Frames /sing


Freud and then Heine: Spinoza Does not Deny God, but Always Humanity

Freud and Spinoza on Kant’s Freedom

A few days ago I listened to the paper by Michael Mack (Nottingham), “Spinoza and Freud, or how to be mindful of the mind”  from the Spinoza and Bodies conference (audio here), and one quote really stood out, taken from Heine on Spinoza. Mack’s paper argues that Freud subverts the primary aim of Kantian philosophy: the autonomy of the human under and definition of Freedom. That is, the Copernican turn accomplishes a radical autonomy of man which is strictly modern, that the recursively defined categories of thought provide humanity with a kind of fresh space, a topos, upon which to do and be and make whatever they well, a cocoon of freedom. He doesn’t express it in this way, but I do. Freud takes this from Kant and the modern heritage in that he takes from the inside the autonomy that Kant attempted to carve out,  the “self”. I had never really thought if it in these terms, but one can see that it is precisely at the level of freedom that Spinoza’s Freedom and Kant’s Freedom collide, and one can see Mack’s point that Freud and Spinoza are on the same side on this, that the “self” is ever only partially free, and the sense that we are all exposed to causal forces far beyond our control, the ignorance of which deceives us into thinking we are freer than we are.

The paper is a wild ride at times, and Mack has the haltering verbal excitement of someone overly familiar with a history of ideas and some much neglected material that makes his reading engaging, at least to my ear. He exposes some, one wants to say sublimated, or at least seldom acknowledged even by Freud himself, influence of Spinoza on the father of psychoanalysis. Mack’s point falls off in the area of the Death Drive where he doesn’t do a sharp enough job of contrasting the admitted radical difference of Spinoza and Freud on this point, a chasm gap, surely on account of time .  For me, any comparison between Spinoza and Freud must at least start or end there. Where Mack is really strong is how he positions Freud and Spinoza towards Kant’s autonomy, and the subject of the Self.

In making his point about Freud, Spinoza and Jewishness, Mack brings the wonderful quote by Heine on the subject of Spinoza’s charged atheism. In an almost over-statement in response to the Pantheism Controversy, Heine declares, it is not God that is denied by Spinoza, but rather Man:

“Nothing but fear, unreason and malice could bestow on such a doctrine the qualification of atheism. No one has spoken so sublimely of Deity than Spinoza. Instead of saying that he denied God, one might say that he denied Man. All finite things are to him but modes of the Infinite Substance, all finite substances are contained in God, the human mind but the luminous ray of infinite thought, the human body but an atom of infinite extension. God is the infinite cause both of mind and of body, natura naturans.”
This starting point of Heine’s the erasure of Man, is the widescope though still concrete view that meets up nicely with Caroline Williams’s paper, already mentioned here:  Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology. Beginning with this erasure comes the integrated recomplexification of Man, humanity, Self, Subject, State, on an entirely different order. None of these abstract, cognitive boundaries are “kingdoms within a kingdom” but rather are shot through with material effects and forces beyond their knowledge, their autonomy.
Michael Mack’s paper is derived from a new book due out March 2010,  Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: The Hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud, Continum Books, something certainly to look out for.

7 responses to “Freud and then Heine: Spinoza Does not Deny God, but Always Humanity

  1. Montag November 18, 2009 at 4:33 am

    I was struck how much Spinoza was like Heracleitus in Heine’s view.

    It makes me re-think a lot of nonsense about the history of philosophy.

  2. kvond November 18, 2009 at 6:07 am

    I had not thought of a Spinoza, Heraclitus comparison, although I have gone through periods were I have looked at Heraclitus’s fragments very closely. I can see that, there is Logos in Heraclitus, and of course the surmounting flux. I can see some possible connections, and I appreciate it.

  3. Barrett Pashak November 18, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Mack is a very exciting scholar for Spinoza students. See his “Toward a Redefinition of Europe’s Political Identity: Spinoza’s Non-hierarchical Vision” (here).

  4. kvond November 18, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I genuinely was excited by Mack’s paper and was looking forward to his book. Unfortunately I am a non-academic so have little access to journals. Hopefully though some of my readers will find the article useful or inspiring. I got the feeling that his knowledge of the history of German Idealism was profound and important.

  5. Barrett Pashak November 18, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Indeed. He wrote a very worthwhile book entitled, German Idealism and the Jew: The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses (Amazon).

  6. kvond November 18, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    If you listened to the reading there is a moment where he gets very flustered because he has to make a cut due to time contraints. He is so excited by what he wants to read it is palpable. It really made me like him, in a deep, intellectual way.

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