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Category Archives: Campanella

The Fantasm of the Point: Vico, Plotinus, Campanella and even Badiou

(ca. 204-270 AD) 

To return to the diagram of my last post on Plotinus I want to think along with a confluence of ideas that condense upon the very center of it, the infintesmal locus of “matter” which exists merely as a private, yet also which alternately can be considered as a radiating center (under a different analogy).

The direction I want to go in this is a rumination that first starts from Badiouian notion that Being is not of the One, or “the One is not,” and that mathematics in a sense speaks Being,  pronouncing what is expressible of being-qua-being. The principle that the non-numerical One is beyond Being is of course one that Plotinus holds at the pinacle of his Ontology, for Being starts with the varigated particularization of the Nous. It is there that the predication of Being takes hold. The way that Plotinus tells it, the Nous is produced by the plentitude/emptiness of The One, and necessarily breaks it apart into a kind of representation which divides it into parts. The reason that Plotinus gives for this division into likenesses is interesting. It is that the Nous struggles with the fact that it has no control over that upon which it ultimately depends, a control which expresses itself in the desire to preserve:

The hypostasis of the Intellect [Nous] cannot maintain its vision of the One in primal unity, but “being being unable to preserve the power which it was procuring, it broke it up and made the one [power] that it might bear it part by part [katà méros]” (6.7 [38] 15.20-22). In so doing, Intellect constitutes itself as an imitation of the Good, as a many-hued and varigated Good (agathòn poíkilon).

F.M. Schroeder, citing Plotinus in Form and Transformation

Now there is a great and dissatisfying danger of simply reading these particularizations as mere abstractions of an esoteric philosophy, the most gripless of metaphysics, but Plotinus’s reasoning as to why the Nous indeed breaks up the One has strong affective, phenomenological correlates. It is the very dependency of the unity of the Nous upon what lies beyond it, and inclusive of it, that generates a corresponding particularization. In drawing power from what is outside, the inside distinguishes itself. If we turn to the simple figure of a circle (for millenia a favorite of philosophers, and think in terms of systems theory, we understand that whatever system there is, it necessarily is less complex than its environment. This is to say, as all systems (the inside) depends upon a more complex outside, the very inside/outside boundary issue of dependency drives the very divisions of the inside in regard to what lies beyond it. If we allow the observations of evolutary theory, life has moved from less to more complex, and with this increase of internal divisions (differences that make differences) it has relatively gained a greater role in the preservation of the power upon which it depends (and, notably, which it is also an expression). Plotinus’s story of the Nous serves as a metaphysical directionality which prescribes how any person (organism) might orient themselves to conditions which are beyond it, like the Nous with totalizes these relations, the move is towards a complexification of differences that make differences.

For Plotinus, this process of particularization comes from what he calls “beholding” or “witnessing”. Whereas the first particularization beholds the One/the Expressed, those of Soul and Sensation are even more narrow in what they behold, all the way down to matter, which simply exists as a non-existent privation. A speck of darkness.

A Retreat to Vico’s Conception of Mathematics: the ficta of points (1668 – 1744)

I find this speck of nothingness interesting because its very non-divisibilty division reflects something of mathematics, the way in which points or numbers are non-existent distinctions that operate as a kind of limit. What I have in mind is Giambattista Vico’s interpretation of mathematics as the most divine of human acts, because in the invention of the point and the unit human beings act just a God did, creating something out of nothing in imitation of divinity, scientia humana divinae sit imitatrix. For Vico, a forerunner to some themes found in Kant, human beings cannot truly know things that they have not created. Only God truly knows what is created. The reason why human beings can have perfect knowledge of mathematics is that its creation is wholely their own. In a sense, mathematics operates “within” the circle of human articulation.

To quote some Vico, and then a commentator, to give perspective on his position:

…man defines the names themselves, and on the model of God with no underlying thing he creates (creat) the point, line and surface as if from nothing, as if they were things…to establish (condidit) for himself a certain world of forms and numbers, which he embraces within himself: and by producing, shortening, or composing lines, by adding, substracting, or reckoning numbers, he effects infinite works because he knows infinite truths within himself

But the point of the human imagination is not the point we draw with a pencil: “the point, when you draw it, is not a point: the one, when you multiply it, is no longer fully one.”

“man, containing within himself an imaginary world of lines and numbers, operates in it with his abstractions, just as God does in the universe with reality.”

With something of Plotinus’s reasoning, the very imaginary abstraction that human beings creates is a coping mechanism for that which lies beyond them and upon which they depend. Here Robert Miner provides a good overview of Vico’s approach to the knowing of human understanding:

Abstraction is the mind’s way of coping with its estrangement from things. Because he cannot possess ‘the elementa rerum by which things themselves exist with certainty,’ he resorts to the fabrication (confingere) of elementa verborum, elements which, despite their unreality, are able to ‘stimulate ideas with no controversy.’”

Vico has described human truth as a factum that is arrived at through a synthesis of elements that are only partially grasped, because they exist outside the mind which grasps them. If the human mind is essentially outside the elementa rerum, how does it manage to grasp even their outside edges? Vico proceeds to answer this question: “God knows everything, because he contains within himself the elements from which all things are composed; man seeks to know these elements by a process of dividing (dividendo).”

What is the relation of “dividing” to making? Is dividendo creative or destructive? Vico’s answer is “both.” De antiquissima 1.2 begins with an homage to the fecundity of dissection. The “anatomy of nature’s works” gives birth to a range of human scientiae. It does so by inventing their objects. One can divide man into body and spirit. From body, human science has “picked out (excerpsit) or, as men say, abstracted figure and motion, and from these, as well as from all other things, it has extracted (extulit) being and unity.” The objects obtained through abstraction give rise to the human scientiae metaphysics (whose proper object is ens), arithmetic (unum), geometry (figura), mechanics (motus from the edge), physics (motion from the center), medicine (corpus), logic (ratio), and ethics (voluntas).

The fecundity of dissection comes at a cost. Man creates the human scientiae by fragmenting, and therefore destroying, the whole…The entities created by abstraction – being, unity, figure, motion, shape, intellect, will – are “one thing in God, in whom they are one, and another thing in man, in whom they are divided.” Ripped from the whole in which they have life, humanly obtained elements are disiecta membra. “In God they live, in man they perish.” Our efforts to understand nature by cutting it up supplies us with theories rather than works: “in nobis sunt ratiocina, in Deo sunt opera.” All that man acquires through dividing the whole, is like man himself, nihil prae Deo; all finite and created beings are nothing but disposita entis infiniti ac aeterni. Etymology confirms the connection between division and diminution: Vico asserts that minuere means both “to lessen” and “to separate.”

The limitations of abstraction ensure that we have access only to the extrema of the elementa rerum. In what is likely to be an illusion to Lucretius, Vico declares that when man starts to investigate the nature of things (naturam rerum vestigabundus), he finds that “he does not have within himself the elements from which composite things exist.” This lack (brevitas) is not a morally neutral feature of the human condition, but a “vice of the mind” (mentis vicium). It is an effect of fallenness, a decline from a primordeal state in which mind and nature where integrated. (Vico uses nefas to characterize physicists who think they can provide real defintions of things.) Man responds to this condition by turning the mentis vicium to good use, by performing an operation that relies solely upon the mind and bypasses, as it were, the material world. “By abstraction, as they say, he fabricates (configit) two things for himself: the point that can be drawn and the unit that can be multiplied.” The association of abstractio and configere suggests that abstraction is creative. The suggestion is confirmed in the Prima Riposta, where Vico writes that mathematics [move to quotes on mathematics].

