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Spinoza’s Letter 21 to Blyenbergh: Negation and the Unseeing Stone

I reprint here part of a letter I wrote to a good friend, as part of our exchange over philosophy. It includes an explication of Spinoza’s influential January 28th letter to Blyenbergh, wherein Spinoza reveals his take towards negation, a passage which Hegel would focus on, as significant for what it asserts, but also what he would claim it does not grasp.

“omnis determinato est negatio”

 

I think that one of the most important ideas in Spinoza is the way that he treats “negation”, for he makes a distinction between the difference between negation and “privation”. It is rather in that Negation often is conflated with privation, making of it a kind of “lack”, upon which all desire is founded, that much of Modern Philosophy parts company with Spinoza. Instead Spinoza argues for the perfection and completeness of any particular state of the world, at any one point in time. His description of the capabilities of “seeing” (those missing in a blind man, and those missing from a stone), is one of the most illustrative examples of this thought. In his Letter 21 to Blyenbergh, he outlines fairly clearly the difference between negation and privation. It is an extraordinary thought, (not the first time said in history):

 I will proceed to explain further the words privation and negation, and briefly point out what is necessary for the elucidation of my former letter. I say then, first, that privation is not the act of depriving, but simply and merely a state of want, which is in itself nothing: it is a mere entity of the reason, a mode of thought framed in comparing one thing with another. We say, for example, that a blind man is deprived of sight, because we readily imagine him as seeing, or else because we compare him with others who can see, or compare his present condition with his past condition when he could see; when we regard the man in this way, comparing his nature either with the nature of others or with his own past nature, we affirm that sight belongs to his nature, and therefore assert that he has been deprived of it. But when we are considering the nature and decree of God, we cannot affirm privation of sight in the case of the aforesaid man any more than in the case of a stone; for at the actual time sight lies no more within the scope of the man than of the stone; since there belongs to man and forms part of his nature only that which is granted to him by the understanding and will of God. Hence it follows that God is no more the cause of a blind man not seeing, than he is of a stone not seeing. Not seeing is a pure negation.

January 28, 1665

What he means is that a blind man is not missing sightedness, just as the stone is not missing sightedness, only our imaginary comparison of one state of the world to another causes us to say so. Instead each thing (the blind man and the stone) is negated in a particular and determined way. That is to say, limited. The limitation is the nexus of causes that bring it into being, the bordering interactions with other modes of Reality which make it what it is. And what it is is exactly what it can do. Negation simply means having boundaries of the capacity to do.

The thing is, because Substance (or God or Nature) is by essence not limited at all, but infinite, all negation is a kind of illusion. That is, we might see the blind man as limited or determined in a certain fashion, but the blind man is actually a modal expression of Totality, and our drawing of a line around him, making of him a closed entity (which can or cannot see), is only a temporary perspective. If the blind man is standing on a plain of grass (or perhaps more thoroughly, living there) there is nothing that stops us from perceiving it as a blind-man-plain-of-grass assemblage, where “seeing” is only one sliver of any number of possible and complex interactions between parts, (one can glimpse the ecological consequences of such a flexibility, wherein dependence become expression, or inter-expression between environments). Moment by moment, each thing is perfect because it could be no other way; all is a full expression of God/Substance/Nature.

So when Spinoza talks of the non-being of something, that is, just as in the description of the perception of the basket in Joyce (perceiving through what something is not), this non-being is simply a perspective. It is, in a certain sense an imaginative illusion. There is no such thing as non-being, (it has no ultimate bearing on things), because all things derive their power from the fullness of Being itself. Any localized mode of Being (be it a stone or a man or a grassland) is a full expression of God, which is also dependent upon all the negations which constitute it. That is, the causal boundaries which compose any figure by limiting it, actually compose it, in the way perhaps how negative space around a statue might be said to “be” the statue.

So there is a double move in Spinoza. One is that any one particular moment of expression, of a man say (both of his body and his idea), is already perfect because it flows from the Infinite being of God, what we call Nature. The fullness and perfection of each thing is thus guaranteed. But the second move, one that Hegel misses [and I am following Gatens and Lloyd here, who are following Macherey] because he would like to wedge out the soul of a man to a place of importance, is that the negation of any one thing, that is, its actual boundaries which seem to limit it, are veritably the connective tissue to all that is, the assembled source of its power. (It is for this reason that Deleuze characterizes Spinoza’s Theory of Power as “the ability to be affected”. Through the fabric of these “negations” the assemblage of things shows itself to be an incredibly complex thing. Even the simplest thing, a water molecule, through its very limitations, connects to huge things, a tidal wave.

