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Monthly Archives: December 2008

Campanella’s Prison Song to his God: New Year

Lyric Strain



As Tommaso Campanella counts it, his imprisonment began in 1591/2, with his first Neopolitan trial. By July 1604 he had been transferred from a more comfortable prison to the dank, nearly lightless dungeons of San Elmo. There he would remain for four years continously manicled and chained, and in which he would undergo a conversion of a kind acceptance in 1606. (Transfered to better conditions in 1608, he returned again to the “belly” from 1614-1618). Far from the abstract alegory of a cave, dreamed up by that great Greek philosopher, Campanella lived the rock-hewn reality of a human bodily, political limit, as his photographic memory-aided mind reached out beyond that limit. What his poetry surely lacks in elegance or sophistication, it makes up with prodigious emotional content and primordial situtation, inscribing his dolorous hopes and glints of light in an utter bleakness of condition. Nearly the whole of his adult life will have been spent in prison when he was finally released by the Spanish in 1628.


I cannot help but think how these words, before translation, existed on difficult to procure scraps of paper, held in manicled hands, tipped to the angle of the sun in high window, light for only a few hours a day, and yet now exist floating across an ethernet into your eyes. When he says, I’m “tortured in chains within a pit for Thee” what might be a heavy-handed poetic trope suddenly turns leaden when you hear the sound of links that tink as he writes and turns. Even if you care nothing for the poem, there is something to the redemption of that moment, when his words find your eyes, the impossibility that those thoughts could ever reach their compliment, not only beyond the powers of the Spanish monarchy and Papal authority that contrained him, but also across the four vast centuries intervening, in which the memory of the man and his writings has nearly been swallowed whole, something to this moment that speaks to what a New Year is.


Prisons are mulitfarious. But not nearly so as their voices. One wonders what inspires one to rhyme, in prison. Is there an apophanic limit to Plea?



Orazioni ire in Salmodia Metafisicak congiunte insieme


Almighty God! what though the laws of Fate
Invincible, and this long misery,
Proving my prayers not merely spent in vain
But heard and granted crosswise, banish me
Far from Thy sight,-still humbly obstinate
I turn to Thee. No other hopes remain.
Were there another God with vows to gain,
To Him for succour I would surely go :
Nor could I be called impious, if I turned
In this great agony from one who spurned,
To one who bade me come and cured my woe.
Nay, Lord! I babble vainly. Help ! I cry,
Before the temple where Thy reason burned,
Become a mosque of imbecility!

Well know I that there are no words which can
Move Thee to favour him for whom Thy grace
Was not reserved from all eternity.
Repentance in Thy counsel finds no place:
Nor can the eloquence of mortal man
Bend Thee to mercy, when Thy sure decree
Hath stablished that this frame of mine should be
Rent by these pangs that flesh and spirit tire.
Nay if the whole world knows my martyrdom-
Heaven, earth, and all that in them have their home-
Why tell the tale to Thee, their Lord and Sire?
And if all change is death or some such state,
Thou deathless God, to whom for help I come,
How shall I make Thee change, to change my fate?

Nathless for grace I once more sue to Thee,
Spurred on by anguish sore and deep distress:-
Yet have I neither art nor voice to plead
Before Thy judgment-seat of righteousness.
It is not faith, it is not charity,
Nor hope that fails me in my hour of need;
And if, as some men teach, the soul is freed
From sin and quickened to deserve Thy grace
By torments suffered on this earth below,
The Alps have neither ice, I ween, nor snow
To match my purity before Thy face!
For prisons fifty, tortures seven, twelve years
Of want and injury and woe-
These have I borne, and still I stand ringed round with fears.

We lay all wrapped with darkness: for some slept
The sleep of ignorance, and players played
Music to sweeten that vile sleep for gold:
While others waked, and hands of rapine laid
On honours, wealth, and blood; or sexless crept
Into the place of harlots, basely bold.-
I lit a light:-like swarming bees, behold !
Stripped of their sheltering gloom, on me
Sleepers and wakers rush to wreak their spite:
Their wounds, their brutal joys disturbed by light,
Their broken bestial sleep fill them with jealousy.-
Thus with the wolves the silly sheep agreed
Against the valiant dogs to fight;
Then fell the prey of their false friends’ insatiate greed.

Help, mighty Shepherd! Save Thy lamp, Thy hound,
From wolves that ravin and from thieves that prey!
Make known the whole truth to the witless crowd!
For if my light, my voice, are cast away-
If sinfulness in these Thy gifts be found-
The sun that rules in heaven is disallowed.
Thou knowest without wings I cannot fly :
Give me the wings of grace to speed my flight!
Mine eyes are always turned to greet Thy light:
Is it my crime if still it pass me by?
Thou didst free Bocca and Gilardo; these,
Worthless, are made the angels of Thy might.-
Hast Thou lost counsel? Shall Thine empire cease?

With Thee I speak: Lord, thou dost understand!
Nor mind I how mad tongues my life reprove.
Full well I know the world is ‘neath Thine eye,
And to each part thereof belongs Thy love :
But for the general welfare wisely planned
The parts must suffer change;-they do not die,
For nature ebbs and flows eternally;-
But to such change we give the name of Death
Or Evil, whensoe’er we feel the strife
Which for the universe is joy and life,
Though for each part it seems mere lack of breath.-
So in my body every part I see
With lives and deaths alternate rife,
All tending to its vital unity.

Thus then the Universe grieves not, and I
Mid woes innumerable languish still
To cheer the whole and every happier part.-
Yet, if each part is suffered by Thy will
To call for aid-as Thou art God most High,
Who to all beings wilt Thy strength impart;
Who smoothest every change by secret art,
With fond care tempering the force of fate,
Necessity and concord, power and thought,
And love divine through all things subtly wrought-
I am persuaded, when I iterate
My prayers to Thee, some comfort I must find
For these pangs poison-fraught,
Or leave the sweet sharp lust of life behind.

The Universe hath nought that changes not,
Nor in its change feels not the pangs of pain,
Nor prays not unto God to ease that woe.
Mid these are many who the grace obtain
Of aid from Thee :-thus Thou didst rule their lot:
And many who without Thy help must go.
How shall I tell toward whom Thy favours flow,
Seeing I sat not at Thy council-board?
One argument at least doth hearten me
To hope those prayers may not unanswered be,
Which reason and pure thoughts to me afford:
Since often, if not always, Thou dost will
In Thy deep wisdom, Lord,
Best laboured soil with fairest fruits to fill.

The tilth of this my field by plough and hoe
Yields me good hope-but more the fostering sun
Of Sense divine that quickens me within,
Whose rays those many minor stars outshone-
That it is destined in high heaven to show
Mercy, and grant my prayer; so I may win
The end Thy gifts betoken, enter in
The realm reserved for me from earliest time.
Christ prayed but’ If it may be,’ knowing well
He might not shun that cup so terrible:
His angel answered, that the law sublime
Ordained his death. I prayed not thus, and mine-
Was mine then sent from Hell?– ‘ .
Made answer diverse from that voice divine.

Go song, go tell my Lord-’ Lo! he who lies
Tortured in chains within a pit for Thee,
Cries, how can flight be free
Wingless?-Send Thy word down, or Thou
Show that fate’s wheel turns not iniquity,
And that in heaven there is no lip that lies.’-
Yet, song, too boldly flies
Thy shaft; stay yet for this that follows now!

trans. John Addington Symonds 

Tommaso Campanella’s Poems, original language 

Symond’s Translation of the Sonnets

Wittgenstein’s Abuse of Augustine’s “making/doing the truth”

Wittgenstein famously begins his Philosophical Investigations  with a quote from Augustine’s Confessions, in Latin no less, which is supposed to reveal a hidden “picture” of language that was damagingly influential across the centuries of Western philosophy, an influence that goes unabated until Wittgenstein theraputically provides us with a new picture, more than 1,500 years later. A seductive story if their ever was one. The problem is that it is quite likely that Augustine did not hold such a “picture” of language, and that Wittgenstein’s snap-shot method of interpretation does not capture at all the fullness, or even sense, of Augustine’s conception of language. Wittgensgtein wants to say that Augustine sees language as fundamentally a naming process, as essentially designative, something of an over-simplification, and in so doing fails to see the consitutive role of truth, the theoretical role of God, creation and incarnation in an expressive vision of language.

