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Tag Archives: Affect

From Affect to Mutuality, Openness to Rational Co-expression: Massumi to Spinoza

Massumi writes,

Affects are virtual synesthetic perspectives anchored in (functionally limited by) the actually existing, particular things the embody them. The autonomy of affect is its participation in the virtual. Its autonomy is its openness. Affect is autonomous to the degree to which it escapes confinement in the particular body whose vitality, or potential for interaction, it is. Formed, qualified, situated perceptions and cognitions fullfilling functions of actual connection or blockage are the capture and closure of affect.

Parables for the Virtual, 35

I’m entirely with him up until the final sentence. In fact, this is a very strong expression of both Spinoza’s position and my own. But there is slippage in the last contrast with functionality, or “actual connection” because Massumi wants to set up his dichotomous concretization, one in which symbolic or semiotic functional forms are actualized, and to some degree impoverished expressions of the virtual. Affects are a kind of subterranean vivacity which liquidly pours beneath the surface of actualized and incrusted reifications. Well…the part that is missing is that affection is part of the very functionality of the “actual connection”. This is brought out in Spinoza’s prized “imitation of the affects” contribution, which expresses the wholly imaginary resources of mutuality which help anchor rationality itself (and, I would argue, are indispensible for the creations of an objectivity in the first place). This is to say that the trans-personal (or as Massumi would have it, “trans-functional”, “trans-actual connection”) powers of affects, make up the very dimensionality of functionality itself. It is they that express the edge-of-chaos modulations which are both aesthetic and functionally distributed. Another way of saying this is that the “openness” of affects (which communicates its mutuality to other forms), is itself functional and actualizing of connection. There is no disjunction here. You can see how this operates in Spinoza’s theory of the social, which has both a rational path (a collusion of self-interest and liberation which subverts the “self” itself), and an affective/imaginary path, which circuits with speed and directness a mutuality of world and sympathetic coexistence. These two fundamentally resonate (to use Massumi’s terms), though they may be contingently at odds. Because they are not disjunct, it is not that the rational (functional) feeds back into the affective so much as that the affective is always embodying, across bodies, the possibilities for the rational.

I do believe that there are semiotic reasons why functionality is limited, something I expressed under the term Conjoined Semiosis (the way in which functionalities necessarily cut across our cognitive boundaries, and tug with tidal force, both inside and outside), but it is precisely where Massumi loses the functional, semiotic force of affective re-bodying, the way that “mind” is operant through affect, and also where a degree-of-being conception of power is shrugged off, that his solution grows somewhat confused, or I should say, imposed. Perhaps he corrects this sense of mine in later parts or essays, but that is at least where I stand right now.

Massumi’s Cognitive Doubling, Spinoza’s Numerical Affectivity

I have to admit that the first essay that confronted me in Massumi’s book has really stymied me. The difficulty comes at several levels, not the least of which that I had read this essay before in other contexts, not realizing it, and the deep disappointment with it from the past echoes back up through time like a dark, and somewhat intellectually fetid tide. The staining feeling that Massumi gets is it all wrong, terribly wrong in his attempted synthesis of Bergson and Spinoza, washes back up over my contemporaneous reading, and frankly left me very frustrated with my attempt to initiate an innocent engagement with the collection. (I am hoping that I had not amnesiacally run into Massumi’s other essays in the past.) One if left with the unenvied task of critically breaking apart Massumi’s experimental expositions, a very unkind and in fact unpleasant thing to do to such beautifully attempted and articulated readings in the realm of philosophy I appreciate, or…simply passing over what for me has been something of an infuriating encounter. I’m going to have to do much more of the latter, and less of the former for the essay “The Autonomy of Affect”, for the sake of preserving the right aptitude for the rest of what Massumi has to say. My responses will have to remain gnomic.

Numericity of Connections

First of all Massumi opens with the report of an experiment which involved a film that narratively told the story of a melting snowman. Massumi notes the variety of assessments of versions of the film (some without words, some factually descriptive, some emotionally keyed), coupled with seeming disparities of the autonomic effects of heartrate and skin galvinization, etc. From this he draws, as he is want to do, a radical, disjunctive contrast between affect responses (intensity) and literal comprehension (signifying comprehension). I know that this is his goal, to create a fundamental dichotomy, but, at least from a Spinozist perspective (which he attempts to appropriate), he’s got it all wrong. Factual descriptions are not necessarily in disjunction with affective responses…rather they set up their own affective responses in a variety of strengths. It is not the factuality of a narrative reading that confuses assessment of the film’s quality, but rather, I would suggest, the attempted synthesis of the viewer of their own projective interpretations of the reality of the images, and the viewer’s projective interpretation of the narrator’s reality. This is not intensity vs. signification at all, but a question of strength of image association, best seen in Spinoza’s reading of how images grow stronger through a numerical relation to causes:

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

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.

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 factality of a narration of an emotional cinematic scene simply sets up another vector of causes, but not one that is necessarily disjunctive at all. In fact Spinoza’s entire prescription is in finding the nexus between both vectors of causes. Massumi is quite good at drawing our attention to intensity, and in fact the autonomy of affect, but it is in my mind the equal need to find a doubling reflexive between the immanent and the actual, a necessary disjunction, that runs simply in the wrong direction.

Spinoza Does Not Double

One can see this in his outright appeal to Spinoza, how he torques Spinoza’s reading of mind to accomodate an abstraction of mind, a move that is really antithetical to Spinoza’s own project:

In Spinoza, it is only when the idea of the affection is doubled by an idea of the idea of the affection that it attained the level of conscious reflection. Conscious reflection is a doubling over of the idea upon itself, a self-recursion of the idea that enwraps the affection or impingement at two removes. For it has already been removed once by the body itself. The body infolds the effect of the impingement – it conserves the impingement minus the impinging thing, the impingement abstracted from the actual action that caused it and actual context of that action. This is a first-order idea produced spontaneously by the body: affection is immediately, spontaneously doubled by the repeatable trace of an encounter, the “form” of an encounter, in Spinoza’s terminology (an infolding, or contraction, of context in the vocabulary of this essay).

Parables for the Virtual, 32

First of all, because Massumi does not cite any Spinoza is pretty hard to find out just where he is coming from, and this frustrates our interpretative aims to even a greater degree because Massumi is inventing a position for himself. Insofar as one could extricate such a description from Spinoza, one would have to say that Spinoza works actually to show how this process of “mind” is fundamentally in error, and that betterment of mind consists in unraveling this confusion. To say that the body initially “removes” an effect from its environment (though its recursively organized semiotic effects that make it a “body” in the first place, let us say), in a kind of abstraction, is either in error due to its incompleteness, or in its intention. One must first grant that for Spinoza ideas in the mind of God refuse any such abstraction at all, and that due to this refusal, the quality of being that something has is leveraged upon this refusal of abstraction as well. The abstractly frankly is definitionally never complete, nor is it categorical (certainly not in the fashion that Massumi implies); which is to say the constitution of the effects of the body which make it a body occur via its participation IN its enviroment, its mutuality with its environment, one might say its sharing in its “essence”, and as a mode of Substance simply could not exist/persist without this sharing. The removal of the impingement simply does not fully or even abstractly occur. The ideas (what I read as information), which organize a body, are paticipations. Indeed they have their degrees of intensity, but there is no removal.

