Tag Archive: Spinoza


At Space and Politics, Gaston Gordillo continues his Spinozan-Deleuzian account of the “revolutionary resonance” of the tumult spreading across the Arab world.

“The longer a resonance lasts and the farther it expands the stronger it becomes. During most of human history, the maximum speed at which a revolutionary resonance traveled was the speed of the bodies carrying it within them. [...]

“In the Egyptian Revolution, the synergy between the velocities generated on these networks of instant communication and in the urban terrain was decisive in allowing the multitude outmaneuver state violence and state propaganda. The revolution was fought at different yet inseparable velocities: the speed of swarms of bodies clashing with the police on the streets and the much-faster speed of the affective resonances generated by those clashes and amplified over the internet and TV networks not controlled by the Egyptian state like Al Jazeera. Disembodied and projected instantly as images, sounds, and text onto countless computers and TV screens, these resonances became embodied again by affecting the millions of bodies watching, listening, and reading. Not all bodies were affected the same way. Yet millions resonated positively, and not just in Egypt.”

Read the entire article here.

The objects versus relations debate has revved up again over at Larval Subjects, in the commentary responding to Levi Bryant’s Questions about the possibility of non-correlationist ethics.

The debate, as I would describe it, circles around the following question: If we agree that traditional philosophy has been too centrally premised on the relationship between humans and the world at the expense of the world itself (with all its other things, beings, entities, relations, and whatnot), then is it better to promote a philosophy that focuses on objects, that is, not just on human subjects/objects but all objects, or one that focuses on relations between things (subjects, objects, networks, processes, whatever)? The first approach is taken by object-oriented philosophers like Bryant, Graham Harman, and others; the second by relationists, such as those influenced by Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson, and Spinoza, among others (though the exact list depends on whom you ask; a few recent and recommendable books in this latter tradition are Steven Shaviro’s Without Criteria, John Protevi’s Political Affect, and Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter).

Since I’ve responded to Levi’s points on his blog, I’ll restrict myself here to addressing in greater depth the question raised by Levi, Scu, and anxiousmodernman (in their comments) about the politics of relationalism.

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Today, my last day in Amsterdam, I finally made it to the monument unveiled last year honoring Baruch de Spinoza. Since the talk I gave at the ISSRNC conference here was on immanence (specifically, Charles Taylor’s concept of the ‘immanent frame’ and William Connolly’s and others’ immanent naturalism), there was no way around visiting the eminent philosopher of immanence himself.

The bronze monument stands in front of the city hall and at the entrance to the old Jewish Quarter in which Spinoza grew up (he was born in Amsterdam to a family of Sephardic Jewish refugees from Spain). Spinoza’s back is to one the tree-lined canals floating to the Amstel, and a few feet away from him is an icosahedron, a 20-faced geometric form that refers to the geometrical method that informed his philosophy. The coat he is wearing features several birds — rose-ringed parakeets and sparrows, the former being bright green birds that are exotic to Amsterdam and that first settled in the nearby Vondelpark, the latter a diminishing native breed — and roses, which apparently symbolize Spinoza, whose name means “thorn” in Portuguese, but which to my mind also represent the love that infused his philosophical writings. A thorn in the side of authoritarians (the text on the base of the statue is a rather optimistic quote from Spinoza, “The purpose of the State is freedom”), Spinoza preached democracy, tolerance, freedom of thought and expression, a monism which he opposed to Cartesian mind-body dualism, and an immanent naturalism that equated nature with God, for which he was excommunicated from his synagogue and his books banned by the Catholic church. The Spinoza Monument Publication quotes his words in its dedication of the statue: “Gratitude or thankfulness is love’s desire or endeavor to do good to someone who has done us a service out of an equal love affect.”

Earlier this year, local artists along with the Amsterdam Spinoza Circle put on a series of events in his honor, including performances, installations, discussions, a series of posters exhibited around the city, and more, under the title My Name is Spinoza. I can’t think of a more appropriate place to do that than friendly, liberal, multicultural Amsterdam, which no matter how thoroughly humanized its nature may be, is a place that, with its famous tolerance for the virtues and vices of human nature, well reflects Spinoza’s sentiment that you can’t hate nature. That said, incidents of intolerance have marred the city’s and country’s reputation recently, but they seem, from my brief visit and the reading I’ve done while here, like exceptions to a general rule of getting along, parakeets and sparrows and all, infused by a love of knowledge and of life.