I had been discussing this over at Methods of Projection, in response to the site’s  inspired attempt  to reconsile Wittgenstein’s interpretation with Augustine’s actual position on language, via Hacker. Below are some thoughts on the overall conceptual mistakes that Wittgenstein makes in a failure to read Augustine with com-prehension, perhaps in a pursuit to ground his own Tractatus  endeavours across the centuries. These thoughts flow from Wittgenstein’s admitted attempt to separate out the purely ritualistic (and expressive) from actual theory, between which the analytical idea of “picture” seems to float.

A first quotation comes from Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer. In his attempt to separate out mere symbolic expression found in magical ritual and “false pictures” in a pure categorical fashion, he refers to Augustine’s calls to God:

“Was Augustine mistaken, then, when he called on God on every page of the Confessions?
Well – one might say – if he was not mistaken, then the Buddhist holy-man, or some other, whose religion expresses quite different notions, surely was. But none of them was making a mistake except where he was putting forward a theory.”
(“Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough” )

This may explain why Wittgenstein failed to take into account Augustine’s reasoned positioning of God unto the very powers of speech and the use of signs, both in the immediate context of the passage he cited, but also in the breadth of reference to language throughout the Confessions. For instance, when Augustine questions the very capacity for sign-use to explain what is going on in the expression of will, calling to God, “Is anyone to be his own artifex?” (1.6.10),  just a few paragraphs after the cited passage, are we to read this not as a “mistake” in Augystine’s reasoning, but rather part of a simply ritualistic, symbolic God-calling expression which simply does not put forward a “theory”?  It seems that the position of God in Augustine’s conception is not for Wittgenstein “theoretical”, it is not part of the all important “picture” of language.

(Concordantly, one wonders if Wittgenstein had taken to interpreting Anselm’s so called Ontological Proof in the Proslogium, if he would have been able to parse out the many appeals to God from the very content of those appeals, or the substance of the proof itself. Somehow this parsing appears to be how he conceived the Confessions.)

Now this is an odd way of reading Augustine, if indeed Wittgenstein is thinking in this way, for the very purpose of the Confessions  is to confess the errors of his ways. Quite apart from the idea that the Hindu holy-man whose religion has different “notions” than Catholic Christianity is not a man in error, it is specifically the case that Augustine’s appeals to God (and the attendant notions), are part of his Confession of the mistakes, the errors of his Manichaeism. What is the Confessions if not a description and philosophy that works toward this very idea of moving from error to truth? Wittgenstein is right the confessional attitude is expressive and symbolic, but he does not see that just this expressiveness plays for Augustine a constitutive role in the nature of truth and communication, at the theoretical level.

James O’ Donnell makes the point quite well in his introdution to a much respected commentary on the Confessions:

“He who makes the truth comes to the light.” [cited at Bk 10.1] The truth that Augustine made in the Confessions had eluded him for years. It appeared before us as a trophy torn from the grip of the unsayable after a prolonged struggle on the frontier between speech and silence. What was at stake was more than words. The “truth” of which Augustine spoke was not merely the quality of a verbal formula, but veracity itself, a quality of a living human person. Augustine “made the truth” — in this sense he made himself truthful–when he found a pattern of words to say the true thing”

See how far such a comprehensive and linguistic interpretation of Augustine’s Confessions  is from Wittgenstein’s attempt to isolate out a “picture” of language amid confession itself. This process of picture isolation is part of a conception which distinguishes the sheerly expressive/symbolic, from the theoretical, finding in confession itself solely an irreducible gesture,

“The religious actions or the religious life of the priest-king are not different in kind from any genuinely religious action today, say a confession of sins. This also can be “explained” (made clear) and cannot be explained.” (“Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough”).

Clearly here Wittgenstein has in mind pure ritual (if there is such a thing, imagined to be empty of ideas or conceptions), like perhaps the actual act of going to a confession booth, yet given the proximity of the quote above to an initial reference to the Confessions,  it actually shows the instability of the category Wittgenstein is attempting, parsing sheer expression from all theory and idea. Counter to this segregation of empty, symbolic rite from theoretical meaning, we must say that Augustine’s Confessions  is indeed a “religious action” (at least as he conceives of it), but definitionally not one that can be separated out from the entire theoretical and linguistic expression of the self which Augustine carries out. The entire work is an expression. The searching for words, the searching for true words, creates a horizon of authentic expression for Augustine from within language, positioning what language itself, the use of signs, is; and it is only from within this horizon and personal arc that Augustine’s story of early thought and language can be understood.

Far from indicating a Slab language, where words merely correspond to objects, or even more a “system of commuication” which explains the whole of language (Philosophical Investigations, section 3), the aim of language is to “make/do the truth” and thus to “come to the light” (John). Augustine makes this plain at the beginning of Book 10, which O’Donnell had cited above:

1. Let me know thee, O my Knower; let me know thee even as I am known. [Cf. 1 Cor.13:12]. O Strength of my soul, enter it and prepare it for thyself that thou mayest have and hold it, without “spot or blemish.” [Eph. 5:27]. This is my hope, therefore have I spoken; and in this hope I rejoice whenever I rejoice aright. But as for the other things of this life, they deserve our lamentations less, the more we lament them; and some should be lamented all the more, the less men care for them. For see, “Thou desirest truth”[Ps. 51:6]. and “he who does the truth [ho de poiõn tên alêtheian] comes to the light.”[John 3:21]. This is what I wish to do through confession in my heart before thee, and in my writings before many witnesses. (Confessions)

Somehow Wittgenstein in his mind had turned Augustine’s call to God, “Let me know thee, O my Knower; let me know thee even as I am known,” into part of a call to God “on every page,” a substanceless reading, not seeing how “knowing” and being “known” are part of a reasoned constitutive of “making/doing” the truth through words. This is the wish of both the confession  in Augustine’s heart, an in the religio-linguistic action of the writings themselves. 

(Or would not such a call to God fall into Wittgenstein’s wide-sweeping category of Augustine’s calling to God? We cannot ever know, for Wittgenstein’s PI analysis is incredibly devoid of any additional textual reference, or even the clue that he has read into the context of the work or ouevre at all.)

Part of Wittgenstein’s deep misreading of Augustine’s early language (1.6.8) may also fall upon his perferred method of historical analysis. Aside from the general manner in which one examines historical texts through an understanding of the likely ideas or beliefs held by authors or actors and the social influences that may have lead to them, in a narrative of development, he favors a kind of “picture” theory of history, where one can simply look back in time and just compare these pictures discovered in texts and accounts:

“The historical explanation, the explanation is an hypothesis of development, it is only one way of assembling data…It is just as possible to see the data in their relation to another and to embrace them in a general picture without putting it in the form of an hypothesis about temporal distance.” (PO, p 131)

This precisely seems to be what Wittgenstein has done in his reading of Augustine’s infant learning of language, only to uncover a “picture”. He imagines that Augustine is putting forth a “picture” of language that is the same “picture” that he himself had when writing the Tractatus. Now, this is an interesting way to do philosophy, or to conduct a history of philosophy, or even study history itself. Wittgenstein feels that one can simply take snapshots of a text, and snapshots of another text (no matter how distant in time) and just see how they are the same. Now this is perhaps a helpful way to start  an interpretation of an ancient text, to notice similarities, but really the next  step is to see if these similarities bear out in context. Simply laying one passage upon another, like transparency photographs of faces, and seeing the resemblance, without looking at context is simply not the end of an analysis. The Kodak method of historical interpretation really is not a method at all, and seems that it is just this method that lead Wittgenstein to take a short passage of Augustine’s Confessions and expand it into a vast “system of communication” meant to explain all of language, leaving Augustine’s actual ideas about the self, language, incarnation and truth far behind. We might say, turning Wittgenstein’s analytical category upon itself,  Wittgenstein’s “picture theory” of historical text is a false, or at least deeply misleading, picture of history.