 

So to return to Joyce’s description of the basket, which is a beautiful one,

[quoted in a previous letter] In order to see that basket, said Stephen, your mind first of all separates the basket from the rest of the visible universe which is not the basket. The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended. An esthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in spae. But temporal or spatial the esthetic image is first luminously apprehended as selfbounded and selfcontained upon the immeasurable background of space or time which is not it. You apprehend it as one thing. You see it as one whole. You apprehend its wholeness. That is integritas.

Stephen Dedalus, in The Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man

If we keep in mind the way that Spinoza sees the body and the nature of perception, we see how even this description of the basket is superseded by the notion of the perceptive Body itself. Recall, Spinoza says that all perception of “things” (those things outside of us), are actually our perception of our body. All ideas are of our body being in a certain state. A neurophysiologist can describe the brain as being our sixth sense, that which perceives the Body. So, while it may very well seem that we are perceiving a “basket” and doing so by also perceiving its non-being, all that is not-basket outside of it, Spinoza would say that all the while we are only holding ideas about our own body being in a particular state (a state that due to the causal relations between out body and all else, which allows us with clear ideas to act powerfully in the world). The being and non-being of things cloaks the actual changes in power of our own body, as we form ideas of that body in particular states.

This conception of the body as a closed arena of perception, forming ideas only about its own state, leads Spinoza to articulate a theory about the passions and being a passive state. Affects, that is emotional reaction to the world, is part of the imaginary and confused ideas of the world that necessarily make up human perception. In a sense, it is part of our experience of living in time, the way that we compare the world and ourselves to past and future states of being. This is a very subtle and strange thought for me, and one which it took me a long time to understand, and then possibly to accept. The core expression of it is found at the end of part 3 of the Ethics, in “The General Definition of the Affects”:

E3: DOA. Emotion, which is called a passivity of the soul, is a confused idea, whereby the mind affirms concerning its body, or any part thereof, a force for existence (existendi vis) greater or less than before, and by the presence of which the mind is determined to think of one thing rather than another.

Explanation.–I say, first, that emotion or passion of the soul is a confused idea. For we have shown that the mind is only passive, in so far as it has inadequate or confused ideas (E3P3). 

I say, further, whereby the mind affirms concerning its body or any part thereof a force for existence greater [or less] than before. For all the ideas of bodies, which we possess, denote rather the actual disposition of our own body (E2P16C2) than the nature of an external body. But the idea which constitutes the reality of an emotion must denote or express the disposition of the body, or of some part thereof, which is possessed by the body, or some part thereof, because its power of action or force for existence is increased or diminished, helped or hindered. 

But it must be noted that, when I say a greater or less force for existence than before, I do not mean that the mind compares the present with the past disposition of the body, but that the idea which constitutes the reality of an emotion affirms something of the body, which, in fact, involves more or less of reality than before.

Note, central here is that the Mind, as it moves through pleasures and pains and appears to do so by comparing its current state to other states, past and future, but Spinoza claims that it really is not doing so at all. Instead, the Mind as it thinks is rather affirming in more or less clear ways the force of particular parts of the body, such that that actual affirmation gives those parts, that expression, more reality. This is an amazing thought. We conceive of ourselves having one reality, a fixed baseline of reality, as all things do, passing into various characteristic states. But here Spinoza, because there is only One Reality, that is the reality of Substance, the things which partake of that reality more (that is, express themselves with a greater capacity to act, a greater capacity to be affected), actually are more Real. The coming and going of Pleasure and Pain is the coming and going of the Reality of a thing, even though each state is perfect, because from the point of view of the Totality even the smallest part is a fully real expression of the Whole. Our entire lives are fluctuations of becoming more or less real as persons, as we pass into more or less active states of being, all the while expressing a perfection.