Spinoza has been rediscovered repeatedly, more recently by post-Marxist political theorists like Althusser, Deleuze, and Negri in the 1960s and 1870s, but also, as I’ve discussed here, by deep ecology founder Arne Naess and, a little later, by anti-Cartesian neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. While the world has caught up with him, to some degree, in its political liberalism, his non-Cartesianism represents, to many, the philosophical path not taken — until now, perhaps, as mind-body dualism winds its way down and is replaced by a more subtle understanding of how thinking, feeling, and bodily affects interact to produce the relations that constitute us.

More information about the monument can be found here. More detailed photographs can be seen here and here. And for eloquent Spinozist blogging, I recommend kvond’s Frames /sing.

Responding to a post on this blog, Kvond, a little while ago, raised the question of the relationship between Arne Naess, originator of “deep ecology,” and Spinoza – which made me think of the interesting if sporadic/uneven/episodic relationships between the main traditions of continental philosophy and environmental thought. A glance at the changing editions of Environmental Philosophy, a reader originally edited by Michael Zimmerman but now collectively edited and in its fourth edition, shows us how the place of continental philosophy has grown from barely a mention in the first two editions (1993, 1998) to an entire six-chapter section in the fourth. How that came to be is a story that has yet to be written, though a few brief accounts exist, such as Michael Zimmerman’s chapter in Rethinking Nature , comments scattered through Zimmerman’s Contesting Earth’s Future, and Bruce Foltz’s brief but excellent piece in John Protevi’s Dictionary of Continental Philosophy, which I discovered as I was wrapping up this post.

What follows is a highly selective and episodic overview of key moments in that unfolding relationship. But I start with a few caveats.

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There’s a wealth of material in post-marxist and poststructuralist political philosophy to be found at the After 1968 web site, which documents a series of seminars and lectures held in Maastricht over the last few years. You can find texts by Agamben, Deleuze, Badiou, Ranciere, Baudrillard, Negri, Derrida, Nancy, and others there, though it will take some scrolling, clicking, and poking around to locate them.

One of the more interesting finds there is a link to the translated notes from a lecture by Deleuze on Spinoza’s concept of affect. It’s arguably this concept and its transmission through Deleuze, together with the more recent upsurge of research in the neuroscience of affect and emotion (by people like Antonio Damasio), that underlies the fairly dramatic upwelling of interest in all things ‘affective’ in recent social and cultural theory.

The site also provides links to Deleuze’s last published piece of writing, the brief, lyrical “Immanence: A Life…”, and to Giorgio Agamben’s insightful, meditative dissection of it (which, thankfully, is only slightly marred by Agamben’s own obsessions with sovereignty, “bare life”, biopolitics, etc.). Agamben spends three whole pages analyzing the punctuation – colon, ellipsis – of the title alone, and though that may sound overindulgent, it’s well worth reading.

Deleuze’s notion of immanence changed over the years and, as Christian Kerslake argues, left questions and inconsistencies in its wake. But it remains very evocative and, in this final version at least, sounds to me completely resonant with the (Madhyamika) Buddhist ontology I’ve been exploring.

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I’ve been perusing Kvond’s wonderful Spinozist blog Frames /Sing, which synthesizes in-depth readings of Spinoza alongside a broad interest in ontology, biology, semiosis (including biosemiotics), Deleuze, Latour, Heidegger, and much else, and generates insightful discussion with a coterie of other bloggers. For anyone interested, here’s a short list of some possibly entry points into his thinking, which resonate with some of what I’ve been trying to get started here:

Why Spinoza? A historical, sociological argument – A good place to start.

Deleuze on Spinoza and Plotinus and luminosity

The problem with Spinoza’s panpsychism – I’m working on figuring out the relations and distinctions between panpsychism or panexperientialism (in their different forms, including Whitehead’s), pantheism, panentheism, poly-isms of various sorts (polytheism, polypsychism), and systems theories ranging from Gregory Bateson’s semiotics, Joanna Macy’s (and others’) Buddhist ontology, Manuel DeLanda’s Deleuzianism, et al., so expect more on all these topics.

Is Latour an Underexpressed Spinozist

Latour’s inconsistency, “Start in the middle”

In praise of scholarly enemism: People are animals too

Balibar’s Spinoza and Politics: The braids of reason and passion