Spinoza Opera, Spinoza Sung

I have had the extraordinary pleasure today of listening to what can only be called a Spinoza Opera, recordings of music written for the 2002 VeenFabriek performance of Spinoza: I am not where I think myself to be  [performance website]. It is an thought-provoking rendition of both Spinoza’s defintions of the affects, taken from the end of part three of the Ethics, read in Latin and put to a harpsichord’s punctuating notes and aura effects; and then, it is the acoustical reading of Spinoza’s letter to G. H. Schaller [62 (58)], wherein he determinatively explains the illusion of Freewill by evoking the “thoughts” of a stone that flies through the air (how we are all resolutely to be). The baroque instrumentation, the haunt of precise Latin passing through the affectation of a feminent throat (concievably repressed to some degree in Spinoza, how we see the figure of the Courtesan rise up again, gathering up in her tresses the whole of the scholia which drag like a great train to her/his thought). One wonders how a 17th century Amsterdam marano who loved the theatre and Terence would respond to hearing his sculpted propositions on the affects, so themselves affecti-fied, doubling back upon their employ.

The title of the recording is The Thing Like Us, in reference to one of the most powerful analytical condensations of all of Spinoza’s thought. Rem nobis similem… (3p27). As the composer envisioned it, the music was to engage the very affective and imaginary foundations of our sociability, the way that we interpret the world inescabably through a projection of seeing others as “things like us”. Part of this ratio-imaginary capacity is extended to the affective way that we “see ourselves” in music, expressed there, amid the arrangement of the notes. (One should keep in mind that traditionally in Latin Res is not only “thing” as in “object”, but situation, condition, matter.) In very real senses, the reason why we can even read music is because it is a “thing like us”, echoing to the core of our body’s affective and rational capacities. But part of the piece’s reflexivity is not only in comment upon how music operates by being in similitude to us, but also, as the composer Yannis Kyriakides confesses, in acknowledgement of the very musical, self-referential, recursive structure of the Ethics itself. In this way The Thing Like Us shows us how music itself is a Thing Like Us, but also it does so through a remarkable involution, by being a Thing Like the Ethics. Instead of merely a copy of a copy in any Platonic sense of diminishment, it is a productive similitude, an enabling affective entrance into the priorities and claims of the Ethics. As we hear the note and tonal cartographies of the Latin, is it not so like how we encounter a proposition. So engaged, the entire Ethics  almost stands up with a kind of articulative force, its many propsitions like so many operative, inter-connected legs, ambulate, its proofs newly so like organs of internal exchange. There is something of the animation of the Golem in this piece, a Golem that is internal to Us.

After the clear and distinctly voiced musical manifestations of the affects, in the second half as Spinoza’s letter to Schaller is read/performed, it should not be missed that through the introduction of the worker’s “everyman” voice, how human and connected historical Spinoza was. Not only was it through the glimmering and glass edifice of the Ethics  that Spinoza performed his truth, but in epistolary bridgings. His thought extended out in handwriting across plague and sea-lanes, in greeting. At a unique hour of Western becoming, as a man of science and the politic of words, Spinoza attempted thought sub specie aeternitatis, and the lived consternation of a historical homo faber, a balancing act in which friendship and communication played a vital part. Epistolary Spinoza was an artisan, a worker, and ultimately his great systematic assemblage was one that he imagined would physically”work”, much like the lathe he applied himself to daily. The Ethics was a smithed tool, not only metaphorically, fashioned out of our own body of God, and designed to affect our bodies as much as our minds. Without actors and stage much of the interpretive power of this opera’s original performance is lost in the second half – wherein it seems a working class Haguean encounters something of a Lady Philosophia on stage (if I read the description right – the singing character of Carla being inspired by Van den Enden’s daughter), entering with the audience a theatrical space meant to affectively be the interior of Spinoza’s architectural mind — yet the two voices in dialogue still bring forth a historicism which cannot not be lost in Spinoza, (what is Spinoza in dialogue?), the flesh and body of finite action.

I think that this is what at most this musical rendition allows, the shining forth of the flesh of Spinoza’s contemplations (and life lived), the affection of the affectio. In the end any diadactic interpretation of Spinoza that might have inspired and structured these pieces in the minds of the composer, director, and actors, falls to the essential and unitary trans-lation of a Latin text meant to be invisibly read, without moving one’s lips, translation into a stringed-vibration (instrument and throat). The materiality of his invention is recaptured it if was ever lost in the great Rationalist appropriation/interpretation of his thought.

So what does Spinoza sound like?

I found most powerful here the expression of the affects, in the first half. The vibrato way in which the Latin words, each sonically isolated in their short sentences, are made to resonant higher, even higher than the text alone could take them. In this way they here scale  the body.

Take for instance one of my favorite defintions of the affects…love

The Affect of Love : “Love is Joy/Pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause”.

Read with the voice, “Amor/est…lae-ti-ti-ah…concomitante idea CAUsae externae”

See, feel, how Amor rises out of the atmospherics of a potentiality of the Body, and the verb to-be seals it off. How Joy floats momentarily, suspended ontologically until it is brought up with the mechanics of causal interpretation, the sour-rise of cause, pushing the affect forward, as a passion, the closure of causal understanding itself caught in a aural crespification. The potentiality of human love is segmented out in a bit by bit anatomy of thought within tremendous historical consequence. (At least this is my reading and experience.)

Or the whispering, precise feather in the Affect of Desire that causes us to linger, to contemplate not only the thought itself, but also the conditions of the Latin within which Spinoza wrote, the citizen-of-the-world lingua, fostered by Catholic and Protestant imaginations that were tearing. Like a long tenebrous string Kyriakides’ and Harpaz’s “Desire” plays under, sub, to the immanence of our organizations, like a subtle thought.

And then Laetitia itself, Joy/Pleasure, the increase of  perfection, “Laetitia est hominis transitio a minore ad maiorem perfectionem” . The harmonics are haunting in the contemplation of the definition Spinoza provides. The way that the tone of “perfectionem” carries out, incompariably, does more than indicate the nature of Laetitia, it affectively qualifies it within our meditation on the definition. The ultimate coherence of the defintion, and their whole, plays out. This not so much an inter-pretation, as a consub-statiation, in mind and body, a renewal.

These are just a few thoughts.

Here is where you can explore each of the tracks devoted to Spinoza in extended clips, and purchase the CD (or Amazon). You will find the text that comes with the music, as expressed by the composer, the director Paul Koek, and the actor/singer Carola Arons, a commentary which serve to bring to life not only the philosophy behind the composition and performance, but also summon up the full physicality that emerged from this engagment between rational construction and the affecture of the body in theatre and music.

The material of the Ethics, Spinoza’s letters and life comes alive in very much the sense that Spinoza defined alive, that which opens into and as a degree of freedom. If Spinoza imagined the propositions of the Ethics to be the eyes of the Mind, then singing propositions can perhaps be imagined as something like the skin of the Mind, as they allows us to be envoloped and oriented to what the eyes can see — perhaps more tenebrated, communicated, in-speed. Part of understanding the fidelity of Kyriakides’ opera is appreciating that its aesthetic power, the authenticity of its form, may lie in its pedagogic power, much as with the method more geometico of Spinoza’s own Ethics. It is contemplation of Spinoza’s propositions (and letter), a meditation via musicality, that something of its rationality is grasped, in process.

The extended tonal lyricism of this “opera”, as it negotiates tipping between peaks of cacophony, and clustered hues of sweeter clarity, should be fruitfully compared to “Breathing in Reverse”, Joseph Semah’s performance reading of Spinoza Theological-Political Treatise in three antique languages. The tonal justapositions in the former compliment the historical juxapositions in the latter.

[Also of interest, here, a rich personal response and review to Kyriakides' Spinoza, and Stan Verdult's weblog comment on the production in 2005]

A Wittgensteinian Conundrum

Below is a puzzle that I feel is a product of Wittgenstein’s over-reaching into the analogy of  grammar to explain what for him is a  fundamental distinction between sense and nonsense. Nonsense is that barred by hidden rules of (philosophical) grammar, Sense, that which is enabled by them. When someone speaks nonsense, it is because they have violated the rules of (philosophical) grammar, that is, the way that words should be used.

