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