Truth in Making, Robert Miner

The Terminus Point of Nonbeing: Campanella (1568 – 1639 )


There is another evocative figure of radiating being, that which Campanella uses to characterize how each thing is but a point from which non-Being radiates, a kind of photographic negative of Plotinus’s conception:

 What we are concerned with is something that has an actual bearing on the existential order [not "relative nothingnesss" (nihilum secundum quid), the essence of a thing prior to existence], i.e., the composition of an infinite nonbeing with a finite being in existing realities. This is the point at issue, and this Campanella tries to illustrate by means of an analogy. Just as we can conceive a line stretching from the center of the earth beyond the circumfrence of the sky in infinitum, so, he says, man, like any other creature, is but a little dot where infinite nonbeing is terminated. Man is in effect the negation of an infinite number of other things and of God himself, being surrounded, as he is, by an infinite nonbeing (Bonansea, Tommaso Campanella, citing Met, II, 6, 3, 7)

In this Campanella presents something very close to Spinoza’s letter 21 claim that “all determination is negation,” something that Hegel made quite a bit of. Only in Spinoza any particular determination/negation is not a negation of God/Substance, but rather its Substance (Campanella always heretically veering towards collapsing God and Creation into one panpsychic whole, like Spinoza, but careful to walk the line).

What I am inspired to say about these circular analogies for Being and coherence of action, with their distinct and performative inside/outside designations, is that somehow mathematics in coming out of the pure fictiveness of human creation, in inventing the Non-Being of the immaterial point, somehow grasps whole the entire matrix of radiating conceptions, and is able to map out with great fecundity the very Oneness which is beyond Being (in a Plotinian sense). Weaving out the very absence, the infintesmal (as my wife tells me, what is the decimal point which divides the infinitely large from the infinitely small, made of?), we get a glimpse of the very varigatedness that Plotinus attributes to Nous likeness taking.  The whole thing is sutured closed, or at least remotely closed, for one imagines that there are many kinds of mappings that can be woven from the nothingness of the point.

Further though, even in its appropriation of the infinite nothingness, mathematics owes Alfred Korzybski’s adage “The map is not the territory,” while keeping in mind that mapping, and map-following is itself part of the territory (one hunts through the map, as one hunts through the territory). All organisms seem to in some form follow Plotinus’s thoughts on why the Nous mirrored the One, being unable to preserve that upon which they depend. The semiotic relations that make up an organisms internal relations, and then thus relations to other organisms, are not only performances, but also are duplications (not necessarily representations), “picking out” (intelligere, to choose out) certain aspects of the world, and it is always a tension between picking out the most important, valued features, and sheer numericity, since these two are intimately related. In a certain sense, mathematics too needs to be seen as a vast material organism/organization, as material as any map, appendage to the human species.

Graham Harman’s “essence” contra DeLanda, à la Campanella

Listening From Afar

Just finished listening to Graham Harman’s lecture “Assemblages According to Manuel DeLanda” [mp3] (given at the London School of Economics and Political Science, on 27 November 2008), as part of my attempt come to grips with just what Graham is saying about causation, and much comes clear as he tries to applaud and criticize DeLanda, forming a critical triangle between himself, DeLanda and Latour.

And there is much that is substantive on cause in this lecture, though it passes in and out as a subject. Graham tries to position himself just right, a Goldilocks between DeLanda’s rather fusing, if genetic, depths hiding beneath actualizing expressions and Latour’s satisfying emphasis upon real, though occasionally isolated, and far too-shallow actors in networks. The lecture is not long, and there is a lengthy thought-experiment driven discussion that follows.

It is here, in the discussion where Graham brings up the reality of the essence of the “McCain Victory Coalition” a very real thing that simply did not come about, was not actualized. I had run into this initially in one of his comments on a blogged post and certainly had trouble with it, in concept, conjuring up far too much reality for a science fiction of “possible worlds”. But Graham’s consistent emphasis on essence got me thinking (he makes a very good point that much of the postmodern baby-with-the-bathwater  treatment of essence is due to a conflationary reading of essence, in particular carried out by Derrida).

The “Neapolitan Volcano”

What really came to mind was the philosophy of Tommaso Campanella and his own treatment of essence. There struck me to be great affinity between Graham’s idealization of essence in a notion of retreating objects, split off from their qualities, and the thinking of the late-Renaissance heretic. So while I have spent too much time attacking Graham’s OOP from the perspective of Spinoza (who admittedly is fashionable these days), it seemed right to come to Graham’s support from an extremely unfashionable thinker, one who had almost vanished from the philosophical canon. At the very least it gives me an chance to put forth some more of Campanella’s thought, and perhaps drawn one more line of affinity between Graham’s OOP and late-Scholastic/Renaissance thought.

Here I post without much comment a summation of Campanella’s treatment of essence and existence, taken from Bonansea’s excellent book, Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought. It begins with a quotation from Campanella  himself, followed by Bonansea’s commentary:

To [Scotus's] second and third arguments we answer that existence is the limit of essence. Since it cannot be distinguished from what is limited and modified, any more than the extreme end of a line that can be distinguished from the line itself, it follows that existence belongs to the same predicament of essence, or better, to the predicament of quantity which is the measure of substance. I mean transcendental quantity; for the angel too, has a limited quanitity of power, and this limit is from his own existence. However, if one considers the extrinsic terminal factors, existence must be said to be an accident. Indeed, although time, place, and all the surrounding beings are also essences, yet they do not belong to the quiddity of a thing that is thereby circumscribed and located in a particular place and time. They are but accidents which contract a thing into such and such an existence.

Met. II, 6, 2, 4, p. 10a

“Existence is, therefore, neither matter, nor form, nor their composite, but their extreme and ultimate mode. It is a transcendental measure that implies a real relationship to external things. It is the end of being and the beginning of nonbeing; or rather, the connecting link between being and nonbeing. Insofar as it has being, it belongs to essence; insofar as it has nonbeing, it belongs to nothingness.

In these statements we have, we believe, the exact meaning of Campanella’s notion of extrinsic existence as something distinct from intrinsic existence. This notion enables us to understand why the existence of a finite being can be said to be identical with essence and at the same time really distinct from it. In the first case, existence stands for the actual intrinsic entity of a thing; in the second case, it stands for the beings outside of an individual essence which is thereby limited by its own nonbeing. For, it should be noted, although in Campanella’s philosophy existence limits essence no less than essence limits existence, the actual limitation or contraction of both essence and existence is from nonbeing.

…The difference between a thing as it is in the mind of God and the same thing as it is in its actuality consists in this, that the latter case its being is contracted to a definite concrete existence. This amounts to saying that by its creation a thing does not acquire a better existence, but only an existence that contracts to a particular and concrete essence the essence that exists in the mind of God in the form of a universal and nobler idea. Since existence is in turn also contracted to a certain particular essence, no distinction can be admitted between essence and intrinsic existence in finite things, just as no distinction is to be admitted between them as they are in the mind of God. (Theol. I, 3, 9)”

Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought  (180-181)

I find this synthesis interesting, and in keeping with much of Graham’s retreating object essences. Campanella grants a full nobility of object essence outside of causes extrinsic to its concrete existence, and uses the suggestive metaphor of the reaching of concrete existence as the reaching of a limit, like the very end or terminus of a line. The accidents of its concrete existence (what Graham calls its qualities) are actually for Campanella the intersection of Being with Nonbeing, into what he calls a contraction. Concrete existence forms a horizon of this intersection, a particularization, to which the essence of something is not reduced. It is in terms that would be satisfying to Graham, in surplus to this horizon. The intrinsic essence of a man as it becomes concretized through the external causes on which it depends comes into contact with what it is not (not-man), is actually coming into contact with Nonbeing itself. And it is not just the essence that is particularized, but so is existence itself. There are almost three layers coming into contraction.