“If grammar says that you cannot say that a sound is red, it means not that it is false to say so but it is nonsense—i.e. not language at all”  (Wittgenstein’s Lectures, Cambridge 1930-1932, p. 47; Lent Term, 1931).

1. Let us say that I say sentence “x”, a sentence which you do not understand at all. You tell me that x is plainly in violation of hidden grammatical rules which prevent the formation of just such a word sequence.

2. I tell you are wrong, and you ask me several questions which you hope could help you understand what I mean by x. None of my answers help. This confirms for you that there are such a hidden grammatical rules which forbids x.

3. Now you come across some friends of mine who regard x as perfectly sensible. What they have to say when interacting with me over sentence x suggests to you that indeed perhaps x does have some sense (at least these people are behaving as if it did, similing, responding with looks of comprehension…your only evidence). You still claim that there are such hidden grammatical rules which forbid the formation of x, even if we think or act like it makes sense.

4. Now you come to a person who seems to understand x quite well. He gives you several explanations what x means which come to satisfy you. You come to understand that x, rather than being barred from formation, is sensical.

5. My question is, were there ever such a hidden rules which barred x from formation in the first place?… If there were not ever such rules, what use is a reference to them?

If indeed there were such rules, were the conditions for their employ ONLY confined to the circumstances of your incomprehension? If this is the case, what good is reference rules which have  theoretically only one circumstance for their employ…when sentence x is uttered in your presence before time t, that sentence is barred from formation?

6. Now let us say that the new, comprehending, you then utters in the presence of someone else the sentence x, and they do not understand you at all. They claim that there are hidden grammatical rules which forbid you from forming sentence x. All your explanations fail. Are these the same rules you referred to earilier, or different ones? How can we tell? In otherwords, what role do these unspoken rules serve to explain whether something is sense or nonsense?

7. Lastly, now imagine that sentence x is:

“If a lion could talk, we could not understand him”. (Philosophical Investigations, Third Edition, p. 190)

Are there or are there not grammatical rules which forbid this sentence’s formation? How can you tell?

There are of course several answers needed here, only the last as it pertains to Wittgenstein has the irony. On that, an average person would tell you that such a sentence violates Wittgenstein’s notion of the grammar of the words “talk” and “understands” and he may or may not be able to understand an explanation if offered. On the other hand a Davidsonian would tell you, I believe, even after elaborate explanation from a Wittgensteinian that on Wittgensteinian terms the grammar of the words in the sentence is violated: for us to be able to say that something “talks” this entails the necessity that we can “understand” him (by Davidson in his very rejection of scheme/content dualism). Is Wittgenstein talking nonsense to tell us what sense must be?

[Some additional thoughts on the Lion who could speak but not communicate sufficiently enough to be understood: Anselm’s Proof of God, Wittgenstein’s Lion, Davidson’s Belief ] 

Things Grammar Lets Us Say – Wittgenstein’s Burden

The quote first seen over at Methods of Projection. Much of the restriction Wittgenstein places on Sense (in his ultimate determination Sense vs. Nonsense) falls upon his notion of Grammar. As he explains, in a quote from his “middle period”:

Can we give a description which will justify the rules of grammar? Can we say why we must use these rules? Our justification could only take the form of saying “As reality is so and so, the rules must be such and such”. But this presupposes that I could say “If reality were otherwise, then the rules of grammar would be otherwise”. But in order to describe a reality in which grammar was otherwise I would have to use the very combinations which grammar forbids. The rules of grammar distinguish sense and nonsense and if I use forbidden combinations I talk nonsense.

If grammar says that you cannot say that a sound is red, it means not that it is false to say so but it is nonsense-i.e. not language at all. (Wittgenstein’s Lectures, Cambridge 1930-1932, p. 47; Lent Term, 1931)

It is an interesting example, since in the usual Wittgenstein process of argument it is designed to strike one as absolutely obvious. But the example works to undermine itself, as soon as one looks at real world examples of when and where we might say such a thing. Kandinsky, the master modernist painter who tells us that Yellow is the color of middle C on the piano, is widely thought to be a synesthete, one who not only heard musical notes, but also saw them as colors or figures. As often is mentioned here, what happens when iron-clad examples of Wittgenstein break down upon examination?

When the lead singer of the band The Red PaintingsTrash McSweeney , says that he started seeing color produced when he heard sounds after a near-fatal seizure, is he condemned to only speaking nonsense? Or, is he only speaking metaphorically, barred from literal truth? When painter Steve Glass, a reported chromaesthete, paints a “red sound” and then uses sentences to tell us what he is doing, is he operating outside of Sense?

If anything, Wittgenstein attempt at obvious violation of rules, when seen in the use of words in the real world, allows us to see just how transitory and fragmentary the notion of Grammar is. One could say that in this historical milieu, in these kinds of conditions, it is often the case that one cannot say “this sound is red” with literal meaning, but such a determination certainly does not allow us a categorical determination. In fact, Grammar bends to use. We might be mystified for a moment, given our unfamiliarity, by what Kandinsky and any number of the world’s synesthetic artists mean when they say that a sound is a particular color, but given “the rest of the mechanism” as Wittgenstein would like to say, such non-grammatical sentences suddenly open up and become grammatical.

The prohibitions of grammar are momentary unto use and not categorical apart from history. 

(Not above) What Kandinsky “saw” the first time he experienced his synesthesia, attending the Wagner opera Lohengrin:

“The violins, the deep tones of the basses, and especially the wind instruments at that time embodied for me all the power of that pre-nocturnal hour. I saw all my colors in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.”

W. N. A. Klever’s “Spinoza’s Life and Works”

 For those who have not been able to read it in the Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, Wim Klever’s iconoclastic “Spinoza’s Life and Works” is available in pdf [for a time this link did not work, now it does]. An excellent sweeping and detailed historical picture of the man. It is some 50 digital pages, but really worth reading.

From an early paragraph, responding to a reasonable sounding summation of his Life:

“Even in this rough survey some features are false, inaccurate, or slightly misleading. For the purpose of a reliable biography, a critical discussion of the available biographical documents is unavoidable. This is the more necessary because the old biographies sometimes show considerable differences in their presentation. I warn the reader that this chapter is a reconstruction of Spinoza’s life story on the basis of a new interpretation of the sources and the presentation of some new sources. I will, however, offer the basic material so that the reader may judge whether I am right or not.”

(Central to Klever’s telling is the introduction of the intellectual and radical political figure of Franciscus van den Enden, Spinoza Latin teacher and possible mentor.)

Spinoza on Admiratio (often translated as “Wonder”)

Is “Admiratio” the Wonder of Metaphors?

[Following on the last two posts which worked to establish a Spinozist favor for metaphor]

Below is a nice paper on some of the connections made in Spinoza’s renunciation of the centrality of “admiratio” and the inherent political consequences. Whereas Decartes made of wonder the first of the Affects, Spinoza refuses even to grant it Affect status, instead reading it as a kind of stalling of the mind. Any theoretical groundwork which would establish a Spinozist primacy for metaphor would have to wrestle with Spinoza’s politically-minded renunciation of “admiratio”. Indeed, metaphors make us wonder, they have a “look-to-ed-ness” that fixes the gaze, but I suspect that it can be argued fruitfully that the constitutive tension between the literally false and the figuratively powerful, by which metaphors achieve their effect, makes them largely immune from the kinds of warnings of and distance Spinoza takes from  “admiratio”.

Metaphors seem to already provide the split between the order of the affections and that of affects which allow the mind to enage their fixation power. They work to break the chain of affections and images by maintaining a gap between their power and literal truths, one that the mind then is freed to investigate. To be sure, metaphors in their power do have the capacity to bewitch the mind and become literalized pictures of the world, in the political sense that Spinoza fears, but this does not seem constitutively so the danger that Spinoza has in mind when he thinks about admiratio.