Secondly, the second-order of removal that enwraps the organism in consciousness is in fact not a goal or aim of Spinoza’s concept of freedom (he does not or will not move towards a Hegelian conception of reflection or incorporative wholeness, the wholeness that Spinoza pursues is machinic and constructive). One can see from Spinoza’s concept of affect and passion that attribution of intensity to an external cause (a passage from one degree of perfection and power to another, coupled with the idea of a cause, General Definition of the Affects), must be unwoven. In this manner, consciousness is NOT merely the idea of an idea. The trickling from one thought to another is a MODE of consciousness, one that is fundamentally involved in the deprivation of power. What Spinoza is concerned with is a mode of consciousness which is NOT reflective (hence, German Idealism’s dichotomous appropriations of Spinoza, beginning with Schelling and ending with Hegel, are truly wrong-headed, missing what is genuinely novel to Spinoza’s solution of the mind). One can see that Massumi is missing the boat as well, when he seeks to define “mind” specifically in reference the doubling itself, quite in contradistinction to Spinoza own undoubled qualification of mind as mere Attributive expression:

The trace determines a tendency, the potential, if not the appetite, for the autonomic repetition and variation of the impingement. Conscious reflection is the doubling over of this dynamic abstraction upon itself. The order of the connection of such dynamic abstractions among themselves, on the level specific to them, is called mind.

Indeed there are such doublings and such abstractions, but foundational is that this is not ALL that there is to mind. One can see right away that Massumi has made a right turn on Spinoza when he should have made a left, when he attempts to leverage a ghostly double out of Spinoza’s monism at the register of the body. Spinoza’s entire point is that the “body” is not what it thinks it is (and neither is the mind).

Again, these are tentative readings based on the temporal process of engagement.

Two Vectors of Avatar’s Cinematic Achievement: Affect and Space Interface

There were two primary technological achievements that guided the transmutive possibilities that mark out what made James Cameron’s Avatar special innovations organized around aesthetic problems, and here I just want to sketch them out to give greater depth to my other thoughts about the film: Avatar: The Density of Being,  Avatarship and the New Man: Reading Ideology, Technology and Hope. Each of these two indicate the very dimensionality of human aesthetic avatarship – the ability, or path to reading worth through inhabited subjectivity – or at least suggest a landscape for future digital and so-called “virtual world” aesthetically culled interactions.

The first of these was the problem of the Uncanny Valley, the way in which approximations of human beings, if too proximate, create a disturbing sense of alienness such that one cannot (or should not) identify with the portrayed subject. (I thoroughly reject a Fruedian or even Lacanian reading of the Uncanny, for both its essentially optical and repressive analogies, but certainly the effect of the Uncanny Valley is an epistemically important one.) The problem that Cameron faced was that no matter how much tweaking was done to motion capture, the actorly performance, the emotionality, one might want to say its reality, was lost within this valley. The Pandorans were both too human, and not human enough. In short I would say this reality involves a kind of temporal and physionomic threshold of reflection, the way in which internal events (taken to be subjective and expressed facially) within certain thresholds of timing and intensity, can be read as expressing both the states of being, as well as their causal relationships to a shared and external world. The reality of this causal interface is one in which something like the musicality of the actor (emphasizing both the structure and expression) allows internal events to enforce the reality of external ones, confirming the appropriateness of our own internal events-experiences, the three of them forming a data-rich, self-supporting resonance. The overcoming of the uncanny valley in faces was achieved by the actors wearing small cameras which hovered over their facial expressions, along with painstaking, algorithmic conversion of that capture into the avatar’s digital “rig” (a framework of facial representations). A feedback loop of Cameron’s aesthetic approval and technique adjustment fine-tuned the effect such that actorly experiences and expressions found their proper topological space within a virtual and artistic world.

The second problem answered was that of Cameron’s own directorial powers, the ability to author directions to actors in the realtime context of the imaginary enviroment itself. This was achieved through a lens-less “swing camera” which in low-resolution allowed Cameron to drift through the volume (virtual environment) in such a way that his vision and actor performance was granted a threshold of interface which surely imbued communications between them with a specific vital co-expression. The result was that the actor’s spontaneous expression driven by character was melded through the director to an unseen environment, in real time.  The actor could express and m0ve with a certain watery autonomy, and her or his director could side by side focus the actor’s attention to this or that, viewing the sythesized result. Intersubjective triangulation  attained a kind of spatial freedom never before in human expression, we might risk,  a ring of Gyges vector of invisible yet corporeal cohesion holding together the creative agents. It was as if Van Gogh could enter his painting and talk to his paints (which is something artists “do” in one way or other all the same). An odd product of this technology of performance and capture was that the actors no longer had to act TO the camera (or even the space), but rather could lock onto the narrative itself, almost with stage purity, freed from even makeup and costume (this freedom is not entirely new, but it is linked to a new communicative assemblage). The volume in a sense, came to be enveloped around them, directed in real time, back upon the narratological thread which inhabited the actors, through the intersubjective creativity of the director. In this manner, narrative and characterization acquire a near novelistic isolation, appearing at the surface of the actor’s affective skin and muscular terminus, forming a layer, sewn back into a wider fantastic perspective come out of the technological and auteur armature, through which the actor is guided. A final remarkable aspect of this artistic process is that the director, after a performance, can then move back through the volume and performance and rephotograph it, in the real time of the performance itself, allowing the performance and volume to dictate to the camera in unanticipated catalysis with the director’s experience of both the space and the emotion. And this synthesis becomes that of the audience member as well, threading the affect and space interface into its final product, aesthetic avatarship proper.

What is sure is that these new capacities: actor freed from camera and costume, director freed to create volume and actor counterpoint, the intersubjectivity of the communications between the two resewing narrative (and character) to volume in a different way, and lastly the emotional richness of a facialized register (a plane on which it all can cohere and appear to emanate), create a synthesis beyond thresholds previously conceived, wrenching out a powerful redistribution of what can be done with the twins: affect and space.

The above produced out of information found at Popular Mechanics: How James Cameron’s Innovative New 3D Tech Created Avatar

[click on either for larger image]

Here in diagram and example are the two registers of space and affect which Cameron’s techique worked to free from each other, an aesthetic freedom of camera/eye selection which both can coordinate performance amid the fantastic environment (volume), and also select out a framing of that performance with temporal autonomy. The actor is given relative narrative freedom from staging, the director becomes inter-subjective toggle, and the facialized plane grounds the emotional and volume real.