Aside from simply seeing some homologies in thought (many of these simply being a product of Campanella’s attempted synthesis of Scholastic debates), Graham’s surplus object essences and Campanella’s collision of Being with particularizing NonBeing, it was also his claim that there is such an object as the McCain Victory Coalition (something I still have problems with). But I wanted to investigate the degree to which Campanella would grant just such an object. Here I post Bonansea’s commentary on the status of contingent objects in Campanella’s thought (found in a chapter on the Primality of Potentia (power/capactity), something that Campanella reads as co-constitutive of all Being):

“Just as power is needed for acting, so it is needed for being (Met. II, 6, 5, 1). A being that always is has its power to be ab intrinseco, or else it would have to depend on another being for its existence. Such is the first being, whose power to be is its own esse. Beings that now are but at one time were not, i.e., contingent beings, have their power to be ab extrinseco. They are called possible insofar as they can be made through their causes, and actual inasmuch as they actually exist outside their causes. In the first case they have only an imperfect power to be, since this power rests with a cause outside of themselves; in the second case they have a perfect power to be within themselves, because they already exist (Met. II, 6, 5, 3).

One might think that in contingent beings the power to be precedes their own existence; in fact, many things are possible that do not exist yet. However, this is not true, for what is possible already has some sort of existence. It exists causally in its cause, virtually in the agent, potentially in its power, and really, existentially, in the thing itself when it is out of its own cause. No matter how a thing can be, somehow or other it already is. If it can be perfectly, it is perfect; if it can only be in an imperfect way, it is imperfect (Met. p.21a-21b). To state the something has the power to be and not assign to it any sort of being or existence is highly inconsistent. Power to be is therefore an “essentiaity” of being (Met. p. 21b). It is being itself insofar as it is or will be (Met. II, 6, 6, 7).

Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought (150) 

Not addressed are contingent objects which have not, and this will not now come into existence, such as the one Graham preposes (unless one imagines that McCain’s Victory Coalition could come into play in a next election). But this notion of the potentia/power of a thing that already exists in its causes (ab extrinseco), and in its intrinsic essence yet concretized, seems to be the very concepts that Graham is capitalizing on when asserting that such an object must in some sense exist. I offer from this excentric but beautiful thinker a pillar of conceptual support from across the centuries for Graham’s claim for the existence of non-concretized potential objects, at least as a rough point of affinity.

Inhuman Causation

To turn to a different question, in terms of my discoveries within the lecture on the subject of causation, Graham admits what to me is the rather profound difficulty to explain what causation is at the very level of the inanimate (where we assume the preponderance of causation in the Universe occurs). He is quite fair with this, never hiding this fault. But this is huge. I quote from the discussion that followed:

“It is not exactly clear to me how it happens in the case of inanimate objects. We can it better in the case of human things. We can ask ourselves why some metaphors work and others don’t. Um, why some jokes work and some others don’t. Um, its not entirely clear to me why in the case of certain physical interactions sometimes there is a causal effect, sometimes there is no causal effect when two things meet at all. Sometimes it goes in only one direction….I think what we do methodologically is that we first have to look at the human cases and see why the object is severed from it traits, first, and then we kind of retroactively try to think down to the inanimate level and see how it might work there. That’s why you have to start with aesthetics to get at causation.”

There are two problems that I see with this problem. It is good that Graham excavates the problem itself, trying to point out that for a Realist other supposed solutions to this problem, (how do the buried essences of things touch each other), may not really be solutions at all; something of the problem of cause may have been swept under the philosophical rug (and he provides an excellent critique of DeLanda’s dismissal of determination). Yet to offer a metaphysics of the world which does not even posses a strong, rough-sketch approach to animate interactions, while seeking to undermine the common materialist notions of causation seems to me to point to the insufficiency of one’s essential theory. Graham appears to be saying something like, If you are going to be a Realist of the sort that I claim you should be you cannot accept the generally accepted materialist notions of causation, but…I cannot really give you a coherent replacement description in its stead. One gets the sense that the appeal of the theory in poetic or narrow sense (as opposed to a systematic metaphysics of the world), is supposed to override the requirements of a robust explanatory power. It is something like, if you are going to be a Realist, causation between inanimate objects cannot at all happen like that, but I cannot really tell you how it does happen. This can be the beginning of a tremendous effort of new and creative thought (how to fashion a theory-coherent explanation for a huge portion of reality already well-described by other historical assumptions), or, as in often the case, when so much phenomena and event fall outside of a descriptive theory this is the sign of the death-throes of a theory, an Idealist inspired theory so strained one or more of its basic assumptions much be changed.

But more challenging that this is that the primary focus for Graham’s OOP is objects themselves, that is, objects without human beings. The inability to coherently and powerfully describe the conditions of interactions between two objects without any human beings around is at the very least highly problematic, if not fatally self-contradictory. The very methodology that Graham prescribes, and he is again a very forthright, is that we must start from the human and extrapolate down further and further as far as we can go. What would not make the conclusions we arrive at through such an extrapolation not  a completely human-centered, perhaps outright Idealist creation, I can’t tell. The entire construct is woven out of human experience as exemplar and ideal (hence his projection of rather psychological terms such as “allure” to describe what happens in causation). The consequence of this, and this is just my feeling, the only thing tha would save a non-human centered project result spun from human extrapolation is panpsychism itself, that is, the processes we human beings are carrying out when we actually make such a theory are fundamentally part of the processes that all things carry out (we are not fundamentally a kingdom within a kingdom).  Such a conclusion though would I think require a non-psychological, non-affectuating, non-quality ridden projection, a re-essentialization of just what it is that we are doing when forming this theory and all other things (which would unfortunately require that Graham abandon his otherwise worthy Husserlian/Cartesian/Idealist influence…it would not leave his theory standing).

All this being said, both the affinity of thought come from Tommaso Campanella’s home in a Naples prison, to the apparent road-block of a non-humanizing, human-originated theory of the object and causation, lead me to the anticipation of what Graham will come up with. This is the funny thing about metaphysics. The inherent contradictions in attempts to totalize, explain and describe everything are not simply the sign of its fundamental mistep as an activity, a kind of category error as Wittgenstein or Ryle might have it, but rather work much as the net in tennis, as an obstical to be artfully and gracefully overcome, like the imposed meter in a Alexandrian sonnet. If the obstical is not too steep, and the lines coherent enough, we gaze in wonder at the play.

The “ens reale” and the “ens rationis”: Spelling Out Differences

The Pleroma and Creatura: Bateson

Gregory Bateson, a father of modern cybernetic has some very important things to say about the nature of differences, and has been fruitfully appropriated in any number of ways, primarily due to his very powerful defintion of Information as “a difference that makes a difference”. But it should be noted that Bateson’s approach to differences is one that drives a very firm, dualistic line between Mind and Matter, one that follows Carl Jung’s categories of the Pleroma and Creatura:

The significance of all this formalization was made more evident in the 1960s by a reading of Carl Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead, of which the Jungian therapist Jane Wheelwright gave me a copy. I was at the time writing a draft of what was to be my Korzybski Memorial Lecture and began to think about the relation between “map” and “territory.” Jung’s book insisted upon the contrast between Pleroma, the crudely physical domain governed only by forces and impacts, and Creatura, the domain governed by distinctions and differences. It became abundantly clear that the two sets of concepts match and that there could be no maps in Pleroma, but only in Creatura. That which gets from territory to map is news of difference, and at that point I recognized that news of difference was a synonym for information. (Angels Fear, Introduction)

For Bateson, the separation is one of processes, and not one of Substance like it is for Descartes, but all the same, it imposes a strict heirarchy which privileges the mental over the physical. A stone simply is restricted to the domain of the Pleroma, while any differential making process, even the simplest of biotic discrimination is given over to the realm of Creatura:

It is, of course, true that our explanations, our textbooks dealing with nonliving matter, are full of information. But this information is all ours; it is part of our life processes. The world of nonliving matter, the Pleroma, which is described by the laws of physics and chemistry, itself contains no description. A stone does not respond to information and does not use injunctions or information or trial and error in its internal organization. To respond in a behavioral sense, the stone would have to use energy contained within itself, as organisms do. It would cease to be a stone. The stone is affected by “forces” and “impacts,” but not by differences. (Mind and Nature, Chapter II)

To most of us this is a perfectly acceptable, perhaps even obvious designation. There seems a powerful instinct that tells us that a stone simply is not in any sense like an amoeba, which is to say, what a stone does (if it does anything at all) is somehow categorically different than what an amoeba does (though both can kill you). The difficulty arises for anyone who wants to theorize in a way that does not privlege the Mind over Matter. This begins perhaps as a desire to not privlege human realities over animal realities, and then ultimately to give over to even the animate some kind of “right”, some play in the game in determining what is “real” and thus “what matters”. When Mind (in some form of Idealism) becomes the heirarchial source point of what matters, somehow this all slips back into a remote solipsism of the merely human world (and then even, the Western world, or the American world, or white upper middle class academic world). If one instanitates a fundamental primacy between the Pleroma and Creatura, wherein the Ceatura determine the status of the Pleroma in heirarchial, a priori fashion, something of the Mind/Bodd, Spirit/Matter dichotomies that have long haunted philosophy are dragged forward (often with explicit political consequences of such binarism).