One should also keep in mind when thinking about admiratio that the Latin word is used with some dexterity to mean both “veneration or admiration” AND “suprise or wonder”. Despite the high standard of defintional clarity that Spinoza is famous for, he is not above using the rhetorical richness in a word, and here he is working with the conflation of surprise and admiration in the service of the political role the miraculous has played in the development of Nations. Thus what Spinoza primarly has in mind I imagine is the admirational dimension of this word, making the usual translation “wonder” can be seen as somewhat insufficient. Because the wonder or surprise of metaphor is only loosely connected to the powers of “admiration” (one may come to admire someone through their metaphorical descriptions - “Richard the Lionhearted”) the full epistemic virtues of metaphor, those that tap into Spinoza’s fifth part appraisal of the power of images that refer to a multiplicity of causes, are not really captured in his judgments on admiratio.

Here is Spinoza’ s Defintion of the “Affect” of Admiratio, for reference, Cook’s Comments on Rosenthal’s Spinoza follows:

IV. Admiratio [Wonder] is an imagination of a thing in which the Mind remains fixed because this singular imagination has no connection with the others. (See p52 and p52s.)

Exp: In 2p18s we showed the cause why the Mind, from considering one thing, immediately passes to the thought of another – because the images of these things are connected with one another, and so ordered that one follows the other. This, of course, cannot be conceived when the image of the thing is new. Rather the Mind will be detained in regarding the same thing until it is determined by other causes to think of other things.

So the imagination of the new thing, considered in itself, is of the same nature as the other [imaginations], and for this reason I do not number Admiratio among the affects. Nor do I see why I should, since this distraction of the Mind does not arise from any positive cause which distracts the Mind from other things, but only from the fact that there is no cause determining the Mind to pass from regarding one thing to thinking of others. 

I don’t have a link to the exact essay responded to below, but a related one making some similar points: “Spinoza, Miracles and Modern Judaism”,  M. A. Rosenthal

“Rosenthal on Spinoza on Wonder and Miracles”

J. Thomas Cook

The topic for today’s mini-conference is Spinoza’s psychology. And yet Michael Rosenthal tells a story that reaches from the rise of modernity to the disenchantment of the world, from the insidious power of the miraculous, to the need to overthrow despotic rulers and liberate ourselves from the tyranny of false Gods. This looks to be a far-flung and varied collection of topics, but there is a central conceptual thread that holds the pieces of this apparent patchwork together – and ties these pieces to the subject of our mini-conference. On Rosenthal’s account Spinoza sees all of these aforementioned phenomena as directly or indirectly related to that state of mind that Spinoza calls admiratio – usually translated as “wonder.” It’s a somewhat surprising thesis, but Rosenthal makes the case convincingly. He moves easily from the Ethics to the TTP and back, showing the conceptual connections and filling in the gaps in Spinoza’s armchair anthropological narrative. One train of thought leads from wonder to miracles, to a false conception of God and to the disastrously wrong-headed idea of free will. Another related path runs from wonder to veneration and thence to political domination.

Given the great value accorded to wonder in the writings of earlier philosophers as well as the positive valence that wonder generally has today, it is rather surprising to be reminded that in Spinoza’s view this state of mind is an indicator of — and is itself an instance of — cognitive deficiency. It’s not the good kind of deficiency – a privation that naturally leads one to try to fill the lack. Wonder is a dead end state of mind that goes nowhere, though it leaves one vulnerable to being led astray. And wonder is at the root of behavioral tendencies that perpetuate this cognitive deficiency and help to give rise to institutions, discourses and practices that only make it worse. On Rosenthal’s reading of Spinoza’s view, there is nothing wonderful about wonder, and nothing admirable about admiratio.

The thought of the object of wonder is, by definition, an idée fixe – and that is not a good thing. The mind comes to a stop – so suspended (Shirley translates suspensum as “paralyzed”) in considering it that it cannot think of other things. When I wonder at something, the idea of that thing is not connected, in my mind, to the ideas of its real causes, nor are there other imaginational ideas associated with it as a result of my past encounters with things in the “common order of nature.” Standing unconnected with other ideas my idea of the object of wonder is by definition inadequate in my mind – isolated from its natural nexus in the causal order of ideas that is identical with the causal order of extended nature, it is (in Bennett’s memorable phrase) a “bleeding chunk of the mental realm, hacked out” of its proper context. Lacking connection to other ideas at that moment, my mind lacks any natural path to move on, and so, in accordance with the laws of Spinoza’s version of associationistic psychology, my mind comes to a stand. When we stand in wonder, riveted by the unexpected character of some seemingly unique event, we are especially vulnerable to the prophet or the prince peddling a pseudo-explanation in terms of miracles and the wondrous will of God.

I find Rosenthal’s account of the centrality of wonder for Spinoza convincing. Additional steps and the cooperation of other causes are required, of course, to get from wonder to superstition or from wonder to tyranny, but that does not alter the fact that wonder, as defined by Spinoza, plays a key role. Rosenthal raises a number of interesting large points regarding the disenchantment of the world, modernity and the empowerment of the individual – points that deserve more attention than I can give them here in my brief comment. I will concentrate, instead, on a couple of smaller points, addressing more directly the interpretation of Spinoza’s views.

For example, Rosenthal rightly makes much of the fact that there is a kind of social dimension to wonder and to its contrary, disdain. This social dimension explains in part the importance of these affects for politics and religion. But there is a real — if somewhat technical — problem here, as I see it. The social dimension of these emotions depends upon the mechanism of the “imitation of the affects.” For example, if I notice that someone else whom I think to be like myself, wonders at some thing A, I too will be affected with wonder. The “imitation” can also go by way of seeming similarities between the objects (as opposed to similarities between the persons experiencing the emotions). So if I note that a certain thing (X) resembles some Y toward which I already experience wonder, I will also be affected with wonder for that X. This all follows nicely in accordance with basic principles of Spinoza’s psychology.

But if I understand Spinoza’s position correctly here, there is a problem in the doctrine. To the extent that I note a resemblance between X and some other Y (that, by hypothesis, I admire), I am making comparisons between X and Y, noting similarities. And to the extent that I am doing that, my mind is in motion, and I am not stuck in the mental staresis that is characteristic of (indeed, definitive of) wonder. Of course I do not have adequate ideas of the causes of the objects. Indeed, I very likely don’t even have inadequate ideas of the causes of the object of my wonder. But I have ideas of similarities between this object and another object – and that will provide my mind with somewhere to go. Precisely because of the tendency described by the psychological laws of association, my mind is moved from the idea of the one object to that of the other, and my mental/affective state is eo ipso no longer a state of wonder. My point here is that the putative similarity between the present object and the previously admired object – a similarity that helps to explain the infectious character of wonder – undermines the putative singularity and lack of associations that explain the wonder to begin with. To avoid this conclusion one finds oneself wanting to say that two objects resemble each other in that neither of them resembles anything else. But this amounts to saying that what these two things have in common is their uniqueness – and while that may not be formally paradoxical, it is at least problematic.

It might be thought that what is needed here is greater attention to the fact that we can regard an object under different aspects. So an object might be unique in one way, but share lots of other properties with other things. Spinoza’s example of veneration might seem to provide the kind of example that is needed. The property in another person that provokes wonder in me (Spinoza suggests) might be that other person’s remarkable prudence. I am of course familiar enough with prudence in general, and there are of course plenty of ideas associated with the idea of another person in my mind, but prudence to such a high degree is unprecedented in my experience, and hence, Spinoza suggests, it might be a singularity that holds my mind in thrall by virtue of its lack of associations. As Spinoza puts it, “[the mind] has nothing in itself which it is led to consider from considering that.” So singular is this idea of super-prudence that my mind is stuck for lack of associative connections to provide it anywhere to go.
Now it is certainly true that we can focus on one aspect or property of an individual and note how extraordinary is its possession of that property in such a high degree. And it is true that our minds can come to something like a standstill in the face of some extraordinary thing or event (or in this case, an extraordinary degree of prudence). Our ordinary folk-psychological ways of talking reflect this interesting psychological fact. We say that a person is “riveted” by the sight of something – “fixed” or “absorbed” in contemplation of some singularity. And Spinoza’s account of the origin of this “fixation” in terms of the lack of associations to provide tracks for the mind to move on is a typically brilliant move. But further reflection on the thought processes involved in recognizing an individual as possessing the characteristic of prudence reminds us that such recognition presupposes all kinds of simultaneously held additional ideas. Moreover, a comparative judgment is required to see an individual’s prudence as extraordinary. One does not have to be an Hegelian to have doubts about the story of a mind’s possessing an isolable and indeed thoroughly isolated idea of an individual’s extraordinary prudence. One does not have to be a thoroughgoing holist to think that ideas of comparative degrees of complex properties such as prudence do not happen as isolable units in the mind. And yet Spinoza’s account of my wonder at someone’s extraordinary prudence requires just that.

