Giordano Bruno, Materialist Philosopher and Martyr

        Marxist criticism obviously owes its name to Karl Marx (1818-1883), but his thinking grew out of a mid-nineteenth-century philosophical movement known at the time as "Materialism," and in opposition to philosophical "Idealism" associated with Plato and Hegel.  If Idealists emphasize the preeminence of ideas over matter in the "chicken-and-egg" problem of which is most important to what actually happens in the world, Materialists emphasize matter and physical forces as the factors which shape events.  February 17 is the day Romans honor the memory of an Early Modern martyr to materialist thinking, Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake by the Inquisition on that day in 1600 for daring to argue "that the universe was made of atoms and that it was infinite in size" (Rowland 4).  In 1889, Roman students, funded by Victor Hugo and other intellectuals, installed a statue of Bruno facing the Vatican, and annually the mayor of Rome places a wreath at its feet to commemorate the city's secular political status in opposition to the Vatican's theocratic ideology.  Just 244 years after Bruno's execution by a neoplatonic, idealist Church for his Aristotelian, materialist "thought crime," Marx would articulate a doctrine of revolutionary political materialism which challenged the "natural authority" of Europe's imperialist monarchies and transformed the way we see the world, including literature.  For the sake of materialism's successful improvements in our understanding of ourselves and the Cosmos, let us think of Marxist interpretation in the line of Bruno's scientific materialism rather than as the ancestor of the Khmer Rouge leaders' genocide.

Ingrid D. Rowland, Giordano Bruno: Philosopher & Heretic (N.Y.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008).