Avatar: The Density of Being

Let’s just say that I am recovering. It is a carefully sculpted onslaught, discretely spaced with only a few flaws, but an onslaught nonetheless. And I am recovering. It’s Pocahontas meets Full Metal Jacket meets The Diving Bell and the Butterfly meets Alien meets Coming Home meets Dragonheart meets Dersu Uzala  meets Brainstorms meets Total Recall meets The Legend of Zu meets Tron meets Dances with Wolves meets Final Fantasy IV meets Logan’s Run, all of this meeting Ecological Crisis ideology meets Indigenous nostalgia meets Disney ethnic cliché and New Age ascension, and all of that sum colliding with the categorical mytho-aesthetic effect of the first Star Wars and possibly 2001. The storylines and plot topologies proliferate at animation-cell frame rates so synthesized, so graced, they are no longer borrowings, but rather operate like flipped gateways for infusions that simply cannot be qualified, nor controled. The movie downloads the viewer with such ferocity and such poetic space the film bends back cinema upon itself, and introduces its content – the question of Avatarship - into the very experience, pulling out from technological increase and its inherent relatability the buried question of sensitivity, connection and projected identification, in short, the implied organic mutuality in everything our machines have brought us. Cameron and his magicians in such a threshold defying 3D invade our bodies and throw out our affects into the arms and sinews of operators which defy all of our repeated attempts to take map of where we are. This past movie recognition, this ethnic familiarity – are the Pandorans African Maasai, elegant Native American Indians, Thai-Myanmar Pa Dong Karen, naked Amazon natives, or even cats - inundates and torques the viewer in a transport that is more than pleasured, more than reflective. It is free…free in only the sense that aesthetic renewal can be free. One is tossed outward amid the equally familiar ideological landscapes of ecological nightmare (however this reads for you), and you are vividly aware of its artifice. But in that practical synthetics the technological nervature examines you and opens you out across the help even to your well-honed intellectual compass. You rifle through cartographies, all of them familiar, all of them critically engaged, but grid on grid, none of them suffice. The imagined-to-be trite self-discovery of the main character’s authentic warrior thymotic spirit (that template) sheds all of is scales amid an interaction with image and physical movement that perhaps only equals the dislocations and alien projections of scuba or spacewalk. If anything else is communicated here, technology is sense, and sense is technology, within the scope of global concern. Nevermind that every Na’vi looks the connotations of every supermodel distortion of mundane biology. Nevermind that videogame freedoms populate with every stigma of ideological absorption. Nevermind that mythologies fragment into flattened space confrontations. The whole thing escalates far beyond its means, revealing how Ideals throw us forwards, how when technologies and techniques are sufficient, they compel the spirit into new-born orbits of extreme decay and apogee, flights that must have been there in the thousands of memory verses when one of Homer’s avatars was repeating the invented history of the Greeks with muscular hexemeter and rhythm in the residue glow of camp-fires.

Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology

I’ve just listened to Caroline Williams’s wonderful, clear essay on the powers of Subject-less conception to be found within Spinoza’s ontology and his politics, “Reconfiguring Body and Mind: Thinking Beyond the Subject with/through Spinoza” (linked below). Drawing primarily on Althusser, but of course Gatens and Lloyd (a favorite), Balibar, Deleuze and Foucault, professor Williams presents a pristine cartography of longitudes and latitudes on which to trace our future maps. This what I like best about Spinoza, the powerful grammar which he provides by which we are able to say so many things he may have yet fully conceived, but which, nonetheless remain Spinozist. For those who are unfamiliar with this branch of Spinoza studies, in particular Althusser and Balibar’s materialism, this paper makes an excellent introduction and examination.

I found a great number of co-incidences with her paper on complex affectation and conatus bodies and my own thoughts (those on Conjoined Semiosis, Exowelten, Chaoplexic formulation, my recent study of the structure of the Prophetic Imagination as in the Balling Letter, and even the forthcoming thoughts on Absolute Zero and Cold). It is bracing to hear an articulate and condensed groundwork of a territory you yourself have been exploring perhaps more speculatively. For those that wish to know what I am going on about at times, listen to this paper reading.

I’ve asked for a copy of the paper so that I might study its points in more depth. If I receive it I hope to post on it more substantively, there is too much to really speak of here. For those object-oriented ones out there, I cannot help but think that Caroline Williams’s paper would be of some interest as she shows just how rich Spinoza’s subjectless subjectivity defies the said human realm.

The audio is found here, at the record of the “Spinoza and Bodies” conference. Also recommended Daniel Selcer (Duquesne), “Singular Things and Spanish Poets: Spinoza on Corporeal Individuation”.

Spinoza Transfigured and reExplained: “Idea” as Information

In two posts I began opening up the notion that Spinoza’s treatment of “Idea” has strong sympathetic correspondences to modern conceptions of information and organization. First in Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist? I raised the idea that Spinoza offered something of a Chaoplexic view of organizational development and ontological power, and then in Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe I adopted the general replacement of Spinoza’s “Idea” with an version of Stonier’s “Information” as the basic structuring element of the Universe.

To help with the thought-imagination of some of this it seemed interesting to offer some retranslations of Spinoza’s propositions dealing with “idea”. I had done this before, come out of some discusssions I had with David Chalmers, but I can seem to find them. The grammar does not always work fluently for such a replacement, and perhaps this will confuse the issue for some, but hopefully you’ll get the gist and the new propositions can bring about a change in the staid way “idea” has been conceieved:

Informational Propositions

E2D3: By informational structure [idea] I mean a mind’s concept that the mind forms because it is a thinking, informational thing.

E2D4: By adequate informational structure I mean information which, insofar as it is considered in itself without relation to its object,  has all the properties or intrinsic denominations of real information (a true idea) [verae ideae].

E2p7: The order and connection of informational structure is the same as the order and connection of material expression (things).

E2p11: The first thing that constitutes the actual being of the human mind [mentis] is nothing but the informational structure of a singular thing that actually exists.

E2p13: The object [obiectum] of the informational structure constituting the human mind is the body, or a certain mode of extension which actually exists, and nothing else.

E2p15: The informational structure that constitutes the formal being [formale esse] of the human mind is not simple [simplex] but is, through a multitude of informational structures, a composite.

E2p16: The information of any mode in which the human body is affected by external bodies must involve the nature of the human body and at the same time the nature of the external body. (The ability to to be changed informationally, to be reorganized by work.)

E2p4: The informational structure [idea] of Nature (God), from which infinite things follow in infinite ways, it is capable of only being singular [unica].

E2p23: The mind [mens] does not know itself except insofar as it percieves the information of the changes (affections) of the body.

E2p25: The information of any change (affection) of the human body does not involve an adequate cognition of an external body.

E2p26: The human mind [mens] does not perceive any external body as actually existing except through the information of the changes (affections) of its own body.

E2p27: The information of any affection of the human body does not involve an adequate cognition [cognitionem] of the human body.

E2p32: All information (ideas), insofar as it is related to Nature (God), is wholly real (true).

E2p33: There is nothing in an informational structure that is productive (positive) on accout of which it is called false (confused, untrue).

E2p35: Falsity consists in a privation of cognition, which involves partial (inadequate) or confused information.

E2p36: Partial and confused informational structure follows with the same necessity as adequate (whole) or clear and distinct informational structure.