This is of course not an objection to Rosenthal’s clear and insightful exposition of Spinoza’s view, but a question about the view itself. A great virtue of Rosenthal’s paper is that it draws our attention to the central importance of Spinoza’s treatment of wonder and thus invites our more careful scrutiny of the plausibility of that account.
Before closing I would like to raise a question about one claim that Rosenthal makes that seems quite surprising to me. Perhaps I have misunderstood him, and he can clarify the point. I find the account of the relation between wonder, miracles and our erroneous belief in free quite convincing. And maybe it is true that the mystery of the human free will brings with it an aura of quasi-transcendence that vests our ostensibly free decisions with a kind of special status.

Rosenthal claims (if I’m understanding him correctly), that contract theories of the state, since they rest on a kind of free choice of the citizens, inherit some of the special status that accompanies the mystery of free will – a special status not entirely different from the special status accorded the state in earlier theories that explained the sovereign’s rule by reference to divine providence. This is an interesting claim, and it may even be true of some contract-based political theories and some of their defenders. But I find it extremely surprising that Rosenthal includes Hobbes and Spinoza among those theorists, for these two were, of course, vehement and consistent deniers of free will tout court. Maybe Rosenthal can clarify for us the claims that he is making in this part of his paper.

I agree with Cook’s contention that the fixedness of surprise is not as stalled and disconnected as at first blush it seems that Spinoza would like to make of it, especially when conflated with the social dimension of the other meaning of admiratio…veneration. There is much more to look-to-ed-ness than simple stalling, an entire field of ideas and affects which qualify something as unique by contrast. In fact, I have argued elsewhere that Spinoza’s concept of vision/perception, as found in his optics, is based on a field conception of coherence, driven by a holism of coherence and a centerpoint of what one may call “admiratio” sympathetic to perceptual theories of Cognitive Dissonance. But do not believe though that Spinoza’s view, even as interpreted by Rosenthal, is as sterile as Cook finds it, for aside from his narrow reading of admiratio as a disconnectiveness, within the Spinozist framework is room for argument that admiratio can work as a productive means for breaks from the order of the body’s affections, and an engagement of the mind through the resultant noticing of surprising similarities. In fact, Spinoza’s  3p52 concept of the “singularity” of attention, under which we find a scholium critique of admiratio, could be read as a cognitive dissonance principle of perception: If we have previously seen an object together with others, or we imagine it has nothing but what is common to many things, we shall not consider it so as one which we imagine to have something singular. Resolution of singularity is can be seen as the primary drive of perception.

Thus one can presume that at the center of perception is a suspension which can either work to a new chain of affection-based images, OR, given its nature, an engagement with the mind, as it looks for causes. A lightening strike can fill us with terror, it can lead us to understand electro-magnetism. In fact, as an artisan who produced telescopes and microscopes of the highest quality for the Age, and as an investigator who looked through magnifying glasses with no doubt “admiratio” in terms of wonder and surprise, it seems very unlikely that Spinoza had a poor view of investigative wonder, the tickle of the mind or eye that caused one to look for causes. It is rather the paralysis of the miraculous, the stunning incomprehensibility, which he must have read as a kind of confusion, that he had in mind when he minimized “admiratio”.  And in particular, it seems that metaphors above most imaginary ways of organizing the world, given their built-in tension with the literal truth, operate “surprise” with a specific orientation towards the mind and connectivity.

Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination

Mind Without Metaphor?

Beginning from my last post which opened up a Vician affirmation of metaphor as a constitutive and creative force for the growth of knowledge, it seems a good idea to look closely at the Spinoza system to see if indeed there is room for such a productivity. Prima facie it certainly seems to be the case that Spinoza would hold low esteem for metaphorical use. His entire “mail and mask” more geometrico  seems in defiance of any positive role for metaphors, treating thoughts and feelings literally as if they were planes and lines (falling under the same causal laws). In philosophy there is hardly a systematic document that seems less friendly to the metaphorical than the Ethics. The vast perception is that categorically for Spinoza metaphors are bad (confused), literal truths good (clear and distinct). A wide ranging philosopher like Richard Rorty who professes much admiration for Spinoza except for the perceived antipathy for the metaphor, sums up the impression well:

Though the human body had been redeemed by Galileo’s discoveries of how matter worked, the imagination had not. The human body is redeemed only when seen under the aspect of eternity, as a feature on the face of the whole universe. But the divine mind-the counterpart, under the attribute of thought, of the face of the material universe– has no imagination. It is literal-minded. It has no occasion to speak in metaphors. So, Spinoza thought, the less we humans use metaphors, the greater our chances of blessedness….He says, for example, that when the Bible tells us that God opened the windows of the heavens, all it is really saying is that it rained very hard. (TPT, p. 44) For Spinoza, metaphor has no value. Like the imagination, metaphor is something to be overcome (“Spinoza’s Legacy”).

With respect to Rorty, there is a great difference between something that should be overcome, and something having no value; but it is easy to join Rorty in what seems to be an obviousness, metaphors are confusions and confusions are things that one should try to make clear, a clarity that leads to real, affective Joy. How is one to reconcile the predominant message in Spinoza’s writings with the possibility that metaphors are very real productive, and non-eliminatable modes of increased activity and Joy in the sense that Spinoza thinks of Joy. As to that Joy, even upon repetition the pleasures of metaphors endure, something Davidson calls it their “eternal youth” which he compares to the “surprise” in Hayden’s Symphony 94. The flash of realization moves us to see. Is there room for such revelation in Spinoza?

Perhaps one needs to start with the strict possibility that human beings cannot hold purely adequate ideas at all, but only in their finite minds may asymptotically approach increasing adequacy of ideas. The very path to adequacy it seems would be one in which the imagination has historically played an integral role in the increase in the adequacy of our ideas (like the first blacksmith hammer and tongs, they had to be made from something), and given the fundamental, one might say, existential passivity of the human mind, imagination likely would play a constitutive role in the increase in the adequacy of our ideas, no matter the stage of our development.

Joy: The Increase in the Adequacy of Ideas

In Della Rocca’s new book, and confirmed in generous private exchange, is found the interpretation that human beings are unable to hold completely adequate ideas in the full spectrum of the ways that Spinoza defined them. This is something I long had felt myself. They are likely best seen as a limit upon which we gauge our own knowledge (and Joy). If we accept this the door for a productive use of the imagination in general, and metaphors specifically, is opened up. Gatens and Lloyd wrote an excellent book on Spinoza’s undervalued relationship to the imagination, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza Past, Present and Future. But I would like to dwell on metaphor itself, the unique way that it stirs us with a kind of waxing pleasure, and how this is achieved through an intentional confusion. (As I mentioned in my last post, and then more at length in an earlier article on Donald Davidson and Giambattista Vico, this “confusion” is the cause of a reader or listener to affectively equate two or more objects, that is to feel about the one as one would feel about the other, taking each to be the cause of the same affection, such that one is brought to noticed an unspecified number of similarities between the objects or classes. And this is primarily accomplished through the strict falsehood of the metaphorical statement: “That man is a wolf” is false because wolves are not men.) The effects (affects) of two or more objects are confused so as to produce a pleasurable notification of what is shared.

There can be no doubt that metaphors are pleasurable, in fact, in contemplation, are Joyous. This also is a good place to start. For given Spinoza’s definition of Joy, his parallel postulate and his explicit assertion that activities of the mind ONLY arise from adequate ideas (3p3), one is forced to say that the Joy we feel when we encounter a wonderful metaphor is a Joy that comes from an increase in the adequacy of our ideas (as all Joy). I was happy to find that Professor Della Rocca consents to this understanding of mine as well. Something about good metaphors increases the adequacy of our ideas. What is it, in Spinozist terms, that this something is? It is more than the pleasure of a song or music.