I thoroughly agree with you that our departures over Nietzsche, insofar as we have disagreements, are in the degree of credit that I offer him. There are a few reasons for this for me, the largest of which is that I am, or have been quite Nietzschean in nature, and thus have found Spinoza to be a kind of relief or antidote for this nature-a way of directing it, making its impulses more powerful and more at ease. In this sense Nietzsche gets my razored critique as part of my own self-critique. I also believe that Nietzsche himself requires that I be ungenerous, as this is the way that he conducted his own thought, savagely attacking those he thought close to himself. He would not want to be “given” anything. Thus for me reading Nietzsche generously is somewhat unNietzschean. And lastly I suppose, I am hardest on those that achieve the broadest degree of cultural acceptance, and Nietzsche has been rather thoroughly embraced by an academic heritage, at least on the Continental side, and by culture as a whole. I can think of no other modern philosopher, in spirit, who is so well esteemed (if mis-understood) by non-philosophers; and also not one so credited. Thus my stand against Nietzsche operates as both a stand against myself, and a stand against various instutionalizations of thought, a pronged critique I cannot resist. Spinoza then operates as something new, radical and liberating, in the most pragmatic of senses. I certainly would not to think to have you agree with me in approach, because this is individual, but it is good that you know the motivations of my arguments, and take them for what they are worth for you. Yes Nietzsche can be read as reacting to the “moral climate of his time” (but this makes him a bit reactive and not as active as he might be); and the same can be said of Spinoza, but his tone and method more quiet (perhaps more powerful?). The question of the influence of his own thought, and his pre-mediation of those difficulties is an excellent one. Considering that he was a near-forgotten writer until reanimated after the two world wars, this either reflects his own inflated sense of grandiosity, or his incredible prescience. Probably both.

As to my thought that there is no “negation” in biology, I mean that only in the sense that there is no “non-being” in biological explanations. In genetics in particular, and statistical and population analysis, the idea of “lack” has no place at all. Instead we only have ways of combining, molecular and algorithmic capacities to act, and an inter-relationship between environment, populations and genetic properties which only display what can be done. The genetic material and the conditions which unfold are shown to be expressions of each other, by most accounts that I have read. Specifically I have in mind the work of Maturana and Varela and their biological theory of Life, Autopoiesis, but also general Neo-Darwinian accounts. I have yet to hear any theory of biology which would support a Hegelian view of the world. This is not to say that it is not possible, but only that I have not heard it.

 

 

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Marks and Affects: Deleuze, Guattari and Triangulation


 

Following Deleuze and Guattari, all that there are are marks (indices, vectors), and affects. Marks constitute directions, folds, affects institute degrees of power or intensity. This is simply a radicalization of Davidson’s triangulation, that of a shared world, others and self, that, brought to a non-subjectivist extreme. Involved is a panpsychic conception of knowledge, wherein all “marks” speak as differences in assemblage, assemblages that are both intensive and extensive. This is a world of knowledge as a form of doing. Apart from any representationalist directive, words become marks that indicate folds, rules of following and action. Reasons collapse back into causes.

 

 

[written December 24, 2006]

Spinoza and His Courtesan

  

Spinoza’s Courtesan.

There is in Spinoza several unSpinozic elements that float in his texts, a quoted poem here, a poetic aphorism there. One of these though is his reference to the courtesan (meretrix in Latin), actually translated out of the English by the usually accurate Curley, as if the specificity of the reference had to be suitably Spinozified and abstracted. It is always interesting to watch the “anomalous” features of a thinker, especially those that interpreters and translators seek to erase, for sometimes these “exceptions” prove to be guides of how wrong translators and interpreters are.

I’d like to focus on these rare references to The Prostitute. As Curley in his notes suggests, one must understand that the meretrix is a particular figure in history. She is not the street-walker, that is to be sure, but a woman well-cliented. In fact it is suspected that Spinoza has in mind the meretrix from the plays of Terence (and perhaps Plautus), a woman whose designs and seductions actually operate in such a way as to make a plot turn, comically. So she is not necessarily a figure of moral reprobation though she is still problematic.

Spinoza approaches the problem of the meretrix, (literally: she who earns), in the Appendix to Part IV of the Ethics where the general problem of Compassion, generosity and right living is considered in the view of the facts of sociability. She enters at section XIX, which has just followed the call for “care” in “accepting favors and returning thanks”. The call is for prudence. The Spinoza attempts to specify:

Spinoza wrote:

XIX. Moreover, love of a meretrix [Curley translates Amor praeterea meretrix: A purely sensual love], that is the desire of begetting that arises from external appearance, and absolutely, all love that has a cause other than the freedom of the mind, easily passes into hate—unless (which is worse) it is a species of madness. And then it is encouraged more by discord than by harmony.