The Difference that makes a/the Difference

For this reason one must keep in mind the essential metaphysical base from which Bateson is employing his work (Marx makes just such fateful Nature/Culture distinction from the start as well).  If one is going to grant equal footing to the non-human (and non-biotic) actor in the world, this essential binary must be categorically undone. As long as one has divided up the entire world into realms, one realm becomes paramount, and the line merely shifts.

What Bateson has in mind when he speaks of “a difference that makes a difference” is the way that information connects what is “out there” in the world to the “in here” of a cybernetically organized system. To put it most simply, the internal relations within a system form a boundary which is sensitive to only particular kinds of disturbances (a blind person does not turn his head to see someone waving to him from across the street, a tick does not drop from its leaf when a breeze blows). The difference out there in the world that makes a difference in here, is for Bateson the difference that makes a difference, it connects inside to outside.

But out of a completely unintended difference in the way that Bateson has framed his defintion of Information, I would like to use his notion of difference differently. Because I am not interested in giving priority of mind over matter, I am less concerned with the way that mental systems exercise dominance over physical structures (picking out what matters so as to eventually predict and control it), I am not going to follow the breadcrumbs of difference from outside to inside. This is far too Idealist for me. Rather, I want to see if we can talk about differences in such a way that the things a stone is doing, and the things that an amoeba are doing, are in someway signficantly related (and such that the actions of each are given footing).

Bateston states his defintion of Information in at least two ways in separate works.

1. A difference that makes a difference.

2. The difference that makes the difference.

It might sound trivial, but in the spirit of acknowledging even the smallest of differentiations, of this variation between the definite and indefinite article, I would like to spin out a profound distinction which maps onto a fundamental ontological distinction of Medieval Scholasticism. Much of Scholasticism spent its time trying to iron out the remarkable, but underdeveloped semiotic point that Augustine made, that signs transcend the Culture/Nature dichotomy. There are natural signs, and their are signs of convention. And (natural and cultural) signs are defined as:

“a sign is something which, offering itself to the senses, conveys something other to the intellect,” (Signum … est res praeter speciem quam ingerit sensibus, aliud aliquid ex se faciens in cogitationem venire) (Augustine De doctr. chr. II 1, 1963, 33)

Attempting to work out the full consequences of an ontology of the semiotic which transcended the Nature/Culture barrior, Scholastic philosophy realized that there must not only be material signs “out there”, but also mental signs “in here,” and much ado was made on how to connect the two (until in modern times gradually questions of signification became a questions of representation…many like to put this at the foot of Descartes, or even the Locke, but it is not altogether clear that this is the case).

A product of this debate was the two classifications Ens Reale and Ens Rationis. A real thing, and a rational thing. These are treated in various ways, often as the difference between “physical being” and “logical being”, but I want to speak much more broadly, without precision. An ens reale is a thing in the world, and an ens rationalis is a thing in the mind. Is here that I want to propose a loose though hopefully enlightening homology.

1. A difference that makes merely a difference  is an ens reale.

2. The difference that makes the difference is an ens rationis.

Leaving behind Bateson’s use of information as the thing that connects inside to outside, as an ontologist I want to speak of differences in their variety of states. Following Plato’s initial definition of being as the capacity for anything to affect or be affected, as found in the Sophist, the general sense of the reality of differences is that anything that makes a difference in general, “a difference” has being, and is ens reale. But any difference that is strictly internal  to a closed horizon relation of parts, is an ens rationis, that is which is to say, it is a difference that makes the difference, recursively. In this way, and event out there in the world, perhaps lightning strike, is an ens reale difference insofar as it is not taken with in an overarching internal circuit of relations, and its effect upon the human organism, that actual internal differences which are within the horizon of person, are each ens rationis. It is important to keep track though, that every ens rationis is an ens reale. The question is: Is every ens reale also an ens rationis. I think they are.

Spinoza’s Bodies as Certain or Fixed Ratios

As I mentioned previously, Spinoza’s defintion of Body is far more rich that it is often taken to be. More than simply a billiard ball image of circulating motions (which is how it appears at first glance), his panpsychic metaphysics grants some degree of mind (Idea) to any extensional expression, such that even the simplest of bodies in composite have a foothold in the mental. Here is the definition in bodily terms:

Definition: When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies. E2p13a2d

It is quite interesting that Spinoza finds what separates out one body or individual from another is a certain or fixed ratio, certa ratione. It seems safe to say that not only living things preserve for Spinoza through a certa ratione, but also taken to be inanimate things. We have here the potential for categorical description that crosses through the Pleroma/Creatura divide that Bateson privleges. The ultimate question is: Do abiotic wholes which do preserve through a certa ratione, also achieve within that horizon of “individual” an order of differences that allows us to say that they are each ens rationis.

It is hard to know exactly what Spinoza has in mind: when he describes this perpetuation of communicated motion, for instance, is it a different sense of body than that brought about by external causes in the earlier part, When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or it is simply the internal specification of those external forces? What we can do is use the definition as tellingly as possible. What I suggest is that differences that are internal to an object or body as Spinoza sees it, are differences that are indicative of a mutuality of effects. A change in this part of the body effects a change in another part of the body, and then another, and so forth, such that the whole is still maintained. And there need not be the cybernetic closure that Bateson enjoys with Creatura. The entire world would seem vectored with communicated balances between bodies that however briefly or enduringly remain in ratio with each other. These mutuality of communications I hold is the threshold for an ens reale to be an ens rationalis. The cybernetic closures which map a territory are certainly different kinds of internal organizations of horizons, but rocks, breeze patterns, neuron rhythms, photon pathways, planetary equalibriums, dust corners, electron loops, all possess an internal coherence of differences which is preserved, and in which a single difference (I would say) semiotically indicates consequences of internal coherence. Stones “think”.

Stone Cognitum

There is a perspective of stones, one that is not reducible to the way in which differences in stones make differences upon us. In this sense, as Graham Harman says in Latourian fashion, stones translate other stones when they encounter each other. (I do not see how such a claim can be separated out from panpsychism.) The internal relations that make up a stone (semiotic, of each an ens rationalis), are also each an ens reale (a difference that makes a difference) which can make a difference that makes the difference to us (or some other internal set of relations), is itself also a difference as ens realis.

There are several interesting ways to procede from this, but the one that I would like to take up follows through from my last post on Spinoza, and that is that any ens realis (a difference that makes a difference), is not only already a difference that makes the difference in the internal expression of Substance as a modal whole, and thus an ens rationalis. But it is already caught up in any number, perhaps an infinite number, of ens rationalis horizoned closures. In this way, differences which are semiotic to an internal whole of differences, are also because real, differences that are internal to a plethora of bodies that cross cut that body. That “fixed ratio” is tugged at from any number of other “fixed ratio” directions, as parts of its coherence respond not only to an external horizon of differences, but also to their participant share in a cross-sectioning fixed ratio, communication whole. Any ens rationalis is Semiotically Conjoined to a variety of mentalizations.