E2p38: Those things which are common in all things, and which are equally in the part and the whole, can only be conceived adequately.

E2p40: Whatever informational structure that follows in the mind from informational structure that is adequate in the mind is also adequate.

E3p10: An informational structure which excludes the existence of the body cannot be in our mind, but is contrary to it.

E3p11: The information of any thing that increases or diminishes, aids or restrains or body’s power of acting, increase or diminishes, aids or restrains our mind’s power of thinking.

Def of Affects IV: Love is a joy (an increase in the power to act) coupled with an informational structure orientation towards an external thing, taken to be its cause.

E4p1: Nothing positive (productive) about false (partial) information is removed by the presence of real (true) information, insofar as it is real (true).

E5p18: No one can hate Nature (God). Dem: The informational structure of Nature (God) which is in us is adequate and perfect. Insofar as we contemplate Nature (God), we act. Consequently, there can be no sadness accompanied by an informational structure orientation toward Nature (God), that is, no one can hate Nature (God). 

E5p35: God loves itself with an infinite intellectual love. Dem: God is absolutely infnite, the nature of God enjoys infinite perfection, coupled with the informational structure of itself, the informational structure of its cause. And this is what we said intellectual love is.

General Defintion of the Affects E3: An affect (emotion) which is called a passive experience [animi pathema] (a pathema of the soul) is confused information whereby the mind informationally affirms a greater or less force-of-existing of its body, or part of its body, than was previously was the case, and by the occurance of which the mind [mens] is determined to think this rather than that.

The Transvestive Signifier and the Antigone Complex

Ismene: Linguistic Duplicity vs. Linguistic Transvestism

Following up the line of thought begun in recent attempts to sketch out the possibilities for a postoedipal Antigone Complex subjectivity [What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency, More on the Antigone Complex], it is good I think to put our attention to the other sister, if only as a point distinction. If one sharpens the eyes to the language use in the argument between the two sisters that opens the play, we can perceive two postoedipal language strategies (before social power). Contrary to the usual reading that Ismene is merely the conservative, unrebellious, passive female, a kind of wooden literary foil to the outrage that would become Antigone, Ismene’s rhetorical strategies reveal the fundamental power of duplicity of meaning in the face of authority. This means that Ismene’s postoedipal political/subjective position is one in which one acts as the modest, demur woman, but harbors residual power which works behind the scenes, threatening with dark, chthonic force. The art of Ismene’s suggested ambi-guity is exemplified throughout  in a maze of negations and wordplay slippages, and can be seen reflected in Antigone’s infuriating severance from the game (and Ismene) after having played it for a bit, but perhaps the Isemene strategy can be iconically show in the passage (roughly lines 60-66)…

ἀλλ’ ἐννοεῖν χρῆ τοῦτο μὲν γυναῖχ’ ὄτι

But one must think that tho’ this a woman-pair we

ἔφυμεν, ὡς πρὸς ἄνδρας οὐ μαχουμένα·

Produced, so that against men we-two will not war,

ἔπειτα δ’ οὕνεκ’ ἀρχόμεσθ’ ἐκ κρεισσόνων

On that account we’re ruled by greater things,

καὶ ταῦτ’ ἀκούδειν κἄτι τῶνδ’ ἀλγίονα.

These to heed, and still the more grievous of these.

ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν αἰτοῦσα, τοὺς ὑπὸ χθονὸς

For me I call on they belów the earth

ξύγγνοιαν ἴσχειν, ὡς βιάζομαι τάδε,

To (with-) hold forgiveness, just as I’m forced here;

This is typically translated to mean something like, we are mere women, we cannot fight, and as such must listen to men who are more powerful. This is the supertext. But Ismene is double-talking, and her appeal to the chthonic deities shows it. She is ALSO saying, we have produced ourselves as a woman-pair fate, and as such we are ruled by things greater, more powerful than mere men; these dark, grievous powers we must heed (not men with whom we do not outwardly fight). The double meaning is there again in the final part, wherein she seems to be asking for the dead to “hold forgiveness” for her, given her paralysis, but alternately, to “withhold”, to keep to themselves and not dole out the forgiveness, just as she herself is imprisoned by the political situation. Ismene’s tact is that of stored vengeance under a placid face, woman heeds (and embodies) the most grievous of the most powerful, drawing on the immanent and repressed powers of the dead, using the duplicity of meaning that is possible within language itself. We can see this for instance as a regular and powerful postmodern feminist (and suppressed minority) strategy, a kind of chthonic duplicity.

Antigone’s Transvestism:  No Presumption of Essential Family Violence

Antigone though refuses linguistic ambi-guity, two-facedness as a tool of power (or subjectivity). Instead she wishes to exact the linguistic power inherent in the very filial organizational body out of which she has come, a process of investism…

Taking her perspective as one in contrast with Oedipalism, rather than Isemene (which is a separate issue):

No more exoteric appropriations upon projections of intra-family violence. Instead the family, if anything, forms a nearly equivocal though structured plane within which the exoteric is ever qualified. There is no essential family violence the resolution of which requires the import of foreign and symbolic forms. One does not kill and replace the father by becoming the father of another girl, who loses her father to a kind of death. Rather, if anything, the father is expropriated into an outer form of action, something like an armor to be put on in the name of the family plane, because there is no kerneled subjectivity that is born into reflection through a struggle within the whole. Instead, semiotic elements, signifiers, become vehicles for circuited travel within the larger locality of a kinship philia of eros  bonds and an imbrication of functional role over determinations. Like within dreamwork, one can simultaneously be (play the functional role of) father, daughter or brother. families become portal and self-defining alliances which borrow from their own appropriative use of social forms (gendered and hierarchical/stereotypical), and entire vocabulary of transvestive public positions. The intra-family powers of filial in-netting (and a family can be any kind of historical mutual dependence and nuturing, structuring) provide an affect steeping re-animation of otherwise stale social designations. One goes out in the world AS father, or AS child, or AS sibling perversely impowered by that incubation to which one is loyal, thereby capable of subversive or only creative repositioning oneself within the social sphere, reappropriative of the restrictions of social expectation for new and redemptive use.

Instead of an Oedipal exogamous process of external appropriation which assumes an internal family violence which gives rise to a spliting of the (pure) subject, in which the female aspect plays a kind of material ground for male subjective severings, and the ultimate murder of the father accomplished through the replacement of a father for the daughter from another family, the family is already understood as a coherent, immanent plane that has already appropriated the semiotic elements of society under their own affective structured imbument which transforms the very possibility of their deploy, the capacity to wear the signifier dress (for Antigone to be BE the man) with a certain libidnal fluidity/intensity, subversive of the social order from which the signifier elements were initially borrowed (opening up the possibility of other  families, other filial attachments to be made).  In this sense the family becomes the resource of the very apparition of the divine like force of the signifier itself (not as law-giver, but as radiant element). When Antigone, the young girl performatively stands before Kreon wearing the dress of the father, her father-brother Oedipus, richly steeped in the power of her filial experiences, Kreon stares right into the face of “the man”, and rightfully struggles to anchor it: either she is the man or I am the man. When Antigone sprinkles dirt upon her brother-nephew, she operates as sister-aunt-mother, condensing the figures into a single apparition which cannot be fully separated out from divine apparition itself (or natural processes), running right along the seam of language and nature, come from the incestuous affect-stew of what family is.

