Arielle Saiber's Giordano Bruno and the Geometry
of Language is a study that is as rewardingly rich and strange as
its subject. While Saiber provides a wealth of context for her relatively
short study, situating her work within the explosion of Bruno scholarship
that emerged in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of Bruno's death
(1600-2000), this book is not an entry point to Bruno, his ideas, or
the scholarship on him. As a companion text to one of many biographies
of Bruno, such as Dorothea Walley Singer's Giordano Bruno: His Life
and Thought (1950) or Frances Yates's Giordano Bruno and the
Hermetic Tradition (1964), this book has great potential as a text
in a graduate-level History or English seminar, particularly one focused
on the history of language and ideas. Scholars of Italian history and
language - like Saiber - will likewise see rewarding uses for this book.
Saiber's primary argument throughout is that as a "poet
and architect of ideas" (1), Bruno intertwines rhetorical concepts and
language with mathematical concepts and language. While this was frequently
a conscious project by Bruno, Saiber suggests that the connections fusing
the "figurative" languages of geometry and rhetoric at times even inform
Bruno's work in ways unforeseen by the sixteenth-century polymath. Saiber
pairs geometric figures with rhetorical figures in order to analyze
what the convergence of these "figuratives" conveys concerning Bruno's
philosophy and "gnoseology."
Appropriately then, following a brief introduction
that serves in part as a recommended reading list of works one perhaps
ought to have some familiarity with in order to fully appreciate what
Saiber offers, she pursues this analysis across six chapters each with
an appropriate mathematical title: "Axioms," "Foci," "Lines," "Angles,"
"Curves," and finally, "The Point." Saiber's "Axioms" is sub-divided
into two parts: "Theories of Geometric Space and Form in Literature
Pre-Bruno" and "Post-Bruno." The resulting survey is a kind of condensed
history of critical theory as it relates to notions of space. "Foci"
begins to narrow the analysis more sharply to Bruno, Geometry, and Language
as Saiber explores her central claim that "Geometry was for [Bruno]
a warehouse of metaphors and structures that could be called upon to
help reinforce the scaffolding of his philosophical and scientific thought.
Bruno saw geometry's figures as equivalent to language's figuratives,
and he used both kinds of figurations to signify, refer to one another,
and indicate an integrated vision of the universe and all that is in
Beginning with Chapter 3, "Lines: The Candle Bearer,"
Saiber offers a detailed example of her general claim that geometric
figures and rhetorical figures converge and coalesce in Bruno's writing.
Specifically here she explores Bruno's playful engagement with lists
of brachylogia and rectilinear form in his play Il Candelio (The
Candle Bearer). Bruno refuses, Saiber argues, to be confined by
rule-like lists of expectations and linear forms in his construction
of the play. He counters such expectations with copious lists and devices
that suggest exaggerated accumulation and retention - brachylogia, systrophe,
hyperbaton - of his own in order to fashion a syntax and semantics that
imply a sort of "hyper-linearity" that "bursts into radiating vectors
of potential and possible knowledge" (86).
Chapter 4, "Angles: The Heroic Frenzies," pairs the
angle with the axial form of chiasmus illuminating the importance of
the visual in both the geometric study of angles and its corresponding
rhetorical implications. For Saiber, the Furori (Heroic Frenzies)
is "replete with rhetorical devices that syntactically simulate the
semantic meaning of co-incidence" (91). Characterizing the work as a
"textual labyrinth" and a "palatial maze", Saiber argues that Bruno's
Furori "is a colloquy between vision and desire, and the angles
of approach, angles of incidence, symmetry, and the prismatic" (114).
Appropriately for a work that is a response to and part of a "heightened
interest in the impossibility of measuring and comprehending the infinite"
(89), Bruno's treatise represents in visual and linguistic terms the
"fragmented journey one must travel to gain knowledge of an ultimately
illusive goal" (114).
In Chapter 5, "Curves: The Ash Wednesday Supper,"
Saiber equates the circle with circumlocution arguing that Bruno fills
the Cena with a kind of "curved" figurative language including
hyperbolic exaltations, elliptical speech and confounding geometrical
figures, and circumlocution, "not only in the circuitous journey to
the supper, but throughout the debates between The Nolan [an indirect
representation of Bruno himself] and the Oxford professors" (119). Hyperbolic
praise has its geometric equivalence in the hyperbola and in a similarly
etymologically neat concurrence, ellipsis relates to the ellipse, as
both suggest a kind of paradoxical empty fullness: "Ellipsis is…simultaneously
empty in its lack of word, and full in its potential for words" (129).
At the heart of this chapter, however, is the circle and the relationship
between circularity and perfection, and circumlocution as a trope of
concealment and avoidance. Saiber notes that Bruno "never specifically
discussed the rhetorical device of circumlocution as a manifestation
of the power of circles, [but] he used it nonetheless in much the same
way he used circles in his geometric diagrams to refer indirectly to
his philosophy of nature" (135).
In a brief final chapter, appropriately entitled "The
Point", Saiber concludes that the convergence of the geometric and the
rhetorical in Bruno's writing stems from his desire to "teach people
to see thought" (144). Saiber's point throughout is to demonstrate the
rich interworkings of Bruno's geometric rhetoric; she amply succeeds
in convincing her reader that Bruno understood in deep and profound
ways that geometry is a part of language and as such a useful tool for
visualizing, conceiving and expressing language in form and concept.
Those interested in exploring the common language of literature, rhetoric
and mathematics - as opposed to the obvious divergences - will find
much rewarding material to reflect upon in Saiber's compelling, highly