For this reason, it is not just that the totality of coherent differences that make up a body are occluded from us, selected out by our cybernetic, ratioed closure, but also that the semiotic investment of those differences is occluded from that body itself, the coherence of its inside/outside closure. And the same is said of our own body (bodies, really).

There is another aspect which should be grasped so that we don’t fall too deeply into any Subject/Object binary. And this is something I will develop later. Because ultimately an entia rationales closure is itself a perspective, when one or many entia rationales closures come into supportive relationships to each other they can be read as forming new bodies. This is to say, when we come to know something else and intimately relate to it in a bodily, the boundary between us and it at least is semiotically problemized (if we seek to keep them completely distinct). Thus, it is not merely the case that the “kernel” of relations of an object we engage is kept from us, like a forever retreating shadow, but also the case that as we engage an object (an aspect of our environment), we at a very real, semiotic level (that is, at the level of entia rationales), become it.

Thus, as the carpenter uses his hammer, or the lens grinder his grinding lathe, there is a communication of motions which exceed the boundary of bodies, forming one of two (to some degree). The world is felt, mutually, through the performance union of both bodies. It is for this reason that Tommaso Campanella tells us: To know is to be, cognoscere est esse. This is not a metaphorical transformation of the subject into the object, but rather a real, substantial in-form-ation, binding the two bodies both epistemologically and ontologically, through the ordering of their mutual coherences. If the object of the hammer remains somewhat blind to the carpenter (some of its variety of aspects still hidden), these aspects must be accorded their place within the causal, and hence semiotic, internal relations of the body (body + body). Ultimately, these differences can only be the differences of Conjoined, and thus often silent, Semotic inherence at the bottom of any entia rationales closure, the way that an ens rationalis is necessarily polyvalent to a variety of cognitioning, and therefore persisting, bodies.

Ten White Horses

A Brief Biographical Sketch of Campanella: For Those Unfamiliar

Tommaso Campanella had nearly given up when he wrote:

I fear that to die is not to improve
The human state, for this I do not die:
So great and wide is this miserable nest,
That, so long in change, there’s no escape.

“The Caucasus Sonnet” lines 1-4

It was July, 1604. He had five years before helped foment an uprising against secular Spanish authority in his native Calabria. After a series of trials and interrogations he had endured torture at the hands of the mind-stealing la veglia, and proven his insanity by law. He had through his courage survived and in fact resolved himself. An attempted and failed escape from the Castel Nuovo, now had him thrown into the near-lightless dungeon of the fortress San Elmo, where he scribbled out poems as a last hope, carrying on a Job-like doubting dialogue with God. In this aptly-titled poem, he contemplates suicide, yet sees that even this will not save him or others. Deprived of the rays of the Sun that symbolized his God, turning within, he finds a rebirth. The revolutionary Dominican friar would become a prophet, a man whose ideas would bridge the Renaissance to the Age of Reason, and a man whose power of conviction still casts an illuminating light.

Born on the September 5th, 1568, in Stilo, Calabria, son to an illiterate cobbler, in his youth he would exhibit the first signs of the insatiable intellect and prodigious memory that would later sustain him throughout twenty-seven years of a life in prison. A local myth would rise up of how, too impoverished to pay for schooling, he would listen at the school’s window and aid his friends when they stumbled in their recitations through whispers. It was a Calabria to which he would return a decade later, having taken the vows of the Dominican Order, and nourished himself on the forward-thinking Neapolitan ideas of the Della Porta brothers and their Academy. A combination of empiricism, Hermetic thought and Telesian cosmology had fused in him to form a single and magical vision within which the world and the soul were of one substance. His anti-Aristotlean writings had already earned him trials, interrogations, imprisonments and censure by the Church, so by the time that he returned at his hometown he was walking the fine line of a philosophical dissident at a historic time of little tolerance.

Armed with the concept of the mutazione, a non-ideological “comprehensive shift” involving “astronomy and the heavens,”  apocalyptic associations of the impending millennium year of 1600, and a witness to the crushing weight of poverty upon the peasants of his native town, it was not long before he was preaching in the church of Stilo about “the imminence of grave, worldly upheavals”. Forcibly removed from the Stilo church he continued in the square and over time a circle of men grew around him. His followers included those who did attempt to involve the Turkish fleet in an organized and timed revolt, but the swelling movement was betrayed to the Spanish public prosecutor by two defectors. His dream of presenting a Calabrian state to a unifying papal authority, his moment of political revolution, was over, as Campanella and the others were lead two-by-two in a chain of 156 co-conspirators to be shipped to Naples where they would be judged and sentenced by the secular government.

On April 2nd, 1599 Campanella set fire to the things in his cell in an attempt to feign insanity. He had already been subject to the tortures of the coccodillo, a seven-day, entombed solitary confinement, and of the polledro, designed to tear vein and tissue. His defense that as a Dominican friar he meant catholic Spain no harm did not hold. Various charges and fabrications of the behalf collaborators had made him a target of the investigation. A year after Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake for heresy, Campanella would be forced to prove his insanity at the hands of the la veglia, ‘the wakener”. Ironically, only “insanity” would spare him from execution because of his status of relapsus before the Church. For forty-eight hours, thirty-six of them without a break, he was suspended from his arms tied behind his back over a chair of razor-sharp spikes meant to tear into his flesh. He shouted, “I am slaughtered!,” “The soul is immortal,” “Ten white horses!” as is recorded by the still-surviving transcript of the ordeal. Later he would claim that it was St. Chyrstom’s homily, “No one is harmed, except by themselves”, that saved him. When he emerged from the torture chamber and defiantly muttered, “Do they really think that I would be enough of a blockhead to speak?,” he did not know that it was not until some years later, in the pit of the San Elmo dungeon, cut off from every contact with the outside world and with no hint of the possibility of freedom, that his soul would finally face and overcome the extinguishing of its hope.

Blessed with a near-photographic memory, Campanella set his reborn soul to the written expression of his ideal of a theocratic state that embraced empirical discovery. From the various prisons to which he would be transferred, under conditions that unpredictably shifted with the tides of political happenstance – shot through with painful glimpses at promised, yet ever-delayed, release – he wrote endlessly, treatise after treatise, describing a single and inspired vision wherein man, political order, science and God were one. His City of the Sun  and A Defense of Galileo  stand alone in history as remarkable amalgams of forward thinking and religious faith. Little did he see that the coming science he championed would severe itself from the Church, that Descartes’ impending “I think therefore I am” would supplant his own philosophical bedrock “to know is to be,” a subtle shift that would define the new Age.