Spinoza’ criticism is two fold. One is that the love a prostitute arises from (oritur: it is stirred up by) form alone (ex forma). It is fundamentally a reaction. From a form the libido is passively stirred up, and as such, it does not have as its cause, “the freedom of the Mind”. The question therefore is not whether such a love of form results in the freedom of the Mind, but rather what is the cause of such an action. Because the cause of the love of a courtesan is not the freedom of the Mind, it is lesser. And thus, the accepting of her favors, however equal the exchange, is not optimum. The second half of the criticism is that such a love, because its cause is from the form alone, the passions that it gives birth to can easily pass into hate or madness. It is unstable. Because men seek to own and be master of their passions, they become jealous, or drunk on them. The last sentence of the section is ambiguous in the Latin, it can alternatelhy mean that such a love feeds on discord, or that it encourages discord in the world. In either case, the love of the favors of the prostitute produces a fundamental discord, both in oneself and in society.

Spinoza contrasts this state with marriage:

XX. As for marriage, it certainly agrees with reason, if the Desire for physical union is not generated only by external appearance [ex sola forma] but also Love of begetting children and educating them wisely, and moreover, if the Love of each, of both man and woman, is caused not by external appearance only, but mainly by the freedom of the mind.

It is interesting that here Spinoza reverses the emphasis, attempting to qualify the institution of marriage. First, it is insofar as it is not by form alone, but also to beget children (have legitimate results) and lastly, mainly (another qualification) that its cause is from the freedom of the mind. He seems uncomfortable with the institution itself, but attempts to position it the context of courtesan love, being well aware of the weaknesses of real life marriages. It is as if Courtesan love is simpler and easier to assess.

He moves then immediately back onto the sure ground he is attempting to weigh:

Spinoza wrote:

XXI. Flattery also gives rise to harmony, but by the foul crime of bondage, or by treachery. No one is more taken in by flattery than the proud, who wish to be the first and are not.

This is really the core of his critique of meretrix love. For what is weakening in the Courtesan, and the job by which she is forced or chooses to earn her living, is that the prostitute is essentially a flatterer, someone who tells you what you would like to hear. What Spinoza is really trying to assess is the role of flattery in social relations. Flattery makes for social harmony, but at a cost. It is born out of fear [Appendix XVI].

“Only free men are very thankful to one another,” he writes at EIVp71, and this is the razor edge that Spinoza is trying to walk in examining the nature of sociability. Thankfulness does not include the acceptance of all gifts, and it is for this reason that the meretrix is brought in as an example.

For one who, out of foolishness, does not know how to reckon one gift against another, is not ungrateful; much less one who is not moved by the gifts of a courtesan to assist her lust (ipsius libidini inserviat: or, assist in his lust), nor by those of a thief to conceal his thefts (EVIp71s)

Thankfulness is a special prudence in the understanding of what is being produced. It is not the love of the meretrix that is in error, but the specific relation that does not make the most of itself. This is a sub-example of the exchange of flattery itself, as a form of societal transaction, the offering of a surface that does not have freedom in mind as its cause.

Spinoza, in examining the kind of exchanges that are best calls for great care, for gifts even of flattery cannot be simply shunned without respect of consequences:

To this we may add that we must be careful in declining favors, so that we do not seem to distain them, or out of Greed to be afraid of repayment. For in that way, in the very act of avoiding their Hate, we would incur it. So in declining favors we must take into account both what is useful and honorable (EIVp70s).

The issue of the courtesan cannot be closed so easily though, as one becomes careful in the kinds of relations one takes to external forms, as causes. For any philosophical discussion of courtesans must take in account the figure of Diotima, a Courtesan who supposedly taught Socrates his greatest understanding of Love (told in the Symposium). The Courtesan, as she is the symbol of affective passions, the Latin Comedy spur to action and resolution, and as she is also the fabled source of Socratic wisdom bringing us to understand the power of sociability itself, becomes not so much an example to be avoided, but really more, a historical figure, a paradigm of the fact of our affective state. For the Courtesan is one who works (again, the meretrix being the woman who earns), who must gather around her those that support her, by any lights she can muster, out of necessity. This seems our natural state, one of dependence upon others. Further, as such, she understands better than most, or perhaps any, the nature of desire, of human need and libido, by virtue of the position she occupies. It is notable that Spinoza places his discussion of the Courtesan in the context of greater human need for generosity:

