to the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitaet in Berlin, where he was involved in initial magazine projects which he was able to realize in cooperation with the Greek scholar Karl Reinhardt and the religious studies expert Walter F. Otto. Due to his good personal contacts to the field of Italian education policy, he was entrusted with the founding of a German-Italian cultural institute, the Institute „Studia Humanitatis“, which was officially opened on 7 December 1942.
He spent the final months of the war in several locations in Italy and Switzerland, and soon after it ended, he received the opportunity – once again through his good contacts with those responsible for Italian education policy – to resume his work in the field of German-Italian cultural exchange. With the support of several people, including the Bavarian Cultural Minister Alois Hundhammer, the Centro Italiano di Studi Umanistici e Filosofici was founded in May 1948 in Munich. Grassi headed the institute as secretary, a position which was combined from the winter semester 1948/49 onwards with an honorary professorship for “Intellectual History and Philosophy of Humanism” at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet. Right from the beginning, Grassi was able to invite scholars not only from Germany, but also from various European countries and the USA to hold lectures at the center, thus being among the first to reawaken an international scholarly exchange at German universities.
Grassi's publishing activities were provided with a greater chance to receive public attention in spring 1954, when the publisher Ernst Rowohlt offered him the opportunity to edit an academic paperback series. With Grassi as editor, „rowohlts deutsche enzyklopaedie“, or rde, as it was abbreviated to, set the standard over 308 volumes and 25 years, namely until 1978, for discerning non-fiction literature which was nevertheless intended for a wide audience.
It was important to Grassi to reinvigorate humanism not in the sense of a purely philological or historical approach to the works of antiquity and the Italian Renaissance, but rather as a “investigation as a matter of principle into that which constitutes the very essence of humankind”. He had been formulating thoughts of this kind since the 1930s in his dealings with Werner Jäger's “Third Humanism”. During this work, his focus was on the direct connection with antiquity through the interpretation of texts from classical philosophy, since antiquity also represents the origins of our own tradition. Particularly in the postwar situation, the return to this tradition seemed to him to be of great importance, with these considerations also determining the program of „rowohlts deutscher enzyklopaedie“. Grassi's aim in this series, beyond the mere presentation of knowledge, was to realize his visions of a modern form of education, which he understood as an “education for theoretical and methodical thought and initiative”. In the “transition situation” following the war, in which “traditional knowledge has been undermined”, it was of great importance to him to provide the widest possible audience with the opportunity to concern themselves with the most challenging theories of their time.
Among the topics which particularly concerned Grassi in his later work, the questions of the relationship between rhetorics and philosophy, of image and metaphor, and of the pre-rational foundations of rational thought take up a prominent position.
The planned conference is intended to contribute to a comprehensive picture of Grassi's thought and work in connection with his epoch. For this reason, the opportunity will be used, on the one hand, to discuss aspects of his thought in terms of his relationship or separation from his contemporaries, while on the other hand, his work is to be placed within the contemporary context for the purpose of providing a building block for the history of ideas in the early Federal Republic of Germany.
Therefore, we call for contributions which seek to reconstruct the intellectual biography of Ernesto Grassi; either in a more philosophical or in a more historical perspective.
Please send us a proposal (max. 500 words) until May 31, 2014.
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