In perhaps the oddest twist of a remarkable life, after many decades of prison and dungeon he ended up in Paris as a kind of flavor of the day intellectual curiosity, the great “Neapolitean Magus-Philosopher,” where his star rose incandescently and then fell quickly dimmed. Through Richelieu’s intervention Campanella was given to cast the natal horoscope of the just born King Louis XIV, and on two occasions Campanella examined the infant King placed on a table. (I cannot resist the idea that the physically huge Italian held him in his hands.) The prediction was unspectacularly neutral in content, but in January 1639 appeared in print his Latin Eclogue in celebration of the birth: he imagined that, through the brilliance of the minister Richelieu the building of his City of the Sun state had been inaugurated by the newborn King. But as it would be told, not Solar City but Solar King, such are the folds of history. And, it is said that history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Campanella’s Three Primalities – Potentia, Sapientia, Amor

I would like to post here some commentary text on an almost entirely forgotten metaphysician, one whom in the longest of runs I would like to rehabilitate. He is forgotten, one might say, partly because he was drawfed by the memory of his contemporary Giordano Bruno, who had the historical good fortune to be burned at the stake in the year 1600, marking for many the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of modernity; and even Bruno has nearly been forgotten. Campanella’s thought lies wedged in the twighlight of the proto-modern, embarassingly marred by primatives  of a belief in Natural Magic and an adherance to the authority of the Bible (two fatal sins), yet not systematically Medieval enough to be considered for serious classical study. In the story of modernity as advance, Campanella’s metaphysics and epistemology had fallen into an aporia as deep as the pit of Castel Nuovo. [ A sign that this is quietly changing is perhaps the inclusion of five pages on Campanella's metaphysics in David Skrbia's recent Panpsychism in the West (2005)]

Campanella et Spinoza

I post these in part because there is next to nothing available on Campanella’s metaphysics in all of the Internet, a few summations, a critical outline, and little more. What spare literature there is often concentrates on his remarkable biography of imprisonment and torture, or his influential science-fiction political treatise The City of the Sun (even the worthy Stanford Encyclopedia’s entry has but a half paragraph on his opus Metaphysics and its theory of the Primalities). If nothing else, there should be more. But I post them as well because I believe that Campanella has a specific importance for the light he can shed upon the thought of Spinoza, in particular for the contemporary application of Spinoza’s thought. The detailed reasons for these I will not specify here, other than to draw a few comparisons. Both thinkers worked out a synthesis of the divisions that had plagued Scholastic thought, in the end producing a panpsychic view of the world. Both thinkers employed Duns Scotus’s Formal Distinction to a powerful ends. Both thinkers can be positioned unto Descartes’s Cogito ergo sum, bracketing it: Campanella’s Cognoscere est esse, Spinoza’s “the object of the mind is the body as it actually exists”. And both thinkers employed metaphysics that trades upon reading the world in terms of what might be called a degree-of-Being vectorization of power and knowing, understood in utopian terms. It is my view that Campanella’s metaphysics in some sense brings out the unspoken, or rather unemphasized consequences of Spinoza’s thought, in particualr its cybernetic, post-human, assemblage oriented ideas about knowing, sensing, imagining and acting in the world. In short, Campanella’s panpsychism casts a cross-light upon Spinoza’s panpsychism, making more full what the latter is capable of in modern, and post modern times.

The text I quote form is Bernadino Bonansea’s Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought (1969), which is the only rich treatment of Campanella’s philosophy I know of in English. (Campanella’s most significant texts remain untranslated in this tongue.) The subject is Campanella’s notion of the Three Primalities of Being, which he distinguishes formally, just as Spinoza does his two Attributes of Substance. Between these Primalities and Augustine’s posse, nosse, amare  strong parallels can be drawn, parallels that work to an inheritance of a Plotinian conception of the Emanance which understands Being under the analogy of light spreading out through darkness (non-Being), something of which Spinoza himself takes up in the register of the epistemological as he defines falsity as privation. At the very least this affords you to get aquainted with the mind of a philosopher come from a pivotal time in Western thinking.

“Since the constitution of every being can ultimately be reduced to these principles [power, sense, love], which are constantly found in all things prior to any other principles, it follows that power, knowledge [sapientia], and love are truly the proprinciples of being and may be called primalities, first entities (primordia), and pre-eminences of being. Although our knowledge and love are only accidental and transitory, Campanella insists that the primalities are not mere accidents. In effect, not all love, knowledge, and power are said to belong to the essence of things, but only those which are innate and hidden, as it were, in being itself [Metaphysics II 6, 11, 3]. Nor are the primalities physical principles which can be separated from their own effect. On the contrary, they are metaphysical principles inherent in the very effects which they produce. In short, a primality is that by which a being is primarily “essentiated”.…They are not essences, but entities, or “essentialities” of the same essence. Their identity results in a supreme unity: were they not one, they would not have one and the same essence. They might well be called “unalities” of one and the same thing. That the primalities are essentially the same is manifest from the double consideration that they cannot be outside of the essence of things and that the essence of things cannot be without them. For no essence can exist, unless it has the power to be, and also knows and wills its own being [Ibid]…

…Such a process is not one of participation, whereby one primality is shared partially by another, but one of toticipation and coessentialization, so that one primality is totally and essentially communicated into other. To give a concrete example, love proceeds from wisdom [sapientia] and power [potentia], for what is unknown and incapable of being loved cannot be loved. At the same time love already is in wisdom andn power, otherwise it could not proceed from them; for nothing can come from nothing in act, and no being can give to others what it itself does not have. Furthermore, in proceeding from power and wisdom, love does not recede from them. That is to say, even though love proceeds from power and wisdom, these latter do not cease to be essentially love, any more than love is essentially power and wisdom.

[Campanella:] “How it is possible, it may be asked, that they [the coprinciples of being] exist together at one and the same time, and that they proceed one from another? If power is both wisdom and will, how will it be able to produce wisdom and will? My answer is that it produces then because it already has them. If it did not have them within itself, it would be able to produce them. But if it already has them, why should it give what it already has? To this I reply that it does not give it to others, but to itself. But why and how does it give to itself what it already possesses within itself? My answer is that it does not give to itself in order to be what it is giving, but in order to be what it is given.

Yes, [one may insist], if it itself already was that which is given, why would it still have to be produced? I reply to this by saying that just as it always was, so it always was being produced. For this is exactly [the kind of] being that proceeds from another being: because it is not by itself, it is necessary that it also be given and produced by the producing subject.

But what is the reason for not being by itself? My answer is: it is not because of any external being, but because being as such a nature that it contains both that which proceeds and that from which it proceeds without receding. It is thus that being is integrated as a whole.

Metaphysics II, 6, 11, 9

“A…second difference among the primalities involves their specific entity [a first difference, is a difference of origin from each other], since the ratio of one primality is different than the ratio of the other two. This difference, Campanella remarks, is not great enough to justify a real distinction, but on the other hand it is not so negligible that it can be accounted for by a mere distinction of reason. The only type of distinction that would account for such a difference among the primalities is Scotus’s formal distincdtion ex natura rei, in as much as they are not three different things but three different realities of the same thing. This distinction, while providing an objective basis for our concepts of the primalities as distinct entities, does not distroy the essential unity of being. It is precisely to save the objectivity of the primalities and the unity of being that Campanella the Scotus formal distinction.

In closing the discussion of the nature and mutual relationship of the primalities, Campanella seizes the opportunity to make an earnest appeal, both to Scotists and Thomists, to desist from their centuries old dispute about the primacy of intellect or will. For just as radical will [amor?] is not superior to radical intellect [sapientia], so intellect is superior to will, nor will to power, the three primalities of being.

Beings exist not only because they have the power to be and know that they are, but also because they love [their own] being. Did they not love their own being, they would not be so anxious to defend it, but would allow it to be destroyed immediately by their opponent [i.e. non-being]. They would not seek the friendship of beings helping to keep themselves in existence, nor would they distain their enemies or generate a being similar to themselves in which to be preserved. All things would either be chaos or they would be utterly destroyed. Therefore love, not otherwise than power and wisdom, seems to be a principle of being as well as of its preservation, operation and action. (Metaphysics II, 6, 10, 1)

(Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Power of Modern Thought, Bonansea, 147-149)

I hope in the future to develop the wider conceptual bridgings between this last pre-Cartesian thinker, and the first post-Cartesian one, hinted at above. As a starter though I would like to put forth the unargumentative suggestion that Campanella in his three Primalities divided up the same thing that Spinoza divided up in his two Attributes, and the conatus. In a purely homological fashion, Campanella’s Power, Sense and Love can be compared to Spinoza’s real world Power, Adequate Ideas and Joy; or, to make another point of interpretation, the standing of the conatus which is the essence of a modal expression for Spinoza, achieves a certain coherent relevance, as essence, when the two Attributes (themselves the essence of Substance) and the conatus third is put in juxtaposition to the Three Primalities, a comparison which brings forth the affective capacities of bodily knowing, what we call sensing: ideational things not only think, they sense, a necessary tenet of panpsychism.

