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kvond

A Short Note on the Notion of Spinoza as Craftsman

I was discussing with my wife this developing idea that Spinoza’s metaphysical work needs to be understood in light of the specific practices and techniques he engaged in as a lens-grinder. I was busy describing to her how physical the act of lathing is, the dynamics of its transformations, and how when one watches it, seeing it, simply thinking of it as an act of grinding, or in terms of the materials used, is insufficient.

She came up with one of those apt analogies, which are particular to her mind, saying something of the order, “Yes, it would be like knowing what clay is, and even understanding what a potter’s wheel might be, but having never seen it in action”. I think that she is very right. We think of Spinoza as a lens-grinder, perhaps see him hunched over a workbench, vaguely picturing his hands cusped, pressing something hard and small against something spinning. Maybe we hear in the background the requisite sound of grinding, something metal on metal. But none of this really is what the picture-of-the-world of lathework provides. There is something potters-wheel-like in the combination of changes faster than the eye can see, amid a stability, a stability that communicates itself both despite and because of change. It embodies, in a very real way, what conceptually can only read as paradox, natura naturata and natura naturans. In it conflict and pressures create forms that rise out of an unformed, and the physicality of “idea” is not so much a theoretical and abstract position, as a real and experienced fact. Perhaps this is what he meant by his “demonstration” of the “eyes of the mind”.

If a philosopher were a full-time potter, it would serve to look to the potter’s wheel and its effects as a source of conceptual inspiration. So with the lathe, the pan and the glass.

I think that if anything, Spinoza’s metaphysics, the equanimity with which he treats the material world, never letting it fall to the inferior position, insists upon a craftsman’s understanding of the world, and what practically must be done. We are mislead, I believe, due to the Idealism that followed after Spinoza, into thinking about Idea even in the case of Spinoza, in an etherial, and not so much an informational sense. Further, the technical, the engined, if guided by Spinoza’s hand, must be understood as craft. If one watches a lathe, and thinks in Spinoza’s terms, one sees the world spin and fix.

 

 

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6 responses to “A Short Note on the Notion of Spinoza as Craftsman

  1. reza June 3, 2008 at 6:30 am

    This is a belated comment on one your earlier posts, so apologies for posting it here.

    I think Deleuze and Guattari’s reference to latitude and ethics of the body and then crediting Spinoza is mostly a decisive and deliberate philosophical decision from their part, but not a historically accurate one. It seems Deleuze has been completely aware of scholastic works on defining the body according to the question of latitude (i.e. the ratio between the body’s intensive and extensive vectors, necessary and contingent activities). Among footnotes in ATP, there is a reference to Oresme’s influential work on latitude of forms which examines two scholastically popular topics of his time, namely, ratios and latitudes. The notorious chapter in Difference and Repetition — Ideas and the Synthesis of Difference — is tractable to the medieval pre-history of Differential Calculus with figures such as Llull, Oresme, Henry of Hesse and Merton calculators. Bruno and Spinoza only come after a long tradition of pre-differential thinkers which have already discovered the significance of latitude, deformity and ratio (matheme-oriented concepts) in regard to theology, cosmology and above all ontology (bodies and beings). I believe the reason Deleuze attributes the discovery of the differential definition of body to Spinoza is that Spinoza for the first time consolidates the pre-history of differential calculus in the context of a universal ethics. And it is Deleuze who once again resurrects the mathemes within Spinoza’s ethics and continues them within the esoteric history of calculus (with Kant and Schelling as recurring figures) to ATP in terms of his own cosmo-ethical project.

    Anyway, this is an excellent and original blog.

  2. kvond June 3, 2008 at 10:45 am

    I like all these comments. Yet, two things…the first is that Deleuze and Guattari certainly would not deny having their own cosmo-ethical project. Metaphysics (and there are all kinds of metaphysics, including a metaphysics of materialism), always, I think they would argue, is a cosmo-ethical project. What makes it “your own” or not is simply a question of power. Secondly, I don’t know what constitutes “historical accuracy” in this context. Does it simply mean that your (or another’s) “cosmo-ethical” project is somehow more accurate than theirs?

  3. r June 3, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    >>> the first is that Deleuze and Guattari certainly would not deny having their own cosmo-ethical project

    Definitely! IMO, one of the most outstanding DG’s project is that they openly consider their philosophy as cosmo-ethics. And yes I agree that there is no metaphysics without cosmo-ethics.

    The question of historical accuracy was meant to be a hint at philosophical-scientific sources of defining body in terms of latitude, not authenticity or credibility. It seems by crediting Spinoza as a philosopher who offers the first consolidated proto-differential definition of body, DG (and especially Deleuze) give both a cosmic and an ethical edge to the achievements of scholastic philosophers such as Oresme and Bradwardine who define bodies through mathematic concepts such as ratio and latitude. For this reason, it is not the question of preference of one over another but to host certain medieval thinkers and projects in Spinoza’s consistently cosmic and ethical project, finding them an abode which they could never find during their own time. In this sense, the project of Deleuze and Gauttari is ‘even’ traceable to a certain strain of scholastic philosophers and mathematicians whose thoughts constitute resources of Spinoza’s grand ethical project. Although these medieval projects seem scattered and distant in regard to each other but as DG realized they all share a meticulously ethical approach to the universe in a way that Deleuze explicated in DR and then with Guattari in ATP.

  4. r June 3, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    That’s why I initially said ‘decisive’: it is decisive because it hammers a new edge for the philosophical project of mathesis universalis (whose precursors are medieval thinkers) and that is a Spinozist edge i.e. ethics as the cosmic.

  5. kvond June 4, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    r:”The question of historical accuracy was meant to be a hint at philosophical-scientific sources of defining body in terms of latitude, not authenticity or credibility.”

    Absolutely excellent. I completely misread the intent of your point, and I certainly agree with all that you say here. In terms of Spinoza, something of this is accomplished in Deleuze’s use of Duns Scotus’ “formal distinction” to explain that nature of the distinction of the Attributes from Substance. In this way a conception scholastically used to describe the unity, yet distinctness of the Trinity, is applied di-conceptally (Davidson?), if not infinitely, to explain our descriptions of the world. I have seen this appropriation of Scotus critiqued, but I think that such a critique is not fully appreciate the recovery (and redemption) of Schlasticism that Spinoza (and Deleuze and/or DG was attempting.

  6. kvond June 4, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    r: “That’s why I initially said ‘decisive’: it is decisive because it hammers a new edge for the philosophical project of mathesis universalis (whose precursors are medieval thinkers) and that is a Spinozist edge i.e. ethics as the cosmic.”

    I am less interested in the mathesis part of the project than you may be, but I do agree with some enthusiasm that by making a mathesis an affectus, this is a very significant step, and key to understanding both the humanity and the post-humanity of “learning”.

    I have yet to write upon it, but late Renaissance thinker Tommaso Campanella, stands just in this chain, between Spinoza and Scholasticism, filling in the historical link that DG, (or just plain Deleuze, I am unsure) want to forge.

    p.s. thank you for the good words about the blog.

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