Frames /sing


Instrumentality and Perception in the Seventeeth Century


Just to jot down a few thoughts and co-incidences that are coming together in regards to my article. These are born from a discussion I had with my wife this afternoon as I sought to renew my focus, and to differentiate between her synthesis of ideas and mine is not easy, nor even necessary. There is something of interest, from the grandest of historical perspectives, in correlating several aspects of the rise of instumentalized thought during the Golden Age. For instance there is the instrumentalization represented by Descartes’ substantial divorce of the Mind and Body, and the attendant mechanized view of phenomena which showed the way for a love of the complex, automated device. On the other hand, there is the mechanized view of produced efficiency that inspired the slave trade just at this time, driving the shift from indentured and sharecropped plans of sugar production (as harsh as they were) toward an imparitiave “progress”: the wholesale import of enslaved African human labor. To put it a bit more precisely, there is something to the kind of vision that was well-appraised in the Cartesian, hyperbolic model, which allows the narrowness of focus on local causal relations, abstracted to calculable laws, which through its valuation alone redeems any particular efficiency, solely due to its distinctness and clarity, a model that bespeaks the horrors of enslaved human beings.

There is something to the rise of the lens and the desire to see more and more clearly, in a blinkered sense, that grants priority to narrow focus. And I believe that it was in this that Spinoza found his greatest objection to automated, instrumentalized productions. Perhaps like our discovered or invented esteem for HDTV, the clearer the better, Spinoza seemed to lack an enthrallment to the “device” as a mere medium of truth. Despite the fact, or even because of it, that he was a grinder of real lenses and a philosopher of the “clear and distinct”, he was much more sensitive to the joining points between human beings and their actions, in particular to the kinds of ideas that were held by persons. One does not simply see better because one sees further, or more minutely. If we take Descartes’ much esteemed and persued mono-axial hyperbolic lens, and turn in analogy to, for instance, the discovered efficiency of West Indies sugar trade through slavery, yes one could say with clarity, “We are producing sugar better”, in the tunnel-vision of clarity for clarity’s sake, but still not see the consequences, the poly-axial realities of the kinds of production we are truly enforcing. There is something to Spinoza’s resistence to the polished mechanism (letter 32) – an uncraftsmanlike transfer of mathematics to form through measure and mechanism, which works with a kind of transcendental force, the device becoming invisible and unconscious – which Spinoza would collapse. He draws our attention both to the flesh-hand that rests on the mechanism itself, but also to the Ideas held by users, ideas which he argues determine the degree of power and perfection of the human actors and their assemblage with their instruments. There is something about Spinoza’s metaphysical reconsilation of the split between Mind and Body – that Descartes had only a few decades before cleaved in the name of a doctrine of a transcendent God, and a Freedom of Will – and Spinoza’s material concern with lenses, light, lathes and glass, which points forth an alternate path or conception, a turn from the sheer instrumentality of either gears or humans. At the very least, a calculation, for Spinoza, must be seen as an act, the mathematical point, as a relation and expression, and an instantiation, a persistence. The criticism Spinoza would have is epistemic. That is, one is always seeing-with, and seeing-with is a communication of parts. If this study of lenses teaches a lesson to me, it would be that the radii of causes, comprehensively taken, are the finer part of seeing, and one only takes the hand off the process, knowingly. There is a certain ecology of perception that Spinoza’s observations on the eve of the Instrument define.


Some related posts: Some Observations on Spinoza’s Sight, A Diversity of Sight: Descartes vs. Spinoza, Spinoza the Merchant: The Canary Islands, Sugar and Diamonds and Leprosy


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