Contrary to many philosophical intuitions, Spinoza is not mute on the benefits of the imagination. In fact, besides the way in which he grounds the social field in the imaginative “imitations of the affects,”  in the fifth part of the Ethics, a part concerned with the achievement of the Intuition of God, he presents a string of propositions on the powers of the image . Whereas earlier in part III he had spoken of the third kind of knowledge, Intuition, as a kind of extension of the Second kind of knowledge, Reason, invoking the example of how merchants can calculate with great speed without walking through the steps of a calculation, here he seems to set up the ultimate intuition of God along side qualifications of the positive effects of the imagination. And while intuitions of God/Substance/Nature are not our aim, these distinctions in terms of images seem ready-made to be applied to the benefits of metaphor use.

 From Memory to Metaphor

First there is a numerical qualification which helps us determine what gives us the strength of an emotion (I use the Shirley translation, but “emotion” should be read as “affect”). An affect’s strength comes from a simultaneous condensation of causes:

5p8 – The greater the number of causes that simultaneously concur in arousing an emotion, the greater the emotion.

This indeed does seem to conceptually orient us to the power of a metaphor. When Homer compares wounds to mouths, or when we are told, “the heavens wept” there is an intensity of simultaneity that seems very much to make up the nature of the effect. The ideas of each object or process are affectively fused, and their causes confluence in a way that no single idea, or its literal expression, would have. And when this is pleasurable, we in our strengthening condition we are able to arrange our mixing affections, undistracted by a Sadness:

5p10 - As long as we are not assailed by emotions that are contrary to our nature, we have the power to arrange and associate affections of the body according to the order of the intellect.

While the effect may be a condensation or confusion of affects, because it is Joyous, our affections are open to clarification. Our very agreement with the effect leads to the possibility of an unfolding of the consequences. The propositions that follow then switch from emotions to images themselves:

5p11 – In proportion as a mental image is related [refertur] to more things, the more frequently does it occur – i.e., the more often it springs to life – and the more it engages the mind.

Proof : In proportion as an image or emotion is related to more things, the more causes there are by which it can be aroused and fostered, all of which the mind, by hypothesis, regards simultaneously as a result of the emotion. And so the emotion thereby occurs more frequently – i.e., springs to life more often – and engages the mind more (5p8).

The very relatability of two or more images as we find in the apt or even beautiful metaphor (again, I solicit a favorite, “…that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea”), bring together the genealogy of causes to a point where it is not just that the body is affected, but the mind itself. This is an important distinction, one that requires that we turn back to another section where Spinoza speaks of the powers of the imagination, in the second part where a very powerful function of the memory is discussed. Here, instead of the two or more con-fused ideas that are involved in metaphors, it is the images that are born of a contingent simultaneity when we are affected by objects at the same time…that is the trace the coincidence leaves on us:

2p18 – If the human body has once been affected by two or more bodies at the same time, and when the mind afterwards imagines one of them, it will straightaway remember the others too.

2p18, scholium – Hence we clearly understand what memory is. It is simply a linking of ideas involving the nature of things outside the human body, a linking which occurs in the mind parallel to the order and linking of the affections of the human body. I say, firstly, that it is only the linking of those ideas that involve the nature of things outside the human body, not of those that explicate the nature of the said things. For they are in fact (2p16) ideas of the affections of the human body which involve the nature both of the human body and of external bodies. Secondly, my purpose in saying that this linking occurs in accordance with the order and linking of the affections of the human body is to distinguish it from the linking of ideas in accordance with the order of the intellect whereby the mind perceives things through their first causes, and which is the same in all men.

Furthermore, from this we clearly understand why the mind, from thinking of one thing, should straightaway pass onto thinking of another thing which has no likeness to the first. For example, from thinking the word “pomum” [apple] a Roman will straightaway pass onto thinking of the fruit, which has no likeness to that articulate sound nor anything in common with it other than that the man’s body has often been affected by them both; that is, the man has often heard the word “pomum” while seeing the fruit. So everyone will pass on from one thought to another according as habit in each case has arranged the images in his body.

The way that the imaginative memory works, according to Spinoza, is that images are ordered associatively, occurring in correspondence to their coincidence in time, determined by the affections of the human body. The imaginative memory is a kind of ideational associative habit, to be distinguished from the way that the intellect orders thing through its understanding through explanation and cause. This habit contingently links even words and images, and the “linking” is the linking of the affections of the body, not the intellect. In contrast to the memory’s corporeal  “ordering and linking”, if we return to the relative properties of images found in 5p11 where the very numericity of relatedness produces an engagement with the mind, this seems to give the avenue by which metaphorical confusions specifically help to produce an increase in the adequacy of our ideas. The mind is engaged by the causal profusion that produces the strength of the metaphorical affect, aided by the fact that the affect is Joyous and in agreement with our natures, an engagement that is expressed in the very relatability of the two or more images (or ideas, one would assume) that compose the metaphor.

This mental (as 0pposed to a merely bodily) link is further delineated in the next proposition. The most relatable images are those of things which we already understand:

5p12 – Images are more readily associated with those images that are related to things which we clearly and distinctly understand than they are to others.

Proof: Things that are clearly and distinctly understood are either the common properties of things or deductions made from them (see 2p40s2, def of reason) and consequently they are more often before the mind (2p11proof). So it is more likely that we should regard other things in conjunction with these, and consequently (2p18) that they should be more readily associated with these than others.

Spinoza is building an argumentative case for the images which are relatable to our Intuitive understanding of God. Our clarity in a concept of God creates a substantial framework for the relatability of images in general. In a certain sense, far from being radically against the imagination, Reason actual works as its facilitator. Through our understanding of common properties of things, other imagined associations increase. Aside from Spinoza’s argumentative goal, in the case of metaphor production one can see how this also would be so. Metaphors are born atop our primary clarity of understanding. If I can say that the brain is the computer of a body, this metaphor trades upon knowing with some clarity what a brain is and what a computer is. And the metaphor through its illumination suddenly gives us to see certain (yet innumerable) common properties. These leap to life in an apparent increase in our adequacy of idea.

The Polyvalance of Image Relations

Lastly, it is this very associability founded upon numerical and causal connections with produces a temporal increase in the association. This may serve as a very broad framework in which to read the lateralization of metaphors, the way that mouths of rivers and bottle eventually move from unexpected, non-literal metaphor, to simply a new literal use of the word. The causal richness of the word used underwrites a pragmatic sublimation of our imaginary powers.

5p13 - The greater the number of other images which an image is associated, the more often it springs to life.

Proof: The greater the number of images which an image is associated, the more causes there are by which it can be aroused (2p18).

Given this tracing of a Spinozist space for the productive intellectual powers of metaphors, perhaps it is best to ground the favorability back upon the body, from whence it begins. The causal, associative power of metaphorical confusion, if it is to result in real-world empowerment must also be seen as a material gain, a turn toward the possible polyvalence of the body. Here the numerical duplicity of two objects affectively experienced as one is related to a generalized numerical increase in causal openness, the famous “ more ways” definition of “advantage”:

4p38 – That which so disposes the human body that it can be affected in more ways [pluribus modis], or which renders it capable of affecting external bodies in more ways, is advantageous to man, and proportionately more advantageous as the body is thereby rendered more capable of being affected in more ways and of affecting other bodies in more ways. On the other hand, that which renders the body less capable in these respects is harmful.

Metaphors must be read, if we are to embrace them as Spinozist creations of Joy, as increases in the number of ways in which the body is capable of being affected and affecting others. This would be a groundwork assumption.
Let this post be a kind of reasoning-aloud about the conceptual space affordable for the products of the imagination, and in particular the benefits of metaphors. Under such reasoning, contra Rorty, there is indeed a value in the use of metaphor, in fact given our fundamental passivity of mind, an arguably prodigious value. Because more adequate ideas are not immediately available to us at any particular time on any particular subject or need, given the particular historical conditions we might find ourselves in, the creativity of associative thought, the affective conflations that metaphors achieve, can be seen to play a central role in illuminating new aspects of phenomenae of every kind, from objects, to ideas, to relations. It very well may be wanted for us to say, “The Heavens Weep” rather than “It is raining outside”, for the first condensationally draws together a wealth of causal relations, as Deleuze might say virtual relations, which the second would simply occlude in its distinctness. The first may bring us Joy, the second little. Metaphors cause us to notice, in the shimmering light of what is a revelation, what the Greeks thought of as an “uncovering”, what then  can be excavated by the intellect.