It is said that a herding dog as it runs about a flock of sheep, driving it forward, skirting the edges, jumping to the front to steer is actually enacting all the positions that would be taken if the pack was in tact. First this, then another, then another, building a geometry of their organizational synchrony in space. This is what Antigone does, the secret to her transvestism and the imbument of her public powers, come from the experiential bonds of the filia. She occupies each of the familial positions, in turn, the entire family, channeling the affective powers of each borrowed term, in the social sphere exhibiting the apparitional force of what she has appropriated.

The Surpass of the Binary Condition of the Subject

One can recognize in the strategy of Ismene the binary against which I have warned too deep a philosophical dependence. We can say that Ismene’s is a postoedipal position in the sense that she is born into the Oedipal historical situation, but really it is intra-Oedipal, in the sense that it attempt to harness the repressive end of the splitting binary force. This is a primary Freudian conception, a hydraulic model of the mind which finds on the other side of the (negation) barrier certain forces, shadows, that can bubble up from below and exact revenge. If you hold down the mulitiplicity or the primitive too much, it forces its way up to the surface. The duplicity of Ismene trades upon this dark-below, past, un-dead conception, using the ambiguous facility of language, of inside and outside, as a kind of internal power of resistance. Among these strategies related to the contest of Oedipal formations one can find those that appeal to the painful jouissance and attempts to release or celebrate/promote it, after at risk of being defined by the very frame they are somewhat in opposition to (and thereby unconsciously working to reproduce it).

In the Antigone complex one can see the dangers perhaps of a sterile circulation of recursive and relived semiotic elements if the family body is too threatened by a perceived external force. But one should be careful to read the difference in the construction of the subjective itself, the way in which subjectivity embodies itself within filial attachments of which there is no essentialfamilial violence (which is not to say that families do not contain violence, it is just that violence, or promotions to violence, are not essential to the subjective process). The Antigone Complex subjectivity is a positional subjectivity, appreciating the partial epistemic and deeply affective perception powers that involve actual families and siblings, etc, denying for instance any overt importance of something like the categorical “other” (Big or small “o”). Epistemic affective projection always works along prosthetic vectors. One feels an event through your brother’s arm, through your mother’s cheek and hair, not as partial objects, but as plane of world revelation. And the borrowed signifier terms that turn the constellation of trans- or intra-body  human memory into “brother” or “daughter” themselves become “cooked” in the sinewed, one-bodied attachments that are filial. This vectored subjectivity does not require a signifier resting place (a sister can BE a brother), but rather frees up the body to express itself transvestively, such that the wearing of the signifier, performing its function (within and without the family) becomes both an experimentation, and potentially a power toward freedoms (the ability to find new family without the murder of the father), understanding the atavistic nature of social appearance along the powers of bodily cybernetic, epistemic, affective combination, shifting alliances of what is felt and made most coherent.

It is important, I believe, to watch the line between Ismene hydraulic harnessing of the opposite (un)form, and Antigone Complex positioning. It is perhaps quite helpful to trace out the jouissance lead eruptions of bodily limits and the economies of pleasure that help constitute mutualities, taken to the limit perhaps in the G&D concept of the BwO, but one risks losing track of the specific investments, the specific/strategic transvestisms that constitute and condition an Antigonous  subjective expression. It is not just that some repressed thing is breaking free (either at this moment, or continually), but that a bodily contiguity inhabits a social designation/role imbued by the very historical experience of its intra-familia affective force. It is not just a breaking-free, one of the terms out pacing the other. It is specific acts of inhabitation with apparitial, political consequence.

This subjective transvestism is quite different than ornamentation vs. form. Antigone struggles to make the “god” appear in the substance of the signifier (a flash from the infinite), in the fabric of the social, loyal to composite filial memory and its poles of experienced alliance, but not to the signifier itself which is embodied, but also shifted and deployed.

A related line of thinking genealogical to this: Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification; and alternately The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza

Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?

There is a primacy of inside and outside in the philosophy of Spinoza that provokes powerful lines of thought that reach far into the future of systems theory and autopoietic conceptions of Life, not to mention a general pragmatism of how to define an individual in the world, whether it be as a political or biological entity. Here I want to dig into one of the most suggestive of Spinoza’s definitions, one that cuts across his entire ontology of an ethics of power and epistemological increase.

Spinoza conceives of an Affect simply [an affectus which is a passio of the animus], a simplicity that is captured in his definition of Love:

Love is a Joy accompanied by [concomitante] the idea of an external cause. Ethics 3, Definitions of the Affects VI

We already know what Joy is:

Joy is a man’s passage [transitio] from a lesser degree of perfection to a greater one. E3DoA, II

This simplicity is something I have often returned to, something of it always slipping out beyond its immediate and apparent clarity. It seems to capture a dynamic of our experience (and Being) that is more than what it says, and thus there is something about it that in rather un-Spinozist fashion seems to resist explanation. I have to say though that my recent theoretically stretchings have given me a different understanding, one that opens up the definition and concept to a new clarity.

Notably, and this has bearing on any consummate notion of object, the delineation of inside and outside is explicit and fundamental to the definition. There are two parts to it. The first is a change within the object/body which has no explanation, an ontological shift in the real being of it. Spinoza calls this shift a shift in perfection, but increases in perfection in Spinoza are nothing more increases in the capacity to act…the body has become more active, less reactive.

So stage/part one is:

1. An increase in the capacity for activity of the body/object.

As to this, because it lacks causal explanation it could happen because of something internal to the object (some event), or due to something external to it (some event). And the effect is one of a definite change. Understanding Spinoza, this change is read as an increase in the coherence of the parts of the object. They, for whatever reason, harmonize with each other better, and in human beings and perhaps all biotic objects, this is experienced in some way as a Joy [Laetitia].

The second part – and it is important I think to see that this is not second in time, but constitutive of the first part – is specific to the inside/outside divide.

2. A change that occurs within the object which refers to, reflects, represents or signifies what in terms of the object/body is an external state.

Something happens within the object/body which orients it towards something considered by the internal relations of the object/body to be outside of them. Several questions arise regarding the nature of this “idea of an external cause”, some of them opening up paths that philosophy has taken since the coming of Descartes. There has been a tendency to view this “Idea of an external cause” as a Representation of something in the world. I think that this is to the debilitation to the point that Spinoza is making, forgetting the nature of the Scholastic debates that he is at work resolving. (In fact, it is not even clear that Ideas in Descartes himself should be read exclusively, or even specifically as representations.) What Spinoza has in mind here is much better understood in terms of Signification, and not Representation, that is, semiotically. This is to say that internal to the object/body, concordant with a change in its harmony of parts, is a semiotic change, a change which is “a difference that makes the difference” which not only recursively indicates consequences to be followed within, but indicates, or in some sense is taken to be the effect of,  states outside the horizon of its boundary. Thus, internally, the change in a harmony of parts becomes a semiotic change which confirms the boundary of inside and outside, linking that effect to its boundary and some event beyond it.