XVII. Men are also won over by generosity, especially those who do not have the means of acquiring the things they require to sustain life. But to bring aid to everyone in need far surpasses the powers and advantage of private person. For his riches are quite unequal to the task. Moreover the capacity of one man is too limited for him to be able to unite all men to him in friendship. So the case of the poor falls upon society as a whole, and concerns only the general advantage. (EVI, appendix).

When Spinoza speaks of “riches” I believe he has in mind not only the material wealth that one might have, but also the conceptual wealth. The generosity to save and socialize is beyond the capacity of a single man. I suggest that the Courtesan actually stands as a figure in Spinoza for what actually is. She holds the secret of our interdependence, and our fundamentally passive states, and the secret of our desire to beget ourselves. She also shows our necessity to flatter. But Spinoza is calling for a deeper gift, a freer meretrix, one closer to the Socratic Diotima, who has transcended her economic reality of power, and finds in the gift and giving, something more…powerful.

 

[written September 11, 2006]

Spinoza’s Logic of Affects and an Ontology of Torture

 

There is a curious shadow in the logic of Spinoza, a dark, foreboding underlogic that comes with its incredible sheen, its recourse to a path of Joy and Rationality. It is not so much a consequence of its argumentation, a conclusion drawable from within its aims, but a manifestation of its logic.

What I have in mind is Spinoza’s implicit imperative that Joy follows the aim of becoming more like God. That is, Spinoza’s argument for the path to happiness is that the more that we become like God/Substance, the freer we become, the more active, the least reactionary. This method of analysis is based on the idea that only the entirety of Substance is causa sui, its own cause. All other things are caused through other things. And concordantly, the more we become the causes of our own action, through our better understanding of the forces at play through clearer ideas, the more Joyful and powerful we become.

A single example suffices to get at the root of what Spinoza is after. A child is hit by another child, and reacts with anger, or even hate. A man is hit by another man, and in understanding the forces at play (perhaps the history of race, the residual and institutional sadnesses) is able to act, rather than react, in a more powerful and active manner. Each, the child and the adult, experience themselves to be “free”, but one is consubstantially freer than the other: so would argue Spinoza.

The result of this imitatio be-like-God-have-clearer-ideas-become-more-powerful-and-free approach is remarkable in the capacities of change that inhabit nearly every situation. Each and every moment is open to mental, and therefore physical, avenues of change. In particular, as beings locked in history, the diachronic unfolding of inadequate ideas, a finite existence which is overrun with imaginary effects, our possibilities become our ability to affectively, and intelligently engage with others. That is, we become more our own cause (like God), insofar as we no longer conceive of ourselves as independent and isolated units. We become more our own cause insofar as we realize ourselves to be part of an assemblage of affective and ideational bodies that are already existing, and that through our awareness, we can intentionally construct. We become our own cause, to the degree that “our own” becomes larger and larger. The political ramifications of this path are striking in their dexterity, and it is for this reason that Spinoza became the first modern proponent of a liberal democracy of intellectual freedoms.

All this stems from Spinoza’s idea that we become more Joyous and more powerful, the more we become like God.

But as I say, there is a shadow beneath the logic of this argument, a different kind of “becoming like God” that seems to belie the very logic and exemplification Spinoza uses. And I say this as a Spinozist, a firm admirer of the possibilities of his thought.

One of the most praised, and disconcerting aspects of Spinoza’s notion of God is that this God has no affects. That is, because for Spinoza an affect is the passing from one degree of perfection, to another degree, God being perfect in the expression of himself can have no affect. For this reason, “He who loves God cannot endeavor that God should love him in return” (5p19). That makes for a remarkable ontological set up. We and animals, as finite beings, though we feel, suffer, love, ache, laugh, wonder, etc. as the actual expressions of the Totality that is God, God itself experiences none of these things. In a strange way, we experience them (as a product of our finitude), but God cannot, or does not (which is the same thing for Spinoza). Our very affective state, in its quality, is a kind of illusion which does not register upon the totality as such.

