October 2009

Spinoza and the theatre of repetition: excerpting Rebecca Goldstein’s Betraying Spinoza

Deleuze talks of how Nietzsche overturns Kant – formally -, produces a beyond of morality, a test of love over faith: “The eternal return says: whatever you will, will it in such a manner that you also will its eternal return.” [Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Continuum, London, 2004. p.8] Deleuze doesn’t tell us in what manner whatever we will its eternal return might also be willed. However, we can guess he means in the manner of a repetition of difference, the repeating of difference, such that an affirmation is made of what in effect immediately occurs: and, and, and…

– Samuel Hirszenberg, Uriel d’Acosta instructing the young Spinoza

Could we say that this is what Spinoza means by conatus? In the manner of the conatus, we will the winning throw in a divine game; what we will is willed also in the eternal return. That is, it is selected, but by what authority? and on what grounds is the what that we will selected?

Rebecca Goldstein writes of the conatus:

[it] is simply a thing’s special commitment to itself. It is its automatic concern about its own being and its intent to do what it thinks it takes in order to further its well-being. There is nothing that explains this commitment to this one thing that one is other than one’s being that thing, and this is Spinoza’s reason for saying that the very essence of each thing, the thing that makes that thing that thing and not another, is nothing over and above its conatus: “The endeavour, wherewith everything endeavours to persist in its own being, is nothing else but the actual essence of the thing in question.”

– Rebecca Goldstein, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, Schocken, New York, 2006, pp. 160-1

Lest we jump to the conclusion that Spinoza means a will rather than a willing, she adds:

It is important that Spinoza not be understood here as asserting some sort of Nietzschean will-to-power ethics, or precursor to the “objectivism” of Ayn Rand. … What he’s making … is a metaphysical statement, not an ethical one … to capture the mysterious connection a person feels with that one thing in the world that happens to be itself… it is compatible with a whole spread of different ethical points of view, going all the way from Ayn Rand’s to Mother Teresa’s.

– Ibid., p. 161

Identity is a question of interest: a thing’s interestedness in what it is and as such is active, acting. But what is foregrounded here is the necessity of ‘happening-to-be itself’ on which the ‘mysterious connection’ constituting identity is predicated.

To be oneself, then, is to be involved, Spinoza is saying, in an ongoing project of pursuing the interestes of this one thing in the world (though … those interests may involve making enormous ethical sacrifices). But when one stares at this whole situation – one’s ongoing commitment to this one thing in the world – from the outside, as it were, one can seem to lose one’s grip on it. Nothing can explain this ongoing project other than the bare fact that that’s who one is – Spinoza’s very point in making this conatus one’s actual essence. …

What sort of a fact is it that one is who one is, that very thing in the world and no other? How can one even isolate this fact when one inhabits, with great mental effort, the View from Nowhere? From out there, the remotest point from which to behold the world, the fact of who one is within the world seems to disappear … This is what happens when one assumes the view sub specie aeternitas, and this is the view that Spinoza recommends to us as the means of attaining salvation. Our very essence, our conatus, will lead us, if only we will think it all through, to a vision of reality that, since it is the truth, is in our interests to attain, and will effect such a difference in our sense of ourselves that we will have trouble even returning to the prephilosophical attachment to ourselves. It will appear almost too contingent to be true that one just happens to be that thing that one is. After all, contingency, for Spinoza, is just an ignis fatuus, a false fire cast by our finitude.

– Ibid., pp. 161-2

Deleuze also draws attention to Nietzsche’s amor fati in and not at all in conflict with his atheism.

The will is in the willing of the conatus, its interestedness, which, for Spinoza, does not contradict but is reaffirmed, reconcatenates, in the absolute disinterestedness of the View from Nowhere, which it is suggested resides in the divine thrown-ness of reality. But note how the conatus doubles itself in self-positing, will-he nil-he by the false fire of our finitude (such light as cast those shadows in that cave) and non-contingent: by chance and by design.

The principle of redoubling doubles, this reconcatenation, follows the principle of a profanation. Deleuze calls it repetition. Repetition unfounds, participates in an economy of the unlost.

When reduced to a logic – by the lights of representation, formally, and speleologically, as it were – the circling effects of repetition are then found in what Meillassoux calls “Correlationism.”

Conatus, writes Rebecca Goldstein, leads us to the outside, since it is outside itself that we will fulfillment, salvation, or in this manner that we will and will also its eternal return, from the point of view of the infinite.

It is noteworthy, also, that:

The man who first taught Spinoza Latin and helped to introduce him onto the greater stage of the drama of the seventeenth century, Francsiscus van den Enden, had perhaps lulled the young philosopher into liking the theatrical arts. There is a single reference to the arts in The Ethics, when he is listing the innocent pleasures that do not interfere with a life of reason, and it is to the theatre.

– Ibid., p. 196


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Pickle Damien Hirst, stuff Sarah Lucas and put Tracey Emin to bed!

– a detail, inverted, from Damien Hirst’s exhibition invitation to The Dead, from here (the skulls which follow are from the same source).

The above title (and all subsequent quotation) is from here. The Guardian article by Fiachra Gibbons from which it’s drawn actually says, “All that remains is to…” in keeping with the Romanticism of its End of Days theme: the Istanbul Biennial (yes).

The Biennial is alleged to be the “most political since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” “Istanbul’s curators, the Croatian all-female collective What, How & for Whom, are seeking nothing less than a refounding of art on Brechtian principles, as a motor for social change.”

“Politically neutral art is a means of policing the art world,” claims the biennial’s manifesto. It goes on to proclaim communism as the only name for a world order based on justice.