Key to this may fall to Campanella’s claim “Action is the act of the agent insofar as it extends itself into the recipient” (Real. phil. epi. p.30) Actusque extensus in patiens est actio.

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

Campanella and Vico, very briefly

Two very important (and under considered) epistemolary dicti written on truth and knowing:

Campanella: To know is to be, cognoscere est esse  (1638).

Vico: The true and the made are transposable (Or…The true is the made), verum et factum convertuntur.  (1710).

The first of these communicates the objective transmutation and assimulation that occurs through coming to know something, the second circumscribes truth within the horizon of made criteria. The first expresses an affective immanence under a panpsychic view of assimilation, the second, historical contingency within a human truth. I believe only an embrace of both these views respectably fulfills the scope of both knowing and truth, as we have come to read them. We are transmuted into the very thing we come to know, founding a cybernetic exercise of power; we know something to be objectively true through reference to criteria we as human beings have created.

Other thoughts  on Vico

Virtual City of the Sun

How Philosophies Stand Citied

The City of the Solarians

Here we find a virtual model of Campanella’s utopian City of the Sun (1602), written of in the year that he received his life sentence for a leadership role in a local failed revolution in Calabria, apparently with the anticipated help of the Turkish fleet, (not to mention astrological, millenial confluence). Bruno had been burned at the stake two years before (Campo de’ Fiori, Feburary 17th), an event which for some marked the end of the Renaissance, and the birth of Modern times. Campanella, not relegated to the heretical flames, rather employed a legal strategy of feigned insanity, the endurance of torture, and then decades of imprisonment, inspired writings to forward his quest for religio-political “mutatione”. The city is taken to be a blueprint for the kind of communitarian state Campanella hoped to help establish in impoverished Calabria.

What I am taken by, as I have recently been thinking about the prescriptions for society that tend to flow from Lacanian inspired analysts, is how each and every philosophical complex, as it seeks to explain the world coherently, and fulfills what Walter Benjamin called its Representational role, cannot help but enter a citadel dimension…that is, carve out a conceptual space in which we are meant to live.

Campanella conceived his city, archetecturally, as a Representation of the Universe. A Representation, and an expression. In a kind of sympathetic magic the 7 walls represented the 7 circuits of the planets. Further though, on each of the walls were fresco depictions of knowledge from every science so that the entire city, and its inhabitants manifested the discourses that shaped them:

As one traveled a circuit of a wall, one enacted a planetary course, absorbed a degree of knowledge. It is in particular the nature of these heavily defensive walls, the representive, expressional nature of them that fascinates me.

Rorty pointed out that to a great degree the ontological is a product of a fundamental ontology/epistemology divide, one governed by a primary metaphor of reflection. What we can and do know is supposed to be a mirror of, a corresponding aspect of what IS. And once this metaphor is given up, so is something of the ontological question. One is then left with either just epistemology, or just ontology, but not both.

This is only partly right. Much as in Campanella’s walls, the discourse of knowledge assumes an ontological dimension which Causes what we hold to be the case. Any theory works as a witness, engaged in the world, bringing it into relief, and organizing our place within it. The “walls” of any theory (its internal coherence), didactically tell us how the world is (ideologically), manifest essential aspects of the world (participating in its expression), and buttress the space they have created (coherence). It is a community of visions for those that inhabit it. The phraseologies, deductions, defintions all circulate to establish a civic realm. It is u-topia, in the sense that it is No-place, in particular, even if it is given an address in history. The ontologies of even the most post-structural and avant gaurde, are expressed not only in their ontological commitments, but if their very causal connection to the shared world. Even multiplicites stand carved and frescoed.

How many times have you traversed a text (Semper’s textile), passed your eye back and forth as you crossed it, on your way, aware of where you were, and were going, yet pleasurably puzzled over the signification, this figure of a phrase, this nexus of a meaning-logic, positioned on a city-scape on a landscape, knowing that others pass beside you?

There is a sense, in philosophy, where the invitation is ever…here, live in this world, Heideggerian, Foucaultian, Fregian, Lacanian, Wittgensteinian, Spinozist, Nietzschean, Sartean, Kantian, Augustinian, Deleuzian, Humean, Whiteheadian, Lucretian etc., etc., etc. It is not that philosophy is LIKE city-building, or architecture, or that the products of philosophy are helpfully applied to ways of living, modes of social building. It is likely best to say that philosophy is borne of the architectural impulse, the very space-organizing, living conceptions that first orient the species-organism. Philosophy is a kind of compass-work and an οἶκος. 

We might say as well that Tommaso Campanella in his commitment to legal insanity and utopian closure, enacted the very limit at which the philosopher operates. Architecturally outside of what she/he is inscribing, seeking to express herself/himself within what causes the inscription. Prescriptions to lives and society are immanent to the walls of structure and connection. The philosophical impulse is territorial.

And who is to build the City of the Lunarians? Where do you wish to live?

English Text of Campanella’s City of the Sun

From its end:

Sea Captain: [Speaking of Catholic Spainish power in the New World]…They sought new regions for lust of gold and riches, but God works to a higher end. The sun strives to burn up the earth, not to produce plants and men, but God guides the battle to great issues. His the praise, to Him the glory!

Grand Master: Oh, if you knew what our astrologers say of the coming age, and of our age, that has in it more history within 100 years than all the world had in 4,000 years before! of the wonderful inventions of printing and guns, and the use of the magnet, and how it all comes of Mercury, Mars, the Moon, and the Scorpion!

Sea Captain: Ah, well! God gives all in His good time. They astrologize too much.


Panpsychism in the West: From There to Here

Panpsychism: The position that all things, to some degree, think, or cogitate, or experience, or feel

I neglected to note the spur of my interest for the post Spinoza’s Degrees of Being: A History. For some time I had been tracking the sources of Spinoz’a conception of degreess of privation and power, and when I came to read David Skrbina’s Panpsychism in the West I was pleasantly surprised to find such an informing history. In it professor Skrbina attempts to locate all historical Western Panpsychic positions, and to show their relation to each other, up to contemporary times.

What was missing in his story I thought was the vital link between Plotinus and Augustine (he would I believe agree), which helped bridge Scholasticism to Neo-Platonism, until Plotinus was retranslated by Ficino in the early Renaissance. This period of history simply remained under-addressed. In my thinking it really is this Plotinus-Augustinian connection which puts Campanella and Spinoza into conceptual relation, and more so, it is the epistemological answer, in particular how the skeptical question is resolved in degrees of being, as degrees of power, that provides the fulcrum of most panpsychic approaches.

The book is highly recommended for those interested in the position of panpsychism, as there really is no contemporary example of such a study. Of note he characterizes the existing contemporary positions to be:

1) Process Philosophy (stemming from Bergson and Whitehead: Hartschorne, Griffin, DeQuincy and Clarke).

2) Quantum Physics approach (Bohm, Hameroff).

3) Information Theory (Bateson, Wheeler and Chalmers).

4) Part-whole hierarchy (Cardano, Koestler, Wilber).

5) Non-linear Dynamics (inspired by Peirce: Skrbina).

6) Real Physicalism (Strawson).

To these I would add a seventh:

7). Neo-Spinozist, Onto-politicism (Deleuze and Guattari, Negri, Hardt, Balibar, Montag, Gatens).


A Worm in Cheese

Campanella and Spinoza On Perspective

It has long been my suspicion that Spinoza had read, and has a debt to the much forgotten Tommaso Campanella. There is evidence that Descartes’ most central contributions have in some way be under this influence, and Spinoza’s position indeed is in many ways a response to Cartesianism. But it more than this. There is in the thought of Campanella a particular panpsychic, and cybernetic understanding of what is epistemological, and power, which reads open, and corrects, the overly rationalistic reductive reading of Spinoza’s many propositions.