What is curious about this set-up is that it bears striking resemblance to one of the more horrific conditions of human social function, that of the Totalitarian Torture State. That is, under some analysis the State, as a necessary condition of its ideological status as an horizon of social determination actually must torture so as to produce the very expression of its condition, an expression which it then represses.

Eric Santner in his Study of the first Schizophrenic, Daniel Schreber, describes how the mechanism of political torture functions in this way:

Torture is the way an institution simultaneously confesses and represses its deepest secret: that its consistency, its enjoyment of recognition as a really existing social fact, ultimately depends on the magic of performative utterances, on the force of their own immanent process of enunciation. The abjection produced in the torture victim, his betrayal of everything that matters and is dear to him, his confession of his own putrescence, is, as it were, the “substance” that stands in for the lack of substantial foundations to which the institution might appeal for final and ultimate legitimation. The torture victim’s abject body is the ‘privileged’ site of a politicotheological epiphany, for it is there that the reality of institutions and the social facts they sponsor – contracts, titles, money, property, marriages, and the like – bottoms out, touches on a dimension of vicious circularity that cannot be avowed if these social facts are to continue to enjoy credibility, if the social field structured by them is to remain consistent for the subject.

My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity

In a Spinozist context there are quite a number of things that stand out.

For one, the notion of a “politicotheological epiphany”. There is in Spinoza a remarkable sense of the epiphanic. In readers who have struggled through his precise stackings of propositions, there comes a time when suddenly it all locks into place, and a sudden sheen comes into being. I have experienced this myself. It moves from boring and unlikely logic, to brilliant and revealing clarity. And the marriage of the political and the theological of course speaks to Spinoza’s own Politico-theological treatise, which seeks to show the divine and natural expression of both these realms.

Secondly, the enunciative power of the victim is dependent upon the very unaffective status of the torturer (whether it be the person him or herself, or the State). In much the same way, our very affective states, our loud-ringing cries (and laughter), for Spinoza are leveraged off from a non-affective thing, which actually produces them in us. This goes to the very core notion of what an inadequate idea is in Spinoza. An inadequate idea is one which one holds thinking it is about the world, when in fact it is an idea only about oneself (the state of one’s body). In a certain sense, one is confused not only about what an idea (representation) is about, but also “who” is thinking it. For instance, when I think to myself “Sam is a bastard” this idea is really best understood as an expression of my body being in a certain state, and thus in that my body is an extensional expression of Substance, it is an expression made by God, and not me. This illusionary locus of enunciation which marks out the nature of what makes inadequate ideas inadequate, is what shapes the logic of torture under Santner’s description. The victim seems to be crying out a confession of his own experience, but in fact is only expressing a condition of the whole. The victim is confessing-expressing what the State or its torturer cannot, as a matter of its own ontological logic. It is feeling what cannot be felt, as a vector of its own power. The cries and putrescence become immanent to the State.

In Spinoza I think this link can be found right at the level of Affects themselves, joys, loves, hates, sadnesses, jealousies, etc. (again, a thing that God cannot have). Spinoza tells us in the General Definition of Affect, that whatever the affect “this [a confused idea], which constitutes the form of the affect, must indicate or express, a constitution of the Body (or some part of it), which the Body (or some part of it) has because its power of acting, or force of existing, is increased or diminished, aided or restrained.”

Notice the particular form his denomination, the confused idea “must indicate or express”.

In the Latin Spinoza uses a word of largely social obligation to convey this representational necessity, debet (indicare vel exprimit debet). To translate more literally, it “owes”, it “pays the debt,” to “indicate or express”, “to show or come out of” a condition of the body. And the Latin verb exprimit, to express, can even be a word of near torture, in that it can read that ideas owe it to “squeeze out, press out, extort, wrest from” an organization of the body. The double duty of representation shown here “to indicate or express” has affinities with Santner’s process of enunciation which “confesses and represses”. If one were to draw these terms strictly to each other. Our inadequate ideas which we take as being ideas about the world, and belonging to us, are rather confessions of a God-Substance that cannot feel, and the fact of this confessional character is repressed in the very conscious experience of ourselves as distinct and personal entities. Spinoza’s immanent expression of God in affective beings, becomes the nightmare confessional and repressed torture of political subject. Just as Santner strips away the mechanism of enunciation in the example of political torture, Spinoza strips away the representational mechanism of expression in the form of affects felt and ideas held.

