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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.

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One response to “Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?

  1. Pingback: How Do the Molten Centers of Objects Touch? « Frames /sing

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