Here I take up only a tangential connection, one that moves from the sharing of a single, (if common), trope. It does not prove the influence of the one on the other, but at the very least it operates as a happy coincidence, or even an expression of a continuity of Geist, (however delineated), between thinkers and times. This is the figure of the “worm in cheese”.

It was a prevalent image Headly tells us, a part of the “folk culture” of the Late Renaissance, the cosmological idea that we are all severely limited in our perceptions and knowledge, locked within a localization of understanding, surrounded by our food source, on which we blindly feed. But Campanella lifts this picture of the world up to larger purposes, sharpening it to both epistemological and political effect, drawing forth the consequences of such an instructive image.

First, there is his famous sent letter to the Emperor of China. It should be known at first that Campanella really was in a worm-in-cheese predicament. He had endured acute torture at the hands of the Spanish authorities, in which he had to feign, and therefore prove his “madness”, and thus avoid an inquisitional burning at the stake as heretic. And then he had suffered multiple years locked away in the worst dungeon of Italy, chained and manacled in a nearly lightless cell of the formidable Castel San Elmo, where he worked would work free sonnets on bits of paper, and access his prodigious, certainly photographic memory, sketching out his metaphysics. It is a story I really do have write, but it is the not purpose here. Rather, only, if anyone knew what a worm in cheese was, Campanella had a sort of privileged view of the condition.

But back to the letter to the Emperor. Campanella was fast on the idea of restoring in the papacy some sort of universal, indeed Catholic, governance, one that put the whole world into communication with itself, so that there were to be a free flowing of knowledge and sciences that would help liberate men from their ignorance. Ming China, by Campanella’s understanding, had cut itself off from outside influences, and turned itself inward. This is something extraordinary that gives us a piece of the so-called “volcanic” mind of Campanella, that a monk of no importance, under years of imprisonment, would even concern himself with the notion of a world history, and take it upon himself to compose such a letter.

Campanella writes to the Emperor:

Those men [your subjects] are lacking in aspiration; they seem like men but like worms born inside a cheese, who reckon nothing more or better there to be in the world beyond their own cheese from which they are nourished, sustained, hidden, or as worms born in a man’s stomach who know nothing of man, nor his mind, but cocooned away, complacent, not wanting to be disturbed, jealous of their remove. So, oh King, [the monarch of China], you seem to us… Stick your head out beyond your cheese, beyond the stomach of your land (TC-QR, 221).

It is a powerful call somehow, extending far beyond the prison walls, and the walls of history, into history. Campanellla makes use of a similar worm-image, to a different effect in his utopian vision “The City of the Sun”. Here, describing the conceptions of the people of La Cità del Sole, ones who live in a kind of blissful perfection of knowledge, in a city that is shaped with concentric ramparts so that it is the shape of the Solar System:

They [the Solarians] assert two principles of the physics of things below, namely, that the sun is the father, and the earth the mother; the air is an impure part of the heavens; all fire is derived from the sun. The sea is the sweat of earth, or the fluid of earth combusted, and fused within its bowels, but is the bond of union between air and earth, as the blood is of the spirit and flesh of animals. The world is a great animal, and we live within it as worms live within us. Therefore we do not belong to the system of stars, sun, and earth, but to God only; for in respect to them which seek only to amplify themselves, we are born and live by chance; but in respect to God, whose instruments we are, we are formed by prescience and design, and for a high end.

Here we have the more benign, and perfecting simile of the world as an immense and sensate animal, with we but like parasitic worms, feeding on it, but also part of its expression, its system. And lastly, in concert with Campanella’s notion the importance of empirical knowledge, direct experience, the testings of science and observation, come from his study of Telsio, we have another use of the worm-in-cheese metaphor, that expressing the historical linking of observations, the importance of communicability:

Just as namely, through individual perceptions, the mind adds to truth, so too with what belongs to others. Otherwise one would be like a worm in cheese, knowing nothing, except those parts of cheese that touch it. Every narrator, whether by letter, or in mouth stretched, or in movements, a historian is.

And lastly, we come to the worm of Spinoza. Memorably, after writing to the founding secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg, about his arguments and notions of God, as being both a totality and expression of parts, all of which fit together. If we, in our experience on thing or part as a complete entity, this is a kind of selecting out of the whole, from a perspective of ignorance. This he compares to the kind of knowledge that a worm in the blood of the body has, as it goes about bumping into something so vast it has no possibility of understanding. One has to keep mind that Spinoza was an early maker of microscope lenses (attested to be of rather high quality), and it is perhaps likely that he had stared into lenses, looking at blood and the what must have seemed infinitesimally small forms therein.

This was an extraordinary time, when the smallest and the most distant were coming into view (Spinoza would become a companion of Christiaan Huygens, the discoverer of the rings of Saturn, and it is imagined to be likely that he would then look through his telescope too, when they spent time together at Huygens’ country estate). It is said by Colerus, his first biographer, than he would lift his magnifying glass and stare at mosquitoes and flies. All the vastness was opening itself up, and closing in.

Let us imagine, with your permission, a little worm, living in the blood¹, able to distinguish by sight the particles of blood, lymph, &c., and to reflect on the manner in which each particle, on meeting with another particle, either is repulsed, or communicates a portion of its own motion. This little worm would live in the blood, in the same way as we live in a part of the universe, and would consider each particle of blood, not as a part, but as a whole. He would be unable to determine, how all the parts are modified by the general nature of blood, and are compelled by it to adapt themselves, so as to stand in a fixed relation to one another. For, if we imagine that there are no causes external to the blood, which could communicate fresh movements to it, nor any space beyond the blood, nor any bodies whereto the particles of blood could communicate their motion, it is certain that the blood would always remain in the same state, and its particles would undergo no modifications, save those which may be conceived as arising from the relations of motion existing between the lymph, the chyle, &c. The blood would then always have to be considered as a whole, not as a part. But, as there exist, as a matter of fact, very many causes which modify, in a given manner, the nature of the blood, and are, in turn, modified thereby, it follows that other motions and other relations arise in the blood, springing not from the mutual relations of its parts only, but from the mutual relations between the blood as a whole and external causes. Thus the blood comes to be regarded as a part, not as a whole. So much for the whole and the part.

Letter 15 (32), 1662

There are obvious wide-sweeping parallels, none of which create an argument of influence: comparison to worms living in the body, and the locality of perceptions which seal each person off from the rest of existence, and contingency of our immediate sense knowledge. And there is the political character of communications itself, the sharing of descriptions across countries and the globe, and the kind of epistemic building (albeit from a difference in emphasis or even process: Spinoza looked for a rational grasp of “common notions” which joined bodies and minds, Campanella appraised observation and a species of synthetic becoming what one observed), by grasping the larger and larger wholes, of which one is participating. At the very least there is something shared; it is that animate sense that one is within a psychic, sensate thing, when one is in the world, and that knowledge consists in identifying with, and constructing epistemic conjoinings, as part of an over-arching, and yet un-understood entirety. And in this service, a catholic freedom of exchange becomes the nexus for that building of communications, a Renaissance notion of political and ideal creation.

1. A notable annex to this comparison of worms in cheese and worms in blood is Kircher’s microscopic observation that the blood of fever victims was worm-filled:

The “dust” on old cheese was found to be not dust at all but little animals, and swarms of minute worms were discovered tumbling about in vinager (Fontana 1646, Borel 1656, Kircher 1646). Kircher announced that the blood of fever victims also teemed with worms, and there was talk that they infested sores and lurked in the pustules of smallpox and scabies. (Ruestow, 38).

This is likely the main triggering thought in Spinoza’s mind – though I have never seen it noted by scholars – as Oldenburg mentions the very same Kircher’s later work Subterranean World in the previous letter which Spinoza is answering.


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