To be fair, what seems at first distinct between these two views is that the State is (unconsciously) invested in a particular kind of horrific enunciation, while God as Substance is not. This becomes clear in Michel de Certeau’s essay “Institution of Rot” whose reasonings Eric Santner is working from:

de Certeau wrote:

…[the] goal of torture, in effect, is to produce acceptance of a State discourse, through the confession of putrescence. What the torturer in the end wants to extort from the victim he tortures is to reduce him to being no more than that, rottenness, which is what the torturer himself is and knows that he is, but without avowing it. The victim must voice the filth, everywhere denied, that everywhere supports the representation of the regime’s ‘omnipotence,’ in other words, the ‘glorious image’ of themselves the regime provides for the adherents through its recognition of them. The victim must therefore assume the position of subject upon him the theatre of identifying power is performed.

“Institution of Rot,” in Psychosis in Sexual Identity: Toward a Post-Analytic View of the Schreber Case

Perhaps one could say, following Spinoza’s ontological-affective logic that the degree to which a totalitarian subject agrees with and expresses joyful statements, it is doing so enunciatively on the behalf of a non-affective State, adding to its glory (thereby, holding adequate ideas), and to the degree that he is not, and is made to suffer, he is enunciatively manifesting the ideological substrate of the State’s “glorious image”. The investment of the State in the most abject subject is a very particular kind of investment which is otherwise a product of a general logic of the State.

What is disturbing about this comparison of course is that it is a result that is antithetical the aims of Spinoza’s political imagination. Attempting to be “like God”, the cause of oneself, is supposed to lead to more and more freedom, more and more Joy. But there is an afterimage of such logic, a way in which “attempting to be like God” results in the more horrific totalitarian processes. For if Spinoza’s vision of an affective and modal expression of a non-affective Totality called God is brought to the formal logic of a Totalitarian State, we see striking correspondence. And that this correspondence is not one of accident, but goes to the most central aspect of Spinozist epistemology (that which makes up an inadequate idea) makes it even more ominous. Further, the logic of epiphanic “glorious image” sheen that the very enunicative and repressional processes of the State produce, “squeezing out from the organization of the body” seems to characterize well what is most remarkable about Spinoza’s achievement of stacked and inter-indexed propositions, the sudden clarity of theo-political power, as expressed by Nature and Mind. In short, what is best in Spinoza seems to sanction in part what is worst in politics, through a logic of onto-epistemic imitation. And what is worst in the political seems to explain what is best in Spinoza.

What is one to make of this? Is Spinoza’s really only a vast totalitarian dream projected onto the Universe? Is it that Spinoza, in his reasoned argument for a liberal democratic state not living up to the full de imiatione Dei consequence of his logic? To the first possibility I would answer, I don’t think so. To the second, perhaps. It seems to me that what Santner and de Certeau’s analysis of the logical apparatus of the Totalitarian State reveals about Spinoza’s logic is that there IS a certain epiphanic mechanism employed in his means, a certain redemptive torture of affect which makes of the Totality a “glorious image”. But the value of his thought certainly cannot be reduced to such. What is more important I think is what Spinoza, once this mechanism is exposed, tells us about the liberal state and the path of acting more and more like God. Within such a political process, both doors are open, and perhaps necessary, that of the immanent, body-building, affective sharing that is effectively creative, combining powers as new bodies that de-centralize identity, across Selves, in a communication of reasons; but also, that there is a certain kind of necessary cruelty to social organization, as at times one is forced to collapse one’s own repressed state into a tortured mechanism of enunciation, which generates the very sheen which gives direction to society, the very epiphany which affectively condenses bodies together and facilitates their assembled state. And perhaps these two passages to social wholes, and communications, are phasal to each other. There is no Golden Rule (as golden as Spinoza was able to write it), which does not contain the possibility of political theophany through enunciative confession-repression. Perhaps this is due to the contingent nature of history, and that beneath – or more distant to – reason, IS this very epiphanic capacity of bodies to assemble affects so as to “make the god appear” through suffering, and that at times such a capacity acts as a resource, a resource needing to be checked, but never eliminable. Or perhaps this is written into the very logic of logic, the very capacity to organize ourselves around reasons, ideas and criteria, the dark, but luminous shadow of rationality itself