So, Fiachra Gibbons’s final paragraph draws the ironic parallel of Charles Saatchi’s upcoming “X Factor for artists,” a BBC production, which itself coincides with the invasion of St. Petersburg by an exhibition of his British art, and the fake Big Brother, also in Istanbul, in which nine women volunteered to participate, lured by the prospect of becoming stars, and of whom, subsequent to their liberation by police, only one complained. But where is the irony exactly?

Isn’t the Guardian’s consistency in maintaining a neutrality, supported in its superiority on the twin towers of political nihilism and artistic Romanticism, the very object of the Biennial’s critique? Decadence, in other words? The superiority complex is such that it doesn’t even feel implicated in what this article calls, “eastern Europe’s revenge.”

This is strange considering the other parallel made in the first paragraph, between the decadence of the art world and the recent global collapse of the financial sector:

The tumbrils that took Bernie Madoff and Lehman Brothers will soon be back for Saatchi and Serota. And as if on cue, Istanbul was deluged on the biennial’s opening night by an apocalyptic storm, one that killed 32 people in a suburb built on sand during the last speculative building boom.

All of which distracts from Damien Hirst, who at his gallery other criteria, exhibits The Dead, 30 new works of foil prints in metallic rainbow colours. The Dead comes at the end of a month of fashion collections; as noted by Vogue’s online presence, you could be forgiven for thinking that the title refers to exhausted fashion journalists. And this is an additional distraction from Richard Prince’s photograph Spiritual America, recently withdrawn from exhibition as part of the Tate Modern’s Pop Life show.

– Richard Prince, spiritual america, from here; Richard Prince writes about the image here.

We are the dead and this is our spiritual life.

Trans-European Express

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Depth, Freedom & Two ruses – excerpts from Deleuze on Kant – by way of preparing the former’s own transcendental aesthetic

… determining judgement and reflective judgement are not like two species of the same genus. Reflective judgement manifests and liberates a depth which remained hidden in the other. But the other was also judgement only by virtue of this living depth. If this were not so it would be incomprehensible that the Critique of Judgement should have such a title, even though it deals only with reflective judgement. The point is that any determinate accord of the faculties under a determining and legislative faculty presupposes the existence and the possibility of a free indeterminate accord.

– Gilles Deleuze, Kant’s Critical Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1999, p. 60 [originally published as La Philosophie Critique de Kant, Universitaires de France, 1963]

The notion of free indeterminate accord opens the way for Deleuze, as he saw it, to rewrite the Critique of Pure Reason from the point of view of the Critique of Judgement. In the former’s Difference and Repetition the movement which rends apart both self and I is similarly reflexive: without recognition to guide the reason and a reflexively determined subject of apperception a crack appears, a depth, dividing the dissolved self from the fractured I. The individual spans this depth. That is, a sign-signal system constituting the individual receives on the one hand signals from the depths and on the other delivers its signs from the heights.

Judgement is always irreducible or original; this is why it can be called ‘a’ faculty (specific gift or art). It never consists in one faculty alone, but in their accord, whether an accord already determined by one of them playing a legislative role or, more profoundly, in a free indeterminate accord, which forms the final object of a ‘critique of judgement’ in general.

– Ibid., p. 61

Kant finds a higher power of judgement in the Critique – its object -, just as in his two earlier critiques he has found a higher power of reason and of morality.

We must therefore consider that reflective judgement in general makes possible the transition from the faculty of knowledge to the faculty of desire, from the speculative interest to the practical interest, and prepares the subordination of the former to the latter, just as finality makes possible the transition from nature to freedom or prepares the realization of freedom in nature.

– Ibid., p. 67

Here again there is a foreshadowing of Deleuze’s themes: the priority of the heart over the head; the higher dialectic of a transcendental empiricism.

It is […] a ruse of suprasensible Nature, that sensible nature does not suffice to realize what is nevertheless ‘its’ last end; for this is the suprasensible itself in so far as it must be accomplished (that is to say, have an effect in the sensible). … whatever appears to be contingent in the accord of sensible nature with man’s faculties is a supreme transcendental appearance, which hides a ruse of the suprasensible. … we must never think that sensible nature as phenomenon is subject to the law of freedom or reason. Such a concept of history would imply that events are determined by reason, and by reason as it exists individually in man as noumenon; events would then manifest an ‘individual rational purpose’ of men themselves. But history … shows us the complete opposite: pure relations of forces, conflicts of tendencies, which weave a madness like childish vanity. … It is by the mechanism of forces and the conflict of tendencies … that sensible nature, in man himself, presides over the establishment of a Society, the only milieu in which the last end can be historically realised. Thus what appears to be a nonsense from the standpoint of the designs of an a priori individual reason can be a ‘design of Nature’ in order to ensure empirically the development of reason within the framework of the human species. History must be judged from the perspective of the species, and not of individual reason. There is thus a second ruse of Nature that we must not confuse with the first (both of the them together constitute history). According to this second ruse, suprasensible Nature wanted the sensible to proceed according to its own laws, even in man, in order to be capable of receiving, finally, the effect of the suprasensible.

– Ibid., pp. 74-5

From the devastation wrought upon the passive self by the narcissistic ego in a contemplation which fails to synthesize, from what Deleuze calls this “aborted Cogito,” according to his ontogenesis and in light of Kant’s doctrine of faculties, comes a new faculty: the faculty of the supersensible.

Deleuze gives it many names. It appears in Difference and Repetition as the aleotory point, also as the aphasic, acephalic, blind, deaf and dumb ‘thinker of Ideas,’ and in The Logic of Sense, it will become nonsense incarnate.

theatrum philosophicum

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