In 1967 he translated , but also Panofsky’s more general problem of iconological meaning appeared to Bourdieu to point towards that unwitting dimension of agency which, mainly formed through education, connects individuals to the broader social context in which they are embedded.4 At the same time, Edgar Wind’s 1936 article on “Some Points of Contact between History and Natural Science,” which is precisely the text that contains Peirce’s quotation, helped him to better underline the methodological assumptions of Panofsky’s model; he thus included a long excerpt from it in the 1968 handbook on sociological method.5 And although this fact seems to have gone totally unnoticed, in both the 1966 paper on “Intellectual Field and Creative Project” (in which the notion of To relate the works produced by an age to the educational practices of the time is […] to provide oneself with one means of explaining not only what they say but also what they betray in so far as they participate in the symbolic aspects of an age or society.6 Only a few years later, Bourdieu would partially change his mind about Panofsky, beginning to see the latter’s methodological stance as merely restating the same intellectualist fallacies that flawed structuralism.7 As he explicitly wrote, it was another art-historical masterpiece – Baxandall’s (1972) – that had prompted his change of opinion;8 but I am also tempted to recognize in it the traces of a dialogue with Émile Benveniste.
In an essay from 1969 which also dismissively touches upon Peirce, the French linguist had suggested that Panofksy’s book on Gothic architecture be construed as relying on a semiotic basis, thus backing a Saussurian reading of iconology (also advocated, in the same years, by Giulio C.
Since the very years in which he worked on his , he directed the renovations of his own country house, “Arisbe,” which he had also planned to turn into a center of philosophical inquiry – the incarnation, as it were, of that “philosophical edifice” that he was at pains to erect in his writings.15 And yet this thread, too, ends up leading us to Scholasticism: much prior to Kant and Peirce the parallel between architecture and philosophy had been proposed by Thomas Aquinas.
At about the same time in which, in France, the figure of the (Gothic) architect began to be invested with a new dignity, Thomas was able to recover the Aristotelian sense of the term and to label philosophical activities “architectonicae” for their capacity to confer order on things and govern secondary sciences.16 , Peirce published a lengthy essay on Alexander Fraser’s new edition of George Berkeley’s works.
Paul Frankl has suggested that the very history of the word “Gothic,” which from a strictly architectural meaning came to denote a broader range of cultural phenomena, has gradually led to the problem Panofksy addressed.14 Still more important, however, is the phenomenon of nineteenth-century “historicist” architecture, both in its revivalist and eclecticist version, which caused architects to pose the question of their social and historical embeddedness more emphatically than other artists or scholars.
Within this framework, the protagonists of the Gothic Revival (a movement that stretched well beyond architecture) in turn typically colored their rediscovery of the Middle Ages with traditionalist, Romantic if not conservative assumptions, championing the weight of tradition and collective historical forces as opposed to meta-historical laws.
Despite its apparently occasional nature, this is a seminal and in some ways unsurpassed text within Peirce’s oeuvre, both for its conceptual depth and for the breadth of knowledge and interests it masters and brings into play.
Peirce took the review as the occasion for a much wider reflection on the fundamental question that preoccupied him at that time: the quarrel between nominalism and realism.
(As we shall see, the dialogue with Karl Mannheim is particularly important in this respect.)10 For all these reasons, the following pages, while dwelling on the apparently remote subject of Gothic churches, should also be read as a chapter in the history of the exchanges between I shall begin with a few prefatory observations on the parallel between architecture and philosophy.
Although cursory, they intend to suggest that, once historically contextualized, the seemingly casual textual correspondence between Peirce and Panofsky can reveal significant aspects of their works.