So really, in a passion, we have three parts or aspects.

1. An internal change of the harmony or coherence of parts.

2. A semiotic change internal to the object/body.

3. The two aspects together produce a reinforcement of the inside/outside boundary along the horizon of its nexus.

Now Spinoza’s beginning point is that all of modal expression, the whole of concrete Being is fundamentally conjoined. Which is to say that any particular inside/outside delineation, although concrete and real, is also only partial in understanding. What he wants us to see is that even in the Passion of Love when there is a real increase in the harmony and coherence of our parts, and in that increase a semiotic change which appears to connect that inside to some outside event or state, this very inside/outside delineation, while the vehicle of our increases in power is also the condition of our limitation, a necessarily passive isolation of perspective, an Ultimate Negative theology of the specific ways of Being. We can only make internal semiotic changes to a particular limit of our capacity to act.

There is something in Spinoza’s definition of Love (and Sadness) which directs our attention away from the external state which is signified to have caused the internal change. Thus,  in the fashion of Chrysippus’s cylinder (Cic. De fat. 43), (which can change its reactive propensity to roll down hills by changing its internal relationship of parts: i.e., if it were rectangular it would cease to roll when hills were encountered), a contrary turn of our attention to external causes for Spinoza presents us with a fundamentally passive understanding wherein the power of our condition seems reliant upon the presence or absence of an external state. In cases of our concrete dependencies this cuts two ways: 1) the absence of oxygen will make us quite sad (as we cannot reconfigure our internal relations such that we do not need oxygen), 2) the absence of our new Ferrari might very well be something that we can internally overcome (our sadness is not necessary).

But I would like to move toward the first part of Spinoza’s definition, the change in the harmony of our internal parts, for it is here that question of dependency opens up something other than this dichotomy of relative freedoms (not free from oxygen, free from Ferraris). In Spinoza’s ontology of effects it is important to keep an eye on the fact that even in concrete inside/outside delineations which constitute an object/body, the external event is already connected to the internal event (regardless of the internal signification of what lies beyond it). When a pin pricks my skin and my body undergoes a great number of physical changes which indicate to itself that something external to it has caused a change in the harmony of its parts, this could not occur unless the pin and my body were not already in conjunction in some manner (for Spinoza  this ultimately comes down to both being expression of Substance). The event of the puncture is merely one that makes us aware of this connection, and what Spinoza wants us to see is that the more adequate (harmonious) our internal semiotic changes, they more they work in ways that embrace this mutual connection. Which is to say, the more that the inside/outside boundary is enforced through internal relations, and the more powerful and active these relations, the more this inside/outside boundary is surpassed.

So for Spinoza the more harmonious the intra-relations in an object or body, the more harmonious the inter-relations between objects/bodies, and this is because at least in some sense any two object/bodies already form something an object/body themselves. In combination, their parts are in communication, and this communication forms its own essential harmony.

It is for this reason that I find that the very best way of reading Spinoza’s approach to the nature of object/bodies is something of a cybernetic one. Whatever concrete inside/outside delineations which seem to constitute a body are ever redrawable to more powerful subsumptions. This does not mean that all the objects collapse into one great soup of effects, for this expression is highly structured and historically specific. The pathways of determined and mutual connection, the specific closures of inside and outside, are not illusions, but only partial perspectives, in the way that a worm in the blood is ignorant of the body that it is in, and the nature of the dependencies of its condition (as Spinoza says to Oldenburg, letter 15/32).

What Spinoza’s combinative ontology of bodies suggests is a view wherein any powerful connections we make with other objects in the world, whether they be “natural” objects such as rocks and trees, or technological objects such as automobiles, or scientific instruments, or cultural objects such as holy texts, or voter ballots, or animal objects such as pets, or endangered species, our senator, our child, these combinations are to be seen and experienced as real, physical combinations of whole cognitive bodies. Our body and the bodies that we combine with assemble a new body (for us new), a mutuality of effects. I discuss elsewhere, and I will expand on the point in time to come that these mutuality of effects are necessarily those of epistemic closure, the way that we inhabit other things and they us, in order to discover connections in the world.

Greatly though, as per my recent thinking on Coinjoined Semiosis, this very inside/outside cognitive barrier itself is problematized in a way that Spinoza did not thoroughly appreciate, if at all conceive of (although his metaphysics lays the groundwork for its analysis). This is to say, yes, in following Spinoza there is a fundamental inside/outside horizon of objects which is cognitively determinative. Yes, the semiotic ordering of our internal parts as it pursues harmonic cohesion is ever reinforcing the boundary between itself and the world, perhaps in terms which link as best as possible the connection between the inside changes to events outside. And lastly yes, understanding the nature of our dependency paves the way for a cybernetic understanding of how our bodies cognitively and affectively combine with other bodies in fluctuating epistemic horizons of their own. But the inside/outside cognitive barrier is even further problematized.

The reason for this is Conjoined Semiosis. There are events, perhaps even a plethora of events which are internal to the cognitive whole of a body, swathes of semiotic differences which make THE difference, which are already participating in other cognitive boundaries which intersect the inside/outside horizon. So, semiotic parts within our body are operating with a relative incoherence to ourselves, while still maintaining a relative harmony to themselves only discoverable by viewing the other cognitive wholes in which they participate and inform. In this way, the causes of these semiotic disruptions are both internal and external to the assembled body, running across its fabric like so much cross-weft, ready to be tugged from both within and without.

In this manner such disturbances point to the very insufficiency of the inside/outside horizon, the incompleteness of its view. When resolute, the inside/outside boundary will be destroyed, given enough invading variance. When flexible and transformative, the semiotic tugging will actually reveal the already constituted mutuality of shared material the enfleshed conjoinment of investments, leading to an expanse of what it means to be a Self.

In a sense, the binary of Subject/Object which plagues so many of the Idealist informed philosophies which followed from Descartes is cross-cut. It is not merely that the Subject and the Object combine like two oscillating bodies around a single center of gravity between them, but rather and also that laterally, obliquely, loxogonispherically - to use my favorite word in the history of words, by the grace of Sir Thomas Urquart – a fabric of interweave is already under assemblage. Much of this cross-weave is invisible, and necessarily will remain invisible, but insofar as contingently the tides of other bodies in interaction with the same world as our own work at vectored variance with our experiences, these semiotic pulls will be experienced as both outside of us and within us. Forcing us to expand or collapse.