I have to say that despite the loose success of this picture, there is one aspect of Spinoza’s argument that troubles me, and I have found this distinction in other writings of his, (for instance his letter to Peter Balling regarding his prophetic imagination of his son). When Spinoza wants to qualify that something is linked only in the body, and not in the intellect, given his parallel postulate I can not rigorously understand the distinction of an ordo  of the body, since each linking in the body MUST be a linking in the mind of God. As events happen in they body, they are also following adequately in the mind. I can perhaps imagine that the ideational linkings of bodily affections read as coincident are perhaps too obtuse for the finite mind to immediately comprehend, and therefore as a shorthand bodily affection associations are to be distinguished from intellectual reference. But I cannot see in principle how these are divided, as the human Mind is nothing more than God thinking in a finite mode. The understandability that even allows affects to be intelligible at all confirs some mental order to them. Even the associations Spinoza regards as contingent, those between the sound of the word “apple” and the image of the apple that comes to your mind is intimately linked to the network of rationally organized beliefs about the world and language use which over and above habit provide the context for interpretability. In a sense, one sees an apple, as an apple, because one knows the word “apple” and understands its concept (how to use the word), and this was learned under causal conceptions with others in a shared world. To be sure, there is a free-flowing connection between images based on personal experiences, but these are shot through with inferential and deductive understandings of the world.

What is a metaphor if not a kind of pirouette

performed by an idea, enabling us to assemble its diverse names or images?

—Paul Valéry

Spinoza’s Confusion of Ideas, and then, Metaphor

Productive Confusion of Objects

Michael Della Rocca has an excellent section in his new book Spinoza (2008 ) in which he discusses Spinoza’s panpsychism in terms of two problems, th0se he calls the Pan and the Pancreas problem. These are the explanatory diffculties that arise in Spinoza’s panpsychic (there are a long of pans here) epistemology that seems to confer “mind” to every thing. If the object of our thoughts is our body, how is it that we are able to form perceptions of external objects, i.e. frying pans; and if our mind is the idea of our body, how is it that we are not readily aware of our most of the changing states of our pancreas? He comes upon a summation of the nature of our confusion, (remember confusion is con-/fusion), is a blurring together of ideas of both states in the world and states of our body. It is that the human condition is one in which any ideas of our body are tied up with (confused with) the ideas of the external bodies that affect them, and the same goes for the ideas of external bodies themselves, as he sums:

Spinoza’s general account of confusion seems to be the following. (This is apparent in his discussion in 2p40s1 of certain universal notions which for him are highly confused.) For Spinoza an idea is confused when it represents, or is about, two separate things and yet the mind is unable to distinguish these things by having an idea which is just of one of the objects and an idea which is just of the other of the objects. In a case where more than one thing is represented, the lack of confusion requires being able to to perceive the things separately. I think that this is a fairly plausible condition to place on being free of confusion…When the body is affected by an outside object and the mind perceives the bodily effect as well as the outside object, all the ingredients for confusion are in place (113).

This descriptive argument cast my eye in another direction – and it is interesting that Della Rocca founds it upon Spinoza’s dismissal of Universals as confused ideas. What comes to mind is something that Spinoza works as hard as possible to distance himself from in most cases, not withstanding his love of Terence and some pointed exceptions…metaphor. Metaphor is the deliberate, and creative perceptual con-fusion of two objects. In a metaphor a literal falsehood is uttered, “That man is a wolf” or one of my favorites, “the dolphin-torn, gong-tormented sea” such that something of an indistinguishability is achieved.  Vico theorized that metaphors were the primative, poetic creation of “imaginative universals”, a way of fusing multiple objects together in the imagination such as to be able to produce something new, an ontology of quality (I write about this in some detail here Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet ). This kind of collapse is part of what I am sensing. But one must turn to the Cartesian notion of  “clear and distinct” from which Spinoza is operating to get the full sense of what I am after. Clear and distinct is born of optics, a judgment of the quality of image in a lens. Whether one is straining to see a flea leg in a microscope, or the recently discovered fleck of the moon of Saturn, its “clarity” which was its brightness, and its distinctness, which was the ability to distinguish a form from what surrounded it, were as one can imagine braided aspects of a lens’ power. An image had to be bright and distinguishable, and it is was on this demand that Decartes, and then the even more optically practiced lens-maker Spinoza, rhetorically traded. (How interesting that the descriptive of adequate ideas itself begins as a metaphor.)

But as I argue elsewhere, metaphor give us to affectively feel the same about, to confuse, two (0r more) objects in their causal relationship to our internal lives. We are to feel the same way about this man (or if we follow Hobbes, all men) that we feel about wolves. Following Yeats, we are to feel about the sea, its surface, its waves, the same way we feel about things that are tormented, fabric and gongs. And in so doing, something else comes to the surface, something bright and distinguished from what it is not (but still not ideationally clear). It is the living, electric line of a similarity which remains to be delineated in a specific way. Both objects, let us stick with the “man” and the “wolf”, remain distinct as ideas, but these ideas fall back, like the rough, gray penumbra of the outer edge of the magnifying lense. It suddenly is the “wolfiness” of the man — and if we are in a situation where we would be threatened by it it can jut out crag-like at us. And dialectically, there comes to be the counter-infection, the maniness of wolves.

If the confusions of ideas of the body and external objects are indeed born of how Della Rocca argues that Spinoza conceives of them, such that we cannot have a clean idea of external objects that is not in some sense contaminated by our ideas of our bodies, and visa versa, our attempt to clarify our ideas through a separable understanding of objects through their causes that we read as clear and distinct can be seen to be fostered by another confusion, an intentional one, wherein it is not inside and outside that is confused, but two or more external objects are affectively and poetically fused within us, so as to give birth to a shimmering clarity of aspect unseen before. It is engagement with this line, brought up from the ground, that allows us to make greater clarity and distinctness of the ideas that will come to surround it, as we come to seek its causes.

To Hephaestus’ house came Thetis, silver-footed  (Iliad, xviii, 369)

Theories of Lack and Capitalist Meaning Structures

Long title, short thought.

The reason why the theoretical affirmation of “lack” at the ontological level, even if it be the constitutive effects of an illusionary lack deemed to be necessary for language use or subjecthood, (something that can be said to have rigourously begun with Hegel), is  to be cautioned against, is that as these philosophies arise out of the reflection of the Capitalist values that pervade…the guiding purchase of THE completing object. The danger is to normalize these values of pur(chase) through the descriptive ontologies that assert lack as necessity. The attempted domestication of Capitalist-value lack through such descriptions works to entrench it as the only imaginable, part of the very grammar out of which we reason our freedoms. If I am stalwart on a Spinozist renunciation of lack, primarily in the pragmatic prescriptions for freedom, it is because only an ontological schematic which sees beyond this valuation of lack (rather than simply theorizing it into existence through an efficacy of reflection/expression), would open up the conceptual space for liberations outside of purchase, or the gritted embrace of a circulation existentialist jouissance amid desire (see how it burns).  Rather, it seems the pragmatic, constructive assemblages of affective bodies, ground-up articulations of bodies in assemblage, that seem most open to the kinds of imagined communities human beings may make possible, even at an asymptotic limit. Only by refusing the programmatic valuation of lack itself in the conceptual space we design is its surpass possible, in redescription…a redescription that only maintains its claim through performance.

This being said, I do NOT see Capitalism as an evil, or even a degredation (while acknowledging the cruelties specific to its forms), but rather the path open to community yet imagined through the increase in affects possible. Part of this possiblity is the critique of the fundamental value of (pur)chase as the engine of exchange. It is in reasoning out of one plentitude, to another plentitude that I believe such possibilities reside.



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