What Spinoza’s definition of a Passion, in particularly the Passion of Love (or Sadness) does is direct our attention not only toward within, and the very generative matrix of the conditions of our freedom, or without at the apparent locus of our engagement, but towards the horizon itself. The result is not just that in our internal workings, our self-reflections, we think of how to overcome this horizon in a vertical way searching for a hierarchical understanding of what subsumes both of us (my body, and that body), like a body contains its cells, a society its citizens; or even that we turn toward the productive cybernetics of finding more and more bodies to become cognitively cybernetic to (both of these are informative). It is also to our understanding to look at the investments oblique to the very border concept we have which gives us a sense of the priority of the object above all else, a priority which casts it shadow across metaphysics in the illusionary binary of Being and Non-Being. It is the partiality of very specific, concrete, semiotic investments across bodies, the way that we incompletely invade and are invaded by others, which serves as a groundwork for a real mutuality of action.

Where there is a strict and strong experience of Inside and Outside, that is when the oblique investment is most obscured, and has its greatest, unconscious effect.

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.

Della Rocca’s Spinoza: Do Affects “represent” Anything?

Recently though I have been reading Michael Della Rocca’s essay, “The Power of an Idea: Spinoza’s Critique of Pure Will,” and despite my embrace of its conclusion as to the radically anti-Cartesian nature of 2p49, something of its intermediate conclusions troubled me. I may not fully understand the position, or it may be simply that I understand it, and disagree with it slightly.

It is Della’s Rocca’s conclusion that all modes of thought are indeed only those of ideas, and thus, of representations that confuses me. I do understand how he uses this principle causal reading of Spinoza to deny any possibility of a mental x (non-representational, will) determining a mental y (idea). But for me the difficulty arises with the nature of affects themselves, for while Spinoza certainly has argued that there is no will which determines which ideas we hold, it seems rather that the ideas that we hold indeed do determine the affects we have, and these affects are to be understood as “modes of thought”. I will go over this point a few times, so feel free to skip the examples.

What struck me was his exclusive reading of modes of thought so to be “fully reduced” to ideas was this kind of argumentative aim, as he writes, “I would also show, more generally, that there can be no item in thought, and thus no states of desire, hope, love, etc. that do not reduce fully to ideas” (Nous, 220).

I am unsure of just what he means to say, “states of x” are “fully reduced to ideas”. Is he reading an affect of Joy or desire to be an “item in thought”, even though it is defined as a transition that is “accompanied by”, and presumably not identical with, an idea? I might tend to agree that “representational content does all the causal work in the mind” for Spinoza (ibid), but something seems amiss here; if one is to fully describe Spinoza’s theory of the affects this something seems to be an account of the very degree of perfection of the ideas themselves. For the degree of the perfection of ideas determines the affect one has, and the very transition from one degree of perfection as a bodily power affirmation, (as found in the definitions of Joy and Sadness) should be considered a mode of thought, and perhaps a non-representational mode at that: for love itself apart from what is loved (Joy), represents nothing. In fact 2ax3 it would appear makes just this kind of distinction, an affect taken to be mode of thinking which is not its necessarily accompanying idea.

So we see the possible non-representational nature of affective modes of thought in a few places.

First, Spinoza in his attempt to deal with volition apart from desire presents representation-type model, (2p48s: “by will I understand a faculty…not the desire by which the mind wants a thing or avoids it”), gives his affirmations of a triangular example which he cites [the relationship between the ideas of a triangle and the angles therein]. Yet, in his General Definition of the Affects, he presents a very different kind of affirmation, that which is affirmed in examples of inadequate thought; here it is not some rational entailment as to the nature of the idea to itself (triangle/right angles), but of the body a degree of force of existing, or perfection. This affirmation of a degree of perfection seems to be a non-representational mode of thought, that is, it is only “born out of an idea” orta ex idea (for instance in the definition of the affect of Confidence), but remains distinct from that idea. We see this same distinction between the idea and the transition itself marked out in the definitions of Love, “Love is a Joy [an increase in perfection] with the accompaniment of (concomitante) an idea of an external cause”. What an idea affirms, that is, the mode of its thought, seems of paramount importance. In the instance of love, what is being affirmed as represented, is the idea of an external cause, but what is being affirmed (non-representatively) is the very power of the body to exist, in a specific degree. The question is, is “affirmation” necessarily representational (and not say, expressional).

For Spinoza, the modes of inadequate thinking are componented as to what they affirm, and what they represent. For instance, if I think I am saddened by a man betraying me (Hate), this is an affirmation of the belief that he is the cause of my sadness, (thus the idea is taken as a true representation of the causal explanation as to my state); but also by this very idea the Mind acts to affirm a weakening force of the body to exist such that it does exist to a lesser degree. Is this affirmation a “representation”? Spinoza says that it is a kind of representation, that is, it is something that “indicates or expresses” indicare vel exprimere the constitution of the body. But the very transition itself into a less real state, the feeling of sadness coming out of the idea which “constitutes the form of the affect”, does not seem a representation as we take the word.

This may of course have consequences for the nature of consciousness, that which “determines the mind to think this rather than that” (General Definitions of the Affects). Spinoza writes at 2p18s, defining Memory as “the certain connection of ideas involving the nature of things outside the body” and that this connection is the connection of the “affections of the human body”. Thus there is a kind of shadow parallel postulate which mirrors the parallel postulate of 2p7. There is the order and connection of ideas and things which is the same at the adequate level; but there is the order and connection of ideas about the nature of external things, and the affections of the body which are the same at the inadequate level. Of this second order, we think of an apple when we hear the word “apple” because the affections of our body are such that these have coincided, the hearing and the seeing. Presumably, this is also because in each affection, we have had the affect of joy, in that the Mind has affirmed in our body a greater degree of existing, transited (transito) to a greater perfection of being. These are two “orders” so to speak, the order of causal explanations provided by the Intellect’s ideas (2p18s), and the order of the affections of the body which produce the affirmations of the body, and affects via inadequate ideas. Both orders are modes of thinking, but how essentially representational, I am not sure. The first affirms and negates conceptually (as in the case of triangles), the second through its inadequate ideas “indicates or expresses” the degrees of being of the body, whose shifts (states of Joy, Sadness and Desire) do not seem represented.

This is the same fundamental tension which exists in the way he wants to talk about the will (voluntatem ). On the one had, it is a faculty (facultatem ) of presumably ideational affirmation and negation (2p48s); and yet he still wants to define Desire (Cupiditas) by its strivings, impulses, appetites and volitions (volitiones), which are as manifold (varia ) as with the constitution (constitutione ) of each man that is manifold (hominis…varii ), taking as their objects the very bodily states themselves; that is to say, volitions follow the order of bodily affections (Definition of the Affects, I). The faculty of voluntatem which rests with the affirmations and negations of ideas, and the inadequate production of volitiones result in two kinds of affirmations, and two different notions of representation. One affirmation occurs at the ideational level with adequate ideas, such as one does when discussing the ideas of triangles, (a triangle and not a circle), with no reference to the body at all, and one that occurs at the seemingly non-representational affective transition, “born of” inadequate ideas/images which indicate a degree of being of the body, affirming that, through the order of its affections.

What makes an idea=representation equivalence confusing is that Spinoza would like to distinguish ideas from images (“fictions we feign from the illusion of free will”), yet each can be taken as a representation. What Spinoza privileges as a true idea, what I would read as “an idea insofar as it is an idea” (2p49) isn’t really a representation in the usual sense, that is, it is not an idea about the nature of an external thing (that is, it does not literally re-present it). The intellect, insofar as it affirms or negates, understands things through their first causes, it explains them (2p18s). Thus, the intellectual Idea of God or Substance explains modal reality, but does not represent it, except perhaps in the most Scholastic of senses.

Axiom 3, Ethics Part II: There are no modes of thinking, such as love, desire, or whatever is designated by the word affects of the mind, unless there is in the same Individual the idea of the thing loved, desired, etc. But there can be an idea, even though there is no other mode of thinking.

I think key to reading 2ax3, on which Della Rocca’s interpretation rests, is understanding that when Spinoza writes “There are no modes of thinking, such as love…unless there is the idea of the thing loved,” he announces that the affect of loving (Joy), is a non-representational mode of thinking (already admitted by the axiom as distinct) which is concomitant to a representational, affirming mode of thought (inadequate idea) regarding an the external thing. That is, the affect arises out of the idea, but is distinct from it.

I agree with his thought, “Spinoza claims that because an idea cannot be conceived without a certain affirmation, and because that affirmation cannot be conceived without the idea, it follows, given Spinoza’s conception of essence (2def2), that affirmation pertains to the essence of the idea, and that the affirmation is identical with the idea” (Nous, 202). But we must distinguish between adequate and inadequate ideas. It is the particularity of the affirmation which marks it as such. The rational affirmation that is involved in the Intellect’s understanding through first causes, is not the same affirmation involved in affects as passions, though the latter can be explained through the former. Spinoza views all ideas, insofar as they are in the mind of God, as true. That is, what they affirm and negate constitute their essence. But in instances where we are not thinking of triangles, but inadequately of external objects, what is being affirmed is not the ratio of angles unto a conception of triangles, but a power of the body, an affirmation which is largely, if not entirely unconscious.

As I look closely at 2p49, affirmations (including the affirmation of the degrees of power of the body to exist) exist because they are involved by ideas (involvit ) insofar they are ideas. This quatenus idea est, can only mean as far as I can tell, ideas as opposed to images, adequate ideas as opposed to inadequate ideas, ideas as they are taken to be in the mind of God. The difficulty with strictly equating this aspect of affirmation (that of an idea insofar as it is an idea) with belief, is that it would be at the level of strictly true belief. As one passes from the strong notion of adequate ideas, to the weaker notion, what is being affirmed, by Spinoza’s definition of affect and inadequate idea, has changed. The affirmation (and negation) which at the level of adequate ideas would constitute true belief, at the level of affects is an affirmation of the body’s capacity to act. Indeed, having ideas of any sort is a kind of belief, an affirmation. But what is being affirmed seems for Spinoza to slide along a gradated, asymptotic line, at whose pinnacle adequate ideas as explanations of the causes of things, affirm and negate the internal particularities of those ideas; but insofar as they are not (true) ideas, they produce a non-representational change in the body’s power. These affective affirmations of the body may be said to be “enfolded by, wrapped by” adequate ideas which involve them involvere, but are they “reduced to” those ideas, for their effects remain modally distinct, as expressions?


I am thinking of a description of affects I once found in Deleuze’s lectures on Spinoza, one which made me think deeply about the restrictions Della Rocca was placing on mental action; it lead me to my close reading of Della Rocca’s line of thought. Deleuze writes, explaining the fundamental difference between an idea and an affect:

“Thus we start from a quite simple thing: the idea is a mode of thought defined by its representational character. This already gives us a first point of departure for distinguishing idea and affect (affectus) because we call affect any mode of thought which doesn’t represent anything. So what does that mean? Take at random what anybody would call affect or feeling, a hope for example, a pain, a love, this is not representational. There is an idea of the loved thing, to be sure, there is an idea of something hoped for, but hope as such or love as such represents nothing, strictly nothing. Every mode of thought insofar as it is non-representational will be termed affect”

(Cours Vincennes – 24/01/197eight)

Deleuze, whatever one makes of him, reads affects as essentially non-representational modes of thought; this seems to answer at first blush Della Rocca’s position “…this argument rule[s] out other modes of thought not ultimately ideas or representational states” (Nous, 220). This depends on what he means by “ultimately”. It would also depend on what one means by “representational content”. For, in his essay he seems to often take as identical in meaning, idea and representation. Yet as Spinoza distinguishes between idea and image (2p49s), and Della Rocca understands image to be the means by which the mind represents an “external state of affairs” (Nous, 210; via 2p17); just how “representational” are the affirmations of adequate ideas, for they are not representing external states of affairs (alone), but rather are explaining them. It seems rather, what is taken as “representational” in the usual sense, for instance the idea of a frog, that frog there, insofar as it makes me think of this or that, feel this or that, is merely for Spinoza an image, and not an idea proper.

I think this disjunction in what representation means can be seen in the way that the different kinds of affirmations are approached by Spinoza. Those of triangles and the such, by the intellect, involve no reference at all to states of the body itself, even though, all ideas in the Mind are supposed to take as their object the Body as it actually exists, an object in fact constituted (constituentis) by that state of the body (2p13). When discussing our ideas of triangles (and what they are supposed to represent, if we take such ideas to be fundamentally representational), there is no mention at all of the actual object of those ideas, the human body. Spinoza does not, in fact cannot say with any sense, “the idea that the two angles of a triangle add up to two right angles is affirmed because the body is in actual state x, which forms the actual object of this idea of the mind”.

The conflation of image representations and idea representations seems to undermine the thought that there can be no “interaction between…ideas and any non-ideas” (Nous, 223). While I certainly agree that there is no room for a Cartesian free will as an explanatory cause of belief in ideas, what does not seem supported by Spinoza in that he takes representations (inadequate ideas) to be unconscious affirmations of the body which give “rise to” shifts in perfection, transitions which are not representational in character. In the end, Spinoza actually seems to invert Descartes, and makes what we commonly take as “will,” the products of consciousness and choice, a non-representational, ontological effect, caused by largely representational states (inadequate ideas, images of external states), and these inadequate representational states in turn to be further caused by Intellectual affirmations and negations, which in the mind of God are less “representations” in the common sense term, as immanent expressions of modal states of the world, as ideas.

Key becomes the question, are the risings and fallings of degrees of power of the body to exist (and act), those transitions to and from perfection, to be considered “modes of thought” or of some alternate category, neither extension nor thought. There seems no room in Spinoza’s ontology for this third category.

I wonder if I have misunderstood a vital component of Della Rocca’s argument. I can certainly see how it makes clear the very nature of Spinoza’s radical refutation of Descartes, but I feel that some of his uses of “representation” go too far to adequately capture what Spinoza means by affect.


Michael Della Rocca is in my mind the clearest expositor of Spinoza living, and teaching at Yale. Highly recommended, his Represenation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza.

Closely related posts: Spinoza’s Two Concepts of Order ; Spinoza: The Body of Ideas as Lens ; Wasps, Orchids, Beetles, Crickets


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